A Manifesto for Urban Interfacing

Submitted: 10-11-2015

A manifesto for [urban interfaces] 

Keywords: performativity, mapping, public realm

Maps are products of design processes. There are a lot of decisions to be made and every decision influences the final outcome of the reality that is portrayed. My interest lies not in the decisions that are made, but the ones that are yet to come, in the phase where maps are collectively performed, where maps are forever chased, where maps directions can divert. To perform the map is to interface: between conflictual points of view, between the physical and the virtual, between the tacit and the explicit, between the known and the unknown. It is precisely this state – in-between – that I’m interested in. It is the space where change can take place, where change takes its place.

Where digital maps (the ones we generally use in our daily lives) tend to measure, notate and coordinate the world around us, mapping – the collective performance and iterative process of making and remaking maps – opens the process up to participation. Engaging in map-making, thus, allows to alter spatial configurations. These maps rely on the collective performance of actants that mediate between what has been, what is being and what is yet to be drawn. Particularly interesting in this respect are location based games in which the cartographers are positioned in the map, as they hold the potential for collective and playful interaction. The primarily focus, thus, is on what maps can do – for instance how they enable others to participate. Collective digital mapping is a pervasive spatial practice that is able to push the notion of production of space towards more emancipatory models. From the perspective of design it is important to understand how certain conditions are created to enable others to form part of the public realm.

Now I presented interfacing as a state of being, but why is it urban? Interfacing is of course not excluded to the urban but it is the urban context where most differences meet, where ideas clash, where the altering between the physical and the virtual takes its extreme form. The urban is full of ungraspable in-betweens. And more than anything, the urban needs interfacing. It needs maps to perform, to expand, to free itself from its own constraints, to be felt, to be understood. 

The map is the instrument with which to uncover the urban fabric, but performing the map is much more radical: it is able to put its own logic into question, it allows to interrogate existing hegemonies, and it is a way to uncover the unimagined. The practice requires time, something that the urbanite normally doesn’t have. Performance however forces us to take time. Participating in the map makes us aware of the in-betweens that we would otherwise not be able to see.