Creat. Sp.

Mapping: A Speculative and Creative Design Tool

Khalilah Zakariya, Mazlina Mansor and Nor Zalina Harun


Mapping; Design; Design Research; Architecture; Landscape Architecture

PUBLISHER The Author(s) 2015. This article is published with open access at

Mapping is a technique used to record and represent information graphically. In the studios made forarchitecture and landscape architecture, mapping is usually conducted at the Inventory-making and Analysis stage. Data from the site is gathered and documented for further investigation. However, mapping can also become a creative tool to ‘reveal’ certain things or invisible processes. It can encourage the designers to speculate the site and the design from different perspectives and at multiple scales. This paper discusses some mapping projects that have been explored by the authors through their research projects. The aim of this paper is to recommend mapping as a creative and speculative design tool that can make data more engaging to design thinking.


Maps are utilitarian in nature. The use of maps as graphical documentation for recording a setting date back to the prehistoric periods and the early civilizations(Harmon, 2004). Maps normally convey information about a geographical location or about other places, to aid the understanding of space and physical phenomena (Harmon & Clemans, 2009; Pillai, 2013). In the built environment, mapping is employed as a method to record spatial data that can reveal certain patterns or distributions of a subject. Within the last fifteen to twenty years, several designers, planners and artists have challenged the conventions of mapping just as data representation and have exploredits usefulness as part of a critical thinking process. In The Agency of Mapping, Corner (2011) argues that mapping should reveal something new, rather than as an ‘unimaginative, analytical practice’. Bustamante (2008) debates a similar idea, where he asserts that ‘the making of a map has to offer critical interpretation and serve as stimuli for the production of new scenarios.’Mapping, like designing, also should act as a way of operating.

The application of mapping as a method of inquiry in the field of design and the built environment is not new. Various designers, artists, scholars and the researchers have implemented mapping as an alternative method to interrogate a site. However, the techniques of mapping have evolved over the years. A combination of creative representations of mapping generates a different kind of interrogation. Rather than merely a display of generic data, mapping becomes a design process in its nature, which can stimulate design thinking.

This article draws on three examples of mapping techniques applicable to the Built Environment Studios (Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Urban Design, Planning). These techniques are ‘Observing’, ‘Following’, and ‘Representing’. A literature review of mapping and the types of mapping are examined to give an overview of the subject matter and address their values in the design field. This article starts by situating mapping as a speculative method of inquiry for aiding the design process. The consequent sub-sections explain three techniques of mapping: Observing, Following, and Representing. The final section concludes the implication of the mapping techniques in architecture education and design thinking.

Page(s) 1–12
ISSN Print : 2321-3892, Online : 2321-7154
DOI 10.15415/cs.2015.31001

Mapping plays an important role in revealing what a place has, how it works and how people utilise it. It also opens up possibilities of where and how the designers might intervene. As discussed in the three techniques, mapping can expose the qualities and relationships between people, spaces, services, infrastructure and conditions. The way we represent a map can also offer multiple readings of the place. A multi-method approach to examining spaces in the built environment is critical for designers and researchers. It allows places to be seen with a ‘fresher set of eyes.’ Site inventory and analysis are a common method used by designers and design students to record elements that exist at a site and document how users occupy the site. From the potentials and constraints identified through this process, design becomes a ‘solution’ to the site’s needs. However, to unpack more about the place beyond how it appears, we need to adopt other techniques that can reveal their intangible and invisible characteristics. The mapping techniques discussed in this paper, among others, are extensions of the conventional methods of collecting, representing and examining data. They provide alternative ways for designers and students to see and evaluate space and place.

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