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It’s important not to oversimplify the act of ‘wayfinding.’

But wait, letís back up for a moment… what is ‘wayfinding?’

The strict definition of the term historically means to orient someone for the purpose of determining their location in relation to a desired destination or objects that may be nearby. But in a broader sense, wayfinding encompasses all of the ways we utilize to orient ourselves in any physical space as we navigate from place to place. Wayfinding functions to inform people of their surroundings in the (unfamiliar) built or natural environment, offering information at strategic points to guide people in the right direction.

But perhaps weíre going too fast here. Is this a design process of pure form follows function? Or, is wayfinding experiential? Does it contain a story too? Imagine a point ‘A’ and assume that wayfinding will aid you in getting to point ‘B.’ A good designer will include in this journey the emotional and motivational aspects of the distance being traveled. Inspiration and memory should be a part of the plan. In fiction and comparative mythology, the ëheroís journeyí is the common template of a broad category of tales involving a hero beginning a great adventure, facing a decisive crisis and winning a victory, then coming home transformed. In this scenario, our hero (visitor, student, patient, citizen) needs wayfinding (map, markers and guides). Getting from A to B is just the diagrammatic template for a wayfinding solution. When it succeeds, good wayfinding design incorporates many human needs along the way.

a-to-b

So in this broader context, what can wayfinding bring to a project?

Complex structures and environments are interpreted and stored by the human memory. Distances, locations and time may be remembered differently than as they appear to be in reality. An effective wayfinding system is based on human behavior and consists of:

—reducing the fear factor (where is the next rest-stop?)

—creating a comprehensive, clear and consistent visual communication system with concise messaging

—taking special care (wayfinding and signage has a dynamic physical presence within the landscape and should be environmentally respectful)

Wayfinding is the tool that binds: roads, paths, buildings, thought processes, experiences, and more into a matrix. It can assist in getting us between two points in the simplest manner, or it can create a lasting ‘memory-scape.’ Designed effectively, wayfinding is a cornerstone to promotion and a catalyst to expanded interaction; a designed set of elements that help us navigate and provide greater access to discovery.

Garden-service-symbols

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

—Joseph Campbell

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civita_phrenology

Finally, we come to the most subjective mapping criteria I employed for my Civita series—imagining. It’s been said that you can “read” a person’s temperament, speculate how easy or difficult their life has been, by looking closely at their face. I wondered…what if this were true for a place? What if the essence of a city resided not in its statistics and facts but in the development of its character expressed, perhaps, in the configuration of its hills and valleys, tunnels and caves, changes in public and private space? Could we then “read” a city by examining its own particular psycho-geography? Not the outer surface layer that it presents to the world but its true depth?

The concept is fanciful but intriguing. I knew I wanted to make one last map that would attempt to capture something of Civita’s ephemeral essence. As luck would have it, one day, I was browsing in Tony’s library and came upon a small volume that included a profile of Luigi Ferrarese, an Italian physician and a leading proponent of the19th-century pseudo-science of phrenology—the study of the shape and size of the cranium as a supposed indication of character and mental abilities. Here in America, the theory was expounded by Lorenzo Fowler, who created this iconic head.

27 distinct “faculties” and “sub-faculties” controlled certain character traits or intellectual attributes such as Cautiousness, Benevolence, Destructiveness, Love of Animals, Tune, Continuity and Change. Phrenologists worked by touch; they would “read” a person’s character by running the palms of their hands over the surface of the skull, the relative size of each area corresponding to its power.

Getting to know Civita phrenologically required a slightly different approach. It required eyes and feet, time spent walking its streets and hills, the polar opposite of reading about it in a guidebook, visiting for a few hours on a summer day, or checking it out on Google maps. Yet after 8 weeks, I found Fowler’s list of faculties surprisingly easy to apply. And by shifting the city’s north south axis, Civita’s footprint easily resembles a head.

Here’s a little tour: Civita’s rich yet destructive past has left its mark but it remains an industrious city that loves children, families, and animals and delights in showing its wonders to the world. The city reconstructs more than it builds anew, and it is an optimistic place that venerates its past, full of order, wonder and form. Civita’s more colorful stories led me to some fascinating applications, Time resides in the house where Maria has lived for over 80 years. Human Nature extends up the west perimeter, encompassing her garden where taking in the view requires a payment of 1 Euro, which is understandable since human nature must find a way to make a living. Love of Sex dwells in what remains of the opulent home of the legendary Milanese Marquessa above the Porta S. Maria and Continuity and Individuality is of course, housed in the Civita Institute buildings. This is, of course, an idiosyncratic, fanciful exercise by an amateur phrenologist so perhaps the best approach is to visit and draw your own conclusions.

So which Civita is the real one?  The likely answer is one that doesn’t yet exist in what you’ve seen here. Creating a sense of place goes well beyond mapping the physical environment. Way-finding that is envisioned to allow visitors (actual or virtual) to enter new worlds on their own terms—to examine, question, visualize and add to environments on multiple levels can serve not only as tickets to actual territory but as open-ended invitations to go beyond what is visible on the surface, examining instead the many interconnected layers of meaning, culture, and history that invariably exist in one locale. This process was implicit in Civita but it can happen anywhere.
In Latin civitas simply means “city.” My hope is that this project inspires you to create your own Civitas immaginata and to look at those places closer to home that are special to you and imagine the many, varied ways they connect and refer beyond themselves.

civita_calligram

From public to private. During my stay in Civita, I was looking for a way to convey the rich mix of both “hearing” many languages and a way to quantify how people experience this place. When I first arrived it was quite hot, in the high nineties, and during the Italian pausa between 1:00 and 4:00 pm, it was a welcome relief to take shelter inside the cool tufo building. But the heat did not keep the tourists inside.

From the studio where I was working, I could hear the mingling of languages as visitors passed by my window—mostly Italian, but always with a smattering of English, German, French and what I think was Japanese. The words drifted into my room like a cloud…a word cloud.

Word clouds became all the rage in the late 90s as a feature of early personal websites and blogs. The visual form was used widely to visualize the frequency distribution of keywords that describe w content, and as a navigation aid. Before long, word clouds were being used to editorialize and visualize everything from Biblical passages to presidential debate analysis.

But the basic idea behind word clouds is not new. It could be argued that traditional maps were the very first rudimentary “word clouds” since the type size of the name of a city, region, or feature is represented relative to its population or importance.

To capture the data I needed, I tracked the words I could hear outside my studio window for one hour every day from August 25 to October 25, when most sensible Italians were indoors cooking the midday meal and resting. The results are designed as a calligram, the typography arranged to create a visual image of Civita’s geographic silhouette.

English jumped out at me without my having any say in the matter and the rest was dependent on my limited Italian, college-level French and zero understanding of any Asian language. A bit biased in that respect, perhaps, but with many more Italian tourists visiting Civita than any other group, it seems to appropriately reflect a hometown advantage.

civita_12hrs

Jules Verne said, “Look with all your eyes. Look.” Part of the beauty of spending an extended period of time anywhere, and particularly for me during my fellowship in Civita, was having the luxury of time to observe, and witnessing the ebb and flow of the life of a town.

Writers and artists love details, but there is always a push and pull between the obsession with detail and the semi-conscious acknowledgement that everything will eventually vanish. Relief, essentially, mixed with dread. The Surrealists painters recognized this, calling it “the potency of the everyday.”

Much of Civita has been documented—its history, culture, architecture, and traditions. These things have been studied, talked about, described, inventoried, photographed, and analyzed. Documentation was part of why I was here on a NIAUSI Fellowship. But what about the rest?

The passing of a day in Civita, like anywhere else, includes actions and events that are not usually noticed, things that have no real consequence in the grand scheme of the recorded history of this place. Does that mean then, that what happens when nothing “important” happens worthy of remembering? My suspicion is that noticing the unremarkable might yield a different kind of map of this place. And the process of noticing could, in itself, lead to a particular kind of subjective storytelling since the mind tends to want to question the why and wherefore of what it sees. Observing the world in action, it wants to make connections.

The Italians have a wonderful expression: il dolce far niente which translates as “the sweetness of doing nothing.” Too often in today’s jam-packed, work-driven, internet-powered world, it is easy to forget how to “do nothing.” Even worse, we wrongly believe that doing nothing equals uselessness. The Italians are wiser. They live il dolce far niente even when they are busy serving pranzo, mixing mortar, or ferrying wine bottles and plastic to the recycling bins. Perhaps it is the wisdom that comes from living in a culture with a 3,000-year heritage or simply an understanding that the sum of life is larger than what we can pack into an 8-hour workday. Regardless, life here is not something that can be spent, wasted, or passed.  It simply is. Every moment holds possibility.

So how could I try to capture this? For two 6-hour periods on two separate days, I sat in the Piazza S. Donato and watched what was happening around me. I recorded everything I could see or hear and at first the simple act of needing to look and write was enough to occupy me. But slowly, after a few hours, my mind shifted in a way that’s difficult for me to describe precisely to you right now. I suspect it was akin to moving into a meditative state. I noticed more detail, found myself wondering about the stories behind the people I saw. I made connections or made them up anyway and questioned much more than I thought I would.

Here’s a short portion of what’s described on this map, which is designed like a broadside. Here’s a sample passage. This is from 6:00 pm on October 14, 2012 from a bench in front of the Palazzo Alemanni. The weather was sunny with some clouds.

The man’s drawing is good. Pencil only, but his subject is Antonio’s bruschetteria, not the church as I first thought. A little boy is being scolded by his mother for digging in the gravel dirt of the piazza. She cleans his hands roughly and he cries when she picks him up and plops him in his stroller. Another little boy is curious. He circles the nearest Etruscan column, running up now and then to take a peek at the artist. “Mama, viene qui! Guarda!” he calls and his mother comes to look. A toddler runs up and down the church steps, amazingly steady. Is this how Italian women learn to walk on cobblestones in heels?

Five dogs are suddenly in the piazza. The cats stare but don’t budge. They know they live here. The little girl walks past me, interested in what I am doing. She says something in Italian and I smile, unable to communicate with a 4-year old. Craig comes by to tell me he just realized his camera can pan left to right, not just right to left. He needs another month! The artist’s companion (because now I’ve decided they are a couple) walks by to see if the drawing is done. It is not. A dog pees at the base of one of the Etruscan columns. I wonder how many millions of times that has happened. The kids are back. Not once has the artist ever looked up at them, not one glance. Is this good or bad? The little boy jumps around and accidently kicks the conté crayon box. “Matteo!” his father yells and swats him. The sound of Matteo crying. “No, Matteo, va bene,” the artist says, smiling but still not looking.

A young woman in black spandex and a bright green top is sitting on the church steps, taking a selfie. Two older women pass by. They could be sisters. Same glasses, hair, scarves. One is using a cane. They seem confused. The man in the red sweater is back in his spot in front of the church, this time near the far right door, which is closed. Four people are suddenly right in front of my table, cameras raised. Where did they come from? R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” is playing inside Da Peppone’s. The sun has gone back behind the clouds. A pack of cyclists, all men, all wearing branded Italian jerseys ride past me on the cobbled street that rings the piazza. Only one bumps his bike down to ride in the graveled area. Six women, all with Orvieto water bottles, leave La Tonna souvenir shop and cross the piazza toward me. Three of them stop to examine the bottom of their shoes. “Madonna, Madonna,” they repeat to each other.

Anna comes out of Da Peppone’s, checking to see if there is anyone to serve. There is not and she goes back in. A pigeon flies into the open window at La Tonna. Another is on the roof of Antico Forno. I hear “Where should we eat?” in English for the first time this morning. The bell tower chimes twice. Father Stefano arrives at the church, dressed in black and carrying two black bags. The calico cat crosses the piazza diagonally, followed by the Japanese man and his photographer girlfriend. They’re laughing. Father Stefano is putting the new October mass schedule in the display board. The man in the red sweater is suddenly at his side, talking, and I realize now that he is the sacristan that I met a week ago when I was visiting inside the church last week with Liza and Craig.

A man dressed all in black heads towards the bridge, carrying a dented silver hard suitcase. A 6-foot tall Japanese woman appears, calling to her group. A man crossing the piazza stops to hug his wife. She carries a set of keys and is smoking. They smile and laugh together. A tabby skitters past me, followed by a calico. Two smokers walk past my table. I smell their cigarettes. Sounds of clinking dishes come from Da Peppone’s. Anna must have customers but I didn’t see anyone go in. Maybe she’s cleaning? One of the Americans rests his black backpack on the Etruscan column near the bell tower just as it chimes seven times. A second later, the bells begin their longer ringing, signaling the Angelus. It’s 7:00 pm.

civita_saints and saviors

During my NIAUSI fellowship, I knew I wanted to pay tribute to some of Civita’s most famous figures in some way, including the contributions made by the late Astra Zarina, who established the University of Washington’s Italian Hilltown program in Civita and handled restoration projects for in some of its first buildings in the late 60s, leading the wave of reclaiming these beautiful structures.

Yet it was impossible and possibly inauspicious, to evade ecclesiastical associations while in Italy. Eccola. Civita’s most famous son, Bonaventura. Chapels and statues to him seem to be on every corner in these two towns. Bonaventura was born Giovanni Fidanza around 1221 AD in a house no more than 20 meters from the Palazzo Alemanni where Zarina taught her “Continuity and Change” programs to architecture students for 30 years.

Bonaventura and Zarina both traveled widely, but both reliably returned to Civita. When she died in 2008, Zarina was buried in Bagnoregio, not very far from a church where in 1490 Bonaventura’s right arm was placed in a reliquary made from gold and silver donated by the people of the town. That event is celebrated every year on March 14—today.

What better way, then, to pay tribute to both Bonaventura and Astra Zarina then to map the trajectories of the lives of two of Civita’s saints and saviors? The map is not meant to be definitive by any means, but instead highlights the overlaps and intersections of two lives and one place.

civita_iconography

Andy and Lana Wachowski are best known for writing and directing the “Matrix” trilogy and by all accounts are natural filmmakers. According to a New Yorker article, both siblings count “2001: A Space Odyssey” as one of their earliest influences. The family was apparently huge movie fans, of all genres. Twelve-year old Lana recalls initially hating “2001” because she was perplexed by the mysterious presence of the black monolith. Her father explained simply, “That’s a symbol” and the article recounts Lana’s reaction: “That one sentence went into my brain and rearranged things in such an unbelievable way that I don’t think I’ve been the same since…it’s one of the reasons I’m a filmmaker.”

Now, granted, perhaps not every 12-year old child will respond to symbols this way, but I believe a contributing factor is that we don’t cultivate that type of visual seeing and learning early enough in our educational systems. But the anecdote resonated with me because in Civita I was struck by the complex overlays of symbol and iconography there. Admittedly, this is probably the case in many countries whose historical timeline extends back beyond the 1700s but it felt particularly close to the surface in Civita and very much a part of daily life.

As designers know, the advantage of symbols is that they speak a universal language. I do not need to be conversant in Arabic to understand that the Kaaba represents a significant concept to Muslims. I might not be able to fully articulate the subtleties of its meaning, but I can understand the power and centricity of it as a symbol in one of the world’s great religions.

Once these symbol sets pass into the realm of becoming archetypes — ideas or ways of thinking inherited from all these sources and present in your subconscious — they begin to function as a complete set, as iconography—the collective use of symbols and visual images by a certain culture or group.

Symbols and iconography can be like road maps, leading or guiding you toward a desired goal, encouraging certain behaviors or effects. Each passing generation, utilizing the same symbol, builds up a stronger energy from that symbol with the most effective ones lasting through the ages. Obvious examples include the Christian cross, the yin/yang symbol, the pyramid, and the ankh. It is no coincidence that certain of these symbols from ancient civilizations continue to be an integral part our society, even to the point that corporations use them in commercials, movies, and logos.

Iconography is expert at unlocking a stream of memories, data, emotions and beliefs, sometimes whether we want them or not. That’s why people often choose to pray in a church setting when they could just as easily do so at home, or feel they can mediate more successfully in a space carefully designed to induce a contemplative state.

That I would create an iconographic map of Civita was almost a foregone conclusion and the result is probably one of the more traditional maps in the series. Yet even here, I conflated content since Civita’s three very distinct layers of iconography—historic, religious and vernacular symbols—often mix.

The Etruscans, the city’s first inhabitants and the Romans who followed, were both cultures that understood well the power of symbols and used iconography extensively for protection, fertility, wealth, birth and death rituals. In fact, one of the first things the Romans did on their relentless march to conquer the ancient Etruscan cities was to smash their black clay wear which was heavily decorated with symbols.

For a palpable look into this iconography “mix” you need look no further than Civita’s main piazza and its beautiful Medieval church, the Chiesa S. Donato. Iconography was an integral part of Christian life, and in Italy, it survived, despite the seventh and eighth centuries Iconoclasts demanding their destruction. [bishops keys] In tangible ways, you can see not only the layering of symbols, but also symbol “borrowing” as well as active incorporation of artifacts from one culture to another. [rosette] Rosettes—which many scholars believe derived from the Etruscan paterna or mundus, the symbol of the ever-present life-force—abound as decorative elements. Roman sarcophagi, frieze fragments, and corbels [sarcophagi and corbels] are set into the lower outer walls of the church and the nearby bell tower. Going even further back, the physical divisions of the four contrade correspond to the Etruscan layout of the ideal city, a circle divided into favorable and unfavorable areas.

This amalgam of past incarnations of history, religion and everyday life, along with the addition of some beautiful palimpsests, is mapped on the iconographic map and unified by a tufo background, which in Civita is a welcome constant.

civita_treasures

In 1883, Robert Louis Stevenson published a fictional tale of adventure about an expedition to an unnamed Caribbean island to recover a treasure that had been buried there. Treasure Island is action-packed, has a huge cast of characters, and begins with a map.

Ever since its publication, Stevenson’s map has had readers asking, “Where is Treasure Island?” even when they are told it is an imaginary island that doesn’t exist. How could they not? Maps are guides. We trust them. We look to them to help us find what is desirable, navigate the unknown and avoid the dangerous. They can make unreal place seem real, and real places more manageable.

In Civita di Bagnoregio, for many reasons it’s very easy to believe you are in an imaginary place. The backstory that is history here is sometimes so deep, so hard to comprehend in real time, that it begins to feel unreal. Once, the twin cities of Civita and Bagnoregio were a single city, along with a lively merchant neighborhood between which has since totally disappeared, swallowed up by landslides. Now they are separated by a deep chasm, and joined only by a narrow footbridge. Very few maps unite the two again, but when you’ve spent some time navigating back and forth between the two, it quickly becomes clear that one could not exist without the other. Civita is why the tourists come, and Bagnoregio thrives, in part, to serve those visitors.

But Civita also has a day-to-day life as well, which can be easy to overlook. During my two months there, I often watched tourists come into town, snap a few pictures, and be on their way back out in an hour. They pay little attention to the richness of history here, and zero attention to the fact that there are “real” people here—merchants, masons and carpenters, cooks, priests, and seismic workers— living out their daily lives.

I wanted people to notice. So I decided to create a treasure map of the city. I knew that I wanted to unite Civita and Bagnoregio once again and to include everyday treasures as well as historic ones because taken together, all seemed necessary to feed a traveler’s body and soul.

Can strangers use this map to navigate Civita’s numerous treasures? Absolutely. All the information about historic, architectural, and natural wonders is there. Everything mentioned is open to the public. But interspersed are also some personal treasures, which befits a casual, fun map like this one— my favorite spot for affogato, which ATM wouldn’t reject my card, and the gatto who decided he was mine for two months. Because in the end, what we each decide to include on the treasure maps of our lives will always be as personal as the places we visit and the experiences we have there.

civita_doors

For visitors in any context, doors hold a special significance. As I worked my way through some of the archived materials from the University of Washington Italian Hilltowns Program housed in the Civita Institute’s Sala Grande, it was clear that I wasn’t the only one interested in doors and gates and windows. But a noticeable difference was the focus of the interest. Student projects documented architectural styles, details, age, and construction materials. My interests lay more along the lines of the enormous variety of doors in Civita. Every door seemed to have its own particular beauty that it carried along with its long, imagined history.

The ancient Romans had advanced architectural elements and were known to have used single, double, sliding, and folding doors. In fact, the Roman god Janus is the god of doors and doorways, which makes him of course, the god of beginnings and endings. So I began my discovery process with doors.

Doors also symbolize transitions. At the simplest level, a doorway represents movement from one place to another, but in religion, mythology and literature, it can also depict the passage from one world to another. A deeper personal meaning arises when doors, gates, and passageways serve as symbolic transitions for individuals experiencing change. Nearly everyone has a memory of stopping to take a deep breath before crossing some kind of threshold—an interview, a meeting with a teacher or mentor, or a dining room filled with laughing, happy people, none of whom we know.

Taking that step across a doorway means you’ve crossed a boundary. It might be a place where two places (or cultures or experiences) meet, or taking chances and leaving the past behind. These were all appropriate musings for a visitor in Civita and rich mapping material. In composition and layout, this map reflects these concepts of intimate and outsider; public or private as well as mapping locations and offering architectural styles and details.

Timelines are a staple of exhibit design, providing a way for viewers to grasp a condensed glimpse of what usually is a huge body of information. Mounting an exhibition without a timeline is akin to leaving out the donor wall. To provide context for the series of maps of Civita di Bagnoregio,  I offer this visual time-map. Click on this link (or the image below) to view an interactive Prezi of Civita’s 3000 year history.

civita_time map

Here in Civita, time stretches far into the distant past. Pre-history begins 2 million years ago when the tufo that is this region’s primary building material was formed during the Pleistocene age.  The site itself has been continuously inhabited for over 2,500 years, first by the Etruscans, then the Romans.

“Civita” simply means “town” and in central Italy, you will often see it appended to the name of various places, such as Civita Castellana and Civitavecchia outside Rome. But in early usage, the word, derived from the Latin civitas, designated the oldest and most built up area in order to distinguish it from neighboring villages. If a location was called “civita,” the designation meant that it was a place of some importance.

In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, Civita looked much the same as it does today. A saddle of land connected present-day Civita to Bagnoregio (known then as Rota) with the Convento di S Francisco occupying the middle ground before it was lost to an earthquake. Together, the population numbered close to 1,800 citizens. Starting in 1695 and continuing for over 100 years, the city endured a series of devastating earthquakes, landslides, locust infestations, and malaria. By 1800, more than 40% of Civita’s land mass had been lost. Although the rate at which the city continues to crumble is glacial, the process continues through to today. “The clay soil here falls away like fresh ricotta,” says Erino Pompei, the mayor of Bagnoregio until 2009, whose name bears an eerie resemblance to another lost Italian town.

In 2012, I received the Astra Zarina Fellowship from NIAUSI, The Northwest Institute of Architecture and Urban Design in Italy which allowed me to spend two months living and working in Civita di Bagnoregio, a World Heritage hill-town in Lazio, Italy whose roots date back nearly 3,000 years to the Etruscans.

civita_getting here

On Friday, March 14th, I’ll be presenting my project, Civita immaginata: Mapping a Historic Landscape at NIAUSI’s Fellows Festival along with Liza Mickle, Don Fels, Isabel Sitcov and Alan Maskin at an afternoon seminar at SRG Partnership in Seattle, followed by an evening reception and auction at NBBJ Seattle.

As a designer, first and foremost, I organize information and try to make sense of sometimes very dissimilar things. But I’m also a storyteller, and this dual persona was a primary component of what I wanted to bring to Civita when I set out to create a series of maps that would attempt to make my own personal sense of a very special place. And this is probably as good a time as any to put out a disclaimer that I am not an architect or an historian so there are likely errors in some of these maps for which I take full responsibility.

So, why maps? Why not a series of posters or brochures? For designers as well as the general public, maps provide one of the primary ways of making sense of a place. But maps can also help us grasp deeper concepts, detect patterns, prognosticate. Civita immaginata invites viewers to go beyond what is depicted on the surface, to examine the many layers of meaning, culture and history that exist in one place.

Traditional maps are essentially arbitrary selections of information yet as users, we assign great ambitions to them. Implicitly, we trust them to help us navigate and make sense of the world. Quite often they succeed but sometimes in a controlled, coded language, and for many people who don’t how to analyze the data, they’re often complex and hard to understand. I wanted to see if a broader view of mapping, one that included an emotional component, might increase their accessibility for viewers, not just to their content but to their understanding of place.

In traditional societies, there was no need for maps. Words and memories built history, and what was “known” was transmitted from memory to memory. Yet this need we have to define the areas we explore and inhabit, to mark our territory, to organize it and often, change it seems fundamental. Map designers always need to make choices: what to leave in and take out. Everything goes through a kind of cartographic surgery, through layering of texture, color, image, text, symbol. Fortunately, we’re generally so familiar with the language of maps that we trust them, and mapmakers can take some liberties. But to map is to lie, since there is always a bias, always a point of view both literally and figuratively. Oscar Wilde said, “Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not his sitter.” Maps are like portraits—mysterious, sometimes abstract and sometimes deliberate exaggerations. Not only is this to be expected but in my opinion, it adds to the character of maps, creating an open-ended invitation for viewers to enter.

I’ll be sharing my project results in a series of posts over the next week, as well as some thinking on my map-making process and would love to hear your thoughts.

As every designer worth her salt knows, timelines are a staple of exhibit design. Mounting an exhibition without a timeline is akin to leaving out the donor wall.

When I arrived in Civita, I knew a timeline would be one of the maps I would create, but I also knew it would probably be the last. It may seem counter-intuitive, but now as I come to the end of my stay, the process feels right. I needed to spend an extended time here, reading, talking, and learning before I felt I could attempt anything approaching a timeline.

Timelines are the quintessential “map” of any subject; a way for viewers to grasp a condensed glimpse of what is usually a huge body of information. So, in lieu of the interactive visual timeline that will be the final product of my fellowship, allow me to play the part of museum curator in my two final posts, and present some of my favorite stories that I have learned about “Civita Time.”

“Civita” means “town” and in central Italy, you will often see it appended to the name of various places, such as Civita Castellana, Civitella d’Agliano, and Civitavecchia (outside Rome). But in early usage, the word, derived from the Latin civitas, designated the oldest and most built up area in order to distinguish it from neighboring villages. If a location was called “civita”, the designation meant that it was a place of some importance.

Civita di Bagnoregio has been continuously inhabited for over 2,500 years, first by the Etruscans, then the Romans. Its pre-history begins 2 million years ago when the tufo that is this region’s primary building material was formed during the Pleistocene age. History then picks up with the Etruscans, before moving on to significant Roman, Medieval and Renaissance events.

Before leaving Seattle, I had wanted to read D.H. Lawrence’s book of short essays “Etruscan Places” but ran out of time. I checked Tony’s library, hoping that perhaps I might find it in the section marked “English nonfiction” and sure enough, there it was. An old yellowed paperback, but there nonetheless. Non-historian Brit that he was, Lawrence has been criticized for writing six essays on the subject of Etruscans after spending the whole of three days exploring Etruscan Italy. Yet his style is pretty approachable and he writes with warmth and feeling, if from a slightly patronizing perspective. The very first essay begins:

“The Etruscans, as everyone knows, were the people who occupied the middle of Italy in early Roman days and whom the Romans, in their usual neighborly fashion, wiped out entirely in order to make room for Rome with a very big R.”

The Etruscans called themselves Rasenna or Rasna and they are most commonly believed to have moved westward into northern and central Italy from Asia Minor. The etymology of the name “Etruscan” may have come from a phrase in the ancient Umbrian dialect with “trus” being the Latin Umbrian word for tower. So, the Etruscans were “E-trus-ci” or “those who build towers.”

The Romans lay claim to most historical achievements in Italy but many would never have been accomplished without their Etruscan predecessors, including hydraulic engineering and a written language (Latin was a spoken language only until Roman intermingling with the Etruscans began). They put their skill as excellent architects and engineers to good use in diverting waterways, tunneling channels and laying out their cities. The lower lying portions of Rome, such as the area surrounding the Capitoline Hill, was formerly marshland. Creating a habitable area there would never have been a possibility without the hydraulic engineering skills of the Etruscans.

The “Etruscan League” consisted of twelve loosely aligned cities, one of which was known in Latin as Volsinii (or Velzna by the Etruscans) and is believed to have been the site of the modern Italian cities of Orvieto or Bolsena. Every spring, representatives of the Dodecapoli, or Twelve Cities of the League, came to Volsinii for religious rites, conferences, games, entertainment, and a large market. With Civita less than a day’s journey away from Bolsena (15 minutes by car today) it may well have been an important stopping point on what would have been a two-day journey from the Tiber to Orvieto during Etruscan times.

The Etruscan civilization was peaceful (their ultimate downfall) and prosperous, based on farming, metallurgy, ceramics, and trade throughout the Mediterranean. Religion pervaded all aspects of their society, with a particular emphasis on and familiarity with the afterlife. The Etruscans saw little difference between life and death, regarding them simply as different states of being.

They preferred hilltop sites for their cities, safely above the malarial swamps and easily defendable. Often the cities were sited whenever possible on two adjoining plateaus or headlands separated by a river. On one plateau, they would build their city; the other served as the necropolis. Civita and its neighbor to the north, Orvieto, are perfect examples of this scheme.

They used a sacred plan to design the layout of their cities, which reflected their religious beliefs. The ideal Etruscan city was a circle divided into a grid, with four main sectors formed by the intersection of two axes, a street running north-south and another east west. This corresponded to the division of the sky into four parts inhabited by different gods, with good or bad connotations, designating favorable or unfavorable areas to locate particular enterprises. At the center was an open space, the mundus, with a shaft running underground that connected to the necropolis and the underworld, through which sacrifices and offerings could be made. The main temples faced this central gathering place.

When a new city was built, this sacred plan was laid out in a special ceremony. We know this from subsequent Roman writings, and we also know that the Romans respected these beliefs enough that they adopted some of the Etruscan practices. In Civita, the current site of the Christian Chiesa S Donato (first built in the 8th century A.D.) has been the site of some form of religious worship since 600 B.C. and the prison contrade is located in the “most unfavorable” zone.

The elimination of the Etruscans was one of the more successful genocides of modern times. It worked, not because it concentrated on the physical elimination of a group of people—from a Roman point of view the sieges of Etruscan cities was considered a domestic disturbance, not a foreign war—but because the cultural identity of the Etruscans was destroyed. After the sack of Perugia, the last great Etruscan city, Augustus made it illegal to speak the language. By the reign of Claudius, fifty or sixty years later, the emperor himself was one of the few still able to speak Etruscan.

What is left from the Etruscans hints at the richness of their culture. There is the Mummy of Zagreb, an Etruscan text written on linen (they wrote from right to left like the Phoenicians) that was discovered when it was used as binding tapes for an Egyptian mummy brought back to that city by a tourist. There is the Liver of Piacenza, a Henry Moore-like representative of a sheep’s liver in bronze, inscribed with the names of regions and gods used for haruspicy, a divining practice that inspects the entrails of animals. And there are the Pyrgi Tablets, a bilingual text in Etruscan and Phoenician engraved on three gold leaves, one written in Phoenician and two in Etruscan, that dates from approximately 500 B.C. and which is on display in the Villa Guilia, Rome’s primary Etruscan museum.

Lawrence writes:

“But it is not for me to make assertions [although he continues to do so throughout his essays]. Only that which half emerges from the dim background of time is strangely stirring; and after having read all the learned suggestions, most of them contradicting each other; and then having looked sensitively at the tombs and the Etruscan things that are left, one must accept one’s own resultant feeling.”

The “resultant feeling” here in Civita is one of awe that such a place could have been conceived and achieved by the Etruscans and that today, in 2012, I can wake up, walk to the piazza, and sit in the sun next to an Etruscan column built in 600 B.C.

From the studio where I have been working these past weeks, I could (and still can) hear the voices of tourists as they pass by the balcony window. When I first arrived in Civita it was quite hot, in the high nineties, and during the Italian pausa between 1:00 and 4:00 pm, it was a welcome relief to take shelter inside the cool tufo building. Now in October, there are far less visitors, but in late August and early September school children were still on holiday and families were squeezing in one last vacation trip.

The heat did not keep the tourists inside. So as I worked I could hear the mingling of languages as visitors passed by my window—mostly Italian, but always with a smattering of English, German, French and what I think was Japanese. The words drifted into my room like a cloud…a word cloud.


Word clouds or “tag clouds” as they are properly called, became all the rage in the late 1990s as a feature of early personal websites and blogs. The form was used widely to visualize the frequency distribution of keywords that describe website content, and as a navigation aid. Before long, word clouds were being used to editorialize and visualize everything from Biblical passages to presidential debate analysis.

But the idea behind word clouds is not new. It could be argued that traditional maps were the very first rudimentary “word clouds” since the type size of the name of a city, region, or feature is represented relative to its population or importance.

Then there are calligrams, type or handwriting arranged in a way that creates a visual image that expresses the content of the text. Visual designers and educators have used calligrams as a visual means of expression for decades.

During my stay in Civita, I was looking for a way to convey the rich mix of both “hearing” many languages and seeking a way to describe how people experience this place. A word cloud/calligram seemed like the perfect solution. So beginning from that first week in August, I decided to track what I could hear outside my studio window. And so began my “map” of the most common words heard during one hour of the daily pausa when most “sensible” Italians were indoors cooking the midday meal and resting.

Obviously, what I could catch was dependant on my limited Italian, college French, and zero understanding of any Asian language. English jumped out at me without my having any say in the matter, and so my resultant Civita word cloud may be a bit biased in that respect. Simple observation, however, was all that was needed to determine that there have been far more Italian tourists in Civita than any other group these past seven weeks. That should most certainly provide a hometown advantage.

It has been said that you can “read” a person’s temperament, speculate how easy or difficult their life has been, by looking closely at their face. This is often where signs of stress appear, presenting itself with tired eyes, deep lines between the eyebrows, lips and jaw tight.

What if this were true for a place? What if the essence of a city resided not in its statistics and facts but in the development of its character expressed, perhaps, in the configuration of its hills and valleys, tunnels and caves, changes in public and private space? We could then “read” a city by examining its own particular psycho-geography—not the outer surface layer that it presents to the world but its true depth.

The concept is fanciful but intriguing and pursuing it further inevitably leads to an examination of the 19th-century pseudo-science of phrenology. Phrenology is the study of the shape and size of the cranium as a supposed indication of character and mental abilities. The system came from the theories of the Austrian physician Franz Joseph Gall but it was quite popular in Britain and American as well. Lorenzo Fowler was America’s leading phrenologist. It was he who created the famous white ceramic head.

Phrenologists worked by touch; they would “read” a person’s character by running the palms of their hands over the surface of the skull, the theory being that the skull takes its shape from the brain beneath. They considered the brain the organ of the mind and believed it was composed of distinct “faculties” and “sub-faculties” each of which controlled a certain character trait or intellectual attribute such as Cautiousness or Benevolence. The size of each area corresponded to its power.

Getting to know Civita phrenologically requires a slightly different approach. It requires eyes and feet, time spent walking its streets and hills repeatedly. This is the polar opposite of reading about a place in a guidebook, visiting for a few hours on a summer day, or checking it out on Google maps. I’ve been fortunate that through NIAUSI’s fellowship I’ve been allowed the time to do this type of exploration.

When complete, my phrenological “map” of Civita will most certainly be a subjective exercise in “bump-reading” applied to a particular place during a limited time period. But my hope is that it will provide yet one more way to “see” this special place. Already, a cursory look at Fowler’s list of faculties applied to Civita leads to some general conclusions.

Civita’s rich yet destructive past has most certainly left its mark but it remains an industrious city that loves children, families, and animals and delights in showing its wonders to the world. The city reconstructs more than it builds anew, and it is an optimistic place that venerates its past. Interestingly, in phrenology, the faculties one lacks are just as significant as those that are prominent, and in Civita the lack of Blandness and Approbativeness immediately come to mind.

This is, of course, an idiosyncratic exercise. Perhaps the best approach is to visit and draw your own conclusions. Civita will most certainly welcome you.

Part of the benefit of spending an extended period of time here in Civita is witnessing the ebb and flow of tourists and visitors to the town. Some days are busy; some slower due to weather or weekday schedules. What remains constant is the realization that whether 10 or 100 tourists walk up the hill on a Sunday in October, Civita will continue to go on about its business.

Jules Verne said, “Look with all your eyes, look.” The Surrealists painters recognized what they called “the potency of the everyday.” Writers and artists love details, but there is always a push and pull between the obsession with detail and the semi-conscious acknowledgement that everything will eventually vanish. Relief, essentially, mixed with dread.


It has been interesting to discover how much more there is to “see” when you really slow down and start to look. Glance around the piazza on a typical morning and you may think not much is happening. A few groups of tourists wander in through the gate…the chiesa door is open and receiving visitors…. La Tonna, one of the souvenir shops, is open for business.

Look a little closer in Civita and you might see: seismic workers heading out to the north cliff wall; a mason mixing the special pozzolano cement used here for tufo construction; Sandro making his rounds to collect and ferry Civita’s garbage to the Bagnoregio bins. Basically, you will see the life of the town in the process of being.

Much of Civita has been documented—its history, culture, architecture, and traditions. These things have been studied, talked about, described, inventoried, photographed, and analyzed. Documentation is part of why I am here on a NIAUSI Fellowship. But what about the rest?

The passing of a day in Civita—a mere 12 hours—includes, like many places, actions and events that are not usually noticed; things that have no real consequence in the grand scheme of the recorded history of this place. Does that mean then, that what takes place when nothing “important” happens is worthy of remembering or recording? My suspicion is that noticing the unremarkable might yield a different kind of map of Civita. And the process of noticing in itself could lead to a particular kind of subjective storytelling since the mind tends to question the whys and wherefores of what it sees. Observing the world in action, it wants to make connections.

The Italians have a wonderful expression: il dolce far niente, which translates as “the sweetness of doing nothing.” Too often in today’s jam-packed, work-driven, internet-powered world, it is easy to forget how to “do nothing.” Even worse, we wrongly believe that doing nothing equals uselessness. The Italians are wiser. They live il dolce far niente even when they are busy serving pranzo, mixing mortar, or ferrying wine bottles and plastic to the recycling bins. Perhaps it is the wisdom that comes from living in a culture with a 3,000-year heritage or simply an understanding that the sum of life is larger than what we can pack into an 8-hour workday. Regardless, life here is not something that can be spent, wasted, or passed.  It simply is. Every moment holds possibility. In America, some of us, myself included, frequently feel that if something is not done with a purpose it is the same as doing nothing.

Of course, there is a downside to this observation that I will call the “grass is always greener” syndrome. Our perceptions of the world are formed through categories, genres, and classifications, many of them specific to the culture we come from. Idealizing any particular place happens when we remove ourselves from our daily routines and see new ways of living. We become attracted to the potential for change in our own lives. Yet as we all know, change is hard, but it is essential if we are to continue to grow. Travel speeds that growth process in many ways by simultaneously challenging and enriching us.

The people of Civita are called Civitonici. In such an ancient place, that self-definition may apply only to the handful of families who have lived here for five or seven generations. Can someone who has lived here for 20 or 30 years legitimately call themselves Civitonici? Does it depend on whether you are a full or part-time resident? Does it count at all if you’re a stranieri, a foreigner? You may have come here decades ago and know as much if not more about Civita than some locals. But…Italians take the long view of history.

The answers to these questions are ultimately personal. One solid fact, however, is that Civita is experiencing increasing change with each passing year. Invariably this will—this must—change the definition of who and what constitutes the Civitonici. For many reasons, the city has become a destination. The influx of tourism and rising real estate prices is bringing increased commerce for the merchants but also poses the risk of losing the essence of this city and turning it into an Italian Disneyland. So far that has not happened, but it is a fine line to thread. Everyone wants a piece of something they feel they have “discovered” and when they get it, they tend to not want to share it with the next newcomer. But to survive, Civita has to be shared.

The passing of a day here, like anywhere, has its own rhythm and increasingly that routine includes many tourists and the patterning of locals to cater to the needs of these visitors, both short-and long-term, myself included. Whether this means that a little bit of the ancient soul of Civita is lost in the process remains to be seen. The decision ultimately rests with the Civitonici, however broadly or narrowly they choose to define themselves.

It is impossible, and possibly inauspicious, to evade ecclesiastical interactions while in Italy. Despite the presence of the Vatican city-state in Rome, Italy has one of the least religious Catholic populations in the world. Yet even the smallest Italian city displays a rich layering of religious iconography, placemaking, and storytelling. Civita and its neighboring hamlet Bagnoregio are no exceptions.

One of the most fascinating religious discoveries I have made here concerns saints known as i incorruttibili misteriose or “the mysterious incorruptibles”—devout individuals whose remains do not decompose after death. The phenomenon of incorruptibility is taken as a powerful sign of saintliness in the Catholic Church and most of these individuals have already been canonized. Visitors to certain Italian churches, myself included, are shocked by the display of a corpse, dressed in religious vestments and encased in a glass coffin at the high altar or in the crypt.

Officially Civita has two Patron saints, Santa Vittoria (St. Victoria) and Sant’ Ildebrando (St. Hildebrand), both of whom have separate altars dedicated to them in the city’s main church Chiesa S. Donato.

Santa Vittoria, martyred in 251 AD is remembered for persevering through abuse and her remains are kept in an urn under the left altar. Sant’ Ildebrando was born in Bagnoregio and was its Bishop from 856 to 873. His body rests under the right altar. An interesting miracle attributed to him is that when he was old and bedridden, his servants brought him a cooked partridge, but as it was a fast day, he was unable to eat the bird. So instead, he prayed over it and it came to life and flew away. Here in Bagnoregio, the people are very zealous in honoring Sant’ Ildebrando and regularly make the trip up the hill to Civita since it is said that he has a reputation for dealing severely with those who do not give him due respect.

But Civita’s most famous son is S. Bonaventura (St. Bonaventure). Chapels and statues to him seem to be present on every corner in these two towns. Bonaventura was born Giovanni Fidanza around 1221 AD in a house no more than 50 meters from where I am writing this now.

As a young child, he fell seriously ill and his mother took him to the nearby Convento de San Francisco, which used to occupy the ground between Civita and Bagnoregio before it was lost in a 17th century to an earthquake.

In the grotto that now marks the spot of the old monastery, it is said that St. Francis prayed and healed Giovanni, then blessed him with the name “O Buona Ventura,” seeing much good fortune in his future. Bonaventura went on to join the Franciscan order and became a scholar and teacher and a primary biographer of St. Francis. He traveled widely but often came back to Italy and his home in Bagnoregio. After his death, his right arm was placed in a reliquery made from silver and gold donated by the people of Bagnoregio, an event that is celebrated every year on March 14.

A church, the Chiesa di S. Bonaventura, was built on the site of his childhood home but after the structure was damaged in another earthquake, a chapel built with some of the salvaged tufo bricks was dedicated in a new church in Bagnoregio.

The most endearing story I have heard about S. Bonaventura came from the sacristan in the church here, also named, interestingly, Bonaventura. Apparently, when Pope Gregory X made Bonaventura a cardinal, he sent several messengers to him with the symbolic red cardinal’s hat. When they arrived, they found Bonaventura washing dishes and he asked them to hang the red hat on a nearby tree since his hands were wet and dirty.

In 1883, Robert Louis Stevenson published a fictional tale of adventure about an expedition to an unnamed Caribbean island to recover a treasure that had been buried there. Treasure Island is considered one of the first adventure stories written specifically for adolescents without an obvious emphasis on teaching morals. It’s action-packed, has a huge cast of characters, and begins with a map. And the map has a backstory.

It begins in Scotland, in 1881 on a rainy summer day. A twelve-year old boy is daydreaming and begins drawing a map of an island. His stepfather finishes it, adds names, and writes in the upper right hand corner, “Treasure Island”. That stepfather was Robert Louis Stevenson and his stepson’s map inspired his novel. Unfortunately, when Stevenson sent his manuscript to his publisher, the map went missing and it was never found. He created another map for publication, “but somehow,” he wrote,” it was never really ‘Treasure Island’ to me.”

Since its publication, Stevenson’s map has had readers asking the question, “Where is Treasure Island?” even when they are told it is an imaginary island that doesn’t exist. How could they not? Maps are guides. We trust them. We look to them to help us find what is desirable, help us navigate the unknown, and sometimes avoid the dangerous.They can make unreal place seem real, and real place more manageable.

It’s easy, here in Civita di Bagnoregio, to imagine that you are in an imaginary place. The backstory that is history here is sometimes so deep, so hard to comprehend in real time, that it begins to feel unreal. Once, the twin cities of Civita and Bagnoregio were a single city, along with a lively merchant neighborhood between which has since totally disappeared, swallowed up by landslides. Now they are separated by a deep chasm, and joined only by a narrow footbridge. Very few maps unite the two again, but when one has spend some time in Civita, it becomes evident that one could not exist without the other. Civita is why the tourists come, and Bagnoregio thrives, in part, to serve those visitors.

But Civita also has a present life as well as a past which can sometimes be easy to overlook. I’ve watched tourists come into the town, snap a few pictures, and be on their way back out in an hour. They pay little attention to the richness of history here, and zero attention to the fact that there are “real” people here living out their daily lives—merchants, masons and carpenters, cooks, priests, and seismic workers.

Taken together, Civita’s treasures are numerous. Some are historic, some architectural, some natural. When I decided to create a treasure map of the city, I knew that I wanted to include everyday treasures as well as historic ones. Together they feed the body and the soul and here in Italy, both are necessary to sooth a weary traveler.

In some ways, every map is a “treasure” map, every place a “Treasure Island” and what we each decide to include on the treasure maps in our lives will always be as personal as the places we visit and the experiences we have. Everyone will have their own list. Right now, I’m enjoying putting mine together for Civita.

Here in Civita, as my second week begins, I’ve been thinking about the many ways we “map” our world. There is a story I heard once about the American astronauts, who when they first landed on the moon, named some of the craters after their wives. I suppose when we are far from home, there is a need to feel reassured by what is near and dear.

As users, we assign great ambitions to maps. Implicitly, we trust them to make sense of the world, reveal things that are invisible to the eye. But often, they do so in a coded language, so much so that much still remains invisible to many who do not know how to analyze the data.

In traditional societies, there was no need for maps. Words and memories built history, and what was “known” was transmitted from memory to memory. But yet, there seems to be this need we have to define the areas we explore and inhabit, to mark our territory, to organize it and often, change it.

Edward Tufte, the professor emeritus of political science, statistics, and computer science at Yale University who is noted for his writings on information design and data visualization, says there are only two industries where the consumer is commonly referred to as a “user”—illegal drugs and the computer industry.

Tufte’s books, The Quantitative Display of Information and Envisioning Information are classic reads for graphic designers. His most recent book, Beautiful Evidence, sets out to explode the myth that there are pre-specified ways of displaying particular information. Instead, Tufte believes that the content should dictate the form, a concept not all that different from the “form follows function” principle associated with modern architecture and industrial design in the 20th century. His thesis is that the information doesn’t care what is done to it or how it is displayed. Do whatever it takes. Adapt as you analyze. Link it to the content.

Here’s an excerpt from the book’s introduction:

“A colleague of Galileo, Federico Cesis, wrote that Galileo’s 38 hand drawn images of sunspots ‘delight both by the wonder of the spectacle and the accuracy of expression.’ That is beautiful evidence. Science and art have in common intense seeing, the wide-eyed observing that generates empirical information. Beautiful Evidence is about how seeing turns into showing.”

My Civita mind map has generated five distinct perspectives that will be the blueprint that guides my project: symbolizing, discovering, describing, navigating, and imagining.

As I explore various ways of translating Civita’s treasure trove of content using these multiples perspectives as the underlying framework, I will keep Tufte’s advice in mind and let content lead the way.

This morning, a little etymology…

The origin of the word “map” dates from the early 16th century, from the medieval Latin mappa mundi, literally ‘sheet of the world.’ The position Civita occupies as one of the most unusual locations in Italy—its almost fantasy-like setting coupled with its history of concerned preservation and multi-layered past makes it rich mapping quarry.

Certainly, Civita is not the sole location where a project like this could take form. Many other locations are rich in history and traditions enough to warrant a similar depiction, but a special place like Civita is more than deserving of the effort. Or perhaps it is more meaningful to say that a project such as this is implicit in a place like Civita. With a myriad of mapping potential, I decided to begin with a Civita mind map as is a graphical way to represent all the possible ideas and concepts I might want to explore.

Mind maps have always been common visual thinking tools in the arts and sciences field but they have recently become all the rage in the education world, since they encourage students to avoid thinking linearly. Essentially, a mind map is a diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks, or other items linked to and arranged around a central key word or idea.

Here’s an early example of a mind map by Walt Disney done in 1953, the original of which can be found in the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco.

Mind maps are process-oriented, not an end in themselves, even if they do sometimes wind up being fun to look at, like this promotional one by Wendy McNaughton for Dell Computers.

In a mind map, as opposed to traditional note taking, information is deliberately structured in a way that resembles much more closely how your brain actually works. They open you up to new ways of organizing information and they’re more realistic, because most projects aren’t orderly to begin with. Mind maps naturally hook into your right brain, where creativity and intuition can help you. Mostly, they help you get the big picture before getting bogged down in the details. Mind maps force you to avoid the prioritizing that happens almost unconsciously in lists and sequence arrangements. In the process, you might discover something that might have been lost or overlooked had you taken a more left-brain approach by creating a prose version of the same information.

There’s only one key to making a mind map: you need to let go of the idea of what it “should” look like and allow yourself to explore implicit rather than explicit connections.

So—on to my own mind map of Civita. I’m looking forward to what the exercise may uncover that might have otherwise slipped past unnoticed.

After traveling by car, plane, bus, plane, bus, train, bus, and walking, I have arrived in Civita di Bagnoregio for my two-month fellowship sponsored by NIAUSI, the Northwest Insitute of Architecture and Urban Studies in Italy, or as it is referred to here, Istituto Civita with an accent on the first syllable (CHEE-vee-tah). Sorry, Rick Steves.

It’s time to give a little background on why I’m actually here.

Working as a graphic designer for the past twenty-some years, I’ve seen the discipline become an increasingly insistent presence in the daily lives of ordinary people, mostly in the service of selling products. But graphic designers also work to interpret, inform, educate and build community through the exchange of information and ideas. As a design professional working in Seattle and a student of Italian, I was marginally aware of the NIAUSI’s Fellowship Program in Civita but it was only when I became curious to learn more that I decided to propose this project because what I discovered surprised me.

Practicing architects and historians had access to a body of technical analyses about Civita’s built form and history and the continuing record of the important work being carried out in conservation and sustainable development of the tuff towns of Italy. The NIAUSI archives contain a wealth of information and project records since past fellows have contributed much richness and specificity to this dialogue, including Gabriela Denise Frank’s CivitaVeritas which offered a welcome personal perspective.

Yet most of this material did not seem easily accessible to the general public. For the casual but interested traveler (or reader) there seemed little more than enticing but short blurbs by Rick Steves and other travel writers, depicting the area as either a dying town or a study model in preservation.

As a graphic communicator, I wanted more. 500—even 50—years ago, Civita was certainly a vastly different place. How had it changed? What forces, events, and people occurred and layered over time to make Civita the specific place it is today? Each bit I discovered made me want to know more, even as each piece seemed to depict a distinctly different place—a multitude of Civitas. And…perhaps this was the key. Perhaps Civita needed to be pulled apart and examined separately before it could be understood as a unified whole.

Maps are essential tools of interpretation for the graphic designer. Audiences see information before they read it, and often we see instead of reading at all. This makes maps ideal devices for conveying complex information. Not only can maps extend factual content, but the manner in which the information is envisioned and arranged can express an emotional component as well. Usually, most of what we conjure when we think of traditional “maps” depicts conventional reality—freeways not bird migrations; shopping footprints instead of lost buildings. But this narrow view of maps denies their potential—rarely do they tap into our subjective memories.

No two people “see” the same city, even with the exact same map. A city is many worlds in one place, or many maps of the same place. Maps—in essence and intent—present arbitrary selections of information. A series of maps may represent many places in the same way or the same place in *many* ways.

What if a series of maps served as an invitation to look at the richness of a place—in this case Civita—with new eyes, allowing a viewer to enter these worlds on their own terms, alter, add, or plan with them? I decided my project would focus on the latter, creating an “atlas” of sorts— Civita Immaginato—Civita Imagined. The series might serve as a ticket to actual territory, but might also offer an open-ended invitation to go beyond what is mapped on the surface, examining the many layers of meaning, culture, and history in one single place through specific and distinct lenses running the gamut from serious to light-hearted, legendary to humorous.

The objective: a small, modest collection, deeply arbitrary, of one person’s exploration of the history and future of a place. The hope: when viewed together, the maps might hint at the richness and complexity of Civita and its surrounding areas as they have been experienced and altered by both residents and visitors.

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