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Mapping Modern Architecture

Published onJun 11, 2020
Mapping Modern Architecture

Embedded project map. View in full screen.

Author & Project Role

Author: JJ Bauer, Visual Resources Curator and Teaching Assistant Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Role: Course Instructor

Assignment URLs


Shared Resources:

Learning Objectives

What did you want students to be able to do by completing this assignment?

  • I wanted students to be able to clearly visualize the global geographic spread of modernist architecture in a way that was difficult to glean from a 736-page textbook that spends whole chapters on singular architects.

  • I then wanted them to use that visualization to do research that would fill in gaps and blanks in the text due to historical and scholarly biases (women architects, architects of color, consequences of colonialism, etc.).

  • I wanted them to learn, with a tool requiring a low barrier to access, how digital mapping could be used to create rich research/learning resources for many different kinds of projects.

Technology-Dependent Learning Outcomes

Was there anything this assignment taught students that you felt they wouldn't have been able to learn through other types of class assignments?

It exposed the limitations and the biases of the textbook/canonical scholarship and student engagement levels were very high. They became better scholars as they realized that these limitations and biases 1) made their work tougher and 2) made them eager to advocate for structural change to the field of architecture and its study. They had a better grasp of the cultural, geopolitical, and economic context for the development of and changes to modernist architecture that rote memorization of "unique" works and the focus on "genius" architects tends to obscure.

Skill Level

What is the course title and level?

ARTH 383: Modern Architecture, intermediate

What kinds of prior knowledge is necessary to complete this assignment? How do students gain this knowledge?

I do not expect students to have any experience with mapping technology prior to the course. I add a technology instruction day to the syllabus in order to show students how to discover and add items to the map and how to use spreadsheets. Since the course is aimed at a general education audience, rather than exclusively art history majors and minors, I do not expect students to have any architectural history background (although they are encouraged to take ARTH 156: Introduction to Architecture first) but I do expect them to have more advanced research and writing skills befitting an intermediate course. I add a library instruction day to introduce students to good art historical research methods, topic-specific library tools and resources, and the use of appropriate vs. inappropriate online resources (peer-reviewed journal articles or resources like ArchNet vs. travel and tourism websites, for example). I also use the course website on Sakai to point to an online library resource guide created specifically for ARTH 383, as well as support documents for using Google.

Assignment Description

The course as a whole collaboratively contributes to a multi-layer Google Map. Each iteration of the course focuses on 2 layers. The first layer, which students work on individually, maps architecture from the textbook with expanded information (videos, online resources, 3D models, etc.) added to the pin. The second layer, which students work on in groups, adds pins and expanded information to one of the following existing additional layers: Women Modernists, Modernists of Color, or Endangered Modernism (things not covered by the textbook, requiring additional library-resourced research).

Screenshot of map showing women modern architects. View interactive version.

Example of a 3D model embedded within the map. Click to view full version.

In lieu of a final exam, students give 10-minute group presentations of some of the key discoveries they made in researching their modernist works. The students work directly in Google My Maps but also deliver their assignments in the form of the data entered into excel spreadsheets, which I then aggregate to demonstrate examples of network analysis and timelines as other ways to visualize and analyze the information.

Time Needed

How much time did you allot to this project?

Two days of class time are devoted to library instruction and technology instruction early in the semester to set up the project with the students. The first layer is deliverable halfway through the course and we spend another full class day discussing the results and setting up the second layer. The second layer is deliverable on the last day of the course. The presentations are given during the final exam period. I expected students to spend about 1/2 hour per week working on this project (the other large class assignment is a set of linked and progressively more complex research papers totaling 10-12 pages of writing).

Support & Training

What kinds of support or training did you provide to help students learn to use new techniques or specialized tools?

Two days of class time devoted to library instruction and technology instruction. Questions about tools and techniques answered in a portion of Friday class discussions (about 5-10 minutes depending on the questions).


Did you need any specialized equipment, tools, or human resources to make this assignment feasible? If so, please describe.

Students used their laptops to access Google My Maps online. Individual free Google accounts were necessary for students to participate in the project. I was the IT support. The art librarian provided the library instruction day.


How did you assess or grade this project?

I use a rubric (quantity of pins, quality of pins/clarity of pin titling and descriptions, variety of additional resources added to the pin, basic correctness of the information, following instructions, etc.). I provided feedback on both layers via the Sakai Gradebook comments. Presentations are responded to by peers in class with Q&A afterward and we spend part of that last day discussing the pros and cons of the project.

Challenges & Opportunities

If you assigned this project again, would you change anything? If so, what?

I have assigned it twice and plan to assign it again. I added a timeline project the second time, which went well. I wouldn't necessarily change the project, but I do plan to better articulate in the course materials themselves what constitutes an architect of color, since many students listed Australian modernists simply because they were from a faraway continent that just happened to be near Asia. So, not assuming my students have a basic grasp of geography or the constituting of identity relative to such.

Describe any trouble spots or complications someone else might want to be aware of before trying a similar assignment in a course of their own.

  1. Google Maps and other assorted Google Tools change frequently, sometimes in the middle of the semester, so be prepared to be flexible in terms of training and support for the tool as well as for potentially having to change or limit the assignment. My first version had a Google Fusion Tables element to build a network analysis visualization but Fusion Tables went away.

  2. Discuss privacy/public scholarship with the students upfront--we worked in the map together privately and I let the students discuss and then vote on whether they felt comfortable making their class project publicly accessible to other Google Maps users. They are already nervous about their grade depending on their contributions and so you want to minimize any anxieties about the public version needing to be perfect/correct in every way to still be a useful project.

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