Dencity 2015: Second Place Award

The Agency of Mapping: Social Empowerment in Rio de Janeiro

Entry by: Jack Isles


It can no longer be said the internet has no form… today and tomorrow it is a weapon of marginalization, whose figure can be seen in the shadows of urbanization. As our cities become crowded, there are those that exist outside of our technological infrastructures, those who are exempt from our own global networks of communications. The occupants of our world’s densest cities too often live without a voice, silent amongst the chorus of political discourse. Unmapped and unchartered, the informal settlements of our cities too often lie dis-empowered, misunderstood and miss-represented.

Throughout history cartography has been the primary agent in the construction of our social and political infrastructure. Through the agency of mapping we have found ways to connect vast expanses of the earth, whilst surveying its most intricate parts. However as our tools of cartographic representation become dependent on the modern systems of technology, it is no longer the distant corners of the Antarctic that lie unknown, but instead the arteries of our own cities. Through comparing the global patterns of density according to population, against IP density or access to the internet, we can begin to comprehend the exclusionary application of our technological infrastructures and the socio-economic divisions they perpetuate. In an age when a physical address is a basic requirement for job applications, bill payment and even the right to vote, it is imperative we re-think the contemporary means and technologies through which we map our cities in order to empower communities, and bridge the social divide.

In an age when a physical address is a basic requirement for job applications, bill payment and even the right to vote, it is imperative we re-think the contemporary means and technologies through which we map our cities

The Concept

In order to establish a tangible platform from which mappings can be drawn, the site must first be understood from an aerial perspective. Kites provide an ideal mapping platform as they dance across the roofs of the favelas. Comprised from ad-hoc materials, these kites can be fitted with low-tech innovations in order to gain hi-resolution imagery of the settlement. The re-use of a bottle and four nails will support most common cameras and enable a vertically directed frame strapped to the kite, through which the camera can operate.

The adaption of QR Barcoding in marketing and architecture has radically changed the interface between our physical and digital location. Through painting a simple variant of this system on each roof, wall or path, residents of the favela provide each dwelling with a physical and digital known point. Distinct from its neighbor, these markers enable each resident to locate their own property within the imagery of the settlement, thus providing themselves with an address and the agency to engage in the open source mapping platforms that dictate our economic landscape.

Over the past 5 years the emergence of smart phones have radically changed the way we are able to map and empower residents of informal settlements. During 2014 the World Bank and Nairobi City Water implemented a program through which residents of Kenya’s Kayole slum could pay their bills using mobile phones. Devoid of an address, residents of the slum survived on the salt bore water during Keyole’s 10 year history, however through the re-invention of our “digital footprint” residents were empowered the necessary means to engage with city wide water companies.

Today it is not only our physical address but our digital footprint that enables us to engage with the technological infrastructures of our modern world. Through interrogat-ing the means through which the act of mapping is able to unify both a physical cartography and its technological applications, “the agency of mapping” seeks to expose the means through which we can achieve local and global social empowerment.


The scope of the project should not be restricted to the site but instead see the city of Rio de Janeiro as a laboratory though which we can understand its tactile implications. The projects vision is not to introduce new technologies but instead re-invent those found within the site. The project aims to serve inhabitants with a solution from within their own community, providing them with the agency to affect their own local and global environment.

About the entrant

Jack Isles is an Architecture graduate based in Melbourne Australia. He received his BArch (hons) from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Jack’s ongoing work interrogates the political and economic systems that dene architecture at a local and territorial scale. rough his research he has acted as teaching assistant in design studios at R.M.I.T on the contested borders of the South China Sea. His work on the Korean Peninsula’s de-militarized zone has been exhibited alongside colleague Dongsei Kim in at DNA Gallery in Berlin, whilst Jack’s research to be published in 2015 discusses how landscape architecture has become central to the geopolitics of claiming sovereignty. Jack has travelled extensively across South America and his ongoing research engages the dynamic and uid socio/economic environment of the Latin American metropolis.