Mapping-and-Designing (in) relationally composed fields

Stamatopoulou Athina

Mapping methodology
Design methodology
Relational city
Open mapping
Decision-making oriented design

This paper is part of an ongoing PhD research dealing with the construction of a methodology of mapping-and-designing things from a relational-thinking point of view. The methodology is developed through the dialogue of a theoretical and a practice-oriented part: the logic’s scheme evolves through experiments and testing applications. The current paper focuses on how two testing case-studies in the city field give feedback to the logic, to its potential applications and its connection to design.

Research-theoretical framework

Central idea is the relationality: we concentrate on relations of things, in terms of potential interactions and connections, not only physically and materially, but also immaterially (i.e. information). In this context, inspired among else by Cilliers’ (1998) and Batty’s (2013) thinking, the city is understood as an open dynamic complex system, being composed by constantly changing relations among heterogeneous parameters.
We focus on the complexity emerging from the relationality of the city, when considered as networks of places. We think of ‘place’ as something dynamic (Massey 1993). We give emphasis on the connections of places, intending to embed their immaterial relations generated by information, always in connection with the material ones.

The main research question is how we can analyse and at the same time compose design proposals for the city in regard to its multiplicity, its relationality and its constant changing.
We set mapping as a key starting point. We argue, following among else James Corner (1999) thought, that it is a process, which can be both analytical and generative. By mapping we refer to the whole process that produces any kind of written description, highlighting that it is intentional, made by a specific subject within a specific context.

Aim of the methodology is to create a tool: of a generative analysis for decision-making processes; capable of analysing an object (here the city) in regard to its parameters of multiplicity; that enables us to decompose and recompose an object. The multiple new reorganisations of an object feed the generative capacities of the tool. This generativity is not promoted towards a direction of an increasing complexity, but as a way to reveal it, to understand, to explore and at the same time to manage it through abstractions.

Description of the methodology

The methodology is composed of three levels of actions. In the first, we gather data: different mappings, following a sampling logic. The second concerns the analysis and the organisation of the data in order to define the translation parameters among them. In the third one, we test the methodology in different case-studies. This level enables back and forth transitions between generalisations and specifications, while it makes the logic adaptable to different processes and contexts.
Let us explore it through the two case-studies. The one is an experiment of 26 mappings of public space Athens, carried out in a postgraduate course.

The other one, which is more recent and ongoing, concerns 31 descriptions of a specific park in Athens, made by different subjects, belonging to different agents related to it. These were extracted from the published discourse about the city. In both cases, data are organised and visualised into an “interactive open map”, composed of a data-base (mapping in their original form), a table and a map. The horizontal axis of the table integrates references to the gathered mappings and the vertical one the properties (of the mappings) list as organised in categories. On the map the different references to physical locations are codified and noted as dots, lines and areas.
The data-base, the table and the map are interconnected through options of selections: for instance, selections on the table can activate networks on the map; selections on the map can indicate properties of locations.
The data-base, the table and the map are interconnected through options of selections: for instance, selections on the table can activate networks on the map; selections on the map can indicate properties of locations.

Athens center case-study

Firstly, combinations of selected properties on the list can activate references and implied relations among references on the map.
For instance, if we select the property open editable file on the table, then the mappings with this property are highlighted along with their references to the city on the map. This way, we can see the spatial expression of one or more properties. Considering that through these actions all the relevant references to the city are getting connected, what we see on the map is a network, that we have created through our interaction with the system. The value of such actions is not the creation of connections; but our capability of seeing how these interrelations, deconstruct and at the same time reconstruct the map and the “city”. The properties list is a key-point here: although it changes and adapts depending the context, it functions as a cluster of parameters in regard to which an object can be decomposed and recomposed, it can be multiplied. Another option is to select a location on the map, which shows us which mappings include reference(s) to it as well as their properties on the table. This way, the properties attached to any location on the map can be detected.

From these simple actions, one can see not only how locations and information are related but mainly how information affects the relations of locations and how relations of locations reveal relations of information.

Park case-study

The location we selected before is a node of networks. Such a node can be further analysed in a zoom-in logic, as attempted in this second case study of the park. Every node on the map of the Athens centre case study might be another system or a network, revealing more details about its “internal” relations.
As in the previous case-study, we can make the same actions in the system of the open interactive map. For instance, if we select the property “approach through history” on the table, we see that 4 matched descriptions. Accordingly, we activate their references (in red) to the physical terrain of the park. These are some first simplified steps of abstracting the complexity of all the mappings and descriptions.
Perspectives of design logics

The question of how all these options might be integrated or even feed relevant design logics is what remains important in this paper.

Firstly, the interactive open mapping system, as a logic, can produce urban design and strategy proposals attached to the analysis actions. Through this application, we can detect, indicate and, thus, propose, locations and areas for further interventions. Our proposal is not limited to the definition of the locations and the limits of their field, but it integrates the terms (i.e. concepts and the meanings or the relations with other locations), the briefing.

For instance, if we want to reveal a location’s properties (i.e. Syntagma square), we have to focus on the mappings that include and relate it to other places. In this scenario, we choose the location on the map, and 11 mappings, including reference to it, get highlighted on the table along with their properties. This way, we have activated all the other locations to which the 11 mappings refer to. All these locations are related to the Syntagma square, as this is caused though the 11 mappings. If a place is among else its relations with other places, then we can argue that the Syntagma square potentially extents to everything we see in black on the map.
This way, we can approach any location, through the lens of other, related to it, places. Considering that a designed intervention is capable of affecting other nodes or relations, we can think of intervening to a place without doing something directly to it, but to its relations.

By making different selections, going back and forth the map and the table, we can zoom in a specific location and proceed to more concrete proposals by setting hierarchies of what we see. Let us suppose that we want to make a proposal for the Syntagma square in regard to the combination of the concepts of the commons and of the Otherness. Here we see which mappings refer to the Syntagma square in regard to these two concepts and the created networks.

Let us see how the same logic applies in the case-study of the park.
By clicking to the property “problems”, we realise that this red set of networks on the map is composed of diverse types of networks: some relations might be conflicting while others trigger attractions. The conflicting relations, can be for instance revealed through information attributing ‘negative’ properties. These make the physical distances even larger. Accordingly, cases characterized by complementarity and consistency bring locations closer.
In order to understand this better, we have noted in 4 different colors the references made by the four descriptions. Additionally, we have translated all the references in positive and negative, according to the attributed properties, as set in their context. By connecting all the negatives and all the positives, two types of fields of forces arise: an attractions’ one and a repulsions’ one. Through this step, we open perspectives on how we can use back and forth actions among relationality and territoriality.
Additionally, to the revealed networks, we can go deeper on the issue of the park’s “problems” by activating further properties noted on the left of every map. These, by implying problems or properties related to them can enrich the description of the problems of the park (in regard to more parameters such as time) and feed even more targeted proposals.
Looking comparatively at the potentialities emerging from the two cases, we think of mapping- and-designing by revealing and setting hierarchies in multiple networks and scales of complexities, by looking at the same time the whole city field and a specific location, along the in-between networks in regard to parameters we set. Zooming-in and zooming-out are potentially endless and they can work as actions mutually developed. This methodology is a proposal for a holistic approach of things, encouraging the synergy between relationality and territoriality, between analysis and design, between diverse scales and points of views.


Batty, Michael. The new science of cities. London and Cambridge Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2013.

Corner, James. “The Agency of Mapping” in Denis Cosgrove (ed.), Mappings. 213-52. Reaktion Books. London, 1999.

Cilliers, Paul. Complexity and postmodernism. Understanding complex systems. Routledge: London and New York, 1998.

Massey, Doreen. “A counterhegemonic Relationality of Place” in Eugene McCann and Kevin Ward (eds.), Mobile Urbanism. Cities and Policymaking in the Global Age. 1-14. University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis and London, 1993.

Stamatopoulou, Athina. Open Mapping: The city in regard to multiple subjects.
Postgraduate diploma, supervisor Prof.: Georgios. Parmenidis. School of Architecture, National Technical University of Athens. (in Greek). 2016. (in Greek)

Presentation & paper

Posted: Oct-2018

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