The geographic and mapping fever of the last decades, rather than indicating (as has been suggested) a “geographic turn” or even a “geological turn” may instead be a symptom of deep anxiety about the waning agency of architects, urban designers, planners, and landscape architects. The search for a merging or hybridization of these disciplines, the attempts to integrate environmental and social sciences into design practice, and the loudly vocalized ambition of architects and landscape architects to reclaim the right to design infrastructure at a territorial scale–all raise at least two orders of problems. The first relates to the obvious need to address the ongoing process of redefinition of the interrelated notions of space, territory, border, and network, a process in which a few architectural theorists are already engaged. The second demands equally urgent investigations of the frontiers and agency of each design discipline. Questions may be formulated as follows: Is there a territory of architecture (or landscape architecture, or urban design)? And if so, what are its borders? Are the disciplines undergoing a process of deterritorialization? Is it advisable to suppress the frontiers between art, architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, engineering, physical sciences, environmental sciences, and social sciences? Is it plausible to think that all these sciences and disciplines are engaged in design practices, and that this is the bond that unites them? If this is the case, how would this coming together of the arts and the sciences under the banner of design differ, for example, from the 1960s’ frustrated efforts to build a discipline a of “environmental design”? Should the scope and meaning of the notion of design be expanded?
Adriaan Geuze’s rearrangement of the central Schouwburgplein (theatre Square) in Rotterdam created the basis for a new stage-set for various groups of young people who have claimed spots on and around the edges of the square, where they exhibit themselves with their particular lifestyles: breakdancers on the square, the parade of Antillian youngsters driving round the edge of the square in front of De Dolen concert hall and congress centre in their cars on Friday and Saturday evening, groups of young women who cluster toghether on the long benches opposite the multiplex cinema. This is how, dynamic cultural geography evolves, one in which meanings are not fixed but in an ongoing state of flux development.
This shift towards a cultural geographic approach involves a departure from the notion of absolutism in ascertaining the value of meaning of spaces. The essence of a cultural geography is precisely that analysis of the ambiguity or, in more political terms, the struggle between various meanings. Designing public domain can then become a question of stimulation of informal manifestations of diversity and the avoidance of interventions that are intended to make such manifestations impossible.
To map is in one way or another to take the measure of a world, and more than merely take it, to figure the measure so taken in such a way that it may be communicated between people, places or times. The measure of mapping is not restricted to the mathematical; it may equally be spiritual, political or moral. By the same token the mapping’s record is not confined to the archival; it includes the remembered, the imagined, the contemplated. The world figured through mapping may thus be material or immaterial, actual or desired, whole or part, in various ways experienced, remembered or projected.