Network of Mosques

Map Critique: Islam, Republic, Neoliberalism

I first found this map a few months ago (right before this semester) and was intrigued by the questions it posited and what it showed. It’s designed by Burak Arikan and Zeyno Ustun, who are exploring various network formations and connections collaboratively. Their latest work is around mapping urban transformations in Turkey, specifically through the lens of mobilization in the summer at Gezi.

Map Overview:

There are three maps, each showing disparate networks, with distinct themes. They frame Islam (through mosques), Republic (through national monuments), and Neoliberalism (through shopping malls). These are asserted as the foremost ideological pivots in Turkey, hence the maps. The map of the mosques is connected through overlapping calls to prayer (azaan), while the network of republic monuments shows the proximity of monuments to museums, and the network of neoliberalism via shopping malls signifies the overlap of shopping malls and consumers.

The maps were created using Google Maps as a primary base layer, using archival material alongside google queries, and then the data was extracted from Google, and input into Gephi, an open source software for interactive visualization and mapping complex networks, using longitudes/latitudes for accurate geographical placement.

With the absence of a base map layer to root us to familiar geographical coordinates, it is not easy to navigate through the maps. The maps also do not allow the user to zoom further into specific points, there are only two levels, one slightly larger than the other.

This map series was presented at the Istanbul Design Biennial 2012.


Map Critique:

While looking at this map for the presentation, I had lots of questions – which arose, largely due to this class and our heightened appreciation and awareness of maps as tools and critical frameworks – which I asked the mapmakers.

i) Is it possible to zoom in and see location? For example to see which mosque, and the neighborhood where it’s located?

ii) What kind of locational map or base layer does this map rely upon?

iii) How does it incorporate cartographic elements or geographical coordinates?

iv) How interactive can it be? Can it be participatory at all?

v) Is it an ongoing map or made specifically with a time/place stamp in mind? Do you update it? Additionally, can you talk about the research conducted in gathering the data for these maps?

I have addressed some of these questions above, in the overview section. The map does not allow for a zoom in option, to be able to pinpoint exact location. It utilized google maps and gephi in its production process. It is not at all participatory, and is not a live map. It provides a snapshot in time and place, but does not concern itself with accuracy or truth or timed-based relevance. For this reason, it remains more of an aesthetic device, rather than a map, which allows for layers of information. I think it can provide interesting starting points to launch into other research questions, or follow-up themes and is certainly an interesting visualization. However, it is unable to share or impart concrete information, and at times calls into question its methodology (most of which is unshared in its archiving and the catalogue text).

The maps also do not interact with one another, so we cannot ascertain relations between say mosques and shopping malls. Do shopping malls contain mosques? Do people shop and pray in conjunction? Do the same people shop and pray? These are basic questions of interaction between the maps, which are not addressed within the scope of these separate networks. The maps are vague in showing what the connections highlight: how does the network operate? What does reach of shopping malls mean? Do the same consumers shop at the malls or is it connected by which brands they stock? The connections between monuments and museums is also nebulous – when was each constructed? Did the monuments lead to the museums? If so, when and how?

The map, which caught my interest the most was the network of mosques. According to the design, it “connected through overlapping call to prayer sounds of 3000+ mosques in Istanbul.” I would have liked to hear a soundscape within this map, or have some space for an audio component. This map does not reveal the urban infrastructure and the architecture of the mosques and surrounding neighbourhoods that allow for echoes and reverberations and movement of sound through space to map out the reach of the call to prayer, and where it resounds.


I wanted to share this map, as upon second and third inspections of it, I found it to be lacking in detailed information (that I was seeking) and found myself pushing against its limitations. This feeling of frustration when coming up against a map like this pushed me to think in more thorough ways about my own mapping project, moving out of conceptual frameworks into ways that could unify thematic arguments with spatial design elements and basic questions such as how is this map opened up to navigation? What is the entry point/Are there multiple entry points? What are the overarching themes and how can they be constructed as visual layers and textures of information? What patterns can be discerned through interpreting these layers? How can my map be a multi sensory experience relying upon evoking sound and smell and taste?

I also wanted to share this map to try to position mapping as we’ve been looking at it without a base map that is uniform and standard. If our initial point of reference is overturned, how do we approach or apprehend a map? Can we allow for other interpretations of it? Does this make us push our own ideas of building upwards over layers, i.e. can we recreate the layers?

As a final parting thought, I am also interested in the dynamic between a static map showing a network as an archival moment, and a live map, which allows for revisions and changes and is reconfiguring itself based on reality, and the limitations of each. Both have value and purpose. The static map can allow for an expansive scale, while the live map may be very focused and cover a small time period or area, etc.

As the post-final parting thought, I would like to share this book, Infinite City, by Rebecca Solnit as a fantastic guide to mapping cities using a variety of emotional and sensorial and informational frameworks.

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