Proceedings from the Subtropical Cities Conference, January 1, 2008.
Copyright © 2008 Cesar Torres Bustamante. Published in Proceedings of the Subtropical Cities Conference.
NOTE: At the time of publication, the author Cesar Torres Bustamante was not yet affiliated with Cal Poly.
A type of map traditionally used in the analysis of urban form is figure‐ground, a drawing that traditionally depicts the buildings as figures against a visually contrasting ground. It finds certain antecedents in Gestalt psychology, as both drawings rely on the perceptible difference between figure and ground. However an unwanted extrapolation from Gestalt is the imposition of hierarchies, indispensable for visual segregation of figure and ground, but detrimental for the potential of figure‐ground as mapping. Mapping is a creative and cognitive activity, ruled by processes of selection and schematization. The potential of the figure‐ground map to reveal new relationships and scenarios is only limited by the speculation, inquiry and criticism involved in their production. This paper argues that figure‐ground mappings in urban conditions can provide an abstract and interpretative framework for the reading of the city as a living entity. While figure‐ground as binomial building‐void mapping is successful in analysing urban form and spatial configuration, conditions like climate change and population growth emphasize the need to engage in adaptive strategies that respond to the effects of environmental and social change on urban and landscape forms. This paper identifies Gestalt principles as the source of hierarchical organizations in figure‐ground mapping, and by manipulating one of them (contour) it proposes a reformulation of the technique. This is done using subtropical climate case studies, where the definition of edges plays a significant role in identifying urban landscape relationships.