Academic journal article International Social Science Review

Brook, Richard, and Nick Dunn. Urban Maps: Instruments of Narrative and Interpretation of the City

Academic journal article International Social Science Review

Brook, Richard, and Nick Dunn. Urban Maps: Instruments of Narrative and Interpretation of the City

Article excerpt

Brook, Richard, and Nick Dunn. Urban Maps: Instruments of Narrative and Interpretation of the City. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2011. xvi + 250 pages. Cloth, $99.95.

"The application of abstract ideas and geometries concerned with the manufacture of space grew from the post-modern tradition in architecture and gained notoriety in the critical cult-de-sac of the Deconstructivist movement" (p. xiii). Thus begins this postmodern journey through a concept of "maps" in which traditional cartographers may not find ease of spatial orientation. Conceptions of space, like many other concepts in the ever-expanding and sometimes chaotic post-modernist universe, are subject to interpretation and intervention. Through these actions, ordinary people participate in the deconstruction of the formal, hierarchical definitions of space constructed by the officially appointed architects of modern societies.

This volume by Richard Brook and Nick Dunn, researchers at the Manchester School of Architecture, offers a tour through urbanity noting a multitude of examples of those interpretations and interventions. The city is the ultimate form in which modernism expresses itself, and so it is the canvass on which post-modernism re-paints the meaning of human spatial orientation. As the city matured, it showed the cracks inherent in modernism - it became fragmented and disorganized by industrial decay. In the midst of that process there emerged statements, such as graffiti, which form reclamations of the urban landscape by its inhabitants. Traditional cartographic models of cities, such as the durable concentric zone model of Robert E. Park and Ernest W. Burgess of the University of Chicago, have been reformulated to reflect the effects of waves of urban center decay, gentrification, and "urban decay metastasizing in the heart of suburbia" (p. 12) and even in the exurbs, or the Gulag Rim, where prisons are as likely to be located today as equestrian Elysian fields.

A chapter in this volume describes the trend in urban modernity from the architectural standards of aesthetic and function to the creation of confusing spaces that cause us to look up and see only logos and other signs of brand. Consumer society, which makes identity more dependent on purchase than production, has turned our experience of structures and spaces into mega-markets. Ubiquitous examples include the golden arches of McDonald's and its historical predecessor White Tower hamburger restaurants, and more recently the Nike and Ikea logos. What the authors of this book delight in seeing, however, are the architectural creations of "symbolic realization of the building as sign" (p. 50). An example of this, popular among architectural theorists, is the "Long Island Duckling" near Riverhead, New York, which is a whole building in the realistic shape of a duck.

Maps of the city in digital infrastructure include theoretical designs for mapping "matrices of cultural, economic, political or social activity..." (p. 87) and the much more popularly accessed digital tools like Google Maps and Global Positioning Systems. …

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