Mapping flows

Switzerland as operational landscape


  • Marc Angélil ETH Zurich, Architecture
  • Cary Siress Future Cities Laboratory (FCL)




Drawing on episodes involving the use (and abuse) of maps in Switzerland, this essay pertains to the geopolitical agency of cartography in the production of urban territory. Maps generate and maintain particular discourses about the world, whether factual or fictional, with very real repercussions either way for the territory depicted. The UN motion made by Libyan leader Muammar al-Gadaffi to wipe Switzerland off the map, for instance, discloses just how much sway the cartographic imaginary holds in global relations. Guillaume- Henri Dufour’s mid-nineteenth century map re-territorialised a loose coalition of fiercely independent cantons into that unified economic and legislative space known as ‘Switzerland’, while underwriting an infrastructural machine that remains as central to Swiss self-esteem as it is to the nation’s economy. More recent examples of the map’s formative authority come by way of two unusual bids made in 2010 to redraw the boundaries of Switzerland. The controversial map by Armed Forces Chief André Blattmann recast Europe as enemy territory in an effort to rekindle patriotic identity and legitimise the need for an army. Conversely, right-wing politician Dominique Baettig put forth an equally contentious map calling for the annexation of regions from neighbouring countries that would create a new Swiss megacity in the heart of Europe. Regardless of how it is mapped, Switzerland’s contemporary urban fabric hardly adheres to an immaculate image, manifesting instead a disjunctive amalgam of bits and pieces that operate according to their own rules and agendas. And with such territorial entropy increasing on a planetary scale, we might wonder to what extent the map actively shapes these conditions as an actor in its own right rather than only neutrally reflecting them. In any case, territory is never simply given, but is constituted through the polymorphous elements, relations, and domains of reference that it assembles. Whereas the map might continue to express what is done in the name of territory, we do not yet know what territory itself can do.

How to Cite

Angélil, M., & Siress, C. (2015). Mapping flows: Switzerland as operational landscape. Research in Urbanism Series, 3, 35–56.



Author Biographies

Marc Angélil, ETH Zurich, Architecture

Marc Angélil is Professor at the Department of Architecture of ETH Zurich and conducts his research at the Network City and Landscape (NSL) and Future Cities Laboratory (FCL) in Singapore

Cary Siress, Future Cities Laboratory (FCL)

Cary Siress Cary is an architect and a Senior Researcher at the Future Cities Laboratory (FCL) in Singapore as well as Guest Professor at the Graduate School of Architecture of Nanjing, China


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