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July, 2009 Monthly archive

You are the City by Petra Kempf, Lars Mueller Publisher by Birkhaeuser, 2009. A book that is not really a book might be more of a book than many others. This book here is really not a book, it is a box of sheets and a leaflet. The sheets are colour prints on clear acetate. It is a radical take on city planning with very limited to do’s and not to do’s.
This is rather refreshing and the fact that the transparent sheets allow for creative combination of the presented content goes way beyond telling the “reader“ about the new ”must” and ”don’t”, but rather directly involves them to participate and shape a number of distinct perspectives on the discussed topic. There is not much more to be said, is there?
Well there might be, there are questions about the formality of the visuals, the similarity of the representation, the limitation in the selection of tools and forms. One could argue that is the stuff for discussion and aftermath of the book, as it is still the authors take on the subject and it probably is, but the book does not offer any format for this. So the engagement with the reader ends there, were the sheets can be combined.

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Image by UrbanTick

What Birkhaeuser says about the publication: “Cities are hybrid entities based on multilayered and sometimes contradictory organizing principles. As complex networks of geographic, economic, political and cultural segments, they are caught up in a constant process of differentiation. How are we to understand such dynamic processes, especially the complex connections between individuals, whose movements and interactions leave traces in the urban landscape? This publication offers architects, urban planners and general readers interested in city design and growth a novel approach, a mapping tool that creates a framework for understanding the continually changing configuration of the city. With transparent slides, the tool allows one to superimpose various realities like layers and build new urban connections. It invites readers in short to immerse themselves in the complexity of our cities.”

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Image by UrbanTick

The book subtitle is “Observation, organization, and transformation of urban settings”

In regard of the topic of cycles and rhythms in the city, this publication has a similar aim to start describing and understand the city in a dynamic sense. Kempf writes in the introduction titled “To the Curios”: “Cities are an everyday invention. They are informed and imagined by many people at the time. A cities’ form is expressed in a vortex of temporal relations, mirrored in the activities of a collective body o individuals interacting with one another.”
This dynamic approach is also reflected in the naming of the different areas o investigation. The books contains 22 sheets covering four distinct areas, those are: Cosmological Ground; Legislative Agencies; Currents, Flows and Forces; Nodes, Loops and Connections.
The naming ad the approach can provoke links to Lynch. His five elements plan for the city from his “Image of the City” book were: Nodes, Edge, Path, Landmark, District. Five are much simpler to remember ( might be the success of the book) than 22. But obviously there are some more option with a higher number.
It does get complicated though. I can list all of them because I have the leaflet in front of me, but the suggestive and at times literal names are easily confused. But maybe this is not the point. Maybe it is more important to create an image though the naming that guides the combination process. The mix of naming strategies is more confusing. Sometimes it is something like Bus Lines or Airport compared to Information Swirls or Under the Ground. The mix of specific and more poetic names probably makes for the distinct aura of the publication.

Kempf has worked on a very similar project in 2001. Back then she called it Met(r)onymy 1. Images and style are fairly similar. It seems to be something she has started to develop much earlier on.

A very interesting comparison between “You are the City” and an earlier book by Zaha Hadid called “Ubiquitous Urbanism” is made on Kosmograd. The formal relationship of the two projects is striking. Interesting because Petra Kempf is Adjunct Assistant Professor at Colombia, the same institution where Zaha Hadid developed her book.

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Image from Kosmograd

I don’t want to leave it here, because this could really create the wrong impression about the book. It is not a copy of something and it is a well thought approach to something new. It really opens the eyes in terms of planning, design approaches but also graphics and communication, You are the city – the City is you ha not promised something it will not be able to deliver, It is rather a very real promise and a rather lasting impression.
And if not for al these reasons you want to have one by now, there is one more. Put all the acetates on one pile, look into the sheets from an angle though the reflection (this book is horrible to photograph at a university with these kind of cheap lighting) and enjoy the depth, physical and theoretical this publication is able to create just there in front of you. This is worth buying a book for. Is it a book?

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Image by UrbanTick

Kempf, P., 2009. You are the City Pap/Trspy., Baden: Lars Müller Publishers.

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I have been out with the cameras last week to capture some of the daily motion of the city. The result is a massive amount of pictures and a time laps movie. Taking time laps pictures all day long can seem boring, but actually it was rather interesting. I was using three cameras, a Canon G9 with a ChDK script to allow automated capturing and two iPhones with the timeLapse application installed. This setting already kept me busy looking after the three cameras in the public realm. But I guess more interesting was for once just to stand there and watch the scenery unfold and develop. Usually we are in a hurry and going form A to B, where B is the focus. Very seldom we are strolling and enjoying the moment. While doing this I had some time to just look at the places and the events and I never felt bored. I have to admit, that I went to some very exciting places. One location is around Waterloo Bridge and the London Eye and an other one is St. Paul’s Cathedral. Both are busy places and offer great views. But both places are windy and a great lesson on time lapse photography is, always bring a raincoat. At the location you’re standing it is always gona be windy and in the case of London (for once) it will be raining sooner or later. The point is you don’t wanna miss out on these dramatic clouds moving across the sky as they poor the rain over the city.

London Day from urbanTick on Vimeo.

music Summer Hill by DANGSTA on akmusicvideo.com
And apparently there is a real story board to the movie above…

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UCL Grand Challenges is part of the UCL Research Strategy. UCL has identified of interdisciplinary importance and where new partnerships can deliver novel achievements. The four identified areas are: Sustainable Cities, Global Health, Intercultural Interaction and Human Wellbeing.
Palette is the new magazine to bring together and document the work at UCL related to Sustainable Cities. The inaugural issue of Palette has just been printed and UrbanTick features with a short article in section 5 on page 6.
The magazine builds on five sections. Progress reports current activities on the topic that UCL is involved in. Portfolio is a showcase for images produces in the context of research at UCL, perspective is the section for theories and thoughts of leading UCL academics, pages is about publications in this area and the section participation is a bout forthcoming activities.
CASA features with two more articles in this edition, one is by Mike Batty, “How big can a city get?” and there is also a book review on Andrew Hudson-Smith’s “Digital Geography”.
This first issue of the magazine can be downloaded on the Sustainable Cities homepage or here as a 9MB pdf file.

Image The Grand Challenges

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Every year during the late summer months, the Serpentine Gallery in London erects a pavilion outside in the park. It is usually a famous architect or an architecture team. There is already a long list of buildings, of whom some have become very famous.
This year it is SANAA, Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa from Japan. The pair has developed a very distinct stile and are building icons of buildings all over the world. One of the most recent completed works is the new Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, opened in 2007. This years Serpentine Summer Pavilion is a free flowing open shape and mainly consists of a floor plate and a roof plate. Together with some very thin columns it defines the space. It seems that this kind of spatial experience is rather difficult for most of the visitors and they don’t really know what to do with, in or around it. Most people end up standing around the “object” and look at it.

The project of having a Summer Pavilion started in 2000. Clock wise from the centre.

2009 – SANAA
2008 – Frank Gehry
2007 – Olafur Eliasson and Kjetil Thorsen
2007 – Zaha Hadid (temporary)
2006 – Rem Koolhaas and Cecil Balmond
2005 – Alvaro Siza and Eduardo Souto de Moura
2004 – MVRDV (not realized)
2003 – Oscar Niemeyer
2002 – Toyo Ito
2001 – Daniel Libeskind
2000 – Zaha Hadid

Last years (2008) Frank Gerry Pavilion in a timeLapse

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Since the GPS module in the iPhone was introduce in the second generation, a lot of applications have been developed and still are.
With the new third generation the software development continues and there are a number of GPS tracking applications that are established and maintained.
There are two elements to these tracking apps. One is the application on the iPhone and the other one is some computer software or online solution to display and manipulate the data collected through the mobile device. In short, the iPhone app is only to collect the data, visualization and manipulation, mainly has to be done on the computer.
I will be discussing three applications for the iPhone. They are Trails by Felix Alamouroux, iTrail by Justin Davis and Everytrail. All of them are compatible with the TrailRunner computer software that has been discussed here earlier and the Everytrail online platform.

The first tracking application that has been reviewed here was the Everytrail application for the iPhone. It is a FREE, simple software that is connected to an online platform for visualizing and sharing tracks. Two screens are offered, one is for data information, e.g. time, speed, location, and the other one is a map view based on Google Maps. The map view shows your position with a red square and the location of photos taken on the way.
Although it is a very simple application there are a few neat feature to it. If you have a login for the Everytrail website you can upload the recorded track directly, including settings like public/private and having it published to twitter (recent feature). The app allows taking pictures, that are automatically geotagged and treated as part of the trip, the track describes. The pictures are uploaded together with the track and can be viewed online. The online track replay function will include the pictures as a slideshow along the track. There is currently no function to import tracks. You can only record and export. Everytrail also has a bike version for the iPhone. It spots larger numbers that can be read more easily on a high speed trail and works in landscape mode.


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Image by everytrail – Screenshot Everytrail Bike Computer.

Trails, developed and maintained by Felix Alamouroux is not quite free, it cost £ 2.39 in the iTunes app store. There is a light version for free, but it is limited to some 5 minutes of tracking. This software has some more functions over the Everytrail. It is possible for example to import data directly. You can access a number of track sites or specify an URL. Standard are Everytrail, Mapmyrun.com and Bikely.com. After choosing the site you can search the public tracks by keyword. The main screen shows the location map, elapsed time, distance and speed. It is possible to save and name waypoints and take pictures.
The Trails app uses Open Street Map data to visualize the location. There are two options one is road, for a simple map and the other one is Terrain and Cycle for a more detailed map. Everytime you zoom in or out on the map is reloads the data and depending on the connection this can be a bit slow. In the map view it is also possible to pull out an altitude profile as an overlay on the map
It is possible to edit the track points individually. Although this is a bit tedious with tracks of more than 400 points it is a neat option to do some rough editing.
The exporting functions are either an email, directly to the Everytrail page or to TrailRunner. The email export will be as a GPX and the export to TrailRunner can be wirelessly to the computer, both have to be connected to the same network.


Image by UrbanTick – Screenshots Track overlay on Open Street Map data.

iTrail is developed by Justin Davis and offers the same functionality as Trails. It also is a paid app and costs £ 1.79 in the iTunes app store.
There is no base map function, but it is possible to edit the track points and name them.
Export functions are: Twitter, TrailRunner, trailmapping.com, Google Docs and iTrail Desktop. The Google docs is basically a GPX text file that needs to be copied and pasted to be used. An other option is the iTrail Desktop application. Here again it is possible to send the data between the iPhone and the computer if both are connected to the same private wi-fi network.


Images by Justin Davis – Screenshots filter – standard screen, Settings, tracking, trail map.

There is no real recommendation for one of these apps. For one it is because they all do the same and work similar and are compatible with the same software. The differences are the design and the range of functionality. This is reflected in the price tag, but seems reasonable. I am quite happy with the free Everytrail app as I only wane record the track. The Trails app is impressive with its range of function and the beautiful design.

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A great take on the subject of everyday routine. “Directed by the French motion graphics studio H5. It features a day in the life of a woman working in the London’s Square Mile solely through infographics; this includes labelled close-ups of everyday objects, product lifecycles, schematic diagrams, charts, and is generally illustrated in a simple isometric visual style. ”

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The role of cycles and routines in culture have been explored in various aspects on this blog earlier. From early settlements to the concept of time in terms of units such as days, weeks and month.
One of the cultures that have throughout a very strong concept of repetition in the more literal sense is ancient Egypt, the culture of the Pharaohs. There is so much research on this culture out there and for Europe and especially Britain this has been a deep fascination for centuries. The British Museum is stuffed to the roof with artifacts and knowledge collected in Egypt.
What I want to look at is the “simple“ concept of the birth and death of the sun during the course of one day. Two elements in Egypt have had a fundamental impact on how the Egyptian culture has formed. This is on one hand the Nile as the life spending river that runs through the deathly desert from south to north and the sun that spends the warmth and makes the plants grow that travels from east to west. These two elements might also had a fundamental influence in how orientation and navigation was developed. (Yi-Fu Tuan (1974), Topophilia. Columbia University Press, New York) It is believed, that the Egyptian culture hated the darkness that arose together with the cold as soon as the sun has touched the horizon in the west. The dark and the cold were associated with death, just like the daily death of the sun. As an opposition to this there was the daily birth of the sun as it rose over the horizon in the east. For this miracle the Scarab beetle was responsible. The beetle was an important character that took care of the death and was associated with the Egyptian god, Khepri. He did take care of the sun and made sure, that after she died in the evening she was reborn in the morning in the east. To do so he rolled the sun just like a ball backwards along the sky, just like a Scarab beetle would roll a ball of dung. So the beetle rolled the son during the night from west to east. The Egyptian name for this important insect was ”Kheper“. The scarab beetle was also a symbol of rebirth after death. To believe in being reborn led to the mummification of the dead body, to preserve it for it’s next life. When the Egyptians mummified a body they would remove the heart and put a stone carved like the beetle in its place. Just like the sun would be reborn every day, also humans would be sent back from the death to be reborn. The idea of cycles and repetition as observed in nature was deeply embedded in the culture of ancient Egypt.

Image from labspaces.net

Some sort of visualization with a time lapse of the night sky.
Perseids from powrslave on Vimeo.

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The new iPhone arrived last week, so it is time to look at the new features and of course discuss some first applications.
To say something about the physical design of the device is probably rather personal, but I really liked the shape and feel of the first generation. The new curves have already been introduced with the second generation, but I never really grew to like it. It is all right if you are holding the iPhone in your hand, but if you are using it on flat surface it is rather annoying. Say it lies beside your computer keyboard on the desk, as mine usually does and you want to have a quick look at something. What you do is you press the home button to light up the screen and …

Image by UrbanTick

The new power plug is amazing. That lovely little knob is exactly what it should be. What I am not sure is, if this till works with the older models. My first generation iPhone still had the little transformer with the plug, any experiences?
The material seems very sensitive to scratches. First thing I did is put on a screen shield. The back I left uncovered so far and the result of only six days is a fairly scratched back. Compared to the metal back the plastic is not very tuff.

A first thing to note is the keyboard, it is very responsive and now available in landscape. This makes typing texts easier and together with the new cut and past feature you have a full up text editing functionality, it even works for images and web content. Who needs more, all the word crap? You feel free and light with such a simple method of typing.
The other important feature is the navigation and the maps. To now have GPS, Maps and the Compass in the phone is very exiting. It works all right and Google maps do a good job. Even very basic navigation from A to B is possible, to getter with on screen instructions. The instructions are not location based and steps have to be switched manually, but nevertheless it is built in. The TomTom navigation was announced earlier this year at the WWDC, see earlier post and will definitely make a big difference. But this will be a paid app. The street view feature full screen is just incredible. Even if you work with the technology in the web and computer daily this is exciting!


Image by UrbanTIck – screenshot street view


Image by UrbanTIck – some of my iPhone screens

A quick look at some London focused applications for the iPhone. Of course we all are only waiting for the augmented reality tube direction application that is developed by acrossair. They are waiting for approval through Apple and for them to make it available in the iTunes store. Should be soon they say.

But in the mean time, there are some basic applications for tube use. There is a lot of free stuff out there so before you pay have a look in the free section and this is exactly what I do for now. Although the apps are usually on £ 0.50 to about £ 2.00, not much. Some research on app usage has shown that additional apps downloaded from the app store are used one for a couple of days, regardless whether free or paid for.
So back to the tube applications for London. I am looking at both, for travel and navigation, but even for journey optimization, TubeExits, if you are not a frequent commuter. It basically tells you to board which carriage in order to be in a good position at arrival.
Most appealing tube map comes with iTrans Tube. It is free and features a tube map that can be navigated, zoomed and a click on the station will bring up information about train times from this particular station. General tube line information is also available from Tube Status or Tube Info. Tube Info lets you access every single station on the line concerned, where as Tube Status only lists information about closures or maintenance. The TubeMap application combines all the above features, but is not very appealing graphically.
So to conclude there are a number of “get around London” applications for free available for the iPhone. I am sure there are more out there and if I come across some additional ones I will ad them. They suit commuters and visitors alike and are a must for everyone in the London area.

Of course for the work related to the blog here, the GPS and tracking applications are the most interesting bit. I have been testing some of them too and will review them later this week. For now I think everytrail still is in the top league. I am using it since the beginning of the year and it works well.

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Together with the GPS tracking technology also a whole bunch of other sensors are now available in rather small format, cheep prize and can easily be combined. So sensing the environment in a small scale is becoming possible, even popular.
A number of projects are under way. Here I put together some example.
This sort of information is especially interesting to learn more about microclimates. The knowledge regarding fine scale environmental information in cities is relatively low. With the now widely available technology it becomes possible to sense and record the environment as a pedestrian, or a cyclist. This in turn could collect the data to generate a better picture of microclimates.
Mobile phones as electronic devices that a large number of people are carrying around daily could become potentially sensors and record and transmit environmental related information in a large scale.
Research that develops prototypes for this kind of data collection is undertaken at Carnegie Mellon’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute by Eric Paulos. “How would it change your ideas about moving around in the world, if you could suddenly sense things you couldn’t see?” he asks. As a respond to this work some Phone manufacturer have already expressed interest, as he reports in the seed magazine.

Probably a good element for DIY made sensors is the Ardurino open source platform, software and hardware. “Arduino is an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software. It’s intended for artists, designers, hobbyists, and anyone interested in creating interactive objects or environments.” (From Ardurino.cc)

An environmental sensing project runs in Paris. It is called “la montre verte” and is so far about a “green watch“. It grew out of the idea to mobilize the 1000 fixed environmental sensors around Paris and generate more accurate real time data. So far 30 prototypes of the green watch have been produced and are tested at the moment in Paris.
The team has produced some beautiful visualization from the collected data. It is built on a Google Map with a detailed interactive interface to select and replay the collected data.

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Image from la montre verte

CamMobSens (Cambridge Mobile Urban Sensing) also works on a sensing project similar to the Paris project. So far they have collected data around Cambridge.

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Image from CamMobSense

A short clip of the data can be seen here, a paper has been published on the project.

Nokia is very active and always experimenting with new technologies. Of course they are also developing something related to the topic of extended environmental sensors. They have a dedicated project webpage on http://www.nokia.com/corporate-responsibility/environment. And of course there are also products, not yet ready. It is on the nokia page described as: ”The concept consists of two parts – a wearable sensor unit which can sense and analyze your environment, health, and local weather conditions, and a dedicated mobile phone. The sensor unit will be worn on a wrist or neck strap made from solar cells that provide power to the sensors. NFC (near field communication) technology will relay information by touch from the sensors to the phone or to or to other devices that support NFC technology.“ Nokia’s eco sensor concept:

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Image from nokia

Integrating environmental live data into further digital development on the computer, on this are the people from pachub working. They have developed a plug in for Sketch up to use live sensore information to feed into the SketchUp platform. Information on it i on their blog.

Pachube2SketchUp: plug in realtime sensor & environment data from Pachube on Vimeo.

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In my earlier master thesis work on cycles I wrote about different kinds of natural cycles. One of the examples was the yearly event for ant colonies when the drones leave the nest.
Today was this day again, at least in our garden and around the house here in London. Hundreds of ants (black garden ant (Lasius niger)) winged individuals flying in the air in search of a mating partner. Then the female ants loose their wings and find a place to start a new colony, were as the males die.
Both female and male winged ants are produced by the colony as reproducers and it is a big effort for the colony to bring up this large number of individuals that will once ready leave the nest, but are not taking part in the supporting activities.
The date and time they leave the nest depends heavily on the conditions. It is mainly the temperature that is important. This is to ensure that the ants can fly (not raining) and that after the female ants loose their wings they have enough time to find a new nesting place.
“Disparities between local weather conditions can cause nuptial flights to be out of phase amongst widespread populations of L. niger. During long-lasting, hot summers, flights can take place simultaneously across the country, but overcast weather with local patches of sunshine results in a far less synchronised emergence of alates (winged individuals).” (from wikipedia)


Image by urbanTick – ant discarding the wings

Great information on ants on antblog or The Kurt Kuene Antpage. The ant bible would be The Superorganism by Bert Hoelldobler and E.O. Wilson. They do not agree on everything, but they make a great team. They have published a number of books including The Ants in 1997.
Ants have featured earlier this year in a blog post, in relation with tracking and how they leave informations on their trail for fellow ants.

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