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— urbantick

January 2011 Monthly archive

It is cold and dark and already January, meaning that we have seen these days for good and need to brake out and enjoy something fresh, something shiny, something joyful.
What better way than going out skiing on the perfect slopes and gliding down the hills finding the rhythm and letting go of anything else than this very moment.

For a perfect day out in the snow on the runs of Belalp, delphi brings a great tilt-shift to the channel. A timelapse capturing the bare essentials of a active winters day.

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Sending letters through the post has something very romantic to it, but thats probably only because it has long been overtaken by instant messaging and tweeting. However, the mailing systems are big business and it is not that people send les stuff through the post.

Anything goes, just as Willie Reginald Bray pioneered, as documented in the recently published Princeton publication ‘The Englishman Who Posted Himself and Other Curious Objects’, parcel are sent everywhere.

How are these boxes over boxes actually shipped, how does it look and feel inside the sorting wear houses, to were did the van deliver before it stopped at my house? Tracing the journey of a parcel could be fascinating. Where Bray tested what can be sent, pioneers today what to find out how it is been sent.

The London based artist Time Knowles has investigated this in his ongoing series ‘Postal Works‘ and is to showcase his latest postal tracking art work today. Keep posted for the link to the movie that will be released later in the day here!


Image by Tim Knowles / ‘Spy Box‘ A new postal work with the box, buggy and bearings made in perspex, a pen situated in the centre of the buggy traces out it’s movements within the box. 2006 – Perspex, cardboard, pen, ink on paper

Knowles started however with his investigation a lot earlier. Very fascinating are his initial movement tracking projects. In the early days the packet contained a blank paper and a pen on wheels to record the movement of the box as it is being shipped through the postal system.

From these analogue projects Knowles moved on to GPS tracking and then also video and sound recording from inside the box as it is on its way from sender to receiver. Of course there where noumerous problems on the ‘Spy Box’s‘ way. This included a phone call from the FedEx Head of Security, as they detected the live electronic equipment in the box at the airport.

Image by Tim Knowles / ‘Spy Box‘ A digital camera inside a parcel looks out through a small hole and captures images of its journey through the postal system. The Spy Box was sent from my studio to the gallery taking an image every 10 seconds recording a total of 6994 images these were then edited together to create an animated slideshow. E3 to WC1E – 2006 – Card, aluminium, digital camera, timing circuit, wiring & 6 min DVD loop.

For example “the parcel was stopped by FedEx,” Knowles said. “My phone number was on the box, so I ended up being on the phone to FedEx’s head of security for about 45 minutes explaining that it was an artwork, telling him just to open it up and that there was a switch that could turn it off.” Quite understandably FedEx’s security services said ‘There’s no way we’re opening it’ having X-rayed it and found live electrical equipment inside. They put the package into another card-board parcel and send it back to Knowles, leaving him with a lot of pictures of the inside of a box.”

For the latest work Knowles teamed up with Roya Mail. With the recent bombs in FesEx parcels the issu of electronics in the mail was hot and risky. The latest work to be presented today remains therefor in the UK and is a parcel sent from London E3 5QZ, near Victoria Park, to HS9 5XW, Isle of Barra.

Image by Tim Knowles / ‘Pot Box’

On the 902 mile journey the mounted camera took 20’000 pictures and recorded a continuous sound stream. As the Independent journalist Matilda Battersby notes about the work: “One of the lovely things about watching the painstakingly compiled video and audio compilation of the parcel’s journey is the many changing accents and commentary from the workers as it makes its way”.

The work is presented to day between 18h30-20h30 at Contemporary Art Society, 11-15 Emerald Street, London WC1N 3QL. A limited book edition is available with the title ‘Post Box E3 5QZ – HS9 5XW’.

Image by Tim Knowles / ‘Pot Box’

U P D A T E 2011-01-14

The website is online at http://www.e3-hs9.com/ and it shows the the video recorded on the parcels journey together with the audio recordings and a map. The parcel was GPS tracked on its journey.
Head over to the website to check out the details.

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How the world is connected across large distances has recently be shown by projects analysing phone calls and mapping origin and destination. The MIT SensableCity Lab has done some work, Barabasi and his colleagues worked on it and also Jon Reades from CASA.

The latest work by MIT and UCL, above as circulated a couple of weeks ago, has redrawn the regions of Britain according to phone calls. The maps result from the analysis of a large phone data set covering the whole of the UK.

These large data sets are all held by the phone companies together with presumably a whole lote more interesting stuff. It is rather difficult and complicated to handle and only accessible for a few people.

However with the rise of apps on smart phones such data sets are generated by small independant companies. FTFun is one of them. They have developed an app for the iPhone focusing on facetime. Facetime was introduced by Apple with the release of the iPhone 4 and allows people to see one another during the phone call. These video calls are made possible by a second camera on the front of the iPhone 4. This works however only between two users of an iPhone 4. FTFun have developed a desktop app to allow other users to join in these video calls without the need of an iPhone 4.

As a byproduct the company sits on a data pool of location based connection information. At the beginning of the year they have decided to make some of it available as KML files viewable in Google Maps or Google Earth.

The company so far has 11k users and 185766 face time calls in the last four month since the release of iPhone 4. The data is release in three sets, the past three hours, yesterdays data and live data updated every two or so minutes. Below you can see a map showing the connections over the past three hours of the day.

View Larger Map

Found via Geo2web.

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The end of a calendar year has become the time for summing up and reviewing. In terms of tracking this is what a few of us also ave done and presented the track recordings of the closing 2010. So where have you been all these days?

In the past few years more and more people are recording their movements using different methods, mostly GPS devices. With the new smart phone with built in GPS this has become even easier. Numerous apps are now out there helping you to record organise and visualise your movements.

Three guys, Andy Woodruff over at Cartogrammar and Eric Fischer who is the creator of the citie maps based on the geo taged images on flickr and picasa and Achim Tack have been dedicated to record all the 2010 trips and visualise them on a map.

Personal geography of 2010Image taken from Eric Fischer on flickr / Personal geography of 2010. How big is your world?

Eric has coded his trips using a colour code for modes of transport. Very similar to the coding he used for the photo mapping project. So it goes like this: “black is walking, red is bicycling, blue is cars or buses, and green is above-ground rapid transit or freeways”. He points out that tunnels are not shown.

It is quite interesting how the red and blue, the bicycle and the car, over lap and almost match. Would be interesting to know if he also used the same automatic mode of transport detection based on speed as he did for the photo mapping project.

Eric is traveling around San Francisco on both sides of the bay area. Here is the corresponding NCL twitter map.

2010 tracks with intensityImage taken from Andy Woodruff on flickr / 2010 tracks with intensity. More yellow = more frequently traveled.

Andy is doing this very low key by hand. Of course many, including myself have suggested to him to start using a GPS unit. But he continues to resist and manually retrace his steps as a sort of summary of the day.

Interesting also his motivation “The most valuable thing about this habit, though, is not the post-mapping analysis but rather the motivation it generates to get out and explore and get to know new parts of the city. I’m sure you can imagine the thrill of getting to draw a line on a new part of the map”.

Andy also has recorded the modes of transport on his drawings. Here are the maps by type.

2010 tracks by mode of transportation
Image taken from Andy Woodruff on flickr / 2010 tracks by mode of transportation.

Unfortunately we havent got a NCL twitter map of Boston yet but we are working on it.

Achim is also using a GPS device, a Holux GPSort 245 (we would be interested to hear his experiences with this one), since his move to Hamburg earlier this year and has ever since recorded his everyday moves.

The colour coding here is also according to mode of transport automatically detected via speed, done using arcGIS.

His interest lies more on the repetitive patterns and this is also how he has coded the maps. He notes: “Thursday I go to the gym (Donnerstags gehe ich ins Fitness)” / “I take the bus no 120 to go to work (Ich nehme den Bus 120 zur Arbeit)”

Here is for example a map of his Weekend trips:

The presentation using zoom.it is pretty neat and allows for details to be explored. It works like the imageCutter software that was used for the NCL maps and the twitter social networks. More on Achims paths on his blog.

My own track record has a different cycle, it starts in autumn. The lates map is from October 2009 to October 2010. This year the map shows a comparison between the previous year and the most recent year. However mode of transport is not represented.

oneYearLND09-10 London
Image by urbanTick / London overview of the 2010 GPS track record. A one year drawing of movement on a daily basis, recording all activities and trips. For a large version click HERE.

The NCL London map is available HERE and the corresponding twitter social network HERE.

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Two recent books published by Lars Mueller Publishers are focusing on Landscape Architecture and both involve the Guenther Vogt probably the currently best known international Swiss Landscape Architect. Both publications focus heavily on the context and background of landscape architecture and quite some effort is put in to explain landscape architecture or even reinvent it. In this context it mas sense to review these books together.

The two publications evolve from very different contexts. ‘Tree Nurseries – Cultivating the Urban Jungle: Plant Production Worldwide‘ by Dominique Ghiggi is developed in the academic context of the ETH Zuerich at the Chair of Guenther Vogt in the Department of Architecture. It is an edited book with numerous individual contributions to the broad topic of the mobility of plants. These articles range from the history of plant species and how they traveled across the globe to where they commonly grow now to seed storage projects and the industrial process of large scale plant farming.

The book ‘Distance and Engagement: Landscape Thinking – Model Making: Walking, Thinking and Making Landscape‘ by Alice Foxley on the other hand is about the practice of landscape architecture and the research undertaken at Vogt Landscape Architects. Alice Foxley is head of research at Vogt Landscape Architects and has sort of summarised and conextualise the research undertaken in the practice during the past few years. This context is this case are realised projects. The publication aims to justify the two areas as part of the practice and is quite successful in this matter.

Tree Nurseries
Image taken from Lars Mueller Publishers / Cover of the book ‘Tree Nurseries – Cultivating the Urban Jungle: Plant Production Worldwide‘ by Dominique Ghiggi and published by Lars Mueller Publishers.

A tree is a tree is a tree, but it might has not always grown and lives where you just see it now. As the editor of ‘Tree Nurseries’ points out in the introduction the natural elements like trees in our cities usually are perceived as the last artefacts of nature and evoke a certain sense of place since greens don’t move, are immobile.

Reading through the book makes one quite quickly realise that this is not the case at all trees do move and especially the ones you see in your city definitely have moved a couple of times probably more often than yourself.

For example in the article ‘The History of Phalaenopsis SP.’ the editor tracks the documents the modern production of the orchid that is one of the most bought flowers on the market. There is very little to the romantic view one has on how a plant grows from a seed. The modern industrial production of is massive and strictly organised. Plants are produced by means of plant tissue culture in the laboratory, grow in trais and are watered and feed by machines, sorted and packed on the conveyor belt.

In another article by Brigitta Amman the history of plant migration in ‘Tree Migration’ is explored in more detail over millions of years, as a sort of tree archeology. This research is mainly based on pollen in soil samples.

How the movement and traveling of individual trees is tied to landscape design and how trees travel halve way around the globe is documented in the article “Tree Journeys’ by Guenther Vogt. For a project for the Zuerich Zoo a copy of the Masoala Rain Forest was created in a purpose built new building. The required plants are sourced from around the world and the design team traveled for Bamboo to Madagascar, to Thailand for Fiscus Altissima and Artocarpus lakoocha, to Florida for Ficus benjamania “exotica” or to Malaysia for Ravenala madagascariensis. Of course they came back with quite some luggage.

One of the really fascinating articles is ‘The Svalbard Global Seed Vault’ by Christoph Seidel. In the remoteness north of the arctic circle at a latitude of seventy eight degrees, thirteen minute north on Spitzbergen a building stores a plant seed bank in the permafrost. This project of the Seed Vault is run by the Global Crop Diversity Trut and is sort of a “safety net, an insurance policy, a modern Noahs Ark”. The building socks currently 526’000 samples of plants from around the world. It is however designed to host a lot more, about six times as much. An interesting project to store all these seed in such a location, where they couldn’t even grow, or at least not now.

Image taken from Lars Mueller Publishers / Cover of the book ‘Distance and Engagement: Landscape Thinking – Model Making: Walking, Thinking and Making Landscape‘ by Alice Foxley and published by Lars Mueller Publishers.

Research in the context of a practice however a presented by Alice Foxley in ‘Distance and Engagement’ is different and at first the strange feeling about it can not be described. In a competitive environment as todays design practices are finding themselves, the ‘luxury’ of research as research is hardly something many do. The focus is on producing a project working along a tight schedule coordinating different phases and finalize on time and by making some profit. Of course analysis and background research is part of this an integrated at each step of the projects. This builds up a stock of practice based knowledge the employees share as a collective experience and ideally this would develop the practice as an entity creatively.

This idea of researching and then embed this in upcoming projects is a different approach and rather unusual for a commercial deign practice. There are some examples Atelier Bow-Wow or ARU run by Florian Beigel and Philip Christou. Other examples might be the research focused office practice exhibition the well known architecture offices of Rem koolhas as well as Herzog and De Meuron toured around the large Galleries and museums a few years back.
However in these examples the research is usually also a project, as for example Made in Tokyo: Guide Book.

The research in ‘Distance and Engagement’ is very experiential and practical, both for the design team as well as in regards to further usage in a project. Some are excursions to experience and see a specific landscape, such as for examples into limestone landscapes in Yorkshire. Actually the location were some of the scenes of the most recent Harry Potter Films are shot.

On a second layer the publication also presents realised projects and brings them together with the research undertaken. In the case of the Yorkshire limestone the project is the landscape for the roof of the sub terrain auditorium at Novartis Campus in Basel Switzerland. This auditorium is adjacent to the headquarter of the same company designed by Frank Gehry architects.

The researched features of the limestone landscape were transformed into a design landscape in an artificial garden and it looks like a limestone landscape. The process of rastering an aerial image of a location in three steps in photoshop and pumping up the resolution is described in detail. That the result is a limestone landscape is rather surprising, but formally the similarities are obvious.

Further projects described are the Novartis Park where the research focused on the local landscape around Basel establishing some isolated connections to other locations in Switzerland or two projects in London, one for the newly redeveloped Tate Modern and the other one for Parliament Square.

Both these projects’ research focuses on the practice of walking and experiencing the surrounding at the speed of walking. This shapes very much in the style of Richard Long with walks on Dartmoor in Devon UK or different random walks in London.

Both publications argue that there is more to landscape design and that this context need exploring. In some sense maybe even aims at establishing an identity, a sort of history or knowledge of landscape architecture / landscape design.

And yes, probably this is truly needed for a profession that all of a sudden finds itself in the middle of a sustainability war, were geen is green and planting 1500 trees for the world exhibition can make the difference and a new urbanism.

Both publications are were nicely presented as beautiful books with a clear design, well they are Lars Mueller Publications. One is large and bold in colour rather like a magazine, only five times the number of pages, the other one is small, framed and formal, more like a document. Together they probably show the current state of landscape architecture research and practice.

Vogt, G. & Foxley, A., 2010. Distance and Engagement: Landscape Thinking – Model Making: Walking, Thinking and Making Landscape, Lars Muller Publishers.

Ghiggi, D., 2010. Tree Nurseries – Cultivating the Urban Jungle: Plant Production Worldwide, Lars Muller Publishers.

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