ABITARE: Mittelmeerland – mapping the Mediterranean


Mittelmeerland – mapping the Mediterranean

An urban research project curated by AA investigating the future of the Mediterranean as a ‘territory’ of water..

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by Alice Piciocchi

Detecting invisible and visible facts existing between coast and sea. This is the aim of Mittelmeerland, a research project curated by AA, that by examining some Mediterranean port cities, analyses those infrastructures that the architect Dan Hill (Arup) defines soft, that is those cultural, economic and social infrastructures that are not indicated on the conventional maps. The curators, Ms. Medine Altiok and Ms. Stephanie Tunka, consider the sea as a shared resource and aim at investigating the different interpretation keys of a territory which is said to be one only. Dubrovnik, Tangier and Beirut are the cities taken into consideration through 3 workshops involving professionals and students, locals and foreigners. We directly asked them to report to us this experience, while waiting for the new stages in Istanbul, Alexandria and Algiers.

How is it that you chose the Mediterranean territory as projectual context? Why, among the analysed port cities, haven’t you selected large cities like Genoa, Venice, Marseille, Valencia, preferring instead all the Southern coast?
Medine Altiok: In the last century the Mediterranean has been separated through politics, religions, and nation states etc. The Mediterranean Sea is not only situated between continents, but also acts as a historical and contemporary centre and border zone. The social, economic and political dynamics of this zone are complex. Contemporary political concepts such as the Union of the Mediterranean are only few of many dynamics that are driving factors for spatial changes in the cities. Unified by climate and the history of civilization, the Mediterranean region has the potential to be seen as a geographic unit.

Map by Medine Altiok-Migration and Trade

This is the reason, why I study the region. Over the next 15 years major Mediterranean port cities expect rapid changes, because of the growth of global trade, container shipping and of the expected growth of the national economics. Further, the Mediterranean Basin is among the four most significantly altered biodiversity hotspots on Earth. There is not a homogenically politically governed Institution who would be capable to tackle these problems. We are interested in sustainable projects no matter of scale; basically we need to think beyond national boundaries. Oil spills, container shipping, fishes, climate etc. don’t stop at a national borders. The Mediterranean has to be seen as a whole to organize the environmental contaminations and to manage the trade within the region. Sea trade has fundamentally changed today towards highly technical processes. This is why we are investigation in cities with existing ports.

Map by Medine Altiok-Investments and Architects

We want to find out how and if they are equipped for this changes. Some newly built ports such as Tangier Med will potentially develop completely new cities surrounding them. It is true that we study non-European port cities such as Dubrovnik, Tangier and Beirut. Next, we will go to Algiers. We are interested in the non-European cities, because 1. We don’t know much about them. They seem not enough connected to the rest of the Mediterranean ports. In our point of view, we would like to discover the potentials of those cities and on the same time use the workshop as medium to create cross-cultural academic exchanges. European Ports are much further developed and have significantly better infrastructures.

Map by Medine Altiok-Energie

In order to stay globally and locally attractive and competitive it is essential to strengthen the Mediterranean area as a large territorial and sea trade entity. Personally of course I do know the conditions of ports like Genoa, Marseille, Barcelona etc. very well, how ever the less developed ports are much more interesting for our studies, because these spots need fresh visions for their future developments.

For the visualization of your research, you chose to reinterpret the most traditional graphic representations that are the maps. What do you mean with narrative map and interpretative 3D?
 Which was, over the years, the evolution of the map as tool? Can such a tool be improved by exploiting the new technologies as those of the open source data?
Medine Altiok: Mapping knowledge has been a traditional tool for centuries; it goes even back to the ancient history. One can observe an evolution; mapping has always infected the state of knowledge of the world and cannot be separated from scientific knowledge. Secondly from the moment measuring tools evolved of course mapping evolved. Today we have digital tools to represent planes, spaces and data, and we have new technical tools to measure spaces such as ultra shall. Now, in order to create a concept of the Mediterranean Sea as one whole territory you need to create a representation of it as a whole.

Katalan Map

This paradoxical formulation comes from an inverse representation of the Mediterranean and the coastal countries. Looking at the sea as land it allows an imagination of a territory from a different perspective, namely looking as being inside and looking then beyond the borders and using cities as the exchange points. We use the cartographic competences for architectural purposes.

Libyan Map

The cartography knows many means of 2d and 3d representations: digital, printed and physical models. We architects use all of them in all scales. Cartographic drawings are more than scientific and real representations of current borders, mountains, infrastructure and measures; they interpret, review and comment. They are traditional tools to visualize such a new perspective. Cartographic drawings not only served as navigation devices or charting newly discovered territories, they were also tools of imagination and narration. The Catalan Atlas by Abraham Cresques from the medieval period is a beautiful example for such a narrative map. The early Arab map by Ibn Hawqual an Nasibibi published in the last Atlas of Libya in 1978 (National Atlas of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya) shows the Mediterranean from the Arabic perspective.

Map by Medine Altiok- Ottoman

Map by Medine Altiok- Caliphate

Narrative mapping contains many layers of information, many scales and many stories in one single drawing. It allows cross – and multiple readings. They represent the relations, the small things in-between- it is scientific and poetic at once. The opposite of this are the analytical mappings, where each group of information is separately represented in layers. We start our mappings using open source Google data and enrich them with our own our observations of phenomenological situations and collected data from the local context.

Among the analyses of the territory realized by the workshop participants are there any pretty significant ones?
Medine Altiok: The focus of the workshop series is in the comparison of the cities and the qualities and weaknesses. During the workshop we produced for each site a catalogue of existing and projected physical conditions and phenomenological situations, a narrative map relating relevant issues to each other and a large perspective line drawings of with future scenario, imagining how the site could be envisioned in future. In the comparison of each city, we are observing similarities but also significant differences. We try to understand the global and regional dynamics and in-between Tangier Med is a great place with a new future. You should watch out this place. There are the large transformations going on.

Mittelmeerland Dubrovnik-Ploce Port

Mittelmeerland 3-Beirut- Downtown

How will you convey to the public the results of all the workshops? Did you set yourselves the target of looking for the economic, political, social matrix uniting the Mediterranean landscape?
Medine Altiok: We involve the public and academic institution as participants, experts etc. We always invite journalists and academic. We created the homepage: www.mittelmeerland.org. We are also connected with international institutions doing related work like Wissensraum Mittelmeer Karlsruhe: www.wissensraum-mittelmeer.org

Mittelmeerland – Beirut Port

How much is the city involved in your analysis? How do you make the choice of the urban and suburban portions to be assigned to the various groups of the involved students? Isn’t there the risk of giving a partial reading of the territory?
Medine Altiok: The city provides Information, questions and issues they would like us to study and the show critical sites along the coast that are in transformation. Before we start the Programme, we examine the coast and then select and prepare characteristic sites and we search for relevant topics together will all kind of experts. We prepare all findings and basic maps with local students, professors and architects. Yes, students during he workshop only get to focus on specific aspects related to their sites.

Mittelmeerland -Symposium Lecture by John Pamesino

This is an in depth study to understand parts of the complexity of the coast. During and at the end of the workshop students are asked to relate their site and proposals back to the whole coastline. We ask them to find relating aspects with the other sites and propose discussion points. At the mid-time of the workshop we set- up a public symposium with professional speakers including our students projects. For the students this a challenging experience. They are asked to bring up sharp discussion points to the public.

Mittelmeerland -Tangier-SYMP0SIUM at CINEMATHEQUE

The architects are increasingly addressing their researches towards anthropological and sociological scopes. Which are the reasons of this trend?
Medine Altiok: No architecture or urban planning is credible without incorporating anthropological, political and social aspects. It comes from the interdisciplinary work behind the projects. The Participation per definition by the UN Habitat incorporates participation, as constitution participation is part of sustainability. Contemporary and potential networks of energy, migration, trade and ecosystem suggest a Mediterranean with different shapes and extend. The Mediterranean should therefore be seen as territory with a liquid border managed by the cooperation of mayor coastal cities that tackle shared issues and its representation should be a scientific and poetic map.

Workshop Atmosphere in Dubrovnik

Workshop Atmosphere in Beirut


Mittelmeerland is an initiative and urban research project investigating the future of the Mediterranean as a ‘territory’ of water. Mittelmeerland uses a comparative approach with detailed case studies of port cities and their coasts. By analyzing current urbanization and future developments, the aim is to generate narrative statements and mappings. A series of six workshop sessions will take place in Dubrovnik, Tangier, Istanbul, Algiers, Alexandria and Beirut. The purpose of the workshops is to examine how the Mediterranean region can position itself as a ‘territory’, one that is based on climatic and economic conditions, and subject to specific social, political and spatial dynamics and experiences? What can each city do to turn the Mediterranean from one of the largest hotspots of the world into an Eco Spot?

Medine Altiok (1974) is a German-Turkish architect. She graduated from the AA in 2000 and gained a postgraduate master in Design Culture from the ZHdK in 2010. She is the founder of MOCA Office for Culture and Architecture based in Zurich and initiator of a series of research projects dealing with cultural, political and economic changes in the Mediterranean. From 2005- 2010 she taught design studios at ETH Zurich with Momoyo Kaijima (Atelier Bow Wow) and Felix Claus (Claus en Kaan). She conducted urban research workshops in Los Angeles (SCIARC), Tokyo (TIT), Yokohama (YGSD), Istanbul (Bilgi University) and at the International Summer Academy in Salzburg. Since 2011, Medine teaches at the AA. Together with Stephanie Tunka, she is programme director of the AA Visiting School Mittelmeerland series and co-founder of the Mittelmeerland Organization.www.medinealtiok.com and www.mittelmeerland.org

Stephanie Tunka (1976) graduated in 2001 from TU Braunschweig and joined Mecanoo Architects in Delft. In 2006 she moved to London, where she works as an associate partner at Foster + Partners. Over 10 years, she worked on various projects dealing with a contextual approach, different urban densities and sustainable developments for waterfronts in Croatia, North Africa, The Netherlands, United Kingdom and others. She taught at TU Delft and the Welsh School of Architecture. Together with Medine Altiok, she is programme director of the AA Visiting School Mittelmeerland series and co-founder of the Mittelmeerland Organization.



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