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On Voyage (Summer 2015)

In “Sit. Look. Sketch.” five architects and designers share their insights on the value of travel sketching. While I had many freehand assignments in architecture school at Cornell, my love for sketching started a few years later when my husband, John, won the Steedman Fellowship and we found ourselves at the American Academy in Rome. It was an extraordinary opportunity, and we made the most of every minute, often heading into the city, sketchbooks in hand, to capture its architectural splendors. Ten years later, when I won the Rotch Travelling Scholarship, we continued our travels and sketching throughout Europe.

T. Kelly Wilson describes the value of freehand drawing exercises in Trastevere, suggesting it develops a higher level of reflection and awareness of the built environment. Joshua Simoneau takes a different approach to recording his investigation of the complexities of the spatial sequence of Stockholm City Hall with an exploded axonometric view. Frank Harmon explores the monastery of St. Ganagobie in France in ink and watercolor, incorporating a broader investigation of physical context and historical setting. Kirin Makker references Le Corbusier’s observation that travel sketching is a way to “fix deep down in one’s experiences what is seen.” Ryan Yaden notes that in taking time to draw a street scene in Mumbai, he finds a sense of structure in the seemingly unordered environment.

These observations resonate with me. Sketching keeps me mentally in the present. My mind is focused on the objects in front of me, and I am grounded in the here and now. Not somewhere else. Not yesterday. Not tomorrow. Sketching makes travel richer because I participate fully in the experiences at hand. Thank you for reminding us to see and record more of our environment through drawing.

Debi McDonald AIA
BBJ, Boston

In his essay “Nonstop,” Ian Baldwin calls the airport a constant experiment. Like the advent of the jet age more than 50 years ago, we are on the cusp of another dramatic shift in the way we design and experience the airport terminal. Two paths are diverging: the high-touch boutique travel experience for the 1 percent versus the self-service, self-guided journey for the 99 percent. Both are being revolutionized by technology and the changing economics of airlines and air travel.

Before driverless cars are common-place, the airport experience will be almost entirely self-service. Very soon, the only thing we won’t be able to do ourselves is fly the airplane. Near-field communications systems will detect us as we enter airport property and check us in without our smart device leaving our pocket, wrist, or permanent bag tag. Just as Ethan Hawke’s character in Gattaca strolled onto his spacecraft in a suit, the near-future airport will be about moving, not waiting. Facial recognition and even cameras that recognize someone’s unique gait are biometric systems already being tested for airports. Our current staccato travel experience of divulging, divesting, and disrobing will appear as quaint as a Versailles-like parterre at Idlewild Airport, and we will slip the terrestrial bonds without skipping a beat.

Jim Stanislaski AIA
Gensler, Boston

“Redrawing the Map,” by William Rankin, summarizes a narrative that is constant in our field. Changing and emerging technologies threaten the view of traditional cartography. However, it should be noted that cartographers are in no danger of going extinct. Rankin mentions “message maps” that can be made by “designers, programmers, journalists, and artists” to convey useful data. In my experience — and as Rankin mentions  — we are no longer just cartographers in today’s spatial-data production world. We are called everything from data scientists and Web designers to user-experience developers. Names aside, our shared goal is to create “message maps” because there is a demand for it now. Whatever you call these manipulators of data, they’re being “redrawn” into a more modern role in the digital age.

New technologies in cartography are introduced every day as companies and the open-source world try to make maps and spatial data work better. We are in the infancy stages of a revolution, similar to the introduction of the personal computer or the World Wide Web. Cartography is enjoying an amazing moment in which we can explore all parts of the modern mapping “stack” and experiment with what data is usable and visually interesting for the consumer.

The transition of cartography from a field that most imagine as antique and academic to a cutting- edge discipline allows us to create new standards in design, computer science, data visualization, and geography for how we manipulate and display data. Our role in this digital age is more important than ever.

Katie Kowalsky University of Wisconsin Cartography Lab Madison, Wisconsin