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— urbantick

December 2010 Monthly archive

Recently large scale models have come back into fashion and researchers around the globe have started to develop different types of urban grows simulations spanning across urban areas, countries and even started looking at a global scale urban growth models.
Of course one of the precedences is the Bucky world model called the “World Game” or the world peace game. Of course this was based on a Dymaxion Map.

Image taken from genekeyes source: scanned by Gene Keyes from cover of
World Game Report, [28 p.], ©1969, Edwin Schlossberg
Photography by Daniel Gildesgame and Herbert Matter /

It was branded a game, but recently scientists have become much more bold and call it a model. They are also not shy of promises of what could be solved by such a large scale everything incorporating algorithm based predictions.

The main problem back then but even more so nowadays is the base data. With the flood of information we have now it is getting more difficult to manufacture a decent working dataset. And of course it would need to cover the past as well as the current state.

The data, as far as recorded would be available but most likely not in the format and resolution required. So to start a lot of foundation work is required and no one seems willing at them moment to invest in this fundamentally important piece of work. everyone whats to get on with the exciting bit of the prediction, that how one makes money.

Even more interesting to look at some of the few existing visualisations of the past urban growth globally. The New Town Institute has put together a flash based visualisation of world wide urban growth of the past 6000 years. This is quite a good starting point and interesting in it self. Have a look how urban areas evolved, declined and reinvented themselves. The database is also online available.

Visualisaion taken from newtowninstitute

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Twitter as an information service has developed rapidly since 2009. Most institutions have by now adopted a twitter account to distribute news and stay in touch with an audience.
Especially in the art world museums and galleries started using the social networking platform, creating important nodes in the twitter univers.

Some art institutions managed to attract a large fellowship with the @Tate for example having about 216,308 followers or the @MoMa with 388,670 followers.

Graph by urbanTick / Major art museums have adopted twitter as a networking and news channel tool. This art institutions twitter social network is constructed from @ tweets and RT tweets as a directed network graph.
Data collected using 140kit and visualised using gephi.

Of course now of interest is how these nodes link in to the wider twitter network and also how they link to each other. There are of course a number of different interests colliding and this reflects the stiff competition to some extend.

From the most recent 2000 twitter messages by each institution a social network graph was generated to visualise how some of the top museums are connected through activity in tweet terms. The graph represents how the institutions interact with other users and how this connects them into an entangled social network.

Graph by urbanTick / Zoom in on details around the New Yorker museums MoMa, New Museum, Guggenheim and the SFMoMa,

The nodes represent twitter users and the edges, connection lines, are established through @ tweets, a public direct message at some other user(s). The second indicator for established connection are the RT, the retweeting of messages by others.

Interesting to see is how the institutions have rather few direct links, but share quite a bit of intermediate twitter users. Especially between the american institutions there are quite some established connections, but also links across the atlantic are establish. Explore the graph in details below using the Google Maps style navigation.

Art Institutions Social Network

Graph by urbanTick using the GMap Image Cutter / Art Institutions Social Network – Use the Google Maps style zoom function in the top left corner to zoom into the map and explore it in detail. Click HERE for a full screen view.

You can check out the institutions involved on twitter for detailed info on the tweets.
@ZKM, @newmuseum, @tate, @MoMa, @sfmoma, @MOCAlosangeles, @vanabbemuseum, @ModernaMuseet, @mori_art_museum, @centrepompidou, @metmuseum, @guggenheim, @maspmuseu, @V_and_A, @NationalGallery, @npglondon, @_TheWhitechapel

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Following up from the New City Landscape maps, where we mapped tweet densities in urban areas around the world, we have now started to look into the socia network aspects of this data set. As a complementary graph to the map the network illustrates how the twitter users are connected through their activities and usage of the platform.

Graph by urbanTick / The London NCL Social Network graph of twitter users. The dataset is defined as geolocated tweets collected over the period of one week in the urban area of London set to a 30 km radius. Click on the image for a larger version on flickr or see the interactive zoomable version HERE.

The network is built from nodes and edges, were the nodes are the twitter users active during the time period of message collection back in May 2010. The edges visualise the connections between these users. From the messages sent connections are established based on activity and interaction. In reality these are the @ messages that are directed at one or more particular user. The second indicator of a connection are the RT messages, the message that have been retweeted by followers of the creator of the initial message.

Graph by urbanTick / Zoom of the London NCL Social Network graph of twitter users. The dataset is defined as geolocated tweets collected over the period of one week in the urban area of London set to a 30 km radius. Click for a larger version on flickr.

Using these two methods the network graph is established as a directed network, meaning that the connection between the nodes has a direction since a message originates from a sender being delivered to a receiver.

The resulting network is built from a total of 17618 nodes and 26445 edges. In the case of this London twitter network not everyone is connected to everyone and about 5400 subnetworks were identified. Furthermore via the colouring the modularity of the network is visualised. Each subgroups has a unique colour shading indicating groups with tighter connections.

London NCL Social Network

Graph by urbanTick using the GMap Image Cutter / London NCL Socia Network – Use the Google Maps style zoom function in the top left corner to zoom into the map and explore it in detail. Click HERE for a full screen view.

The sizing of the nodes is derived from the number of connections this particular node has for both incoming and outgoing edges.

For the comparison of the networks we are currently working on graphing out the whole range of NCL across the world in order to establish a analysis parameter set. We’ll keep you posted about the progress here.

To compare it, the geolocated London New City Landscape map. It is important to keep in mind that the graphs are not spatially representative as compared to the NCL maps which are properly geolocated.

Image by urbanTick using the GMap Image Cutter / London New City Landscape Click HERE for a full screen view.

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Living in Britain has definitely one downside, it is very hard to come across inspiring architecture. And by inspiring I mean not a massive large scale development signed off by a ‘starchitect’, but an intense and truly thought through building that is confident about it self and how it is positioned in the context. This sort of dedicated design work is rare, I guess for a large part of the world were currently buildings are under construction and not yet stopped for the developers are running out of money.

Publications however can help here and showcase the buildings that might be less public and you wouldn’t come across on your way to work because you don’t live in Switzerland were dedicated architects are apparently still to be found. Anyway, this is what the latest Lars Mueller Publication showcases here. ‘What Anchors a House in Itself’ by Andreas Fuhrimann and Gabriele Haechler is a monograph showcasing a selection of their projects and these are real beauties.

Image taken from Lars Mueller Publishers photography by Valentin Jeck / Presenhuber House in the village of Vna in the Lower Engadine Valley in Switzerland.

Kind of unusual for a monograph Fuhrimann and Haechler decide to limit the show to seven buildings. Unusual in the sense that most offices tend to try and make the most of a publication by showing off everything, but here the approach is clearly to show quality, and quality is what you get!

These seven buildings ar real buildings, prototyps for dedicated architecture and design work. Of coure the work of Fuhrimann and Haechler has not remained undiscovered before this publications and the buildings have been widely published already, for example in previousy discussed book ‘Total Housing’ in the Christmas book list. But as Hubertus Adam points out in his critica contribution to the book the work was recognised out side of Switzerland way ahead of the local architecture press. He identifies the the problem as “The two photographs, one with a red sports car and the other with a black sports car, each in front of the angled metal facade, apparently violate Swiss social conventions in which luxury is disguised by means of understatement.”

Image taken from afgh / Architects’ and Artists’ House on the Uetliberg 2002-2003, portrait with black sports car.

The architecture of Fuhrmann and Haechler is no understatement and clearly is pure luxury. This becomes clear while reading in the second part of the book. The close relationship between the architecture of Fuhrmann Haechler to art is portrait both in theoretical practical but also social terms. The projects are usually build for rich artists, curators, art collectors, museum directors or gallery owners. This is clearly an elit these architects are working to create unique objects.
However as the architects themselves as well as the critics stress in the second part of the book which is text based, as opposed to the image based first part, the work is never for but with the client.

Image taken from afgh / Holiday House on the Rigi 2003-2004, the perfect view south-west.

This is one of the most notable architectural monographs of the closing year 2010. Not only but mainly for the seven extremely beautiful and inspiring projects portrayed in full colour, but also because of the contextual discussion of the work of Fuhrimann Haechler in the second part and of course because it is a really nicely designed book with a very clear and simple formal language. Even though it is a paperback this is a treasure. For other great Lars Mueller Publications keep up to date by flowing them on twitter @LarsMuellerBooks.

What a relieve to finally get in the last few days of the year 2010 a book that tells us about beautiful architecture, it really exists out there, keep your eyes open on the way to work in 2011.

Müller, L., 2010. Fuhrimann Hächler: Was ein Haus in sich selbst verankert, Baden: Lars Muller Publishers.

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The New City Landscape maps NCL based on twitter messages sent in urban areas represent only one aspect of the data that was collected. For the maps we were focusing on the location at the moment of sending the message.

Now we are looking into the social network of the same data set and visualise how users communicate and how they are interconnected. Using the @’s and RT’s in te messages a network was constructed establishing links between users that send directed tweets or retweet someone else’s message.

Very quickly these social networks become extremely complicated and computational intensive. The old MacBook here is struggling with the larger networks of London and New York, were there are 20000 or 40000 nodes respectively to be calculated.

However the smaller networks of Paris and Munich draw very nicely in Gephi, the open source graph visualisation software used to render the following images.

The data we are using here was collected over the period of one week and the selection criteria is the geo location. It is a 30km radius around an urban area. This forms the starting point of the network with all the users within this set as seed nodes. Who ever they were in touch with is then added as a secondary node drawing the edges between these nodes.

Munich NCL social network with one very big player standing out, ProSieben. This is one of the big German TV channels.

Image by urbanTick / Social network of Munich twitter users corresponding to the Munich New City Landscape map.
The network is derived from @ and RT twitter messages.
This draws to 772 nodes and 1193 edges.

See the corresponding NCL map HERE.

Paris NCL social network
Image by urbanTick / Social network of Paris twitter users corresponding to the Paris New City Landscape map.
The network is derived from @ and RT twitter messages.
This draws to 4959 nodes and 7390 edges.

And a zoom into the Paris twitterNetwork map (bottom right), showing how the main nodes are linking down to smaller one of nodes.

Image by urbanTick / Zoom of social network of Paris twitter users corresponding to the Paris New City Landscape map.
The network is derived from @ and RT twitter messages.
This draws to 4959 nodes and 7390 edges.

See the corresponding NCL map HERE.

The NCL maps cover a lot more cities, see the world map HERE. As these are processed we’ll be showing them here on the bog so stay tuned, some exciting network graphs will come up.

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For the coming Christmas days off the busy work schedule here are a few books that might keep you afloat during family gatherings, long feasts and carol singing. As usual for these days off the plan is to catch up on reading with a number of books and in the end at the sixth or so January we realize nothing got done actually, how frustrating. However, in this list here there is something for everyone and you probably find at least on book that fits and will grab your attention over the festive period for a couple of hours.

The themes covered in this selection of six books range from housing typologies on an architecture level, to urban planning and the export thereof, to a theoretical discussion of mega cites, to the mapping and visualisation of global data sets.




Total Housing: Efficient Alternatives to Sprawl Illustrated
There has been quite some development in the area of housing in the first ten years of this century. Architects have begin to creatively rethink the floor plans and creatively integrate the developing of a housing unit into the thinking process while developing a scheme. Of course this did not always result in comfortable flats, but it definitely changed housing projects. Especially if wee ook at larger scale housing projects, with ten, twenty or even a hundred very similar unit types.

The specific interest definitely came from Europe, mainly offices in the Netherlands, that started experimenting and emphasising the joy of developing good housing schemas. It quickly gained ground and it can be said that now, after ten years, in a good international competition the floor plans are generally a lot more inspiring.

THe publication is rolling out exactly this. A collection of 61 examples of interesting and inspiring housing projects organised by size. This is ranging from a four unit project, B-Camp by Helen & Hard in Stavanger, Norway to the 750 unit project, Linked Hybrid by Steven Holl Architects in Beijing, China.

Each project is documented well with basic data such as m2 and cost and there are different strands of organisation running through the selection in order to develop a referencing system for cross reading. Further more the individual basic housing units of each project are summarised and on a comparison chart and there is a section with detailed construction drawings for a selection of the projects. Basically everything you need as an architect to make this book a perfect tool in the office.

Hoever this is not just for architects this publication, with its flaws in some structuring aspects, really is the most comprehensive and most recent guide to housing and in this sense could play an important role in the discussion on urban sprawl. The discussion however is not included, to be purchased separat.

“Total Housing is a demonstration of the virtues of high and medium density multi-family homes, and an antidote to urban sprawl. The selection of works in Total Housing (in hard copy and on its supplementary website: www.actar.com/totalhousing/) spans a period coinciding with the height of the housing boom, and consequent bust, experienced in most “developed” economies in the first decade of the 21st century.
From among the vast built production of this period, Total Housing selects 61 projects from 22 countries that exemplify outstanding innovations in construction systems, spatial organization, models of unit aggregation, and integration of the residential program into the complex of functions that make up our cities.
This book is a design manual as much as a reference for future good practices. Its structure follows a simple sequential order of the number of homes included in each project, revealing that interesting design solutions are found in big and small projects alike. The book also contains detailed plans of 17 of the featured projects.” (Actar)

Anonymous, 2010. Total Housing: Efficient Alternatives to Sprawl Illustrated., Actar.



The Architecture of Knowledge: The Library of the Future
The library is the classical architecture project for knowledge storage. A room designed to keep in neet rows and columns the books filled with words making up what we know.

With the rais of the computer and digitally produced and stored information this setting is bound to change. This fact plus the increasingly bured boundaries between producers and consumers are the topics this publication discusses. It looks of course at a range of architectural projects, but at the ame time organisation, technology, social and cultural aspect are investigated in depth to create a bigger picture.

Intriguingly, the neat rows of books, shelfs and corridors come under fire. Why not just storing everything in a big heap or in more living room sort of way where books wander around as they are used. Employing RFID technology and iPhone apps would sort out the problem of finding anything in this more dynamic environment.

“What will the library of the future look like? In an age in which information and communication are everywhere and the boundaries between producers and consumers of information are increasingly blurred, the question of what a public library might represent is urgent. The notion of a classical library in an academic environment with a formal collection and a permanent staff is already wavering. As a typology the library enjoys a rich history as an important component of public space within the city. As buildings libraries have always been a popular destination, which is why governments are still keen to employ them to enhance the image of their cities. At the same time, more and more libraries are expanding their scope by offering access to web browsers, on-line retrieval systems and other new media. What form and position will their physical structure need to assume in order to survive the changes that are taking place in this data-saturated realm of society – at present and in the future?

The Architecture of Knowledge offers new insights into this bastion of public knowledge and collective memory as well as fascinating prospects for its future. International experts present concepts of collective knowledge, the notion of public space, thoughts on the relationship between (new) media and (cultural) society, and insights into product management and reception. The result is a fascinating journey into the future of an age-old institution, obligatory reading for architects, librarians and users alike. ” (Nai Publishers)

Werft, H.H.V.D., 2010. The Architecture of Knowledge: The Library of the Future Bilingual., NAI Publishers.



Oase #81 – Architecture and Planning in Africa 1950-1970
The three times a year journal was running an issue on last century architecture in Africa. This covers the usual Oase topics of architecture urban design and landscape design and provides in depths contributions by a range of authors. This publication comes in a year were the interest in Africa was for a change word wide and positive. With the Football World Cup being held in South Africa earlier this year there was a lot of detailed attention directed to the otherwise largely generalised continent.

As the Editors point out in the editorial, Africa has also for quite some time been out of the spotlight from a spatial planning point of view. This wasn’t always the case. In the late sixties for example there was great interest from european planners and a lot of project were being delivered by European or American companies on quite large scale.

The issue is basically digging out these aspects as it focuses on this period between 1950 and 1970 a very exciting time. A time were modernism was as a sort of general style being exported anda whole range of people started experimenting an implementing their ideas loosely connected to modernism.

There are of course the extending racial conflict deeply involved in al of spatial planning in this context an the publication is a various points uncovering the complicated entanglings between idea, concept, practice, and ideology mixing politically, religious and professionally.

“For the last few years there has been a strong revival of interest in the African city across numerous disciplines, including anthropology, sociology and urban history. Since the mid-1990s, when Rem Koolhaas placed urban conditions in Lagos on the agenda as a research topic, other architects and planners have rediscovered the African continent. Architecture historians and heritage agencies are now also studying modern architecture in Africa, which is largely ignored in overviews of twentiethcentury architecture.

OASE 82 shares this current fascination for modern architecture and planning on the African continent, but also expresses reservations. This edition presents a critical historiography of modernistic architecture from 1950 to 1970, which in many cases still defines the urban landscape in African centres. A photographic project by the young Congolese photographer Sammy Baloji about Avenida Lenine in Maputo, Mozambique, presents a striking profile of twentieth century architecture in a former Portuguese colony.” (Nai Publishers)

Lagae, J., Avermaete, T., Bruijn, D. De, October 2010. Oase #81, Nai Publishers



Shanghai New Towns: searching for community and identity in a sprawling metropolis
How to invent identity? this could as well be the subtitle of this publication initiated by urbanlanguage.org and sponsored partially by The International New Town Institute. This problem is well known to everyone who has once attempted to create something from nothing.
There is not nothing, but it is pretended there is nothing and this complicates the problem even more. It results in “How to pretent to invent identity” I guess. However you put it, the dilemma has many aspects and there is no easy way out.

The publication is tackling this problem head on and offeres a well researched and presented context with detailed references historical and contemporary as well as detailed project documentation. The really interesting part however for me are the photo essays. For example the section ‘New Citizens’ by Chen Taiming from page 321 to 368 nails the problem, clash of identities.

China is expecting a lot of its citizens and this book manages to portrait the struggle of the different disciplines involved, from the politician to the developer the imported planner right to the actual inhabitant or still missing inhabitant.

“Each year, more than 15 million Chinese leave the rural areas of China and move to the cities. This figure exceeds 300,000 in the case of Shanghai. Before 2015, the majority of China’s population will be living in urban areas. Shanghai New Towns documents and analyses the meteoric rate of urbanization of the countryside round Shanghai, most particularly the part played there by new towns and new villages. This decentralized planning model takes its cue from classic examples from Russia and Western Europe. A few pilot new towns have been developed on paper with help from Western designers and then adapted to suit Chinese standards. This book shows how the plans have been put into practice. Photos, essays by Chinese and Western critics and descriptions of projects illustrate what daily life looks like and how these new cities function within the Yangtze River Delta Metropolitan Area as a whole. It dwells at length on the international exchange of knowledge and the differences in method.”(010 Publisher)

Hartog, H. den ed., 2010. Shanghai New Towns: Searching for Community and Identity in a Sprawling Metropolis, Rotterdam: 010 Publisher.



Megacities – Exploring a Sustainable Future
This book covers the theoretical field for this christmas selection. It covers the scholarly discussion around urban areas, featuring the main urban thinkers of the beginning of the 21st Century, starting with Peter Hall, Saskia Sassen, Richard Sennett and David Harvey, as well as for example Richard Rogers. Te title i not only programatic, but at the same time the name of the foundation based in the Netherlands who has initiated the book. Jan Hoogstad had started the foundation about 15 years back with a small group in an attempt to comprehend the essence of urban growth, up to and including the Megacity level, in a context of global cultura ad economic diversity.

With this publication the foundation focuses, as currently fashionable, on sustainability as indicated by the subtitle. However, this new publications more than just a fashion trend, it is first and foremost a retrospective, marking the anniversary and summarising the great amount of publication, lecturing and seminar work undertaken since the founding of Megacities.

THe ranging chapters are in this sense mostly lectures that have been delivered as part of a previous Megacities conference or event. As a collection it however, makes quite a summary of modern thinking about urban from many different perspectives and characters. This makes for a great read and the publication manages to actually spark a discussion between the different contributions even though they might have been initially separated by time.

“Urbanization has evolved dramatically from monocentric settlements to polycentric networks and megacities of previously inconceivable size and population. This escalation of quantities and scales has ignited a deep and growing fascination for the phenomenon of megacities. The book’s point of departure is to define megacities and understand their processes and systems of organization. From this discussion it aims to glean lessons for researchers, practitioners, politicians and the general public. The Megacities Foundation, which initiated this discussion and book, has set a benchmark in the architectural profession, and has actively encouraged debate on megacities for the last fifteen years by inviting leading international academics and practitioners from the fields of architecture, economics, geography, sociology and urban planning. This book offers a compilation of the best lectures about the definition, evolution, governance and design guidelines of megacities. In addition, it incorporates reflections on what megacities could mean in the Dutch planning context. Megacities is a body of knowledge for comprehending the essence of urban growth and exploring a sustainable future.” (010 Publishers)

Buijs, S., Tan, W. & Tunas, D., 2010. Megacities – Exploring a Sustainable Future, 010 Publishers.



Atlas of Science: Visualizing What We Know
Thi is really the picture book in this selection. If you are more after something to look at than reading from this is your choice. THe knowledge mapped out in pretty maps and illustrations ranging from historic to futuristic ‘What we know’ and how we know it.

Katy Boerner tries really hard with this full colour and large size ‘atlas’ to cover this vast and extremely divers area se has discovered here. It i a difficult field but who if not her must really know what we know. Katy Boerner is running the director of the Cyberinfrastructure for Network Science Center at Indiana University.

The idea here is really to draw maps of everything we, the human race has ever known, ranging from publications to patents to conversations. This is of course set very much in an academic context and has a specific American focus since the research is undertaken there.

Nevertheless the project mapps out a vast amount of data sets and bring some spatial order into mountains of data points. This is archived with a lot of network analysis and mapping employing sophisticated mathematical models and algorithms. THe key to this is probably the data handling. Each set contains millions of records and in this sense is ia merely a thought that defines the fina product rather than any manual labour.

And this is then probably also the key issue for the book, this science of science as a rather detached proces has temporarily lost its actual fascination a bit I fear and also the extremely strong personalisation of each documented project can’t brush this of. As a important point of critique since this is an ‘atlas’, the graphics need to be worked on if it wants to be what it is.

Nevertheless this is an initial result of an investigation charting new territory and manages to surprise and enlighten what we probably would never have go close otherwise, a must have for mappers and data freaks.

“Cartographic maps have guided our explorations for centuries, allowing us to navigate the world. Science maps have the potential to guide our search for knowledge in the same way, helping us navigate, understand, and communicate the dynamic and changing structure of science and technology. Allowing us to visualize scientific results, science maps help us make sense of the avalanche of data generated by scientific research today. Atlas of Science, features more than thirty full-page science maps, fifty data charts, a timeline of science-mapping milestones, and 500 color images; it serves as a sumptuous visual index to the evolution of modern science and as an introduction to “the science of science”—charting the trajectory from scientific concept to published results.

Atlas of Science, based on the popular exhibit “Places & Spaces: Mapping Science,” describes and displays successful mapping techniques. The heart of the book is a visual feast: Claudius Ptolemy’s Cosmographia World Map from 1482; a guide to a PhD thesis that resembles a subway map; “the structure of science” as revealed in a map of citation relationships in papers published in 2002; a periodic table; a history flow visualization of the Wikipedia article on abortion; a globe showing the worldwide distribution of patents; a forecast of earthquake risk; hands-on science maps for kids; and many more. Each entry includes the story behind the map and biographies of its makers.

Not even the most brilliant minds can keep up with today’s deluge of scientific results. Science maps show us the landscape of what we know. ” (MIT Press)

Borner, K., 2010. Atlas of Science: Visualizing What We Know, MIT Press.

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Twitter communications span the globe and the pinpointing of end locations of conversations in this animation shows how the network spans around the planet. It jumps between the hot spots of cities and even continents.
In the description of the project the authors discuss the rather interesting point of the meaning of ‘Location in the case of twitter. In fact this not only applies to twitter but many location based services, the here is not always here. “‘Location’ has 2 meanings in the world of Twitter. It can mean (1) where someone was when they tweeted provided they are using a GPS-enabled smartphone, or (2) where someone lives (users can specify their home location).” (Geography 970)

In a second version the locations were mapped on a rotating globe which give a good impressionof how we communicate around an axis. For details please see Geography 970.

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The good old post service has had a difficult stand with the raise of the digital message. The romantic love letter as well as the intense debating correspondence has largely shifted into the virtual realm of messages on a computer screen. The main content of mail remaining is legal documents that need to be in physical form or parcels. Things still need to be moved.

What the mail service provides, beyond delivering post, is a web of connection. In fact a very dense and very flexible network with numerous elements, links and nodes. These ranges from a post office, to a distribution and sorting centre to the postman in the street delivering.

Based on a detailed system of code every functional unit in the city i accessible through this web an can connect to any other unit. Quite and important and versatile institution this is. In todays cities we relay on a number of such infrastructure systems constructing and serving the urban landscape, such as power networks and streets. However the mail and address system is probably the most flexible one.

Mail correspondence has a long tradition and is looking through historical works, for example in art or science, the letters between different figures in volved act a an important medium of exchange and stimulation.

In a recent visualisation ‘Visualizing the Republic of Letters‘ developed at Stanford University by Daniel Chang, Yuankai Ge, Shiwei Song, Nicole Coleman, Jon Christensen, and Jeffrey Heer the past correspondance of 55’000 letters by 6400 people over about 200 years has be mapped and animated. The visualisation is based on the e-enlightment project, an electronic database for letters and lives. “Electronic Enlightenment reconstructs the extraordinary web of correspondence that marked the birth of the modern world.”

In a recent Princeton Architectural Press publication the topic of the mail and especially the parcel i explored from a very different perspective. The book ‘The Englishman Who Posted Himself and Other Curious Objects‘ by John Tingey traces the story of Willie Reginald Bray. It is not just about the person but about the special experiments he staged practically exploring the possibilities of the mail service. Basically he just posted everything and anyone, including himself.

The postal service became very popular with the radical changes in 1840 in prices and structure. The mail needed to be pre payed by the sender (was previously payed by the receiver) and a simplified pricing structure, one penny for a letter in the UK.

Bray however wanted to explore the boundaries of this ‘shipping things’ on both ends, the side of the object and what could possibly be sent, as well as the coding system, the addresses and the labeling.

Image taken from fingersports / A picture postcard utilised the image as an element of the address. ‘To a resident nearest to these rocks’.

These are very interesting parameter of the service. Bray for example developed a series of postcards with coded addresses that required the postman to deceiver the intended receiver. This could be in the form of a rhyme, writing using wax or using symbols. During the high days of the pictue card area he also utilised these pictures as the address, only with the accompanied instruction “to the resident nearest”. The actual address was aso of interest to Bray and he experimente with sending letters and postcards to train drivers for example, as a moving destination.

The object posted in the second categorie ranged from onions to dogs and as mentioned himself. It was in February 1900 that he tested the Mail service and again in November 1903 that he posted himself as a ‘Person Cyclist’ back home. Bray claimed this to be the first time a person has ever been posted.

The book pulls together this rather curious story about a man’s efforts to test out the service that links together across the entire country. And this collection possibly highlights the exact difference between the generally linking infrastructure and this postal linking network. It works in both directions and is in this sense a truly interactive service that can be, as Bray demonstrates customised to a large extend.

Tingey, J., 2010. Englishman Who Posted Himself and Other Curious Objects, the, Princeton Architectural Press.

Also thanks to James from spatialanalysis for the letter link.

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