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Tag "cycle"

Cycle Space: Architecture and Urban Design in the Age of the Bicycle by Steven Fleming is a nai010 publishers book. It aims to takle the questions surounding the rebewed popularity of cycling in the urban areas of the western world from a architects point of view.

The book is cleverly organised in chapters mixing examples and theory. The author understands to weave experience and references to creat a dense fabric around the topic of cycling in our cities today.

In eight chapters the reader is taken on a tour around the world starting in Amsterdam, probably considered the ultimate cycling city, under the aspect of cycling is practical, to New York where cycling is reported as political, back to Copenhagen wher it is all about design, down to Sydney, where Cycling is prestigious, to Singapore for free cycling, to Portland where cycling is cool, to Chicago for green cycling to finally end in Paris the city of teatrical cycling.

This broad approach aims to creat an universal picture of cycling, locally working out the specifics to feed them into a discusiof cycling on a global level. Whilst it is a big strech the depth of the local examples is actually a large plus of this publication.

Cycling is a very direct and individual experince of the city and local knowledge is key to finding the suitable route. The author is from down under and knows his place inside out, but makes an efford to get to know all the places featuring in the book. Linking up with locals and drawing on their unique knowledge is key to a successfull portrait in the book. In this sense the reports are presented as well informed, packed with insider tips.

This on the other hand also renders the accounts very personal making them challenging to generalise in an objective sense urban planning discussions are usually held. However the topic might require the exploring of new territory regarding the synthesising of strategies for the development and implementation of ridable cities.


Image taken from the book / Sample spread of the book Cycle Space.

Overall it is a well structured book with clear insight both regarding first hand experience reports and theoretical background. The reader is being presented with interesting portraits. Although it is difficult to get into different environments if your not really living it, being a local is not easy, but with great support and advice workable. It provides an insightful discussion of the cycling topics both as actual challenges faced by planning and political authorities, theoretical with references to planing ideas such as modernism, but also current project recently being built for cycling.

Te author makes a clear case that planning for cycling clearly has to go beyond the integration of bike infrastructure in new and renewing projects in urban areas. However it has to be noted that it is not enough to just reduce it to brown fields. Very few cities in Europe for example have the concrete storm flood water ways the author preferably refers to as ideal sites for cycling.

Cycling is a networked based activity and as the author of the book remarks on different occasions mainly based on en-route, in-context decision making. Whilst cycling, similar to pedestrians, one craves for the freedom of choice and options. Variety, possibilities and flexibility is what makes cycling exciting and this is too perfectly portrayed by the author already in the introduction. In this context the call of the book for separated and specific, exclusive cycling infrastructure seems not quite fitting.

The bolder, and possibly cheaper call, would bee for shared infrastructure. After all at the crossroad we all meet and have to negotiate anyway. Why not work towards a slower city with room, acceptance and respects for all road users equally? Probably because it is a learning curve, in most of the portrait cities a steep and tough one, but arguably the sustainable long term goal. It could be argued that isolating one selves as cyclists to exclusively cycling infrastructure is not only something cities like NY, London or HK simply can’t possibly achieve in a reasonable and useful timeframe, is way too costly as it means parallel, hence double costing, but will not necessarily evolve towards better understanding of users of the same road space.


Image taken from the book / Sample spread of the book Cycle Space.

Progress as such can not just be pushed towards the urban planners as their responsibility. It is a mindset that has to be embedded in society as a concept to be backed by acceptance and become everyday practice. Politics and general believes have to grow accustomed to the idea of cycling. In London for example one of the big problems beside a lack of space is the fact that every body else on the street,including pedestrians do not expect or consider cyclists. They are still alien to the idea of other road users might be cycling. This is not something urban planners can change, it needs a collective effort to establish cyclists in all areas as equal road users.

To sum up the discussion, this is a book not short on personal statements, creating occasional controversies, which makes it a very interesting read. The topic is definitely timely and most of the major cities are currently evaluating their cycle infrastructure. By giving such a broad overview covering different locations the book has something for everyone. It can not be taken as a manual but a valuable contribution to the still itself organising discussion on the state of cycling and the possible reactions to it of the urban environment.


Image taken from the book / Book front cover.

Fleming, S., 2012. Cycle Space – Architectural and Urban Design in the Age of the Bicycle, NAI010 Publishers.

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The daily cycles of day and night influence the experience in a number of ways. The main visual information is, beside the amount of light, the quality of the light. There are very different temperatures from morning to midday to evening.

Generally from the light quality the time of day can be guessed quite accurately. These shades are of course heavily influenced by weather and time of year. This can lead to a confusion with heavy dark clouds pulling up in the afternoon and it can give a sense that time has jumped and it might at two o’clock like it is half five. On the other hand if spent a few hours indoors, in a dark corner of your house, and as you step out into the sunlight the quality of light can be confusing in terms of time of day.

split time cafésplit time café
Image taken from philipperahm.com / A rendering of the interior, above the night zone in blue and below the day zone in yellow.

The light is identified by scientists as an important factor to set the body clock or circadian rhythm. This has been tested in experiments where participants spent weeks in caves with no daylight. The human body is able to maintain the cycles without the daylight reference for a long period. It does not depend on it as essential, but it provides a guidance to keep on track.

With this background, the architect Philippe Rahm has proposed a café that mimics the light quality of different times of the day. In essence Split Times Cafe proposes a 24 hour coffee place where you can have day or night at any time of day. The different areas recreate daytime light and night time light quality.

split time café
Image taken from philipperahm.com / A rendering showing the cafe in context.

It is possible to dring the morning coffee in the night light condition area and have a beer in the bright daylight zone. The day light zone is showing the characteristic yellow light indicating bright sunshine. The night zone on the other hand is fulled with blue tone light referencing the blue dark moon light. The cafe also offers a third place that is proposed in clear glass and therefore being filled with the actual quality of the light at that very moment.

The light quality is achieved through the use of coloured glass. Yellow glass for the day and blue glass for the night. To support the atmosphere the furniture is distinct in the are the architects make use of the furniture. The day zone is organised horizontally where as the night zone’s furniture is oriented vertically.

split time café
Image taken from philipperahm.com / The plan showing the three different zones.

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NASA satellites are observing the wild fires around the world. From satellite images the occurrence and spreading of bush fires are clearly visible. In a summary of the fires over the last ten years

The visualisations show fire observations made by the MODerate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, or MODIS, instruments onboard NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites. The data on fires is combined with satellite views of vegetation and snow cover to show how fires relate to seasonal changes. This is really the interesting part. The visualisation beautifully shows the change over a long time period and the movements in the landscape based on the shift, growth and burning of nature. Even though bush fires are devastating disasters the visualisation shows ohw they integrate with the other elements.

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Space in the city is subject to transformation on different time scales. It is being built and rebuilt constantly and not only by diggers and cranes, but also though the decisions and makings of individuals programming the space.

Theories and practice on this have been neglected for some time and it has been deemed old fashioned to pick up on them. However, more and more the discussion around the production of space and the making capacity of individuals also regarding the conception of space, has gained momentum. A number of aspects probably have lead to this, including the availability of new technologies which requires more dynamic and more subjective conceptions of space.

Fun Palace
Image taken from SLCL.CA / Cedric Price ‘Fun Palace’ diagram. “Automation is coming. More and more, machines do our work for us. There is going to be yet more time left over, yet more human energy unconsumed. The problem which faces us is far more than that of the ‘increased leisure’ to which our politicians and educators so innocently refer. This is to underestimate the future. The fact is that as machines take over more of the drudgery, work and leisure are increasingly irrelevant concepts. The distinction between them breaks down. We need, and we have a right, to enjoy the totality of our lives. We must start discovering now how to do so.” – Cedric Price (From Agit-prop to Free Space: The Architecture of Cedric Price).

In his new book ‘ReplayCity – Improvisation als urbane Praxis’ Christopher Dell brings together an refreshed view on these practices and conceptions. The book is published by Jovis and is only available in German at the moment. The book is organised in three parts, the first one on the city and urban practice, the second on e on improvisation and space and the third part on music and space.

Dell is arguing that the cities have become more complex also because of size and number of people living together, but also has identified a shift in the questioning of the city. He points out that the question no longer is ‘What is the meaning of city?’ but now would be ‘ What produces the city?’

One of the topics for example that is discussed in the book as part of the improvisation and everyday negotiations in space is the aspect of the politics of space.Here it is the discussion around the use of order as structure, form and function of space as defined by individuals, groups or organisation. This does to some extend tie in with Hagerstrands three basic conceptions of space and time where he focuses on restrictions and constraints. This is a much more negative definition Hagerstrand proposes and its great to have it reformulated here by Dell.

The book sources the great thinkers of the past ranging from Kant, to Lefebvre, to the Situationists with Guy Debord and de Certeau. It however also features Peter And Alison Smithson with CIAM or Cedric Price and other great names of the architecture scene of the mid twenties century, very much related for examples to the publication ‘Radical Games‘.

Image taken from metronature / John Cage’s A Dip in the Lake is the exploration of a city by means of a ‘random’ soundmap that leads performers, listeners, or participants to places they may never have been before. The score identifies up of 427 locations within a city. The ‘locations’ are either very specific (such as the intersection of two streets), or more general (such as ‘a park’ or ‘Lake Ontario’). Recordings are made at each of these locations, and divided into 10 groups of 2 (quicksteps), 61 groups of 3 (waltzes) and 56 groups of 4 (marches). These groups of recordings are then mixed live by the performers.

The discussion is cleverly organised and the improvisation terms as well as practice is used to discuss the wider questions of space and city ranging all the way to the design of cities. The book puts forward a very clear theoretical base and argues without loosing sight of the goal consequently along the activities and actions of citizens as the driving element of spacial production. Dell manages to bring the reader to think about the city as a dynamic pice that is constantly shaped and reshaped. This is not a new idea at all, but it has not been presented in such a consequent and updated form for the past thirty years. Dell would not put it this way but essentially what he talks about is the congruence of form and activity as Carl Stinitz put it in the Hypothesis to his article in 1968 ‘Meaning and the congruence of urban form and activity‘: “There is a high overall level of congruence between form and activity. Congruence is defined as consistency between the physical form characteristics of an environment and the attributes of its activities”. And this is definitely an upcoming topic that will, as a concept, be extremely useful especially in connection with the available technology of distributed mobile computing and sensing.

Image taken from pro-qm.de / ReplayCity book cover.

Dell, C., 2011. Replaycity: Improvisation als urbane Praxis, Berlin: Jovis Verlag.

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Talking cycles and repetition, this is probably the most prominent example everybody remembers from primary school, the water cycle. The rain comes down over the mountains filters through the stone, a spring, a creek, a river, a stream into the ocean, where it is picked up by clouds, ferries to the mountains.

A fairly romantic picture, but definitely a basic diagram explaining connection. Also it servers very well as a starting point for questions. For example for a six year old, why is the water salty in the ocean, but not the rain? How does the water know the way to the ocean? And why are the couds not drifting of to the moon?

This could go on and on developing into a full blown session on earthly systems, but it is all about the basic idea of a systemic concept. It is not about what happens it is more about what happens with it.

So or an ad explaining what a water supplier company does, this is a gold one, back to school.

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Some new data has com in from the GPS tracking project in Basel, Switzerland. Earlier a first group was blogged as ‘Urbandiary Comparison Study‘ where we looked at the region and in ‘Stadtraum – UrbanDiary‘ the focus was on the interaction area between participant and the city.

Image by urbantick for urbanDiary / Basel-Stadt view, plotting all participants GPS track locations. Plotted using cartographica using Bing Maps in the background.

With the new data the focus shifts towards the individual movement in the urban area. This is in a next step also the unit that will be comparable to the existing urbanDiary London data sets.

Image by urbantick for urbanDiary / Grossbaselview, plotting a single participant’s locations. Plotted using cartographica using Bing Maps in the background.

Of much interest is of course the temporal structure of the everyday rhythm. The earlier London data was visualised as a graph plotted the number of track points per hour. This represented the amount of activity per each hour in 24 hour day. The resulting graph fitted well with the expected pattern, higlighting the rush hours, the lunch brake as well as elements of weekend activities following a different time structure. Examples HERE and updated HERE.

Image by urbantick for urbanDiary / Distance-Time graph over 24 hours linear single participants. Plotted using DataGraph.

The strategy to visualise the Basel data in a similar graph has been changed a bit in order to create a stronger contextual sense. The Basel graphs are not based on number of track points, but on distance traveled from home. The home location is assumed to be a sort of start and end location in this case.

The graphs therefor trace the ebb and flows of the movement from and to home. On the way different activities paint the patterns and reoccurring activities enforce their pattern.

Image by urbantick for urbanDiary / Distance-Time graph over 24 hours circular single participant. The 24 hours are here visualised around the circle, clockwise, with the distance plotted radial. Plotted using DataGraph and wound in photoshop – cheating I know but I needed a quick fix.

For the working week the distance starts to increase just after seven as participants leave the house to travel to work. Generally the distance then stays more or less the same through out the day, sometimes with a little bit of movement around the lunch time brake. In the evening the distance changes again until it is back to zero as the participants get back home.

However, the evening is compared to the morning a lot less precise. The morning fits across the sample into a timeframe of around one hour. The evenings are more divers and different activities take place opening a timeframe of up to four hours. This will need some more analysis in terms of how this timeframe divides into different activities and how it is structured. Maybe it is dominated by work activities and if there is more work people stay longer or there are groups of after work activities, such as fitness, shopping, socialising, and so on. Together with the interviews and the schedules it should be possible to entangle the structure.

Image by urbantick for urbanDiary / Distance-Time graph over 24 hours circular multiple participants. The 24 hours are here visualised around the circle, clockwise, with the distance plotted radial. Plotted using DataGraph and wound in photoshop – cheating I know but I needed a quick fix.

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Behaviorology is the title of the new Atelier Bow-Wow book. It is published by Rizzoli International Publications and contributors include Terunobu Fujimori, Meruro Washida, Yoshikazu Nango and Enrique Walker. A monograph one could say, summarizing most of the architecture projects they have realised. Bow-Wow is well known for their indepth research resulting in a series of books an use of diverse media, methods and techniques to investigate and create. In this sense a monograph is a bit a surprise.

It is almost, as is pointed out at A Daily Dose of Architecture, it seems as if this book has to be read together with the previous Bow Wow book Graphic Anatomy. In contrast to this most recent publication the focus of the previous publications lay on the representation of the projects in drawings. In this sense the drawings and te now published photographs could be read together. How they could fit together was beautifully demonstrated in the earlier reviewed book ‘Portrait from Above‘ wich does employ a very similar ‘research’ strategy as the earlier Bow Wow ‘Guide Books’.

However, there is more to this publication that a first impression might reveil and it starts with the title: Behaviorology, what does that mean?

For one, as the introduction explains, the term summarises the range of interests the Bow-Wow team has investigated and continues to investigate. This includes the focus on the interrelations between people and architecture, the architecture and the city and the city and people.
The second and probably more dramatic aspect to the term is the clear intention to establish an alternative to ‘function’ as the traditional modernist term. Modernist practice and definitions are critiqued and through out the work of Bow-Wow the wrestling with the omnipresence of this universal term of ‘function’.

To create a new term and trying to establish it is a bold move, but the intentions are clear. It proposes an activity and subject centred new perspective. Probably a move so many practitioners and offices could buy into. This new perspective is of course something that is of course highlighted in this ‘monograph’ in all the project presented. And the introduction also outlines how te term can be applied on to three different areas of human beings, natural elements and buildings.

How this could work is the core of the introduction and the fundamental structure are the above mentioned three groups as areas of separate interests that will be tied together by the new term. Surprisingly these three groups could probably also be found in the modernist description of ‘function’ as a conception of the matter at hand.

Nevertheless, the term implies a new dimension of time at a much more dramatic scale than function ever did. Moreover function, probably intended to freeze time where behavior incorporates temporalas an active aspect. This in it selve is a paradigm shift and opens new dimensions for architecture and its positioning or role in everyday culture.

As an fundamental aspect Bow-Wow characterises this temporal aspect as a rhythmic repetition, very similar to what was proposed in ‘Cycles in Urban Environments‘. It proposes to use the routine and the cycle as a standard overarching the here proposed three main groups. This conception places the subjective and individual at the centre and establishes a ‘bottom up’ perspective. This conceptions could mark the departure from old practices and fuel the ongoing debate with a new term that ties in with a new understanding.

As described in the beginning and highlighted by others hoever, the book reads a bit in a rather confusing way, especially when it come to the presentation of the projects. We have been trained over the years by a flood of glossy monographs to read these marketing statements as a cultural contribution (which it was in some cases) and in this sense it is difficult to make an exception for the book a hand. The story is great and very convincing and we are all dreaming of this, a word, a term that would finally open the chains and lead on to new horizons.

Somehow the project documentation can not really live up to this promis. It is a good monograph, but it is still at large a glossy documentation of architecture. The photographs are very good and bring the objects across in vivid colours with shadows and lively materials. However, the settings are standard as are the situations. There are a handful of images that incorporate the behavior idea, but at large the images are standard architecture photography.

In this sense it remains unclear how this theoretical positioning of the approach ties in with the documentation of the body of work. The approach to integrate the two aspects is of course the best way to go about it, but at the same time the most problematic.

Nevertheless, it becomes clear while reading the texts that accompany the different chapters that this is definitely more than a simple monograph, but it is a process. I this sense this could be an actual milestone. An clearly the process will role on and might need further departures from terminologies, but could definitely lead on and in many sense it has already managed to incorporate the important dimension of time into the discussion and this could proof as a vital first step.

It is an unlikely contribution but things are not as they seem. It offers a lot of material for discussion and thought.

Image taken from Amazon / Front cover of the book Behaviorology by Atelier Bow-Wow published by Rizzoli International Publications

Bow-Wow, A., 2010. The Architectures of Atelier Bow-Wow: Behaviorology, Rizzoli International Publications.

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The Olympic Games are a global event of sport, writing history and making heroes by defining the athlete who performs best. In 2012 the games are being held in London and preparations are well under way. There is a lot of emphasis on the facilities and what can be seen at the moment is mainly building work on infrastructure and buildings. The building site over in Standford doesn’t really look yet like a beautiful venue as we are shown on the renderings, but some of the buildings develop a recognizable shape.

Image taken from London2012.com / The Olympic Park taking shape on 2010-04-01. An aerial view of the Olympic Park looking north-west, with the Aquatics Centre in the foreground. The Olympic Stadium with the completed lighting towers is in the background.

In fact the Games actually return to London, after they were held here in 1948. Behind the scenes there is a lot of other preparation work going on. Part of this is the heart of the Games, the time keeping. Implementing this complicated system of measuring, processing and reporting accurate times is a big thing and has a lot of ties to other elements of the event. At this stage this involves Architecture, e.g. buildings as well as infrastructure, later on technical settings as well as communications. This means that Olympic time keeping is always part of the preparations from very early on. Omega as part of the Swatch group is once more responsible for keeping accurate times across the whole of the Olympic Games in 2012. The company has a very long tradition in sports event time keeping and were the first company to be appointed for the job by the IOC at the Los Angeles Olympic Summer Games in 1932. They had also done the earlier London Games in 1948 and in this sense the coming event marks 80 years since their first job and will be their 25th instance to keep official Olympic times.

Hans Gubler, who is heading the implementation team of Swiss Timing, the company responsible for the running and installation of the time keeping system, speaks to urbanTick about the job of keeping accurate times and implementing the icon of timekeeping. Of course of interest will be the development of the technology since the implementation of the photo finish camera ‘ at the 1948 London Games, but also we want to discuss implications of time and working with time in a broader sense.


urbanTick: Is it important to be on time?
Hans Gubler: Yes and No. It depends largely in what context the “being on time” is. In my job being on time is very important.

urbanTick: Omega was the first time keeping company to take the official times at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles in 1932. They have done the job ever since. Can you explain briefly the historic key elements?
Hans Gubler: In the 1930s timing was still done manually, meaning using stop watches. An early version photo finish camera already existed but was not approved by the sports federation in those days. Horse racing was the first sport where a photo finish device was put in place. With the arrival of the transistor in the 1940s things changed rapidly. Our company started to develop timing devices of which the key element was a high precision quartz. Electric photocells were used to start and stop timing at great precision. At the same time the photo finish technology was further developed and eventually homologated for Athletics and used for the first time at the London 1948 Summer Olympics. In the meantime conventional photo finish film technology has been taken over by computer technology. New technologies also include the introduction of transponders.

Image by Hans Gubler / Olympic Summer Games Beijing 2008 – Swimming, Finished.

urbanTick: You are working for one of the biggest temporal events globally, can you describe your current workplace?
Hans Gubler: I work with a team of 12 people (employed by my company) working at the Games organising committee’s premises. Our activities comprise of planning our needs in the Olympic venues (cabling, space and power requirements, infrastructure for sports scoreboards) and testing results system software with all dependencies (Television, Integration with other systems).
Swiss Timing is a Timing, Scoring and Results services company within Swatch Group alongside with Omega, Longines, Swatch, Rado, Tissot and other watch brands. Watch brands such as Omega, Longines and Tissot use Swiss Timing’s services for marketing/branding at sports events. Events range from the Olympics and Paralympics to World Championships, World Cups and many more events.

urbanTick: The Olympic Games have a cycle of four years, what are the ‘cycles’ for your company, how much time do you need for the setup?
Hans Gubler: The setup takes about 3.5 years. Whereof we are 2.5 – 3 years on site prior to the Games. The operational teams would show up on the venues for the test events and finally, for the Games.

urbanTick: How many Olympic sites have you already worked on and where was it?
Hans Gubler: My first Olympic games were the Winter Games in Sarajevo 1984, then Los Angeles 1984, Seoul 1988, Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, Torino 2006 and Beijing 2008. In Sydney I started to be on site long term (three years), whereas before my involvement was only just for the Games periods.

urbanTick: Looking back, how have you come to this position and what is your background?
Hans Gubler: I come from an electrical engineering background and have worked in this industry for the last twenty years. At the time I looked for a job in a technical environment connected to sports.

urbanTick: What are the differences between personal and work related time aspects?
Hans Gubler: Personal time management can often be adjusted according to how one feels. Not all time lines have to meet a certain deadline. Professionally there are two levels. The first is to meet the time lines of deliveries (submission of documents, building/installing of equipment, testing of software) to synchronise with other parties’ deliveries. The second is to be on time for a sports match or race and be precise in timing sports events (i.e. 100m dash race).

Image by Hans Gubler / Olympic Summer Games Beijing 2008 – Cycling Track, Start system.

urbanTick: In a rather global sense, how would you define time?
Hans Gubler: Time can be either described as space (amount of time) into which a quantity of work/activity is placed or the moment things are happening (from now to the end of race).

urbanTick: Are you using a specific definition of time you are using for your work?
Hans Gubler: Both of the above definitions. 1. Planning phase and 2. The actual event, measuring time of a sports performance.

urbanTick: How accurate can time measuring be?
Hans Gubler: Time accuracy can be indefinite however technical constraints and sports rules and regulations keep accuracy at bay. The highest resolution required in sports for the time being is 1/1000th of a second (i.e. Swimming), whereas Marathon over 42km only requires a resolution of 1 second.

urbanTick: Speaking of these completely different sports that the Olympics cover, how do they differ in terms of time keeping? Witch one is technically the most complicated to measure, witch one is the most beautiful?
Hans Gubler: Typically there are two categories namely timed sports and scored sports. Every sport has its own rules however some sports are very similar. Handball, Basketball, Football, Water polo for instance are scored sports where the match time is timed but the scores are relevant for the outcome. Swimming, Cycling and Athletics require precision timing for the ranking of the athletes. One of the most complicated sports is Modern Pentathlon where five disciplines are played in one day (Fencing, Swimming, Riding, Shooting and Running). It requires a lot of timing and scoring equipment and is intricate when it comes to networking all five sports for results compilation and live TV coverage.
Every sport has its beauty one way or another. My personal favourites to watch are Athletics and Tennis.

urbanTick: Do different conditions for time measuring exists. Say like weather conditions influence the performance? Does the wind direction influence the time?
Hans Gubler: Weather as such does not really influence time keeping (as long as the equipment is kept dry to function), however wind is a factor taken into account in Athletics where the sports rules stipulate a record time only to be recognised with wind from the back of < 2m/second. This rule applies to track races of up to 200m and long/triple jump. urbanTick: What are the different methods you are using to work with time?
Hans Gubler: Time is measured by using visual means (photo finish camera technology), infrared beams, wireless transponders, GPS technology

Image by Hans Gubler / Olympic Summer Games Beijing 2008 – Mountain Bike, Transponder.

urbanTick: Photo finishing and infrared are stationary technologies, GPS and wireless transponders can be mobile, are you tracking all the athletes and how accurate can this be?
Hans Gubler: GPS and wireless tanponders are mainly used for pisitionning of athletes during the race (intermediate times). The accuracy is no more than 1/10 of a second and is not recognised as the offical finish time.

urbanTick: Back in the Days of the 1932 Los Angeles Games hand-operated chronographs were used for timekeeping. What does it mean to work with time today, can you describe the context and support systems required?
Hans Gubler: The heart of time measurement is the high precision quartz used in custom made timing computers. Leading from there (depending on what sport and what precision is required), infrared beams, high resolution photo finish cameras, transponder systems or GPS systems are put in place.

urbanTick: Are you using the latest technology or even inventing them especially for the games or is the reliability of the system more important and you only implement well tested and proofed systems? What is the innovation you bring to the London 2012 Games?
Hans Gubler: New technology is developed not just for the Olympic Games but also for other high profile events such as World Championships and World Cups. Whether it would be for the Olympics or other events, new technology is tested thoroughly over periods of time in shadow (running alongside with existing and approved systems) before they are approved and used for events. Wireless systems are, in fact, not used in mission critical areas (i.e. data entries at Tennis, false start systems at Athletics etc.) since the risk of being interfered by other RF users is very high, especially in the Olympic Games.
New technology in London, as an example, is the timing of the mark roundings at Sailing using GPS.

urbanTick: Is there a backup system if the timing fails?
Hans Gubler: All crucial systems are equipped with back-up systems. The back-up system consists of a secondary system doing exactly the same as the primary system. A further contingency is the power supply back-up in form of an UPS (un-interrupted power supply).

urbanTick: Has there ever been an incident of hectic moments with failing systems at any of the Olympics you have worked for?
Hans Gubler: In Seoul 1988 the cartridge of the starting gun failed to go off properly in an Athletics race. The timing system was then immediately switched to the back up system. The race finished without a flaw.

Note – This is not the race mentioned above, just one of the races from Seoul in which Ben Johnson pitched a new world record over 100m.

urbanTick: The event relays on the time-measuring to determine the winners and this is turn is connected to a lot of investment and money in various areas. This presumably put a lot of pressure on the system and your job. Can you sleep at night?
Hans Gubler: The pressure is very high before and during the Games for both the operational and managing staff. The key element to meet and reduce risks is anticipation and proper preparation (thorough testing of software, hardware and procedures (exercising the switching to contingency systems)).

urbanTick: You are also responsible for the result tables and ranking system, how much time lies in between the event, the end of the event, and displaying it to the spectators on site and on TV? Is this immediate and solely determined by the technology or do you have to consult photos first and a judge takes a decision?
Hans Gubler: In the case of Athletics and Cycling the winner’s time is displayed immediately (sub-second) on scoreboards and TV. The official time for the winner and all other athletes is read from the photo finish pictures and transferred into the results system as they are read. This process is a matter of a few seconds, unless there is a tie where careful analysis of the picture is required. In Swimming the times are officially recorded by the touch pads at the end of the pool.

urbanTick: Do you think different times exists, take place or could be constructed?
Hans Gubler: I think time could take place at a different level perhaps combined with space. There could also be different time levels that are still unknown to us.

Image by Hans Gubler / Olympic Summer Games Beijing 2008 – Athletics, Timing Room.

urbanTick: Would you say that there is something like a time legacy? In some sense one could argue that the times measured for the Olympics live on in the record books for generations of athletes to try and compete. What is the importance of the times in the context of the Olympics but also in general?
Hans Gubler: The legacy of times/records can be regarded as milestones for other athletes to live up to. They serve as comparison data to the media (press and TV/radio commentators). Times and records from the past also reflect the development of sports and increase in performance. A famous, if not the most famous, record was probably Bob Beamon’s 8.90m in long jump during the Mexico 1968 Olympics. The record was only broken by Mike Powell with the distance of 8.95m in 1991.

urbanTick: You have lived in a lot of different countries, following the Olympic circus. Can you describe differences in time perception, usage or keeping from your experience?
Hans Gubler: There is definitely a difference of time perception depending on peoples’ culture and mentality. A big difference I experienced between the Mediterranean (Athens) way of thinking (rather casual approach to managing time) versus the Chinese (Beijing) way of time approach (nothing is left unplanned, no surprises). The difficulty for us came with the former approach leaving little space for errors (planning, testing). Interestingly the former approach also meant more flexibility whereas the latter was much more rigid.


In an interview series urbanTick is looking closely at meaning and implications of time in everyday life situations. In the form of dialogs different aspects are explored, with the idea to highlight characteristics. The main interest is circling around the construction and implementation of different concepts of time between independent but related areas of activity, such as leisure and work, private and public, reality and virtual. This interview series will not be continuous, but more adhoc, so you might want to use the interview tag to catch up with the rest.

Image by Hans Gubler / Olympic Summer Games Beijing 2008 – Athletics, Finish camera.

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Instead of a book review, for once this is a book promotion. My recent book (2010) Cycles in Urban Environments: Investigating Temporal Rhythms published by LAP is now available on amazon online. The content is based on my research work for my Masters Thesis at the Bartlett School of Architecture. In two parts this publication looks into temporal aspects of the urban environment, from individual movement to collective activities and observes cultural or socia constraints as well as possibilities. The second part of the book looks into possible applications in the context of a project for a floating city in the Thames Estuary.

Image by Fabian Neuhaus taken from Cycles in Urban Environment / Friday 07th, Cycles Memory, the London 7/7 Memorial.

Image by Fabian Neuhaus taken from Cycles in Urban Environment / Tuesday 04th, Cycles Season, Seasonal Life Cycles.

Published on: 2010-05-04, Original language: English, Binding: Paperback, 180 pages

Cycles in Urban Environment This book explores the appearance and impact of cycles in urban surroundings and, in a second stage, their potential for an urban proposition. Cycles appear in any part of life. Examples can be found in time, economics, environment or social activities. Cycles appear through a wide range of scales and often without referring to them. Investigating these patterns in a spatio-social context makes sense regarding urban planning and urban sustainability as well as from a theoretical point of view in the sense of a spatial-temporal concept. The first part, is designed as an observational study in an existing urban environemnt, where as the second part, is an application of some of the findings of part one in a proposal for a floating city in the Thames Estuary. Both elements are approached as one process and influence one another. Four included essays with a specific focus on a related topics help to set a wider context and guide the debate.

Neuhaus, F., 2010. Cycles in Urban Environments: Investigating Temporal Rhythms, LAP Lambert Academic Publishing.

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Physicist Albert-László Barabási, well known for his work on network theory, has tuned his attention in a recent paper to the human movement. In the latest issue of Science 19 February 2010
Vol 327, Issue 5968, his paper ‘Limits of Predictability in Human Mobility‘ reports the research work undertaken with 50’000 anonymized mobile phone user data.
Barabási has don a lot of work on networks as early as 1999 were he coined the term Scale Free Networks, describing a type of networks with major hubs, such as for example the world wide web. In his barabasilab at Northeastern University, Centre for Complex Network Research a number of network related project are researched.

Image taken from The University of Chicago / Diagram of a scale-free network that contains components with a highly diverse level of connectivity. Some components form highly interconnected hubs, while other components have few connections, and there are many levels of interconnectivity in between.

However in this recent work the focus is on the predictability of human movement. The authors say: “By measuring the entropy of each individual’s trajectory, we find a 93% potential predictability in user mobility across the whole base. Despite the significant differences in the travel patterns, we find a remarkable lack of variability.” The work was intended to close a gap in the approaches to modeling human behavior. Despite personally we rarely perceive our actions as random, the existing models are largely based on the factors of random movement. The paper demonstrated that even though the activities, distances and motivations for individual movement might be very divers and different the predictability of an individuals location is not. They all have very similar predictability values, ranging between 80 % and 92 %. AOL News titles their article on the work “Study Makes It Official: People Are So Predictable” implying that this must be soooo boring.

Image taken from AOL News / These diagrams represent the movements of two mobile phone users. The one on the left shows that the person moved between 22 different cell towers during a three-month period, and placed 52 percent of his calls from one area; the other subject hit 76 spots, and was much less rooted.

This might be very surprising news for most people. The fact that there is so much less changing and spontaneity might seem unrealistic, but a similar impression was given by the data collected with the UrbanDiary project last year. Even though this was a really small sample, the fact that individuals travel most of the time along their known routes, between only a few hot spots clearly emerged. This can also be seen visualised in the What Shape are You? renders. Also Hagerstand’s work pointed in to this direction arguing that the ‘Constraints’ are too strong for too many out of rhythm activities.
Barabási already undertook similar work with mobile phone data in 2008, which war published as an article in nature, by Gonzalez MC, Hidalgo CA, Barabasi A-L. with the title ‘Understanding individual human mobility patterns’. In this article they analysed data of 100’000 mobile phones. Was the media coverage back then (two years) very much concerned about privacy issues related to the data source, for example NYTimes is this less of an issue. Nevertheless it is obvious that the researchers try to play it save by mentioning about ten times in the article that they work with anonymized data.
The argument is largely the same in both articles and the finding too. In both papers the researchers show their surprise about the outcome, that the movement can be predicted. However to my surprise they stick to their study and do not draw any strong links to routines and rhythms of personal habits. You can listen to a podcast where Barabási talks about this research.
In the more recent paper they conclude “At a more fundamental level, they also indicate that, despite our deep-rooted desire for change and spontaneity, our daily mobility is, in fact, characterized by a deep-rooted regularity.”
I believe that the former, spontaneity, is very much a cultural phenomenon similar to the urge to stay young. The later, regularity, is the provider of identity and orientation resulting in stability and safety and therefor fundamental to human everyday life. Interesting should be Barabási’s upcomming new book Burst on “The Hidden Patterns Behind Everything We Do”.

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