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Dominions: Survey and Surveil in the Global Map – Lawrence Bird

March 29, 2019 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm CDT

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The Spring 2019 Urban Design Colloquium: Questions of Civility takes as its overarching theme the notion of “civility” – considering civic topics from a variety of standpoints. This session falls under the subtheme “Civil Eyes I Civilize: Tracing Dominions.”


Today, in a globalized world, under what has been described as an era of planetary urbanism, regimes of control extend from the earth to its image. That image is not neutral: its distortions reflect political and economic as well as technical biases and dysfunctions. Among the first acts of city founding is the surveying of land, very often through the laying out of a grid. In the modern era that grid has been extended to the entire surface of the globe, as a tool of rational and colonial domination.

In this lecture, Lawrence Bird, an architect, practitioner, educator and artist from Winnipeg, Canada, draws on his recent video projects to discuss two surveying systems. The first of these is Canada’s 19th-century Dominion Land Survey (DLS), an analogue to the American Public Land Survey. It attempted to lay a rational grid over the prairies to facilitate settlement, while disempowering those already there. Its marks remain present today, but also its failures: its disruption by natural features, cycles and alternative models of land ownership.

Bird’s video project Dominion documents these aspects of the DLS through the lens of a contemporary system, Google Earth — which, as one of the latest tools for commodification through maps, introduces its own distortions onto the image of the world. Also discussed for what they reveal about the politics of the image will be Transect – addressing the Greenwich Prime Meridian – and parallel, whose subject is the 49th parallel.


Following the lecture, Bird will host a seminar session introducing students to the ins and outs of Google Earth, discussing how he has used it as a teaching and research tool and providing a brief overview of related artwork by others. Interested students should contact Sharon Wohl, assistant professor of architecture and urban design, to register.

Video screening

Three of Bird’s video projects related to his research into contemporary aerial and satellite imaging technologies will be screened in the College of Design on Friday, March 29,  in conjunction with his visit. They include:


Dominion documents the western Canadian landscape as charted and commodified by two mapping machines: the 19th-century Dominion Land Survey and Google Earth. The project examines attempts to assert control over the Earth and its image, and their inevitable failures.


This project tracks along the 49th parallel, that is, the western border between Canada and the United States. The work considers a series of other parallels: parallel countries, parallel modes of imaging and imagining, and parallels between political, technical and visual territories.

Earth or World: Google Earth and the Prosthetic Imagination

This project incorporates student work produces during a five-week graduate seminar in the history and theory of architecture that examined writing on technology, image and landscape (Broeckmann, Corner, Heidegger, Waldheim). Students used basic video-editing and internal Google Earth tools to document political or personal landscapes of their choice.

Co-sponsored by the urban design graduate program, Department of Architecture and Department of Landscape Architecture.


March 29, 2019
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm CDT
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181 Design
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Ames, IA 50011 United States
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