There are two ways to describe a place: the inventory and the narrative. When asked to describe their homes, people will either begin "There are three bedrooms, and two baths...", or they will say, "When you come in the front door, you see the living room on your left...". When giving directions, people will either draw a map (even if with words), or describe the route: "when you see the Starbucks, turn right".
An architect uses a plan to communicate with a builder. The plan is an inventory of what is to be built. With the client, the architect will use perspective drawings, renderings, or animations to communicate the qualities of the space. These are narrative devices.
A map is an inventory. It allows for easy navigation of the network of streets in order to get from Point A to Point B. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) provide a multitude of information layers to further describe geographical areas. These are still inventories, just highly detailed ones. A map serves to commodify space; the earliest maps were developed to define the boundaries of a territory, whether for ownership or dominion. But in its commodification of space, the map loses the ability to describe place. A map does not give you a sense of your surroundings.
A guidebook is a narrative. The value of a guidebook is that it gives the potential visitor a notion of place, helps them locate places they may want to visit, or avoid. Through words and images, the guidebook provides a first-person perspective.
Just as video games have evolved from the planometric abstractions of Pong and Pac-Man to first-person-shooter games, maps are beginning to include narrative elements.
Wanadoo Maps creates digital photographic and cartographic indexes, pictorial Yellow Pages. Their fifty photographers walk the city streets, taking a digital photograph at each address. They have created an index of Paris for France Telecom's Yellow Pages website, Pages Jaunes (www.pagesjaunes.fr). Like early maps, this type of mapping is driven by land ownership: several Paris real estate agents report that clients use Pages Jaunes to preview properties and neighborhoods. (For more information on Wanadoo Maps, see From Chimney Pot to Loge, a Virtual Close-Up of Paris.)
The current project compares the map and image as modes of description. A freeway route is documented visually with digital images, and simultaneously traced on a map. Map points indicating local businesses provide an inventory of the surroundings, while the images provide a passenger-seat narrative. The two modes of description are linked by a common index, the Global Positioning System. The result is a map with an immersive, first-person quality.
Like a map, the freeway is designed to get us from Point A to Point B. Like a narrative, the freeway is linear and episodic. While maps relate items on the basis of spatial proximity, the limited-access freeway redefines proximity, and is detached from its immediate context.
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