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Map From The Mind: Trust Your Personal Navigation System

Remember a time when your mind was your ‘computer’? No? Me either. Nowadays we rely on technology to wake us up, monitor our health, remember events or appointments, do simple calculations, and to navigate through much so that we don’t trust our own instincts and capabilities. New York based designer Archie Archambault created “Map From The Mind” - which uses the knowledge of locals, as opposed to GPS, to create a unique series of maps. Map From The Mind brings the thrill of exploration back into our daily journeys.

Author: Siphilele Magagula

Image: Courtesy of Archie Archambault

New research indicates that GPS's are hindering our ability to create mental maps, which consists of making connections between elements in our surroundings in order to navigate through space. GPSes have also been reported to lead people in the wrong direction.

As a response, Archie Archambault's mapping project aims to represent collective mental maps for each city, by simplifying structures and districts.

Official Maps vs Mental maps?

Whether it’s on paper or digital, cartography is a subjective representation system. The selection of criteria, set codes, symbols and hierarchy between the different elements visually represented, are all at the discretion of the cartographer. It is almost a process of abstraction. Through comprehensive graphics we learn how to read those codes and use them as our way-finding system.

There is however a difference between the conventional mapping system and the way in which our brains shape orientation and the sense of place. Although digital maps have made navigation easier and opened us up to new terrains, the reliance on them prevents us from formulating our own mental maps. The everyday personal interaction with the urban landscape that mental maps provide is crucial for the human experience - creating a sense of place, providing an emotional connection and a sense of security. It is not only the framework of conceptual organization, but is filled with multisensory stimulations, which create an association with objects and landmarks that become ingrained in our memory and are triggered even in people with memory disorders.

In the 60's in his book ‘The Image Of The City, American urban planner Kevin Lynch introduced the concept of mental mapping. His method consisted of manually crowd sourcing spatial information by asking inhabitants to represent their surroundings based on their interactions and perception. Lynch is considered an icon in human centered urbanism, along Jane Jacobs or William Whyte.

Image: Boston image map, drawn from a collective of cognitive maps, by Kevin Lynch - courtesy of Medium

There is an unmistakable link between Archambault and Lynch’s work, from his philosophy to his research methods.

Are Maps From The Mind The New or Original Form of GPS?

Archie Archambault, presumably influenced by Kevin Lynch’s work, set out on his own mission to simplify and personalize way-finding with the "Map from the Mind" project. With his degrees in Art and Philosophy at Colorado College and Urban Design at Harvard, Archambault embarked on this project several years ago with the aim of creating a minimal, simplified navigation system inspired by local knowledge. “My maps aim to install a "Map from the Mind", simplifying structures and neighborhoods in the most efficient and beautiful way” he explains.

Unlike Google Maps, Archambault’s maps have a personal approach to way-finding. He travels all over the world exploring cities and Interviewing locals and real estate agents, encouraging them to sketch and talk about their experiences in these locations. The result is these unique letterpress prints that clearly convey the scale and connections of what locals deem as the most important locations. Archambault uses circles, as opposed to blocks to represent zones as the circle is our Universe's softest shape.

Image courtesy of Archie Archambault

Image courtesy of Archie Archambault

Archambault’s simplified system makes complex cities like New York easier to envision and appear less threatening - inviting the visitor to explore confidently. One of the fears I had about moving to New York was navigating the seemingly complex subway system and busy streets, however mastering the subway did not feel as good as mastering the streets, sans GPS - where I wandered aimlessly. With less time spent looking down at my phone for the next instruction, there was more time to look up, appreciate and discover my surroundings.

Challenge yourself to create your own mind map and embark on your next adventure!

Video courtesy of Archie Archambault

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