From map to mapping: imaging active landscapes through ‘figure’ and ‘ground’ by César Torres Bustamante

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Abstract

The research builds on and contributes to the representation in landscape, specifically the imaging of active landscapes. Current representational methodologies in landscape architecture have already defined various regimes for the mapping of landscapes. Most of these operate by portraying existing conditions that prioritize visual and formal qualities, displacing objects from their wider context and creating neutral artificialities. Although the discourse of representation has already emphasized the need for appropriate methodologies that engage more closely with the landscape, there has not been an examination and production of techniques that not only privilege the object but also encourage the imaginative conception of experiential phenomena unfolding over time. A convention such as the figure-ground plan is an idealized and dominant technique that expresses an existing cond ition, without references to evolution or change.
This research provides additional insight into the depiction of events that develop over time by reconceptualising “figure” and “ground” as mutualistic entities rather than hierarchical and biased conditions. It demonstrates that figure and ground are but interdependent and coordinated concepts by depicting them in patterns with variant scales, colours and textures. These shift landscape representation from appearance to composition, from description to narration, forming chains of information that lack regularity and stability, and which inform the deviating course of phenomena in the landscape.
The analytic focus on mapping enables various contributions: firstly it allows imaging the incessant construction of landscape rather than its portrayal as an empty, dead event. The communicated perception of a changing landscape permits a more inclusive appreciation of its development and staging: understanding how things work aids in developing ways to choreograph what they may become. Secondly, the maps outcomes not only depict or represent images, but facilitate a visualization of the performative qualities of landscape elements – their processes, events, affective phenomena, etc. This means that the viewer is not only an external observer but is able to participate in a shared experience of apprehending a given landscape. This method of communication uses various scales and colours to manipulate perception and give multiple meanings depending on an experiential engagement with the representation.
The work evaluates the participation of representation in design by using real experimental cases from three international design competitions. The importance of the research relies not only in mapping outcomes, but in its inquisitive production that reconceptualises “figure” and “ground”. The figure-ground map provides a laboratory for graphic experimentation by developing series of patterns and moirés that addressed temporal phenomena and irregularities in landscape systems. The research project does not aim to simply produce experimental graphic compositions, but to use figure-ground mechanisms to structure processes and phenomena. This approach unveils the potential of institutionalized representation techniques and exposes their ability in facilitating visualization of active landscapes.

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