October 3 Cognitive Mapping Lab

Choose your mission:

  1. You are a government certification agency charged with ensuring that architectural design and urban planning are sensitive to the needs of (1) the agoraphobic (those who fear crowds and potential entrapment), (2) the misophonic (those who are triggered by particular sounds), or (3) the elderly and mobility -challenged. Explore a circumscribed environment: the University Center, the intersection of 5th Ave and 14th Street, or some other nearby location. You migth: note sites / passages / zones / etc that would not be appropriate for your constituents; and sketch out recommended circulation routes, work spots, socialization areas, etc., that might be particularly appealing to them. Your challenge is to create a means of cartographic communication that conveys the importance of these concerns to various stakeholders: activists, city administrators, planners, contractors, etc.
  2. Your international student-exchange group has just time-machined in from 40,000 BCE Eurasia. You can’t read, you’re not familiar with modern technology, and, honestly, all the conventions of urban living are pretty baffling to you. You’re Neanderthals — literally. How do you create a map to help your successors find their way from the Union Square subway to the University Center cafeteria?
  3. You’re nominating Union Square in a global competition for the Earth’s Happiest Places (…or “Safest Places,” or “Most Legible Places,” or “Most Inclusive Places”). You must include a map with your submission. How do you compellingly capture the Park’s superlative qualities?

As you create your maps, you might draw from today’s readings in considering:

  • What particular paths, edges, nodes, landmarks, districts, or other “species” of space might guide your constituents’ way, as they did for Lynch’s research participants?
  • How might your subjects’ navigation become a social activity, as it is for the Perfect City Working Group?
  • How might your constituents, like the Polynesian wayfinders, use the stars  — or some other architecturally-, infrastructurally-, or environmentally ingrained markers or cues — to find their way around? How might they rely on their own spatial memories?
  • Do they, like London’s black cab drivers, have strategies for finding the “shortest and most elegant line between points” or employing other navigational rubrics or schema?
  • How might your constituents denote those places best avoided? Why are certain sites, routes, or regions topoi non grata? What are the ethical implications of “blacklisting” particular terrains, and how can we grapple with those concerns through our cartographic codes and aesthetics?
  • What other strategies might folks employ to make the building or the larger terrain “imageable” and “legible”?

Try sketching out some rough maps representing your cartographic subject(s)’ “sense of place.” You might draw inspiration from Lynch’s maps, but you’re free to develop your own legends and visual language. Consider also integrating or adapting some of Lynch’s other methods – like photography and inventories – or inventing your own.

9/12 In-Class Map Critique

For today’s lab, we’ll break everyone into groups of three(-ish); ask you to review the following list of choices and choose one map to analyze; then give you roughly a half-hour to explore your chosen map, and perhaps do a little background research to find out how it was created, by whom, what their intentions were, how it’s been received by its intended audiences/user groups, etc. Ultimately, you’ll apply some of the evaluative criteria we discussed in the first half of class (you can access the presentation here). We’ll then reconvene and share what we’ve discovered.

Here are your eight options:


A Bear’s Eye-View of Yellowstone: a map-embedded multimedia presentation follows one bear, with a camera around its neck, through Yellowstone. How does a bear experience the world? How does it situate itself within space?


The Center for Spatial Research’s Citi Bike Rebalancing Study: studying Citi Bike use patterns and redistribution options in the hopes of evening out the bike-share geography.




“We believe in a world where all seven billion of us can belong anywhere, #OneLessStranger at a time.” Ahhhh. Touching. Explore AirBNB’s “A World of Belonging” map, including the introductory extravaganza.


Columbia’s Center for Spatial Research has an interactive called We Can that features the people who collect cans in the city and follows each them through their daily journeys.


With all recent legislation about gerrymandering, stats website FiveThirtyEight has made available a tool called The Atlas of Redistricting that “fixes” all those crazy Congressional districts… and there’s a fix for everyone.


The Guardian was covering this summer’s Thailand cave rescue from the breaking of the story to the boys’ eventual rescue, and they used different maps and representations alongside their text to tell the world about it.



The construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the ensuing protests were in the news two years ago, as the new underground crude oil pipe posed (and now that it’s up and running, continues to pose) a threat to the culturally significant indigenous lands it crosses through, as well as to the quality of the water supply in four states. This New York Times story covers the pipeline tip to tip.

For another perspective, contrast the journalists’ map above with the one published on a website owned by Energy Transfer Partners, the builders of the pipeline.


Taking data from the UN Human Rights Commission, this map from The Refugee Project shows flows of refugees from country to country over time. Read the story before you get to the map, where each country gets its own treatment accessible as a text drop-down on the left.