Kyle Branchesi, Shane Reiner-Roth
Drawing Millions of Plans Conference
Royal Danish Academy of Art
When architects aren't making floor plans for themselves, they are making them for general audiences. We have come to refer to these drawings as “plans for others.”
In our search for ‘plans for others,’ we collected plans for amusement parks, department stores, town centers, tourist traps, concert venues, mall directories, hiking trails and other territories that require the assistance of a plan, here understood as a guide or legend.
In fact, the first thing we learned is that the word ‘plan’ is not popularly used to describe the orthographic projection of the ground as a navigational device, and the word ‘map’ is often used in its place. The difference between the words ‘plan’ and ‘map’ seems negligible at first, especially when one considers that a map is often used to come up with a ‘plan,’ otherwise known as a ‘game plan’ or a ‘plan for the day.’
Yet the word choice has an enormous consequence: the producers of plans for others have come to design them like maps - while plans are designed for disciplined interpretation, maps are designed for easy navigation. Well-made maps are, as Roland Barthes described, “endowed with utter clarity since everything must be understood on the spot.”
But this does not mean ‘plans for others’ are without character. They often carry unique features to distinguish themselves from their competitors, and nearly all of them creatively diverge from the architectural tradition of orthographic projection to communicate a distinct message to their audiences.
The amusement park map, for example, has evolved over the last century to become meaningfully distinct from the typical floor plan. They are often made available as pamphlets at the ticket counter of amusement parks, printed on a paper suited to splash zones and the occasional crumbling or misfolding in one’s back pocket. A map is depicted on a tilt, not as a territory within a larger one, but rather as an object unto itself, viewed from a god-like position. Its perimeter is hazy because it is relatively unimportant; the jewel of one’s stay lies within.
The attractions are depicted as generalized axons, possibly not in the correct orientation and certainly not to scale. The map is bordered by references to itself, which are then in turn referenced as numbers and titles that obscure the map with as little disruption as possible.
There are conventions specific to the production of the amusement park map that is foreign to the shopping mall directory, just as its conventions are foreign to those of an evacuation map. Put simply, each public territory has its own system of conventions that make it legible to a general audience.
The furniture store map, for example, suggests a predetermined path through its labyrinth of rooms. By purposefully removing all consumer objects, only the titles of zones and symbols for bathrooms are left for discernment. The color flattens the map to reduce the walls to a graphic language, thereby translating a daunting landscape of objects to a play of only walls and the space between them.
Though the hardware store map often brands itself just like the typical furniture store map, it has a different method for abstracting space for navigation. By removing all aisles, areas are reduced to numbers and simple vector graphics. And unlike the furniture store map, objects are not categorized by the location in which its objects would be placed in the home but rather by use. Some objects are tools while others are objecting to being manipulated by tools.
The tourist map, meanwhile, is one of the few that shows its subject within its context. While the space surrounding the subject is of little importance, its light grey tone allows it to sit in the background, thereby providing a reference for orientation from outside the site. Each zone is vaguely demarcated by the outlines of the zones they represent with distinct colors. While sparse, the map calls out the key attractions with relatively accurate scaling.
The constellation map is to be studied with accuracy to reference stars only through the numerical description. Designed to be held above one’s head, the map reverses north and south direction. One can draw a conclusion to the angles of orientation with the dials that surround the map. The lines drawn between stars are not used for navigation, nor are they used to define the constellation boundaries. They are only there for pattern recognition, and the constellation names allow for an entirely different method of reference that the map alternatively provides. And despite its apparent objectivity, many stars are made visible without being called out, while the overall positioning of the map’s elements is dependent on its viewers location on the planet.
The subway map, however, layers communication. At the top, the map displays information specific to travel from wherever it is plastered, while below sits the map of the entire system. Every stop is named, and every line is colored. The scale and shape of the spatial system are warped and abstracted to reduce the visual complexity of the network. The ease of navigation is more important than geographic accuracy, and here resembles more closely the diagram of a circuit board or a network rather than space to physically inhabit. Because it does not list the activities of each location and is only labeled by the location of each stop, the parts of the subway map with the most connections are read as the cultural centers and those without the peripheral.
‘Plans for others’ are not regularly discussed by those within the architecture community, possibly because we, too, see them so often that they fade into the background of everyday experience.
The discrepancy between the two spheres of knowledge - those of the architect and the non-architect - is set in motion in the production and distribution of floor plans, for there lies most clearly the desire to communicate across fields. In other words, the perfection of ‘plans for others’ is the reduction of otherwise needless information and, oftentimes, the embellishment of accurate measurements in favor of seemingly undisciplined legibility.