PHASE 01:  RESEARCH- critical mapping

An essential aspect in the development of a designer is the gradual indoctrination into, and familiarity with, the design process as a problem solving approach. The design process approach is unlike other more familiar problem solving approaches in that designers utilize a distinct, cyclical combination of productive reasoning (abductive thinking) and analytical reasoning (deductive/inductive thinking) to address complex and open-ended problems. Unlike starting with problems with known variables, productive reasoning has few known variables and the only real known is a valued outcome. These cognitive approaches are a key characteristic of design thinking, yet are a challenge to learn because they are unlike those typically associated with other rational-based problem solving methods. The cognitive skills of productive reasoning and patterns of abductive cognition are central to design thinking. These skills are unique to design thinking as they provide the designer with the ability to continually frame and (re)frame a problem in new and interesting ways.

Conceptual frames are complex viewpoints or positions that include some key characteristics: 1) the ability to creatively develop a specific perception of a problem, 2) the adoption of specific concepts to describe a problem in a different or creative way, and 3) application of novel or known working principles that underpin the problem. Put another way, frames simplify and create alternative views of a problem while also provoking a conceptual range of strategies to solve a problem. Therefore, the act of framing can be thought of as the creation of a position or viewpoint from which a problem can be addressed. Framing is a cognitive process that is distinct to design thinking and its is through framing that the designer begins to explore the conceptual boundaries of a problem. Reframing is taking the existing problem and the frame of perceptions and principles and reinterpreting the assumptions, values, and other predetermined factors so as to create new frames around a problem.  The act of (re)framing resists technical rationality and allows one to question and reimagine perceived boundaries so as to invite unknowns into cognitive thinking. Through the use of framing, the designer must welcome unfamiliar conditions, such as uncertainty, uniqueness, contradiction, ambiguity and indeterminacy.  This is how "thinking outside of the box" occurs. 

It has been observed that strong designers have the ability to rapidly reframe the problem and search for the central paradox of the problem- that is: what is the REAL problem that needs to be solved?  In these observations, it has been noted that strong designers have learned that one does not address the core paradox straight away- rather, the core paradox is conceptually encircled and examined from various contexts. This contextual examination from various positions provides further definition of the core problem/paradox and an initial understanding of the conceptual strategies to solve the core problem.  Designers only start working towards a solution once the nature of the core paradox has been established.  In this manner, research is more than the familiar collection of technical or quantitative data; rather, research is the process by which the designer seeks the core problem. 

In project research, the designer is seeking to define the problem by exploring the conceptual contexts so ask a different set of questions and to (re)frame the problem. Various methods can be developed to frame and reframe the problem and to cultivate an awareness of the unfamiliar conditions.  In this phase of work, you will utilize two techniques to help frame and define a problem.  The first technique is familiar- the acquisition of new theoretical knowledge  that helps you perceive a problem in a new, critical manner, which in turn allows for the exploration of new concepts and working principles to describe the problem.  This theoretical knowledge comes from readings, lectures, etc. The second technique is less familiar- that of critical mapping. 

PART 01:  data collection and examination+CRITICAL MAPPING

“The agency of mapping is most effective when its capacity for description also sets the conditions for new eidetic and physical worlds to emerge. Unlike tracings, which propagate redundancies, mappings discover new worlds within past and present ones; they inaugurate new grounds upon the hidden traces of a living context.”
— JAMES CORNER, Field Operations “The Agency of Mapping: Speculation, Critique and Invention” in “MAPPINGS”, Denis Cosgrove, ed. (1999)


Research through critical mapping has agency as an eidetic operation to reveal new conditions- both past and present- and to establish or reveal new territories of critical practice. Thus, critical mapping may serve as a research strategy to examine the Anthropocene landscape and uncover new conceptualizations of the landscape and potential programmatic trajectories.  Examination, through new paradigmatic lenses- such as the Anthropocene and theory of the hydrosocial- opens opportunities to map and reveal new conditions and territories. These territories and the co-constituents that exert influence on the landscape become apparent in their expression/suppression through the mapping of the systems. These are the systems of influence and, in the case of the MIssissippi River, may include

  • hydro-infrastructural systems, such as revetments, canals, wing dams, floodways, locks+dams, or other infrastructure

  • political systems, such as point/non-point pollution regulation, 9' navigable channel requirements, dredge reuse, state boundaries, flow diversion policy, etc

  • governance systems, such as drainage districts, US Army Corps of Engineers management policies, etc

  • anthro-geomorphological systems, such as sediment removal and disposal, levees, channel degradation/aggradation,

  • hydro-geomorphology- historical locations of river alignments, processes of deposition and erosion, stream dynamics, etc.

  • geomorphology- topography, landform, surficial processes of erosion- can be "natural" or anthropogenic.

  • hydrology- movements of water, courses of water flow above and below ground, etc

  • ecology- terrestrial or aquatic,

  • cultural systems- roads, towns, buildings, land uses, commodity transport,

  • historical- environmental or cultural histories, such as changes through time, events of significance, changes in land use, former patterns of human settlement or river locations, etc

  • temporal systems- migration, river phenomena (fog, currents, etc), seasonal variations in water level, flooding extents, crop production/harvest, town events/celebrations, shipping seasons, etc

The use of critical mapping, in conjunction with traditional modes of data collection and contextual research, provides the designer with an analytic and projective instrument to gain further knowledge into the past and present project conditions and to open new questions and opportunities for design speculation.  Implicit to this research is an understanding that the physical form of landscapes is a reflection of larger cultural ideologies, social policies and economic contexts across the trajectory of time (i.e. history). Through this research temporal conditions and shifting paradigms can be discovered through data collection and examination.


Phase 01_Work Products


// As a graduate student, you will need to take ownership of your own research interests, both in this class and in the MLA program as a whole. For this phase of work, you will conduct independent, self-initiated research on the Mississippi River from a variety of popular media (periodicals, video, etc), technical reports (US Army Corps of Engineer reports, environmental impact assessments, flooding reports, economic studies, etc) and academic scholarship (peer-reviewed papers, presentations, etc). Record your findings in an online folder which includes PDF documents of all downloadable reports and academic papers, printed PDF of periodicals, bookmarks of websites, etc. In addition, you should maintain a studio-specific sketchbook to record all important thoughts, facts, questions, reflections, etc. This should be maintained throughout the term. 

Any downloadable data you collect, such as technical reports, historic maps, etc can be stored in the class Base Data folder in the course folder.

Note- be strategic in your research themes and river locations. Select locations/ themes that are potentially of professional interest to you. The readings provided should be considered an initial point of departure and an opportunity to become familiar with recent scholarship.



// For Monday, September 10:  Study the river and adjacent context through a combination of sources, including US Army Corps of Engineers river navigation charts, USGS 7.5 minute quadrangle maps, aerial photography, and other sources. Select three locations on the river to create a transect across the river. Mark these locations on the class Google Map, found in the course folder (or here). Prepare a brief paragraph for each location that describes why you chose this location, important facts, etc.  One transect must be each of the follow stretches of river:

Lake Itasca to the confluence of the Wisconsin River. 

Wisconsin River to Ohio River

Ohio River to Gulf of Mexico

// For Wednesday, September 12: Based on comments received on Monday, create three river valley transects at each location.  The transect should be drawn at two different scales. One transect at 1 inch =500 feet and extending a minimum of 1 mile each way perpendicular from the center of the river; One transect at 1 inch = 50 feet and extending a minimum of 300 feet landward om the top of bank. You may extend the length of this section to include important river earthworks (levees) or structures (urban area builds).  



// For Wednesday, September 19:  Research, gather and distill pertinent site and regionally-specific data for ONE of your selected transects. Based on your research, prepare a cartographic projection of the thematic issues that are the subject of your research. The projection will be both investigation and discourse and will thus be both representational and generative. The projection should be an assemblage of various data sources and utilize various scalar projections (section, plan view, aerial birdseye); raster and vector techniques, various types of image formats and color indices to suggest visual hierarchy and consistent theme.

Use the transect as a basis of the critical map and include other pertinent information that communicates and reveals new information about this location. This can include maps, aerials, photos, reports, etc. Develop a conceptual strategy to visually communicate the research findings, inter-relationships among research topics and representation of spatial or temporal conditions and systems.  Consider how the issues are inter-related and operate at a range of scales, including site and regional scales and the surrounding contextual territories.  So as to consider landscape change, you should consider and visually represent how various research themes have changed over time. The maps should be annotated with essential labels, symbols, etc. and citations should be provided. 24×36 or 16:9 screen ratio "poster',  landscape orientation. Post PDF to Google Drive.



0905: Course Introduction

0907: Seminar- Hydrosocial Cycles and Territories

LECTURE 01/02: MIssissippi River Context (Part 1 and 2)

Work Session

0909: LECTURE 03: Mississippi River Context (part 3)

Review preliminary cross-sections

Work Session

0913: LECTURE 04: Critical Mapping

Progress review.

0914: NO CLASS- MT at Fresh Water Symposium UIUC 

0917: Work Session

0919: Part 01 Presentations  (peer review)



PHASE 01_READINGS and references


HYDROSOCIAL READER #1 Anthropocene Headwaters, Published by Water Bar & Public Studio, eds. 2017

Rutgerd Boelens, Jaime Hoogesteger, Erik Swyngedouw, Jeroen Vos & Philippus Wester Hydrosocial territories: a political ecology perspective, Water International, 41:1, 1-14 2016

Jamie Linton and Jessica Budds The hydrosocial cycle: Defining and mobilizing a relational-dialectical approach to water. Geoforum 57,  170–180 2014


Critical Mapping Suggested Readings:

Mississippi Floods

Berger, Alan. "Reclaiming the American West", from Praxis, Journal of Writing and Building, Issue 4: Landscape, Amanda Reeser  and Ashley Schafer eds. 2002

Corner, James. "The Agency of Mapping: Speculation, Critique, Invention", from Mappings, Denis Cosgrove ed. (London: Reaktion, 1999) 

Wood, Denis and James Fels. "The Natures of Maps: Cartographic Constructions of the Natural World" from The Natures of Maps: Cartographic Constructions of the Natural World (University of Chicago Press.2008).

Matterns, Shannon. "Deep Mapping the Media City" from Deep Mapping the Media City (University of Minnesota Press.2015).


Critical Mapping References:

Bhatia, Neeraj, and Jurgen Mayer. Arium: Weather and Architecture. (Ostfildern: Germany: Hatje Cantz.2010). 

Bourquin, N., S. Ehmann, R. Klanten and F. van Heerden. Data Flow: Visualizing Information in Graphic Design (Berlin: Die Gestalten Verlag, 2008)

Bourquin, N., S. Ehmann, R. Klanten and T. Tissot. Data Flow 2: Visualizing Information in Graphic Design (Berlin: Die Gestalten Verlag, 2010)

Carlisle, Stephanie and Nicholas Pevzner. "The Performative Ground: Rediscovering The Deep Section" in Scenario Journal 2: Performance. 2012

Corner, James. 2000. Taking Measures Across the American Landscape. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Cosgrove, Denis, ed. Mappings (London: Reaktion, 1999).

Crampton, Jeremy.  “Maps: A Perverse Sense of the Unseemly” in Mappings: A Critical Introduction to Cartography and GIS (Chichester: Wiley Blackwell 2010).

Density Atlas

Dodge, Martin. Rethinking Maps: New Frontiers in Cartographic Theory (New York: Routledge, 2009)

Hall, Peter. “Critical Visualization” in Design and the Elastic Mind (MOMA 2007).

Harley, J.B. “Maps, Knowledge, and Power” in The Iconography of the Landscape edited by D. Cosgrove and S.Daniels (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988): 277-312.

Hobbs, Robert. Mark Lombardi: Global Networks. (New York: Independent Curators International, 2003).

Kwinter, Sanford. “The Genealogy of Models: the Hammer and the Song”, Any 23: Diagram Work, (Fall 1998) No. 23. MVRDV. 1999. Metacity/Datatown. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: 010 Publishers.

Manning, Lauren. "Visualizing Information" in Scenario Journal 1: Landscape Urbanism. 2011.  

Monmonier, Mark S. How to Lie with Maps (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991)

MVRDV. 1999. Farmax. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: 010 Publishers.

MVRDV. 2006. KM3: Excursions on Capacity. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: 010 Publishers. Ratti, Carlo, et al. 2010. MIT Senseable City Lab.

Next City- Sprawl Project

Rankin, Bill. (2011)

Rebuild By Design HUD Competition

Sadler, Simon. ‘A Passion for Maps’ in The Situationist City (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998): 81-89.

Studer, Meg. "NaCl: Operations Enabling Emptiness" in Scenario Journal 3: Rethinking Infrastructure. 2013

Studer, Meg.

Tufte, Edward. 2001. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press.

White, Mason, and Lola Sheppard. 2010. Infranet Lab.

Wood, Denis. “The Power of Maps” and “The Interest is Embodied in the Map in Signs and Myths” in The Power of Maps (The Guilford Press. 1992).