Cinematic approaches to mapping spatial narratives

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In the twenty-first century, architectural practitioners, investigators, and educators face increasingly diverse theoretical and technical challenges to keep pace with skills needed for effective spatial observation, analysis, and communication. The impact of rapidly changing and readily available information and communications technology is manifest in shifting ways that places, spaces, and architectural projects are communicated. Filmic mapping skills are an area of architects’ training that is often taken for granted in an era of ubiquitous digital tools and video sharing or manipulation software. Using digital media and film in architecture can lead to investigations that yield little more than surface observations rather than more composed and critically driven enquiries. This paper argues that film (as a multi-dimensional mapping tool incorporating aspects of space and time) can generate deeper understandings of inhabited environments than architects’ traditional hand-eye approaches alone. The paper is structured in three parts: first, an examination of key concepts and precedents underpinning the projects’ use of film combined with other architectural mediums and mapping techniques; second, a discussion about the use of cinematic mapping as a multi-disciplinary methodology in the project research; and third, an illustrated evaluation of project findings using extracts from filmic outputs and feedback from public screenings/exhibits in 2016. The project outputs – short films that incorporate both traditional and digital architectural representation as time-based observations are original works that adapt and apply filmmaking theory and precedents from architect-filmmakers as well as established documentary-film artists. The projects, significantly, do not rely on advanced digital modeling skills. They integrate low-tech visioning skills (drawing, making, spoken word) with accessible digital tools – phone and computer applications – to broaden the ways architects can learn to “see”, interpret, and communicate spatial experiences from often complex and less readily observable everyday phenomena.The project findings set out in the paper suggest filmic techniques can positively impact the experiential depth of design investigations, and that filmic outcomes can be effective envisioning tools that foster greater engagement between architectural professionals and lay-persons. The paper’s conceptual framework builds upon phenomenological understandings of place as the meaning interpreted by people through lived and observed human experience. Key concepts discussed include theories and debates about the representation of space and place through the dynamics of film and more static still-framed approaches - as far as these concepts can be communicated through the medium of text and images. Cinematic mapping (i.e., mapping communicated through filmic narratives) is introduced as a multi-disciplinary approach to envisioning architecture incorporating filmmaking processes (in-camera set-up, recording, and post-production editing to incorporate supplemental sound, observational studies, and archival data) to communicate qualitative as well as quantitative information in ways that are accessible to both design professionals and lay-people. The outcomes illustrate how a considered and time-based filmic approach to mapping can reveal unexpected phenomena in everyday environments. Once observed and noted, less readily observable socio-spatial phenomena can then be captured and shared more effectively (in real or time-lapsed frequencies and frames) using cinematic techniques as communication tools. Like orthographic drawings, model-making, and CAD skills therefore the paper argues how filmic methods can become another set of intuitive creative tools to aid architects’ envisioning of changing environmental meanings and experiential spatial qualities in their designs.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEnvisioning Architecture: Space/ Time/ Meaning
EditorsTom Maver, Paul Chapman, Christopher Platt, Richard Portela, David Eaton
Place of PublicationGlasgow
PublisherGlasgow School of Art
ISBN (Print)978-0-9576660-8-5
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 6 Sept 2017


  • architecture
  • cinematic mapping
  • spatial analysis
  • film theory


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