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American Society of Landscape Architects


August 2006 Issue

The Art of Map Making
Advances in GIS have made it easier for landscape architects to produce quality maps.

By James L. Sipes, ASLA

The Art of Map Making Courtesy Jeffery Nighbert, Bureau of Land Management's Burns District Office, Burns, Oregon

It is hard to imagine the profession of landscape architecture without maps, isn't it? A map is a visual representation of a place, and its principal task is to communicate information. Maps help us understand a site, and are critical for conveying design and planning ideas to others. Without maps we would spend an awful lot of time waving our hands in the air, asking people to remember what a place is like and to imagine how it will look once a design is implemented.

The study and creation of maps is called cartography, and it has long been a marriage of art and science. It can show the real world, past, present, or future, and it can even illustrate an imaginary world. Maps have been instrumental in allowing us to explore parts of our world. Centuries ago, early sailors used maps to navigate the globe, and pioneers used rough hand-drawn maps to locate mountain passes on their way west. Today, we use maps to help us get around town or to travel from one place to another. For city planners, maps are critical to understanding the patterns and details of a city.

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Cartography has come a long way since the days of Johannes Gutenberg's printing press, woodcut maps, copper engraving, and scribing. There is a variety of digital map creation and publishing tools to help simplify the process of generating high-quality maps, with GIS (geographic information systems) at the forefront. Advances in GIS technology have dramatically changed the art of making maps.

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