Please post comments for the readings of April 8th – Boeri and Cosgrove – here before the morning of April 7th.
In The Measures of America, Cosgrove makes astonishing links between the American landscape and the change in technologies. Spherical geometry (astronomy, longitude and latitude), railroad engineering (including telegraph), dam engineering, irrigation systems and windmills did not forge the American landscape as often discussed. Rather, these technologies were part of a complex relationship with mapping technologies and the landscape. The different lines of influences between the three are carefully portrayed by Cosgrove. As the European knowledge of spherical geometry influenced cartography, thus land division, railroad engineering reinforced the topographical abnegation. When topographic mapping technologies introduced contours, the infrastructural landscape changed, granting dam engineering to meander its project along mountains and river. But foremost, and above these influences comes the viewpoint. The well discussed, documented and publicized hot air balloon flight of 1783 answered a growing need to go further in the discovery of a world almost already mapped. Cosgrove argument extends this shift in perception to contemporary situation. Very well put, he argues that there is no innocent eye. The found places, described as ideas, are considered constructions of the mind more than actual facts. In the realm of found places are as understood facts as DNA, the equator and the desert.
When I’m traveling in Europe, people always think that I’m a lunatic to do a five-hour return train trip over the weekend to visit a friend. What is the point of traversing an entire country, from Strasbourg to Nîmes, when there are so many interesting places in between? Cosgrove discusses the issue of measures – of time, space, humanity and nature – in this text, opposing the vast and distanced American landscape to the intimate and fragmented Europe. Scale, perspective, viewpoint: all is relative. For the purebred Québécoise that I am, traveling three hours between two cities is nothing. In this expansive American landscape, there is often very little distraction on the road between two major cities. Forests, fields, endless bodies of water, perhaps a small village even. But everywhere, this pervasive feeling of immensity, which only became domesticated in the nineteenth century with the railroad and the telegraph.
Boeri’s vision of architecture as a constellation of fragmented forms expanding in a vast territory goes hand in hand with the development of technology. Since the first step of the man on the moon, the relationship to the territory has changed scale, from bird’s-eye view to satellite view. Boeri suggests that the utopia of an all-embracing vision from a single viewpoint is gone. I would argue that it never truly existed, since perception, vision and interpretation are relative. Cosgrove touches upon the agency of representation in shaping and supporting power, colonization and the transformation of the earth. More importantly, the dichotomy between imagination and reality (de)constructs our understanding of space. Mapping is but one mode of representation; psychogeography has demonstrated the relevance of emotional and instinctive mapping, thus counterbalancing empirical maps. The evolution of technology transforms our relationship with the landscape. Boeri claims that the kaleidoscope adequately represents space and its uncommunicating microcosms : but doesn’t he claim that space is also a constellation, with scattered forms on an ever-expanding territory? I find the constellation a much better metaphor than the kaleidoscope: if the stars do not seem related at all to each other, the trained eye will be able to see the connections between all of them, subtle but nonetheless inscribed in the sky.
“It is not the world that changes but the ways and means of seeing and acting”. Cosgrove’s comment on the way in which technology and imagination are brought together through mapping articulates clearly a key theme of our course. In his piece on Aerial Representation and the Making of Landscape, he examines both the ‘factual’ and ‘imaginative’ dimension of the aerial photograph – how the technology has conditioned the ways we witness our environment, and in turn how we behave in it. For Cosgrove, the role of maps is to ‘make visible what is otherwise invisible’ – in the case of the aerial perspective, to describe the world from a vantage previously inaccessible. Although skeptical of the aerial photograph, Boeri too looks to find new ways of mapping contemporary urban spaces that are true to the territory, the inhabitants, and the technology. The aerial photograph limits the individual’s ability to locate oneself in the space mapped; the photograph gives “the illusion of having the same impersonal and powerful angle of view as the technologies of representation which he employs”. For Boeri, the key to representing the interaction between society and space is documenting change. The traces, signs and clues of inhabitation help to locate ourselves in the city.
Both texts deals with the idea of seeing the urban fabric for the sky since the inventions of air planes and therefore Arial view. Arial views provide a strong analytical tool to understand the urban fabric.
The first time I did a tour of Montréal from a small plane I was shocked by the amount of swimming pools in the suburb, one per courtyard. I am not sure if I had go to suburb by car I would have notice it.
If plane trips remain sometimes inaccessible, today google maps and google satellite allows you to zoom and dezoom on areal view of different part of the worlds and render aerial view more accessible.
As a child I was always so fascinated with the aerial view provided by airplanes and was amazed how the landscape could so clearly be read from thousands of feet above the ground. I continue to find it interesting that certain areas of the landscape provide hints to the function of the space, such as the rangs that Cosgrove speaks about – “straight property lines, or rangs, leading back from the banks of a meandering river inevitably diverge or converge and produce fanlike patterns whose logic is apparent from the map or the air”, which is evident in our Quebec landscape along the St-Lawrence river.
The aerial view reflects the reality of the world below but is also composed of the ways of seeing and acting in the world – or is a projection of how we ourselves act in the world. This vision of the globe from space up above could bring about a feeling of responsibility and perhaps of guilt for not participating enough in our society or not being a responsible global citizen. Alternatively, the vision of the globe can also bring about a sense of empowerment, a vision that promotes change for the betterment of society.
When it comes to designing and planning buildings, we often take into account the human scale. Before the invention of planes, most buildings were designed to be seen from ground and sea level, and the design of the roof or as many refer to it today the fifth façade was somewhat ignored. However, with the introduction of airplanes, architects had to rethink this notion, and take into account this fifth façade. The roof which was once ignored now become a vital role in the design element of a building, for it now becomes one of the first things people see as they enter into a city via plane. The city skyline, now becomes the definition and characteristic of the city, and plays a key role in distinguishing one city from another. Architects must not only take into consideration that their buildings can be seen from land and sea, but now also from the air. This new perspective has challenged architects to build higher and bigger, so that it may not be understood from the ground, but can only be appreciated from the areal view for those who are lucky enough. However this notion is not new, ancient civilization have been practicing this type of architecture for thousands of years in order to show appreciation to their gods, so that they can look down from the sky and admire their work, such examples includes the pyramids and the great wall of china, which can even been seen from space. Maybe the ancient Chinese civilization knew even more then we still do today, and maybe one day architects will have to take into consideration the view from space.
In the piece “The Measures of America” Denis Cosgrove argues that a multitude of synoptic forces have acted together over the past five centuries in shaping the contemporary American Landscape. What is however quite intriguing about Cosgrove’s view is that although he acknowledges that some of these economic, cultural and technological forces have had negative socio-political, and environmental impact on the American landscape, he nonetheless seems to adhere to the position that they were in some way inevitable, and gives an overall positive depiction of these transformations. For instance, Cosgrove argues that the grid system is an indication of “America’s commitment to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, distributing power equally across all spaces”. But many including the late historian Howard Zinn have argued against this somewhat highly romanticized version of history. This method of subdivision seems like the easiest form of land subdivision to allow speculators, including the seventh president of the United states Andrew Jackson, to auction off the land which they acquired by forces from the native Americans. Within the same line of thought Cosgrove recognizes the water regulation and dam construction in the West as a “visionary engineering intended to harmonize with the natural landscape and to respond to the elemental scale of the western rivers and their environs”- and not as many have argued, as a forced method of population displacement and profit maximization.
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