Mapping the Invisible

Can quantitative data create a new spatial understanding of the city through new modes of representation? A recent research investigation tests methods for the manifest and mapping of invisible yet potent forces that shape the urban environment. It constitutes an attempt to engage these invisible forces by means of new figurations that capture the city of Toronto in unprecedented ways: a kind of portraiture of the invisible Toronto, created through digital artistry. Imagine being able to view an alternative urban form shaped by the raw numerical data it inhabits. Data in its raw sense is information; the works pictured here bring poetic representations to such raw matter, creating new city maps.

Data related to surveillance spaces, crime rates, cell phone usage and zoning by-laws are represented in multi-dimensional images, alluding to evocative urban forms. For architects and urban designers, it is critical that this subject matter is explored and defined. By revealing these underlying predicaments into a visual proof–in a manner that not only urban designers and architects can comprehend, but that the general public can also relate to–the figurations provide an immediate impact. This type of graphic response presents a direct connection between data and urban form, which sets the parameters for intelligent urban design. The exploration lies somewhere between art and urban design in a kind of “critical mapping” that delivers hard data but that also yields synthetic rather than analytic insight on the city.

What spaces are defined by public surveillance cameras that randomly dot the city? Do they begin to create a new urban form that designers must respond to as part of the design process? Does the manifestation of cell phone usage formulate a new city context that yields a better understanding of urban social parameters? Do these invisible forces become part of a liminal experience or do they serve as valid ingredients that are often overlooked by designers?

Architects and urban designers respond to the immediate context by understanding topography, building mass, hills, ravines and crevices. In a similar cognitive response, these new figurations become accessible and much more tangible, so that architects and the public can react to them as they would to topography or building mass. These invisible but potent forces merit equal attention and need to be revealed, so that they become much more influential in our designs.

Currently, Nadia Amoroso is a Visiting Assistant Professor at the College of Architecture at the University of Oklahoma.