Sunday, 20 October 2013

Why Maps? - A Personal Reaction to my Confirmation Viva

As you may or may not have read on the pages of this blog, I am working a series of diverse fields to formulate a singular theory which attempts to explain how we think about and understand the space around us and either shape it to better our chances of survival and improve our quality of life or adapt ourselves to it. The theory also proffers some suggestions as to how we are perhaps getting it wrong in some cases which inevitably leads to problems, particularly in a field like architecture where the intent is to adjust modes of dwelling in order to improve the aforementioned chances of survival and quality of life.

As you can see from my Confirmation Viva above I have elected to test the theory by making a map of my home city of Belfast using some of the things thrown up by the ideas discussed. In the viva itself I suggest this derives from the absence of intensive site appraisal from the RIBA plan of work. While no doubt a problem I also believe there to be deeper reasons for choosing to test these ideas using cartography as the interpretation and representation of site. I believe this may call for a slight reframing of the theory as outlined in my confirmation viva presentation and texts (which will be uploaded to my website shortly).

The theoretical model begins to describe how we as human beings begin to reach a rational understanding of our world by interpreting phenomena. These interpretations then become commodified, that is relatable to others, through the use of signs and symbols which we tend to refer to as language. This amalgamation of agreed signs and symbols as commodified phenomena couple with appropriate reactions in a given context (space and time) coalesce into human culture or society. We then rely on the expectations and requirements of the culture in which we find ourselves to the point where these reactions to specific phenomena become reflexive. We no longer respond to the living phenomena but rather to the prescribed interpretations of and reactions to similar phenomena.

It is this process which sets the outer boundary to our existence, a metaphysical edge to our mode of dwelling which we cling to, long past it's sell-by-date and point of relevance, out of the fear of anything which does not conform to the narrow view of what is logical; a view which is created by the social construct in which we find ourselves. The enlightenment taught us to enshrine the logical in favour of the imaginative as logic was considered the route to absolute truth. With this in mind one can now see how this simply enshrined a series of interpretations of specific phenomena which lay within the metaphysical edge of a particular mode of dwelling.

With this, imagination allows us to leap beyond the boundaries of the metaphysical edge in order to explain phenomena which is new to us, or has not been adequately interpreted for the lived context. The power of the construct, however, means that even these leaps of imagination will be influenced by it's ideology so that all understanding, even explaining the unexplainable, is driven by it.

The trick, I believe, is to try to react honestly to the lived phenomena to apply lived interpretations to these phenomena rather than prescribed, learned or reflexive responses. This, of course, is not practical in everyday lived experience. We rely on these reflexive responses in order to survive quickly and efficiently in a world full of phenomena which can easily destroy our delicate vessels. When it comes to architecture, however, and the previously discussed desire to improve quality of life by adjusting commodified modes of dwelling, we need to make ourselves aware of the possibly outdated dogmas to which we adhere in order to react to the lived phenomena and adjust the socio-cultural norms as manifested in space and action upon the lived context.

Maps, then, are representations of specific interpretations of space. While no doubt a necessity to navigate a territory, they are often used to understand a particular space as a place. Places, however, are defined not only by the physicalities of space but also by the metaphysical edge to the socio-cultural construct of the society which created it, controls it and uses it as well as that of the individual who perceives it as a phenomena.

The map I hope to create, therefore, will take into account the histories and myths which surround a series of site across Belfast combined with my own feelings, interpretations and experiences of the city in which I have lived my whole life. To this I will add my own myths, derived from intensive research of the sites, which will act as situationist style 'detournements,' or distractions, which will recontextualise these places for other people and allow them to examine their own personal spatial interpretations. This will, at first, alienate them from these places before reintroducing them in an unexpected way, hopefully making them more aware of the lived phenomena present in the lived context resulting in a richer and more sensitive appreciation of place.

The metaphysical edge of the city will, ideally, be reset and reset again, exposing it as an arbitrary construct which we control in the attempt at improving our lives and the lives of those we design for.

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