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Tag "narrative"

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

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I am down in Plymouth today at University to give a lecture at the School of Architecture, Design and Environment with the title Narrative and Time. I have put together elements of my current research work to explore the aspects of the narrative as a specific aspect of time as well as an tool to visualise time. The idea of the story plays an increasing importance in my work. It came up through the tracking project UrbanDiary and now plays an important role in the latest work on Twitter and the Tweet-O-Meter, where the stories old start the spatial investigation.
With this presentation the focus is on the everyday, the ordinary and how we are involve or selves in daily stories as we navigate the passage of time in space. The second part of the presentation focuses on examples of how a narrative can directly be employed for a project. The simpler the story the better and the more powerful the pictures painted. Examples are Senones, a revitalisation project for a small former industrial ‘city’ in France. Where three character played the lead role to explain and illustrate four future scenarios for the valley. Also the Nearness clip, as an interpretation of the ‘Ein Lauf der Dinge’ by Fischli und Weiss. Or there is also the BluDot chair tracking project, furniture stories in New York.

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I am down in Plymouth today at University to give a lecture at the School of Architecture, Design and Environment with the title Narrative and Time. I have put together elements of my current research work to explore the aspects of the narrative as a specific aspect of time as well as an tool to visualise time. The idea of the story plays an increasing importance in my work. It came up through the tracking project UrbanDiary and now plays an important role in the latest work on Twitter and the Tweet-O-Meter, where the stories old start the spatial investigation.
With this presentation the focus is on the everyday, the ordinary and how we are involve or selves in daily stories as we navigate the passage of time in space. The second part of the presentation focuses on examples of how a narrative can directly be employed for a project. The simpler the story the better and the more powerful the pictures painted. Examples are Senones, a revitalisation project for a small former industrial ‘city’ in France. Where three character played the lead role to explain and illustrate four future scenarios for the valley. Also the Nearness clip, as an interpretation of the ‘Ein Lauf der Dinge’ by Fischli und Weiss. Or there is also the BluDot chair tracking project, furniture stories in New York.

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We have been logging Twitter activities in the London area (M25) over an earlier weekend in January with some code Steven Gray has put together. The idea was to log the location based traffic and see what the mapping of it would bring. There are a number of twitter mapping projects out there already, for example twittermap.tv from where the timeLapse of the weekend activity was captured HERE, or the first big mapping project twittervision.com. However, we wanted to focus on a local region, a city, to see what the traffic is and how the location might play a role. The traffic visualisation page tweeTOMeter is part of this interest.

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Image by UrbanTick / Screenshot of Twitter data visualised in GeoTime’s space-time aquarium.

One could think of this investigation as following the urban story quite literally, while following the tweets of citizens. However it is quite tricky to make sense of it all. The dataset for the weekend, which covers Friday evening to Monday morning contains some 300’000 tweets. Not all of them are properly geo referenced. Only 1’700 have actual Lat/Long information in the geo tag field. Furthermore some 60’000 have Lat/Long details in their profile tag field and the ret only has a generic profile location, such as London. This probably is because of the relatively new geo support of the Twitter API. Most users still seem to have little interest to include their actual location, as well as a lot of the applications do not yet properly support the format. Interesting seems to be the network. Whom are tweets directed at? It seems to be quite a high average of direct tweets, almost 3 per message. Also who will actually read it, how many followers are there in average?
Working with the real geo referenced tweets, surprisingly they contain quite a bit of movement.
For a quick look at the data it has been visualised in GeoTime. The representation in the time-space aquarium makes the diagonal lines, that suggest movement, very distinguishable from the vertical stationary lines. While looking at the replay in the 2D view the weekend really comes to life and London gets busy.

Similar visualisation, with snippets and names, but without the river Thames, can be fund HERE.
GeoTime here really offers a powerful and very quick way of visualising the data in space and time and offers a whole pallet of different visualisation types, each including a set of tools for analysis and manipulation. Import comes either via ARCGIS or even quicker excel.
The main problem really is the quality of the graphics, the design of the result. Here the user has hardly any choice or possibilities to manipulate anything from colour palette to line style or font. This is a bit annoying especially because the tool is kind of an end of the line analysis tool, after you have prepared the data elsewhere.
The second quick one goes into Google Earth obviously. Here the data again comes from a simple excel spread sheet with a VB macro to write the KML file. This literally takes 5 seconds to do and you have a KML file, including time tags in Google Earth.
This one only plays the locations though, also in a time window of some six hours.

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The busy twitter service never sleeps. I was not sure about this and so I wanted to test it. Over the weekend the activity on the tweet mapping service twittermap.tv was recorded and here we have now a timeLapse of the activity. And actually, twitter does not sleep!
It is busy all the way round the weekend.
Twittermaps the location of the outgoing tweets according to the geoLocation. However there is a bit of confusion at the moment what this actually is. The information was only recently introduced by twitter and is not used very much by users and developers. So there i a workaround in place. twitter codes via Google the location saved in the profile of the twitter user and adds this as a geoLocation. Similar the actual geoLocation field also updates the location of the profile, so a lot of confusion around this at the moment.
Because of this most of the tweets in this visualisation come from central London, Westminster, around the House of Parliament. This is because this is Google’s geoLocation for ‘London’. The blue lines that start cluttering up the screen are @tweets, directed at another user.
If you have been tweeting over the weekend it is very likely that you find the message in the clip some where, check the clock on the top right corner. If you happen to spot your tweet in the clip, drop me a line.

Music Cerberus Engine by Klez on mp3unsigned.com

The clip is produced via a screen grab tool, that would capture the map about three times a second, e.g. 3fps. Tools for this are available online for example SnapzPro or screenFlow. More software for the mac can be found at pure-mac. This is then either put together, if a real timeLapse, or processed in the software if a video. For clips a low frame rate is advisable, most likely you don’t want to watch the whole weekend in real time. You process the raw material, in my case with 3fps it ended up being some 20 GB, to fit a clip with 25 or 30 fps. The processing brings it down to some 9 GB, in my example. To speed it up you need some video processing software. Take iMovie or Premiere, I was using QuickTime Pro, I love the tool. There is no simpler way to speed up the clip. Simply copy all, and past and fit to a five minute clip.
As a nice feature to visualise the time passing I have placed a desktop clock in the frame. This gives a good indication of time and speed.

We have currently the twitter virus her at CASA. The content mining started with the CASA version of the ukSnow map, the iPhone signal strength map and we are developing some more tools – coming soon.

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We life in a fast world and a visual world. Information is consumed anytime everywhere. Information and with it knowledge has become one of the worlds resource. The battle around it is mainly about the visualisation.
In a stunning publication Nai Publishers have dedicated a book to one of the founders of our contemporary understanding of visualisation. Don’t worry if you haven’t known him before very few actually have. His name is Otto Neurath. The book with the title ‘Otto Neurath – The Language of the Global Polis‘ by Nader Vossoughain tells the story of this Austrian sociologist who did not fear any topic or occupation to follow his interest. Neurath is an incredible vital and versatile scholar, practitioner, politician, theoretician, developer or craftsman. What we maybe don’t know is his work, but remarkably it feels somewhat familiar, as if we’d known it.

Image by Otto Neurath, taken form gis and science where you can find a collection of Neurath’s illustrations.

The publication is in the tradition of Nai publishers a truly nice designed piece and it has this surprising twist to it, it is a hardcover but in the form of a paperback, I love it.
The book redraws Neurath’s life along his work and engagements. It puts a special focus on his collaborations with well known figures of his time, such as Le Corbusier or Corneis Van Eesteren. The later’s work was also currently published by Nai Publishers in the book ‘The Functional City‘ also reviewed on urbanTick (1, 2). The author has chosen to structure the book along three major topics under which Neurath’s work can be organised, community, democracy and globalism. It gives a good sense of the broadness of Neurath’s work and involvement. However it can be confusing as this structure is not chronological, but the content is still based on his life. So duplication and repetition can no be avoided. Nevertheless this also has an upside and can for the observant reader lead to some hidden ‘Pulp Fiction’ moments, were the same situation is seen from different vantage points.

Image by Gerd Arntz u. Otto Neurath, Collection International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam taken from artnews / Mengenvergleiche.

The title of the book basically already hints at most of the aspects of Neurath’s work. The ‘language’ points to Neurath’s work on a ‘language of symbols’ making knowledge and information accessible to all and with it empowering everyone to take part in social and political discussions and decisions. ‘Global’ has to be read in the sense of everyone, Neuraths vision as described in the book at a number of occasions really was to reach everyone, especially making data accessible to underprivileged groups of society. ‘Polis’ finally summarises Neurath’s interest for the city, settlement or aspects of spatial organisation of society in general. This is, as you have guessed, at the same time summarised the three chapters in a nutshell.

Image taken from the book ‘Otto Neurath – The Language of the Global Polis’ (p 64) / “Neurath felt that cut-outs allowed the masses to feel as though they were participating in the production of knowledge, which was central to his philosophy of reform in general”

But be aware the book is a lot richer and if it were a thriller the many twists and bends would be highlighted. And really this is what it is, because it is modelled on Neurath’s life there are jobs and projects that just didn’t work out, especially in connection with the war and other dramatical political changes in Europe at the time. Neurath seemed to have been involved in almost all of them. So don’t miss the section with his detailed biography that is attached towards the end. Together with the index, a section on detailed notes and epilogue a this is a publication that leaves little to desire.

In 2008 there was also an exhibition at Stroom den Haag on Otto Neurath curated by Nader Vossoughain. A lot of the content i still accessible on line, including a video interview with the curator.



The modern day version of Neurath’s icons or isotyes can be for example found at AIGA, the professional association for design, at the Isotype Institute or seen in use for a chart visualising the war in Iraq by the NYTimes.

As seen, still today, some will claim even more so, the visualisation is the very big topic. Together with the computer and finally with the internet increasingly unbelievable amounts on data a created, recreated and shared. Large collections only now with the contemporary technology become accessible. Recently the public claimed successfully to free data sources and open them up for public access, e.g. data in the UK and London specifically –London data store. Not that the general public can handle or understand all this information but currently they have the power to put on enough pressure. But globally visualisation is the hot topic. In all areas but also specifically in politics a traditional field of facts argumentation.

Vossoughian, N., 2008. Otto Neurath – The Language of the Global Polis, Rotterdam: NAi Publishers.
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Kevin Lynch’s book ‘The view from the Road’ is on one hand a really interesting and straight forward investigation on how to describe and classify aspects of the city from a particular viewpoint. On the other hand it is also a beautiful narrative engaging with the subject. Aspects of mobility are important in the preliminary conception of urban narrative as a succession. Graham Shane points out that Foucault identified the ship as the heterotopia par excellence mainly because of its quality of mobility and time (Shane 2005, p.252). Shane introduces the narrative as: “Because of the increasing speed of travel and communications, the Picturesque landscape entered into the narrative of the journey and city”. A series of projects and investigations fit into this approach of the narrative. For one, this is John Brinckerhoff Jackson with ‘The stranger’s path’ (2000) where he describes the town from the perspective of an arriving stranger (male) and how the town is read as a sequence of elements resulting in a aggregated narrative. There is also, in the light of Brinckerhoff Jackson, the Venturi and Scott Brown investigation of a similar object, but from the perspective from behind the wheel of a car. The same is true of Kevin Lynch’s narrative in ‘The view from the road’ (Appleyard, Lynch. 1964). They all document the scenography and choreography of movement and flows within the city or town but also beyond and into the landscape. This to some extent could be called the narrative of the machine, in reference to the urbanMachine and the functional city.

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Image by Kevin Lynch, Donald Appleyard, – The View from the Road, detail -taken from chass.utotronto.ca

timeLapse of a road trip through Toronto
Toronto drive time-lapse from Adam @ Unit3 on Vimeo.

Appleyard, D., Lynch, K. & Myer, J.R., 1964. The View from the Road, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press for the Joint Center for Urban Studies of M.I.T. and Harvard University.

Jackson, J.B., 2000. The Stranger’s Path. In Landscape in Sight. London: Yale University Press.

Shane, D.G., 2005. Recombinant Urbanism: Conceptual Modelling in Architecture, Urban Design and City Theory, Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.

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Stories are part of the human identity and allow to deal with the aspects of time other than the immediate present. It provides a tool to communicate, express or invent activities beyond the here and now. This activity is directly linked with the construction of memory and ultimately leads to the creation of identity. The most common use of the story is probably the report or oral transported information, very much in the sense of tales, fables and myths. However in every field of our everyday life the narrative plays an integrated role. The same is true for science and practice. For a very long time and probably still is, the narrative is associated with an anti objective view and therefore needs to be overcome. Nevertheless a lot of fields have silently made great use of stories and the power to create stories. The media for example relies heavily on it. In this context, architecture might not be the most obvious field to also relay on stories. But it actually does and has always done, even in the context of modernist doctrines of absolute objectivity. Recently the topic has become more fashionably again and the narrative emerges as a new term to describe processes and creations. Probably the rise of methods, such as system theory and network theory, the story as a transformer of the process managed to gain importance again.
The new book ‘Architecture and Narrative’ by Sophia Psarra published by Routledge in 2009 is here trying to provide a conceptual foundation to the idea of the story in architecture. To do so, it heavily relays on built examples, who are examined and during the process a logical argumentation is developed to illustrate the viewpoint of the narrative in spatial arrangements. The book is structured in four parts and can be geographically be described as a journey from Greece to the United States with a stop over in England. Those locations coincide with the authors career. The examples then line up the Parthenon and the Erechtherion, the Barcelona Pavilion, the Sir John Soane Museum, the Natural History Museum London, ending with the MoMa in New York. However it not only relies on built examples, part two is examining examples in literature.
The idea of the book is described by the publisher as: “Looking at how meaning is constructed in buildings and how it is communicated to the viewer, this intriguing study will be of interest to anyone concerned with architecture and culture; from architects to museum specialists and exhibition designers.”

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Image by urbanTIck – Book front cover

The examples are examined in detail, piece by piece or by section of the narrative and then sequentially pieced back together. The examination covers a number of different areas a techniques. It does not relay solely on for example theory or literature on the subject. The argumentation is mainly constructed along spatial observations which makes the discussion interesting. For spatial investigations Psarra’s past association with Space Syntax shies through. The explanations as well as the illustrations relay heavily on concepts developed in the context of Space Syntax, such as the concept of the room connection description (was discussed on this blog HERE) or the concept of axial views. It does make sense in the context of the book, however it also creates paradox situations, as for example with the concept of reflexion in Sir John Soane’s Museum.
Nevertheless, I have read the book with a constant mental nod and a growing satisfaction. It provides a beautiful collection of examples together with structures or narrated examinations and release the reader with a ‘I wana go out and do my own observations on narrative now“ feeling. What more can you demand?
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Image by urbanTick – analysis drawings of a series of viewpoints inside the Sir John Soane Museum

Psarra, S., 2009. Architecture and Narrative: The Formation of Space and Cultural Meaning, Abingdon: Routledge.

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One of the main characteristics of the urban environment is the buzz. It is always busy and full of activity rendering any of your own actions anonymous. This is at the same time part of the attraction as a well as the disguise people feel towards the city. There i no escape from the urbanMachine. And right because this atmosphere is so familiar alterations to it usually create quite an impression. We have seen in it movies such as ‘28 days later’ or ‘I am legend’ where the urban area is emptied and single individuals stumble around in search for contact and survival. This works so beautifully because such a situation seems impossible without a major change as our experience tells us that because of the density of activity and the complexity of interrelated cycles it is impossible to hit a moment of silence and calmness in the buzzing city.
These moments are exactly what the photographer Matt Logue managed to capture. Los Angeles as it sleeps, Los Angeles as it is evacuated, Los Angeles at rest, Los Angeles at peace. The astonishing thing is that he managed to capture empty scenes not in close ups and parts, but in long distant shots and overviews. The scary bit are not the missing people, but the indication that activity could happen that doesn’t, like the traffic light that is still on, waiting for a car to come, or the empty swing on the playground, waiting for children to use it.
Matt has worked on this project he calls ‘empty L.A.’ for four years and has no published the result in a book with the same name. A tip for those who are interested, keep clicking on the main image on the book website and it will reveal loads of shots, even though some of them repeat. You can buy it and also get a good preview of the book on Blurb HERE.

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Image by Matt Longue

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Image by Matt Longue

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