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January 2010 Monthly archive

Infrastructure plays an important role in our everyday life. It is the part that drives the urbanMachine. In recent years the work and especially the design of the infrastructure ‘objects’ has received a lot more public attention. The idea of ‘beautiful’ infrastructure ‘objects’ has obviously settled by now and this demonstrates the new Nai Publishers publication ‘The Landscape of Contemporary Infrastructure’ by Kelly Shannon and Marcel Smets. Probably this public shift has to be seen in a wider context, than simply the recent times. The conceptualisation of the urban alias infrastructure derives from the time of the industrialisation through to the futurists and mainly catalysed by the modernist movement. The importance of ‘form follows function’ for the trends of ‘iconic’ objects in architecture of the late nineties and early twenty-first century have translated onto infrastructure work. Traditionally this was the field of engineers but has consequently been taken over by architects. The gradual importance of the architect is reflected in the book, all the projects are classified first by the architect and if applicable followed by landscape architect, engineer, developer or artist.


Image taken from The Landscape of Contemporary Infrastructure / ‘Tunnel Artifice’ (1988-2008) by Architects Renato Salvi and Flora Rucjat-Roncati / on page 146-147

The book demonstrates the contemporary state of infrastructure design on a palette of projects drawn from around the world. With its 74 examples the publication could be called a encyclopedia of infrastructure projects and to some extend it claims to be a register of archetypes. Archetypes might be a bit too ambitious but icons definitely. It features the Yokohama Port Terminal by Foreign Office Architects (1995-2001), the Oresund Bridge and Tunnel by Architect Georg K.S. Rotne and Engineer ASO Group, Oresund Link Consultants (1992-2000), the High Line Park, by Architect Dillier Scofidio + Renfro and Landscape Architect James Corner Field Operations (2005-2010), the Orient Station by Architect Santiago Calatrava (1993-1998), the Millau Viaduct by Architect Foster + Partner, Bridge Engineer Michel Virlogeux and Landscape Architect Agency Ter (1993-2005), the Toledo Escalators and Car Park by Architect Martinez Lapena-Torres Architectes (1997-2000), the Hoenheim-Nord Terminus by Architect Zaha Hadid Architects (1999-2001) and the Curitiba Bus System by Architect Jaime Lerner (1966-1990) to name a few of the known examples. However there are gems to be discovered between the known examples, for example the Leidsche Rijn Bridges by Architect Maxwan Architects and Urbanists (1995-2005) or the Casar de Caceres Bus Station by Architect Justo Garcia Rubio and Engineer Jaime Cervera Bravo (1998-2003). The bridges documented in the book are really nice and the appearance of bridges has changed quite a lot in recent years, however on the other hand it still seems impossible to design a similarly beautiful rest place for a high way.
The content is structured into four chapters. The authors have chosen not to go with the common categories of infrastructure classification. The taxonomy here is structured into mobility ‘Imprints of Mobility on the Landscape’, physical presence ‘Physical Presence in the Landscape’, movement ‘The Perception of Landscape Through Movement‘ and public character ‘Infrastructure as Public Space. The authors explain their decision: ”… at a time when computer-refined search engines and availability of information are so prevalent, the mere compilation of cases has become rather senseless. Such a catalog risks becoming quickly outdated and will necessarily be incomplete. A taxonomy of design attitudes, by contrast, should remain valid over time.“ It could be argued against this approach, however the taxonomy is very consistent develop for this publication. In this sense it makes perfect sense and together with the detailed introductions to each chapter drive the book. It could almost be said that this is really the feature that distinguishes this book from any other collection of infrastructure projects. From this view point the examples can be seen as mere illustrations. However this description would not live up to the richness of the individual example. The fact that each projects documented on a spread also live on this independent level makes this publication a must have.


Image taken from The Landscape of Contemporary Infrastructure / ‘Dutch”Orgware“’Leidsche Rijn Bridges by Architect Maxwan Architects and Urbanists

Nevertheless, two points of critic need to be raised. The first one is the conceptualisation of infrastructure in independent ‘objects’. This approach clearly follows the iconic presentation of architectural projects of the OMA or Herzog and de Meuron type. Yes, it is a good way to reach out to consumers beyond practitioners and experts, as they are served with ready to consume glossy images. It fits the current, self promoted architectural ‘Zeitgeist’ of iconic, distinct, clean projects. However it misses the opportunity to establish infrastructure as something more than an ‘object’, but rather a collection of ‘objects’ or even better a network. Of course the bridge was contracted with this architect and delivered as such, but it is part of a national or maybe international network of highways. The same can be said of train stations, airports, tunnels and even car parks. More than architecture (building) projects the infrastructure calls for the context it is embedded to be considered. Take a new tram line e.g. ‘Floating Boxes’ Alicante Tram Stop (2005-2006 by Architect Subarquitectura on page 198-199. The ‘architecture’ is lovely, a brilliant example, but isn’t there a lot of infrastructure missed out concerning the tramline connecting ”a sting of towns along the Mediterranean coast“ ? The only example that actually makes use of a map to illustrate its extend and interconnection is the Qingai-Tibet Railroad from Xining to Lhasa by Engineer Li Jin Cheng (2001-2006). It has to be said, however that the authors do mention aspects of networks and context in the introduction texts, but it is largely absent from the individual project documentations.


Image taken from planningkorea.com / the tram stop at night

The second point it the selection of presented project. There is a lot of infrastructure been left out. What about Dams e.g. the Thames Barrier; Canals e.g. Panama; Pipelines; Power Stations; Military infrastructure; research facilities e.g. Antarctica stations or space missions or CERN; environmental disaster preventions e.g. storm surges, walls and dams; grids e.g. telecommunication, power; … The short answer might be they don’t fir the iconic criteria if this was one, but the long answer might be that the field of infrastructure is simply too vast to fit into one publication and this would call for a Volume 2. As the present publications makes it on the list of must haves, a volume 2 is definitely something to consider. Table of content available from HERE.

From urbanTick 4

Image taken from Nai Publishers website / a sample spread introducing the La Granja Escalator project by José Antonio Martínez Lapeña & Elías Torres Archit, which could already be called a classic example.

Shannon, K. & Smets, M., 2010. The Landscape of Contemporary Infrastructure, Rotterdam: NAi Publishers.

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To continue on the topic of ‘a view from the Road’ another high-speed clip documenting a road trip. Here with 800mph from North Point Hong Kong Island to Mui Wo on Lantau Island. Very interesting how the features of the urban development direct the experience of the trip.
Some examples I picked out to illustrated the idea Lynch used to characterise and describe the urban experience as seen from the road in his book ‘The view From the Road’ (1966). I have increased the contrast on those key images to highlight the landscape feature. One should spend a bit more time on this to do it properly, was just a quick sketch.

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Image by urbanTick / screenshots taken from the clip by LantauOnline / The increased contrast highlights the landscape features.

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’A huge earthquake rocked the impoverished Caribbean nation of Haiti on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2010. Thousands are feared dead.’ Those are the sad news we are currently hearing across the media and increasingly through out the internet. The blogging and especially the micro blogging community is playing an increasing role in spreading and informing about events. Only last year several events grew very big in these media, such as the swine flu case and the Iranian demonstrations against the results of the presidents election.
The earth quake has, as it looks at the moment almost completely wiped out the infrastructure of a anyway struggling country and this dramatically complicates possibilities to brig in help. So currently most of the news are coming from outside and satellite observation and analysis.
There are first satellite images now also appearing on Google Earth. The Satellite GeoEye passed over Haiti yesterday morning (14th) and the imagery has been passed on to Google.

You can download the KML file HERE to see the imagery in Google Earth on your desktop. Details on the Google Latitude blog.
Also on facebook large groups form to inform, support and find people. One group with 170’000 members is the Earthquake Haiti. They also give advise if you want to provide support or donate. It is advised to make sure any donations go to a properly registered organisation. Fears over false companies and fraud are also sweeping the internet simultaneously. Some options her, the British Red Cross Haiti Appeal, Oxfam Haiti Appeal, advice from the White House in Washington.

Some first map mashups also emerge. There is twitter (on trendsmap) or also youtube mashups. The best content focused mashup is produced by ushahidi which seems to be as factual a possible even though it is partly crowed sourced. It serves at the same time as communication board as users can post requests to find missing family members or friends. This is helpful until official information have caught up. Since then all the information has to be consumed with care and a portion of skepticism.

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Image taken from GoogleMapsMania / screenshot of the haiti.ushahidi information mashup

Help and support is under way from all over the world. MapAction for example, they featured on the blog in an earlier post on mapping, have deployed a four man team early on Wednesday. Also the united state have deployed a aircraft carrier carrying helicopters that and support material. It arrived early this morning and will be used as a hub according to the NYtimes. Other countries also have sent rescue teams and supply. However there is some reluctance to help simply because of the extend of the disaster tat creates together with the already difficult condition before hand a definitely unpredictable situation. No one knows where to start quite literally, the country has to be built up from scratch seems to be the common tone of the reports. In terms of media coverage, I was struck by the extensive use of dead bodies to illustrate the disaster and its extend. Maybe it is only a feeling but I haven’t recognised this type of media coverage since the Yugoslavia conflict, where too dead bodies and extreme violence was widely used in media coverage. I do understand that the disaster, pain and horror have to be communicated, but maybe there is still a boundary. An image like some of those are for me not doing the right job.

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Image by Erikso / the different seasons portrait in the timeLapse

We featured this clip earlier, well not exactly this clip but the proceeding clip of 2008. This now is an update and shows the progress of the year 2009. Eirik Solheim still keeps up his project to document the passing year outside his house in Norway. It is an amazing how the compression visualises the change we otherwise more unconsciously realise. THe two clips show different sections of the view. The earlier clip from last year can be found HERE. There is also the tutorial where Eric explains how he does it for people interested.

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After all this snow here in the UK it now finally seems to warmen up and melt the white coat away. It was really a lot of snow almost for about two weeks and covering the whole of the UK, from northern Scotland down to the southern coast. Satellite image can be found HERE.
It was a lot of fun, the sledging, skidding, walking, snowball fights, freezing, watching white feather like flocks, enjoying the calmness, snowman building – snowman, where has my snowman gone? Inspired by the ice melting timeLapse.

Music Moon Walk by Taurus Project on mp3unsigned.com

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Working with time and especially the specialised work with time in a computer software is a big challenge. A number of posts on this topic featured on the blog earlier with some really amazing approaches to the problem. The MIT open source code for timeMap is a good example.
I have earlier discussed time representation problems often along the lines of narratives. I believe that narratives offer a helpful tool to organise time. Generally the time is simply represented as one continuous line, however while using narratives this could be extended by using multiple strands. In this method then the intersections and interlinks suddenly need a special attention. The twists and bends of the story become the defining elements and drive the visualisation. The time-space cube has to be critically reviewed regarding the one dimensionality of time it represents, but to some extend the Hagerstrand aquarium substitutes this with the spatial dimension it adds to the visualisation.
The main aspect of my interest in narratives and the potential to use it for time representation is also the aspect of repetition. I am thinking very much of the narrative in everyday life and the repetition of the personal routine. With the help of the narrative it becomes possible to integrate a lot more than the bare time information. It enables to refer to the repetition, the importance of stability and the joy of the element of surprise.

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Image taken from Continuum demonstration clip / screenshot.

I have come a cross a new tool for time visualisation developed at the University of Southampton by Paul André, Max L. Wilson, Alistair Russell, Daniel A. Smith, Alistair Owens and M.C. Schraefel. It offers a clean interface to explore the data with some good features for quick modification of the data displayed e.g. the right hand sliders to adjust level of detail, tick box to turn on and off information sets and overall time span sliders that can be split to compare data. It also supports non temporal relationships which are represented by yellow lines.
However, beyond the clean interface, neat features it does not offer a completely new approach. It is still based on a single time line and it is based on a singular hierarchy. Nevertheless the beautifully integrated level of zooms make it a very useful visualisation tool. It is built to be integrated into a website and accepts XML or JSON data input where the child dependencies can be defined. For a demonstration see clip below. There is also two papers on the project HERE and HERE.

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We all use it and without it no one would actually be able to really use the internet. The digital world of linked pages containing information has grown so dramatically that already twelve years ago it became impossible to navigate without navigation aids.
Solution had to be found and a new startup firm was leading the way into a future of searching – Google. Over the following years, the management of knowledge became the ultimate service gem. Google rose to transform into the biggest internet company. Of course they don’t only help find internet users find the content they are looking for (or finding at least something), they also are the biggest online advertisement company. This is kind of the ‘making money’ side of the management of knowledge. It is not that you know a lot, but that you can relate the knowledge conveniently to what others might also need.

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Image by urbanTick / screenshot showing search results on spezify with the search term urbanTick and playing an urbanTick clip directly form youtube.

However, the search engine interface of the Google website is just one of the search tools. Google provides similar tailored search services for all kind of networks and websites. For example you can click to the right of this text in the third column where it says ‘Custom Search’ and find the content you are looking for directly from the urbanTick blog, all provided by Google.
So there are lots of different things searches are good for, but there is one thing I am really getting tired of the bloody list of results. How boring is this? We are all talking about mapping and location based services, networks and clusters, dynamic objects and relationships, responsible environments and individuality, visualisation and graphics, but all we get is a list.
Yes, I agree it is the simplest and most plain way of ‘listing’ the results. It seems that Google has even removed the time line graphic I described earlier in another post, which I was really excited about, is now transformed to be a list. I know, there are a lot of issues with all aspects of time and this might not be the best example for not having a list but nevertheless new visualisation methods are needed. Google has made an attempt at changing this at least for image and video content by acquiring/developing coolIris, but here again it is a (nice, interactive) three four row list.
Can you imagine how excited I was to come across this new service specify? It is absolute crap and can’t be used for a decent web search, ahh sorry it depends on what you are trying to find, but it comes up with a surprising new concept of showing the result. It displays the content spatially scattered across the screen and you can drag it with your virtual hand and move around on the plain to crawl through the result. Together with the newly announced all body gesture input technique (that actually works – article by the NYTimes) presented this week by Microsoft for its all new gaming platform Natal this could then lead to a real life body experience of virtual search. People would really start wandering off through the results, picking up the results that seem interesting and real-virtually putting them in their pocket, to later pull them out again as the fit with a new blog post for example. The results are all displayed as icons or previews of the content, media content from youtube or vimeo can be played directly from the search result which is nice. It can be called a spatial search experience, since the contend is scattered across the surface. However I am not sure about the organisation of the results spatially and there is definitely room for improvement as the additional dimension adds room for additional criteria. It also operates at the moment a very simple structure that even allow for a address that can be understood e.g. http://www.spezify.com/#/urbantick – try it out yourself and experience what ‘googling’ the internet could feel like.

If you feel like seeing the tutorial clip on youtube first before trying something so radically new – scared eh? – watch this

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Fondness of timeLapse clips is kind of obvious on the blog by now. If they are tilt-shift even more so and if their looooooong it’s the ultimate clip! The promo clip on the uniqlo page ticks all these boxes. It’s go a good, nearly annoying soundtrack too, but most amazingly it goes on for ever, surprising you with new scenes. I have to confess, that I was only last week for the first time in a UNIQLO shop on Oxford Street here in London. It is all about colours, simple clothes, but a colourful rang. Same is the timeLapse, all of the sequences are either shot with a filter or adjusted while processing. It makes or a perfect fit with the company branding. This is nothing like youtube or even vimeo. This is real long, ENJOY!

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Images by urbanTick / schreenshots taken from uniclo website showing four scenes. Click on image for the real thing.

My favourite scene is this one, but actually I am not sure if I have seen the whole thing…

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Image by urbanTick / schreenshot taken from uniclo website showing one scenes. Click on image for the real thing.

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Are you someone who would just bag a nice object found on the street and take it home? I certainly am and I have a large collection of ‘objet truve’ at home. I am not talking about steeling things, but reusing things that someone else has left behind or doesn’t want any longer. This is apparently called curb-mining.
Secondhand objects have somehow a special charm to them, marks of usage often add to the appearance and make them appear beloved and therefore valuable. It’s amazing what can be found. However in this example here, the object were left out intentionally for people to take home with a commercial idea in mind.

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Images taken from clip by BluDot

The furniture and design company BluDot created a publicity stunt to mark the first anniversary of their NY Soho store late last year. Together with mono they created ‘the Blue Dot Real Good Exeriment’. For this they placed 24 of their chairs, product, Real Good’, on the streets of NY and tracked them as people decided to take them home. The public could follow the project on line and witness how the chairs traveled through NY. For some of the tacking GPS was used. They have modified basic GPS devices to fit underneath the seat of the chair. With its sleek thin design this was not an easy task. They even fitted it with an special activation switch, turning the GS device on as the chair is moved by the collector. The rest of the chairs was tracked old style by agents on roof tops with binoculars and cameras with triple dimensional lenses just like in any good old thriller. The whole project was a publicity stunt designed around involvement. I think it is a great idea. Of course the finder could keep the $129 chair but was ‘politely’ asked for an interview to use for the documentation of the stunt. The project has now finished but as a documentation here is a clip. Thanks to Radoslaw Panczak for the link.

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The human body is inscribed into a number of cycles as we have seen in the broad field discussed above. Ultimately these patterns have a direct impact on any activities and social relations coming from the body, thereof also the shaping of the immediate environment. Furthermore this highlights the importance of looking at repetitive patterns as elements of the society in an overall sense.

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Images taken from Wikipedia.

The relationship and interaction of body and city is the subject of direct investigation with the urbanDiary project. Through the GPS tracking of individuals in the city, the body movement is recorded on a city scale and visualises the extension of the interaction of the body with the urban morphology. Quite literally the record can be visualised as the body’s physical inscription onto the urban form. With the rhythmic constitution of the body in mind, this space ‘creation’ of the physical body is investigated.
In the more theoretical conceptualisation of the body, there is a great emphasis on issues of gender and sex. Although these are very important aspects, it would be too much to integrate it in detail.

If the body is read in connection to the city, the importance of these external issues is emphasised. The body shapes the city in a literal sense if the city is understood as a human artefact. They do actually stand in a two-way relationship, meaning that they directly influence one another resulting in the city shaping the body. Taken from the OED, the body is part of the Greek word ‘Polis’. A polis (πόλις, pronunciation [pól.is], [‘pɒl.ɪs] in English) — plural: poleis (πόλεις, pronunciation [pól.eːs], [‘pɒl.eɪz] in English) — is a city, a city-state and also citizenship and body of citizens. When used to describe Classical Athens and its contemporaries, polis is often translated as “city-state” (Wikipedia n.d.). As we can see, the human body played an important part in the early formation of the city through the ‘body of citizens’ as a metaphor.

In the current debate about the relationship between the body and the city, two main models can be identified. The first one is a cause and effect type of model. The body here is a dominating object over the city as a resulting structure, mainly derived from physical strength to actually build. In this sense, the body is projected onto the city. However as Grosz points out in Bodies-Cities (Grosz 1998), recently an inverted view on this relationship has emerged. The urban environment is labelled alienating and cities do not allow the body a “natural” context. It all fits in to a specific view on humanism. The human subject is characterised as an independent agent individually and collectively who is responsible for the creation of culture, socially and historically. Going as far as denying any contextual influence, in the case of cities this means humans make cities, and over all, in this sense, humans rule the world. In this light, the current debate around the overcrowded city artefacts, sheds new light. Much of the current debate in urban planning is directed by this understanding.

With the UN’s announcement in 2008 that now for the first time in the history of the earth, more people live in cities than in rural areas, a huge wave of debate has rolled over the professions working in related subjects, as reported for example in The Endless City (Burdett & Sudjic 2008). The above humanistic centred approach was applied to deal with rising predictions on city population. In a one-way relationship where the body is the cause and the city the effect the solution is simple. In this debate, it is presented as a question of cleverness to solve this “new” problem to regain dominance on a human creation. The concept city needs updating. Part of this problem is related to the disconnection of body and city. Our understanding has moved a long way from the meaning of ‘polis’ as introduced above. The relationship between the two terms shifted from a dependency to a rivalry. There are signs of the development of a new concept though. For example in ‘The City is You’ a book by Petra Kempf (2009), the title immediately suggests a dramatic change in understanding the city.

The second model is the direct modelling of the city on the state of the body. There are a number of concepts to transform the body, or use the body as an example in the attempt to model larger structures. Machines are amenable to such comparison, but also cities and even political systems have been subject to this sort of function / meaning transfer. The political model is mainly coined by Thomas Hobbes and developed in his book Leviathan (in Grosz 1998). He directly modelled his proposition of the ideal state on the human body, the head being the king, the nerves the law, the arms the military and so forth. A similar literal translation was undertaken by Francesco di Giorgio Martini in 1470 from the body to the urban form of cities. In his explanations accompanying the sketch ,he said: “One should shape the city, fortress, and castle in the form of a human body, that the head with the attached members have a proportioned correspondence and that the head be the rocca, the arms its recessed walls that, circling around, link the rest of the whole body, the vast city. And thus it should be considered that just as the body has all its members and parts in perfect measurements and proportions, in the composition of temples, cities, rocche, and castles the same principles should be observed” (Quoted in Nesbitt 1996, p.548). Similarly le Corbusier is reported to use similar references during a planning meeting for the city of Chandigarh, his only built city project. In Cities of Tomorrow, Peter Hall (1988) reports this monologue: “Corbusier held the crayon and was in his element.
“Voilà la gare” he said “et voici la rue commercial”, and he drew the first road on the new plan of Chandigarh. “Voici la tête”, he went on, indicating with a smudge the higher ground … ‘Et voilà l’estomac, le cité-centre”. Then he delineated the massive sectors measuring each half by three quarters of a mile and filling out the extent of the plain between the river valleys, with extension to the south. (Hall 1988, p.212)”

The relationship here, between the body and the city is a kind of parallelism. The two are understood as congruent counterparts with features and organisation mirrored in one another (Grosz 1998). The implication of such a relationship is not only the clear male dominance of the body over the city, but the resulting implied opposition between nature and culture. In addition, this is also based on a hierarchical structure, for both nature as well as culture.

References to be found HERE.

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