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— urbantick

March, 2010 Monthly archive

I will be at the Bartlett School of Architecture to give a talk on Narrative and Time. It will be for the MArch Urban Design students. I have put together elements of my current research work to explore the aspects of the narrative as a specific aspect of time as well as an tool to visualise time. The idea of the story plays an increasing importance in my work. It came up through the tracking project UrbanDiary and now plays an important role in the latest work on Twitter and the Tweet-O-Meter, where the stories old start the spatial investigation.
With this presentation the focus is on the everyday, the ordinary and how we are involve or selves in daily stories as we navigate the passage of time in space. The second part of the presentation focuses on examples of how a narrative can directly be employed for a project. The simpler the story the better and the more powerful the pictures painted. Examples are Senones, a revitalisation project for a small former industrial ‘city’ in France. Where three character played the lead role to explain and illustrate four future scenarios for the valley. Also the Nearness clip, as an interpretation of the ‘Ein Lauf der Dinge’ by Fischli und Weiss. Or there is also the BluDot chair tracking project, furniture stories in New York.
It has changed quite a bit since there is now more data on for example the twitter project. On the other hand there is for this specific talk also an element introducing some of the tools used to handle the data. This will be a range from Google Maps, My Maps, Google Earth to proper GIS. I am not really a professional on any of them, simply a user. Thanks for input on this part go to Dan over at Volunteered Geographic Information.

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A book you don’t want to give out of your hands for its beautiful cartography and graphic design overall. Well it goes in the tradition of Atlases designed by Jost Grootens. He has only recently received the Rotterdam Design Prize for the set of atlases he designed for 010 Publishers so far. Those are the Groten KAN Atlas, the Metropolitan World Atlas, the Limes Atlas and the Vinex Atlas.
The now published ‘Atlas of the New Dutch Water Defence Line‘ edited by Rita Brons and Bernhard Colenbrander, designed by Studio Joost Grootens and published by 010 Publishers adds an other chapter to this ‘series’. It continues with the power full use of colour that already the ‘Metropolitan World Atlas‘ made so attractive, but this new publication makes a lot better use of the overall appearance. It is a real gem.
In the first place it is the cartography you will be looking at, but beside this the book actually has a true subject. And this is simply as the title says the Dutch Water Defence Line. Actually this is about defense in a proper military sense, and not as you might have guessed while already seduced by the pretty colours about water defense. Since it is set in the Netherlands it could have been about water drainage and pumping systems to fight the storm flooding of vital agricultural land, but its not. It is about a specific element of Dutch history, built between 1815 and 1885 as a “technically accurate territorial military system” (Johan van der Zwart abd Clemens Steenbergen in Atlas of the New Dutch Water Defence Line, p.28)
In a nutshell the military conceptis to defend the territory by simply flooding a stretch of land and in this way make it impossible for any land based mode of transport to traverse. It sounds very effect full and simple, but is actually a rather complicated piece of infrastructure and engineering. A detailed system of canals and basins are laid out in such a way as to create, by opening strategically positioned flood gates, a man made flood zone.
The whole system is based on the element the Netherlands has enough anyway and since water has its very own rules the given parameters are tight. Not only from the water element but also in terms of the landscape. In this sense, the here documented military defense structure is in a very strong way trying to make the most of a successful management of possibilities over constraints. This results ins a strongly context based solution, that is unique to this exact location and circumstances and paints a beautiful portrait of the character of an entire region.

Image taken from 010 Publishers / Showing a spread of the publication.

As hinted in the introduction, the graphics, cartography and design overall are brilliant. Especially the colour schema used for the maps is intriguing. In terms of the graphic design even this book is not protected from mistakes and problems. Everyone who is working with maps and plans knows these painful moments when you have a strong concept and clear structure and then for some elements it just doesn’t work out. A name is too long to fit in the desired space in the key, in one summary map suddenly two colours representing important information cancel each other out or the approach chosen for one element does not fit for another or in other scales. It is sort of a tradeoff and ad-hoc adjustment job one has to do, restricting damage while hoping the final product may remain close to the desired result. This sounds all very pain full, I know, and it actually is. However, this process can be used to continue developing the strategy and representation and ideally will raise the quality of the end product over the initially thought out concept. Still some minor problems will always be there and the quality of the end product is probably more about these are managed and integrated than how good the anyway functioning elements are developed. I believe this publication managed this process extremely well and the final product is great.
For me the main issue with the graphic elements in this publication is the representation of the forts. This being the central element of focus it plays many roles and obviously a single representation can’t be able to play all of them equally well. The colouring of the water protecting the forts as well as the pink used for the fill are not always consistent with the overall context of the maps.
The maps actually come with quite extensive background information in the form of essays and I think it is worth pointing this out because of the almost over powering presence of the cartography. I kind of owe it to this review that I have actually read and tried to understand the background, because otherwise I am pretty sure I would have been (still am) simply seduced by the pretty pictures and had satisfied put the publication to the top of my pile of inspirations. But going beyond the graphics starts opening up a perspective on a cultural territorial identity of a region that is even more inspiring and actually informative.
In this sense there is a hidden treasure in this book, but one needs to battle the dragon of seduction first, a fight I am bound to loose, at times. This one is definitely worth the effort already for the beauty of an bright orange or pink.
A book, or even a series, that has definitely already set a standard and will let loose a trend.

Image taken from Kosmograd / Showing a spread of the publication.

See also reviews on mammoth and Kosmograd.

Brons, R. & Colenbrander, B. eds., 2009. New Dutch Water Defence Line, 010 Publishers.

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It has taken a while but now the first track records coming out of the UrbanDiary project are ported and can be visualised with processing. This is really an awesome tool to work with, however there is still a lot of hiccups and stuff to learn for me. So with a lot of trial and error I managed to get this one going. It is based on some stuff Steven M. Ottens has put together for his visualisations of GPS tracks HERE.
For this lot of data, it replay the recordings of seven participants of the UrbanDiary project. THese were recorded between April and August 2009. The setting is Greater London and you can most probably start guessing a few location that get highlighted as the drawing progresses. Some of the denser locations are;
However there are still some problems with the time component of the data as well as the transparency.
From a processing point of view it makes use of the tomc GPX library.

Music Ooze by Klez on mp3unsigned.com

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Cities are a multidimensional construct of social activities, processes and configurations taking shape or shaping through relations imagined, projected, actual, civic or public (Grosz 1998). Cities are also a place where flows and power networks intensify, on one hand manifest in physical form, but on the other hand through their very nature they dominate the change. The city ticks somehow. This multitude of activities is far beyond a single person’s comprehension, both as an actor as well as receptor. In general perception, the city is about organization (facilities) to enable me to go about my business. I want to have clean water out of the tap at any point in the day, the transport between two destinations to be reliably on time, and the city to deal with my waste. All this is preferably provided in a way I, as the user, do not notice or are confronted with (Borden 2000, p.104). We pretend that the city is a black box to serve our needs whilst trying to create as much distance between us and ’it’ as possible. We are rarely aware that we are actually part of the function of the city, as long as the machine works the way we expect it to. It works and it works along our routines, while it has its own cycles of flow and production. The machine adapts and the city could be described as a machine quite literally in many ways. The metaphor of “it works” or it does not, is strong and widely used. It applies to services, functions or even events.

Image taken from the PatrickGeddesTrust / Inspired by the River Tay in Scotland and later the Ganges in India Geddes studied life from the mountains to the water.

Only in the very late 20th century did new descriptions of the city emerge, linked to organic structures. For example in ‘The City Shaped’ (Kostof 1991, p.43), there is a clear distinction made between unplanned and planned cities. The two terms are also found as ‘unplanned evolution’ and ‘instinctive growth’ (Kostof 1991, p.43). The historian F. Castagnoli is quoted as making the distinction as follows: “The irregular city is the result of development left entirely to individuals who actually live on the land. If a governing body divides the land and disposes of it before it is handed over to the users, a uniformly patterned city will emerge” (as quoted in Kostof 1991, p.43). The planned, designed city versus the grown, spontaneous city, as a categorisation might already be a child of Sullivan’s dogma, which biases the categorisation to start from. However, there is a growing interest in the organic structure of the city. There has been in the past and a well-known urban planner Patrick Geddes actually had a biology background. Nevertheless, even though the spatial separation of function in urban planning is today regarded as problematic in terms of flows, congestion and energy consumption for example, the concept continues to influence planning fundamentally.
To go back to the modernist concept of city planning and the idea of separation of functions, there is an additional aspect to the city machine. Rhythms do result from the interaction between separated functions, but in addition, as introduced earlier, many of the modernist’s concepts were based on machines quite literally. This is articulated by Marschall (2009, p.33)in ‘Cities, Design and Evolution’: “Modernist city planning, then, is the same as classical city planning except for being distinguished by its use of modern technology – railways, motorways, steel and reinforced concrete”. This illustrated to some extent a city that was actually ‘built’ around machines. It does not quite define the role of the city, but we can assume that it was thought to be more than just the wrapping, but an extension of the machine.

Image taken from Wikimedia / Linear City by Arturo Soria y Mata

Arturo Soria y Mata proposed a linear city in 1892, It could be the first modernist city plan. The project – Ciudad Lineal – is a project based on a train line, resulting in a linear city, a city that potentially could be extended into the country side or across continents (Marshall 2009, p.34). A city machine was thus born and this illustrates beautifully the way the city was thought of. Still today the pulse of the transport network plays a big role in the constitution of the city’s pulse. The urban machine generates a certain rhythm. The pace of the departure of the public transport, the frequency of the stops, but also the location of stations spatially drives this rhythm. Any live tracking transport site gives a good idea of the pulse of the transport network. As a result of this functional separation, travel became the driving activity of the city dynamic, while this beat kept the frozen functional parts of the separated city alive.

In his book ‘Good City Form’ Lynch speaks of a slightly different “City as a Machine model” (1984). First he describes the machine “A Machine also has parts, but those parts move and move each other. “ He goes on with “The whole grows by addition. It has no wider meaning; it is simply the sum of its parts” (Lynch 1984, p.81). However he then continues to put some distance between his machine city model and the general perception of machines powered by electricity or steam and made of shining metal. He wants to use his model in the context of a ‘functional’ city for :”…where ever settlements were temporary, or had to be built in haste, or were being built for clear, limited, practical aims, as we see in so many colonial foundations” (Lynch 1984, p.82). In this sense he places this model in exactly the position of the modernist idea of the functional city. Interestingly however, it seems that he stresses aspects of time in the terms ‘temporal’, ‘hast’ and so on. This highlights the importance of time even in the machine model. Lynch puts examples of the colonisation of America forward to illustrate the machine model. Here, the aspect of form and structure becomes a relevant topic. As seen before, the aspect of power or ‘truth’ is again central to the approach. In the ‘Laws of the Indies’ of 1573, the Spanish emperor gave clear instructions on how the new cities in conquered land had to be built. It was all based on a grid system with clearly defined locations for the important buildings for a ‘functional’ city. Again this aspect of implementing the structure is put forward, but also the simplicity to expand the structure is stressed. The implementation of power and hierarchy is not mentioned by Lynch. The functioning of the structure is the primary concern and this is thought to be achieved through simplification and purity of form. From this setting, it is not far to the rectangular grid cities resulting from land allocation and land speculation in modern America. Lynch goes on through the history of urban design and names the Radiant City by Le Corbusier, Soria y Mata’s linear utopia, but he also identifies the machine in Peter Cook’s Archigram projects, in the work of Soleri or Friedman. He concludes “In less sweeping terms, the machine model lies at the root of most of our current ways of dealing with cities…” (Lynch 1984, p.86).

During the machine period the human body was subject to the mechanical imagination. It is the time where sport and sport competition became important and the training of the human, mostly male body, in analogy to the machine was convenient. See earlier post on bodyMachines HERE and HERE.


Borden, I., 2000. Hoardings. In City A-Z. London: Routledge.

Grosz, E., 1998. Bodies-Cities. In H. J. Nast, ed. Places Through the Body. London: Routledge.

Kostof, S., 1991. The City Shaped: Urban Patterns and Meanings Through History, London: Thames and Hudson.

Lynch, K., 1984. Good City Form, Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Marshall, S., 2009. Cities, Design & Evolution, Abingdon: Routledge.

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The new Monu Magazine comes with a beautiful quote describing the characteristics of the city as a particular locally sourced parameter that lives and breathes with the citizens.
“Most of our cities are shaped by a particular set of values that does not necessarily lead to high quality urban spaces, but instead to scary, ethically unacceptable and distorted forms.” (MONU issue #12, )
This is something we all experience on a daily basis and therefore are very familiar with. However it doesn’t stop there. We also contribute to our surrounding, we are part of it. At least since ‘The Social Logic of Space’ by Hillier and Hanson we also have an attempt to describe and characterize this phenomenon. It it is not the only attempt, but one that claims to be fundamental and ‘scientific’ i.e. mathematical. But still, it is based on the static concept of the space as a given entity. This doesn’t fit together with Open Source, Free Content or User Participation. To some extend with the emerging filed of spatial dynamics research based on the new location awareness technologies is to look into this very same field. Since it focuses on the activity of the citizens directly they finally play the important role in the description of the urban environment. It really comes back to ‘You are the City‘.

You can brows the magazine on YouTube, for convenience I have simply embedded the clip below, so go a head a flip through the pages.

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Now that the whole of the UK is is covered by Google Street View, will the Google car disappear as a species from the streets? Many don’t believe it would and this not only because Google might want to update the views. Maybe just because it has become impossible to stop the drivers. See the hilarious clip on digitalUrban. However some people have grown so fond, or indeed started hating Google so much they might start their own project either way. You can now build your own Google Street View car. You have to start from scratch, though, but most likely you already own most of the ingredients needed.

What better way to explore the urban streets around you than in a pimped car in Street View style? The detailed instructions can be found HERE. And this really means detailed instruction. Yu will learn that this project need (x2) wooden board 40 x 23 x 1 cm (center box) and (x1) 50 meter roll of white duct tape for example. For full details refer to fffff.at
The prototype was developed by F.A.T. for a workshop in Berlin last year. They are very much anti Google and make the most of taking the piss out of the big brand, and marketing wise this is definitely a strategy for an art project. Here is the documentation clip posted on vimeo (includes some background and detail) by F.A.T. Some scenes are stunts, where other are real, never mind.

via urbanophil

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This week a new guidance system for the ‘Quartier des Spectacle’ in Montreal was officially unveiled. It is a light projection based signal system to help visitors find their way through the cultural district. As part of its Lighting Plan, the Quartier des spectacles is exploring the possibilities of light for creating signage and expressing identity. A recent pilot project experiments with projecting light onto the pavement to mark the urban landscape. This intervention, realized as part of the Montreal All-Nighter, reinforces the brand image of the cultural heart of the metropolis by bringing together light and graphic design.

Image taken from Quartie des Spectacles on flickr

The basic idea really to guide pedestrians and after having seen the ultimate promotion clip on the culture district’s website one knows why pedestrian guidance might be needed, this is a busy place. There are a lot of events and activity generally happening simultaneously and a efficient and in this case fun tool to support orientation is definitely a great way to go about it.
It very much reminds me of the street gaming project last year that was organised in three competing cities in the UK. Coverage HERE. They also used light projections to guide the players. In addition the game also responded and recorded the players performance, guess the interactivity for the Montreal project could be extended beyond the synchronization with the traffic lights. But still a very interesting project that surprises. The project was realized in collaboration with the City of Montreal, particularly the Bureau des festivals et des événements, the Service de police (SPVM) and the City’s traffic experts, Artistic Directors: Ruedi Baur + Jean Beaudoin, Intégral.

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The Twitter data is still top of the list and we are experimenting currently with different models in Google Earth.
Here we have a version using the 3D London Model developed here at CASA.
In the flight through you can now see where the tweets actually were sent and in what context. It covers currently central London using approximately 10,000 tweets only, because we are experiencing performance problems. We are working on it and hopefully will have a solution shortly.

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The publication has been reworked and we can now feature an updated version of the preview. See previous version HERE. We also offer a few more pages for you to read. Not much sorry. Each chapter is lead in by an essay, each written by an academic or professional with a specific interest and expertise in the particular topic. It will set the scene to the topic and beyond.
The book is illustrated with 400 tiny graphics in black and white. The content is full indexed to find tags easily. References and links in the text are fully ported and are directly accessible through the blog, so no tedious typing here.

Contributors: Sandra Abegglen, Matthew Dance, Jeff Ho, Ana Rebelo, Luis Suarez, Zahra Azizi

The preview below is really only a preview. Intro and outro are more or less complete, each chapter is only present with the first page of each section. But it should give you an idea of what the book will be like.
Anyway, also the cover now goes bold very much in the sense of the recent trend of pimped publication. You can see this as an homage to all these books that appear big and bold, but actually have some really ephemeral content. Feedback welcome! If you would like to have a look at the full publication drop me a line and I can give you access.

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The recent Twitter data for one London Weekend has been re-rendered as a clip by DigitalUrban. Earlier version can be found HERE.
It is the same data with 60,000 geo referenced Tweets in London over a weekend from Friday evening to Monday morning. This visual is now also using the new navigation tool, the 3D Connextion ‘Space Navigator’, a pretty awesome tool for navigation in Google Earth for example.

CLip by DigitalUrban and Music – ‘Social Awkwardness‘ by Xanthe over on unsigned bands.

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