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105 INTRODUCTION ATLAS AND DESIGN AS INSTRUMENTS OF KNOWLEDGE Maria Chiara Tosi, Carles Crosas, and Geoffrey Grulois The difficulty of understanding a territory has often led researchers to experience it through tools and research practices based on direct observation. In Western culture, it is in fact not uncommon to feel, in the face of major changes and transformations in the surrounding world, a need to step outside of libraries in order to experience forms of knowledge that lie not in books but elsewhere (Blumemberg, 1989). Among these, experiencing places directly, describing and measuring them, comparing their essential characteristics, and designing their future are perhaps the main ways of acquiring this knowledge, by drawing heavily on the language and analytic categories that arise from physical experience (Zumthor, 1993). Dense/sparse, near/far, big/small, empty/full—these are just some of dichotomous pairs derived from the experience of a physical body in space that enable us to recount and discover a territory’s characteristics. Using these and other categories to draw maps of the area can reveal surprising connections and also dispel false images or common rhetoric. And in this sense, this kind of mapping can produce new knowledge for formulating interpretative hypotheses and for defining strategies of intervention. Since obtaining specific and precise knowledge of the three metropolitan areas we examine in this book— Barcelona, Brussels, and Venice—seemed as urgent as