The maps. An appropriation of the world | Ignacio Grávalos – Patrizia Di Monte

“I can use a mirror, which the things show since are seen,

or can use a map, which the things show since are well-considered.”

E. Gombrich

A paper world.

The maps constitute a graphical representation of the territory. But also, in turn, always they have constituted an instrument of ideology and power. They answer to the need to locate processes and done, so much spent as futures, speak to us about a social order in a time and in a concrete space.

J. B. Harley, in The new nature of maps1 it defines them as a social construction of the world expressed across the cartography. Nevertheless, it tints, the maps are never neutral, not even completely scientific. He analyzes the pressures that compromise the independence of the cartographer: financial, economic or political limitations.

“Along the history the cartographer was a puppet dressed in a technical language, which threads were handled by other persons”.

The map was turning this way into a document that was going beyond the representation of the physical image of a place. In this discursive thread, the author considers the map to be one more weapon of the imperialism, since, in words of the author,

In the measure in which the maps were used in the colonial promotion and they took possession of the lands in paper, before occupying them really, the maps anticipated the empire”.

This argument is valid so much for what the maps express as for what they silence. They turn into an intermediate document between what it tries to say and what it tries to omit. It invites to analyze these documents as a“search of silences”. A map was containing the royal thing; what one did not see, did not exist.

The own system of representation manipulated the configuration of the world. In this aspect, there turns out to be illustrative the terrestrial projection of Mercator (1569), which though it managed to create a map that was not distorting the angles for the navigation, reflected in the same way an image of the world with a Central Europe in a privileged and hegemonic position but simultaneously deformed and removed from the high altitudes. From the 17th century it was advanced towards a scientific rationalization of the map, in an attempt of translating cartographic truths with a mathematical precision, independent and objective.

Comparison of representation of Mercator and Peters |

An image of the time and of the space.

Italo Calvino, in The viandante in the map2,underlines as the first need of the map it of fixing on the paper a succession of tours, of trips. East to pass of stages, expresses very well in his first representations realized across rolls of parchment that they were showing successively the milestones of the tour. They are images that they were not claiming so much of expressing a physical and territorial truth as a linear sense. They treat of documents that they favour the terrestrial tour: cities, villages, distances, etc. This way it testifies it Peutingerian Tabulates, a map that reflects the possessions, the tours and the connections of the Roman Empire. Calvino sees in these first cartographic representations “the need to include in an image the dimension of the time together with that of the space”.

Peutingerian Tabulates |

Far from fixing a literal translation of the territory, in diverse representations more interested parties appear a few maps diagramáticos in the flows that in the terrestrial or marine morphology. It is the case of the maps of wood of the Marshall Islands, composed by sticks and shells. These appliances were constituting an information encrypted and favoured about the disposition of hundreds of islands, as well as of the marine currents of this part of the ocean that were allowing the navigation of the canoes for the islands of the Polynesia.

Marshall Islands Map |

From the 17th century the production of maps acquired an amazing scientific precision stimulated by Venetian and Dutch cartographers, in an attempt of reflecting a territory where, paradoxically, the borders between the land and the water were uncertain.

A digital world.

Already in full 20th century, the need to classify the world derived in the creation in 1940 of the Universal Transverse system of Mercator’s coordinates (UTM), that sectorizó the planet in sixty precision zones. Later, in 1978, a new revolution took place on there having be thrown the first satellite of the twenty-four that were going to form the Global positioning system (GPS). A network of satellites would replace the cartographic classic vision across a technological skin that it was trying to wrap to the planet. From then, a digital world composed by the precision and the constant update of the information has come to create a series of documents that reflect the continuous and fast changes of the current world.

Satellites GPS |

Already not only mapean territories. There exists an irrepressible will to express graphically actions, flows, situations, desires, etc.; all that that could form somehow the complex contemporary reality. In this respect, we have entered in the age of the massive information (Big Data), of the accumulation of absolutely interconnected information. From 1924, the discoveries of the quantum mechanics “destroyed forever the dream of the exhaustive and perfect measurement 3. The new paradigm of the complexity already does not look for the causal effects, renounces the positivist logic; gently accepted certain degree of imprecision and disorder in exchange for the possibility of correlating big quantities of information.

To half of 20th century irrumpe a will to obtain specific maps that were reflecting the human action. Social, ecological, subjective, emotional maps, etc. Maps that prefer the flows to the materiality of the city. A reality that it began to desmaterializarse across the vectors of desire, since it reflected Debord in “The naked City” (1957), where the urban morphology was literally erased in some zones of the city; or more recently, the planes of Twitter or Flickr that favour more the connections than the territoriality.

Map Tokyo of locations of Flickr and Twitter |

And in this attempt of mapear the reality, two new protagonists appear: Amazon and Google. On the one hand Amazon bets for the digitalization of documents, of containing the information. Google, nevertheless, bets for the datificación, the accumulation of information that, across his dense relations and numerous clicks, contain the key of the world.

From there, there arise a series of agencies (MarketPsych, Thomson Reuters..) that catch innumerable information to generate diverse indexes that they try to reflect, not already truths on the territory, but questions as ethereal as the optimism, the melancholy, the fear, the rage, the innovation, the conflict, etc. And this information already cannot be manipulated not assimilated by a human mind. They are powerful programmed machines those that search

 “inadvertent correlations that could be translated in benefits (…) The states of mind have stayed datificados”.4

Ignacio Grávalos – Patrizia Di Monte. Arquitectos  (estonoesunsolar)

Zaragoza-Venezia-Foggia. April 2015.


1 Harley, Brian. “La nueva naturaleza de los mapas”. Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2005.

2 Calvino, Italo. El viandante en el mapa, en “Colección de arena”. Siruela, 2002.

3 Mayer-Schönberger, V; Cukier, K. “Big Data. La revolución de los datos masivos”. Turner, 2013.

4 Mayer-Schönberger, V; Cukier, K. Op. cit.

Ignacio Grávalos – Patrizia di Monte

Ignacio Grávalos es arquitecto por la ETSAB (Barcelona, 1994). Doctor por la Universidad de Zaragoza (2020) con su tesis “El fin de la modernidad. Visiones del espacio urbano desde una perspectiva cinematográfica”. Master de Investigación y Formación Avanzada en Arquitectura por la Universidad San Jorge (2013). Es profesor titular de Expresión Arquitectónica y Proyectos Fin de Grado de la Escuela de Arquitectura de la Universidad San Jorge.

Patrizia Di Monte es arquitecta por el I.U.A.V., becada por el Gobierno Italiano para estudios de postgrado del 1996 al 1998, titulo de Master ETSAB-UPC-CCCB, doctorado ETSAB-UPC, profesora de Urbanismo y Arquitectura Social y coordinadora de relaciones internacionales de la ETSA USJ hasta 2014. Visiting professor del Politecnico de Milán, Master NIB, y SOS en Italia desde 2015. Validated Lead Expert Urbact + Cost.

En 1998 fundan gravalosdimonte arquitectos, desarrollando proyectos culturales, que abarcan desde el arte a la arquitectura, estrategias de regeneración urbana, paisajismo, arquitectura participativa y urbanismo sostenible. Autores intelectuales del programa “estonoesunosolar”. Ganadores de los premios internacionales, Eurocties Planning for people, 2011; Innovazione e Qualitá urbana 2010, Saie Selecion 12 Urban Regeneration and development, Biennale Spazio Pubblico 2013 Cittá sociale, mención de investigación XI BEAU; sus trabajos han sido expuestos en NAI – Rótterdam, DAZ – Berlín, MAXXI – Roma, Biennale Architettura Venezia y Bienal Arquitectura Urbanismo Española.

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