Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Not My Job

Corner would approve of the Million Dollar Blocks mapping on a few particular levels. It certainly follows the formula that he enumerates in The Agency of Mapping. It takes a field (Brooklyn), analyzes the extracts (criminal data), and generates plottings (the relationship of crime to the location of the criminals, not the incidents). It attempts to “engender the re-shaping of the world we live in” and “uncovers realities previously unseen or unimagined”. This is the concept behind The Agency of Mapping, that data is not neutral, it influences.

On another level, it does not meet all of the thematic practices of drift, layering, game-board and rhizome. But to analyze this too closely might completely miss the point.

More importantly, Corner suggests that designers are “barking up the wrong tree believing that new spatial structure alone would yield new patterns of socialization”. I would think most architects now realize that the burning desire to design buildings as the solution to the world’s problems is an ill conceived idea. The modernists have taught us the pitfalls of faith in architecture and technology as a global panacea. So assuming that the environment needs improving, and that it is still possible for architecture to assist in the process, and that architects are interested in being a part of the solution (many assumptions and a discussion in itself), Million Dollar Blocks / Agency of Mapping could be a step to counter prior errors by looking outside the traditional limitations of architectural practice.

In addition, Corner and others have been investigating so called ‘Landscape Urbanism’, and a movement toward hybrid practice is evident in the work. Landscape Urbanism suggests that information coming from outside the discipline can positively influence architecture. In Terra Fluxus Corner discusses at length the necessity of looking to “capital accumulation, deregulation, globalization, and environmental protection”. A recent Harvard Design Review symposium suggests looking toward “real estate development, flow of populations and activities, construction materials, and time”.

The Million Dollar Blocks piece suggests that the maps “pose difficult ethical and political questions for policy makers and designers”, and “that when linked to other urban, social, and economic indicators of incarceration, they also suggest new strategies for approaching urban design and criminal justice reform together”. This does not suggest that we should take on all of these specialties, but have an understanding of them. It also acknowledges that the map itself is not ultimate solution, but a tool. We may want a mapping project to tell us how to design a building, but perhaps that is what we should bring to the conversation.

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