Expansive Cartographies in the Post-Digital Age

Machines can be used as automate entities to perform repetitive tasks to replace man, but their real potential is when they will be used to expand and extend the creativity of man, stated Lewis Mumford (Mumford, 1934)when observing the forceful transformation from manual to automated process during the last century. Today, we are participating in an even more profound transition of the Information Society, characterized by the embedment of computation in all areas of knowledge, a process denominated 4th. Industrial Revolution (Schwab, 2016)or Post-Digital Age (Berry & Dieter, 2015). This shift provides unthinkable technological advancements and opportunities, but at the same time, demands novel frameworks to rethink, engage, and transform our built environment. Therefore, the pursuit of architectural knowledge must not only embrace technology alone, but must also formulate and develop new frameworks and scenarios for the representation, conceptualization, and interaction to foster disciplinary advancement.

The fast irruption of computation over the last decades has introduced a profound shift in the practice of architecture, urbanism and design in general. This means that design professionals must continuously adapt to changing software, find computational specialists, or gain the skills and training required for a highly proficient generation of designers and architects. Judging by recent events, it seems that the gap is even more profound because digital architecture is mostly characterized by a banal production emphasizing form making. As a result, architectural education seems to be drifting between traditional design and highly speculative form making agendas. Only a few initiatives are starting to challenge this somehow generalized scenario, where renewed agendas within academic environments are opening crucial discussions related to the profound shift produced by the insertion of digital technologies in the conception, development and production of architectural knowledge.

A few recent initiatives highlight the necessity tofind new representational techniques based on newfound capacities in the link between machine and human, sciences and art, environment and manmade milieus. For example, drawing machineshave been explored by artists to generate analogue drawings using site specific inputs such as climatic conditions in Climatic Drawing Machine(Storey, 1991), and more recently a few initiatives bridge between art and architecture, such as in the installation Losing Myself(Mclaughlin & Manolopoulou, 2016). These novel tools are able to represent complexity, singularity, and expansive phenomena that characterises the society of information.

One of the most relevant academic explorations about the underlying logics of drawing machines as an active creative tool for the representation, formulation, and production of novel design agendas is explored in a series of Master level Design Studios directed by Edouard Cabay at IAAC (Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia): Active Public Space (IAAC, 2016), Performative Landscape(2016), Machinic Protocols (IAAC, 2017), and Programming the perpetual unknown (2018).

This research speculate the reciprocal relationship between man and computation as a collaborative process, by constructing analogue drawing machines equipped with electronic sensors to collect data in real time from the urban realm. External stimuli was captured by custom made robots acting as self subsidient independent entitiesthat are able to respond with simple rules within precise and limited thresholds of movement, so each unit could leave a trace of a trajectory, user, or time related episode with ink or other medium over paper, therefore generating an assemblage of geometries emerging from repetitive and unique motions. These mapping devices resulted in striking cartographies of dynamic and unstable set of conditions as fields of accumulation and intensities. More importantly, proposals emerging from this protocol redefine public spaces in the city as open, collaborative and immersive environments by implementing responsive systems triggered by interactions between users, matter and technology.

Figure 1: IS.1 – Introductory Studio- Iaac, 2017.
Figure 1: IS.1 – Introductory Studio- Iaac, 2017.

These emergent cartographies can be defined as singular, adaptive, multidimensional, multidisciplinary and expansive. They are singular because each drawing represents a precise and limited set of data and instructions with rules formulated by the designer with precise protocols and applied in repetitive motions, allowing several singular maps to emerge. They are adaptive because new analogue mediums can be explored to generate surprising outcomes, where data can be visualized with a certain degree of indeterminacy and uncertainty. They are multiple because new dimensions can be incorporated: spatial, temporal, scales, etc. By using multiple drawing machines, multiplicity is stimulated when independent automated machines set the basis for nondeterministic drawing techniques. They are fundamentally expansive, because the role of the machine and the human is redefined by restating their function and objectives, where digital tools expand and enhance human interphases and interaction.

Future challenges

This exploration deserves a relevant place in current discourses around digital culture for several reasons.

Beyond the punctual contribution of representational mediums and techniques and the link between analogue and digital realms, the legacy of these expansive cartographiescan be reframed as a pertinent and necessary exploration of a more profound link present in architecture since ancient times: the fluctuating and unstable relationship between art and science. By linking them in immersive mediums that foster creativity within technical rigour, novel operative frameworks emerge and diffuse boundaries engaging the fields of computational tools, robotic techniques, and art. When the designer becomes an orchestrator of a symphony of bottom up actions and tools within open an unexpected outcomes, the authorship is repositioned within collaborative process that promote frameworks for inquiry and creation.

The implication of using new representational techniques bring a transformation at the analysis, simulation and formulation stage, where innovative analytical and design tools are able to provoke new design agendas to reconceptualise architectural and urban design processes, and to provide effective simulation tools to envision the future evolution and transformation of the urban space.

IS.1 – Introductory Studio- Iaac, 2017.
IS.1 – Introductory Studio- Iaac, 2017.

To expand this research, future explorations could include customized robots and novel strategies for analysing urban scenarios, new protocols and methods to mediate dynamic systems, and radical solutions to promote urban interaction. This work is undoubtedly at its infancy, but is already opening new avenues to rethink how to represent complex phenomena with expansive cartographies, suggesting new frameworks to analyse, conceptualise, and design not only objects, but also architecture and urban fields.


Berry, D. M., & Dieter, M. (2015). Postdigital Aesthetics: Art, Computation and Design.London: Palgrave.

IAAC. (2016, April 7). Active Public Space – Glories Regenerative Systems. (IAAC, Editor) Retrieved October 17, 2018, from Iaac Blog :

IAAC. (2017, October 3). MAA1 Introductory Studio Machinic Protocols Active Public Space. Retrieved from

Mclaughlin, N., & Manolopoulou, Y. (2016). Irish pavilion installs drawing machine to highlight dementia at the Venice Biennale. Retrieved from designboom:

Mumford, L. (1934). Technics and Civilization.New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company, Inc.

Schwab, K. (2016). 4th. Industrial Revolution.Currency (January 3, 2017).

Storey, A. (1991). Climatic Drawing Machine, The POWER PLANT, Toronto.Retrieved from