Open Conference Systems, National Conference on the Beginning Design Student

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Citing Site: Utilizing the process of mapping to answer Why…
Jacklynn Niemiec, Jason Austin

Last modified: 2016-12-15


A critical site documentation process is necessary for beginning designers to answer the question, why here?. Traditional forms of site documentation lack the depth to reconstruct a site from its thickest, deepest layers. A basic site plan or figure ground tells a very small part of the story and is often an act of replicating the known - specific locations of buildings and the blank ground that they rest upon. These single layered representations lack the nuance of place—culture, history, materiality, ecology, and many other unseen forces within site. As a result, these forces are illegible at first glance and often ignored by the beginning design student.Revealing the potential (and power) of place – from the big picture context to the tactility of its materiality - is critical to projecting an appropriate architectural fit. The process of mapping (or site indexing) as the vehicle for perennial site discovery allows students to read a site (and all of its qualitative conditions) through multiple lenses and filters. As an analytic process, mapping forces students to actively connect the dots, linking place to ecology, ecology to history, history to physical infrastructure and so on. It allows students to construct and champion their own site narratives--informed by seeing and shaped through discovery.And subsequently, the act of representing their constructed site narratives - a choreographed dance between permanent and temporary agents acting on a site - challenges the beginning design student to navigate and map relationships between analog processes (i.e. the act of marking) and digital compilations (i.e. the act of compressing and layering). This coupling allows for newly-found opportunities for communicating complexity of place in simple terms or revealing the seemingly simple place in complex terms. It requires students to engage time on a different scale and magnitude - realizing the weight and presence of the physical while trying to make sense out of the phenomenal.This paper presents several mapping processes and techniques that utilize the acts of observing, plotting, surveying, tracing, rubbing, layering and storytelling to ensure productive and effective site sleuthing. The site mappings shown are iterative and scaled across studio years; some as a catalyst of design process others within a broader context. As students are introduced to an array of site documentation and mapping methods at the earliest stages of architectural education, the value of place and the role of narrative are embedded within their design process.