Monday, 31 May 2010

GeoGOOOOOO - Icons on maps

Icons dominate the modern maps completely and with the comic style Google simplifications of symbols our ives have become very ordinary. There are currently some 166 Google standard symbols available in Google Earth and 91 in Google Maps. Of course there are projects to symbolise our worlds, where you an find replacements and additional material for Google Earth and Maps.

Image taken from Google Earth / Set of icons preinstalled with the software.

This domination of everyday live orientation has lead to some surprising and funny projects and reactions. One was the real world Google Maps location marker and now one that I just found as an online project by the artist collective Jodi.
'Jodi, or, is the duo of the artists Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans. They started creating artworks for the Web, later they also turned to software art and artistic computer game modification. Now, they have been in what has been called their "Screen Grab" period, making video works by recording the computer monitor's output while working, playing video games, or coding.'
Their website is a portal to the wold of mapping with Google Maps and Google Earth, a spinning, twirling and hopping approach. If previously the icons made you feel ridiculous this is heaven. It is a very fascinating visualisation?animation using web based mapping tools , on the other hand it is quite annoying and without context that one could start making sense of what is going on on the screen. In the end it really shows how these tools manipulated our daily experience. I like it.

Image taken from / A animated drawing on Google Maps on random locations. Click the image for the animated version.

The work I like best really are the rotating circle locations on Google Earth this definitely makes you feel dizzy after a while!

Image taken from / A map connecting and circling round structures in Brussels on the map. click image for the animated version. Click HERE for additional cities.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Book - Other Space Odysseys

Architecture is about space, about working with space. The way it is constructed is very earthy and not far from a clay hut human ancestors carved out of the soil. It stands up from the soil but is bound to earth by gravity, there is only one direction but down.
After 5000 plus years things changed on July 20, 1969. An estimated 500 million people watched on television how Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set their feet on the moon. I was a big step for the human race. A the ame time it was a big shift for architecture, all of a sudden things might not simply fall down, gravity might not be a line but a curve. These events deeply influence generations after the event. And this fact is once more celebrated and discussed in the new publication by Greg Lynn, Michael Maltzan and Alessandro Poli 'Other Space Odysseys' published by Lars Mueller Publishers. The book follows an exhibition at the CCA, the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal that is currently on, until the 06 September 2010. (If you are in Montreal or plan to go over the summer please let me hear your impressions.)
The timing is sort of great, is there a rising interest in space travel again these days. Also space tourism is currently taking shape.

image description
Image taken from Abitare / Alessandro Poli, Zeno incontra Aldrin a Riparbella (Zeno and Aldrin meet in Riparbella) © 2008, Archivio Alessandro Poli.

It is not them three guys riding on this wave, Gregg, Michael and Alessandro are riding a very different wave. They have really grown up with this fascination of the moon landing and Greg Lynn extensively details his memories of the event that took pace when he was four. Interestingly and at the ame time surprising the discussion and references are of then to what I knew as a child and how I imagined things as a child are brought up as explanations of interestes they now have a architects and designers. Surprising in so far as that this sort of implies a embossment of spatial thinking and concepts from early childhood. For not to dwell on this thought, there might be something to it.
Of course also a number of projects are presented. Lynn has done a number of projects referring or directly engaging with extraterrestrial structures. So for example the New City, discussed earlier on urbanTick or N.O.A.H (New Outer Athmospheric Habitat) for Joerg Tittel and Ethan Rhyker's 'Divide'. Lynn's role was do design these in space floating structures. Also te Superstudio film 'Architettura Interplanetaria' is par tof the discussion. There i of course a lot of talking about possible habitats outside of our planet and an interesting link could be made to the beautiful project 'Globus Cassus' by Swiss architect and artist Christian Waldvogel, another Lars Mueller Publishers book.
The book in essence presents one or two projects by each 'team' member as well as an interview with each. This opens a discussion that is not new, but has once more a very up to date touch. Very much in the sense it is more than once remarked the space explorations and science experiments are as a much about outer space and the moon as they are about our planet earth. As is quoted in the introduction "By 1969 Buckminster Fuller already understood that unless you are "a cape Kennedy capsuler", you coud not have a comprehensive view of earth. Suddenly the ability to see new approaches to global problems and devise different solutions was possible by seeing the planet in its totality. Refering to the famous blue marble - Earth rise on the moon photograph taken by William Anders on Christmas Even 1968.
The book is an interesting revival to rethink architecture after the space age and with not just the option down.

Borasi, G., Zardini, M. & Architecture, C.C.F., 2010. Other Space Odysseys: Alessandro Poli (Superstudio), Michael Maltzan and Greg Lynn, Lars Müller Publishers, Baden.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Maps - World Views

The current map exhibition at the Britsh Library is still on and it is big, really big. There are far more examples and beautiful maps than I had expected. However I was a bit disappointed that there are exclusively old maps, apart from a few contemporary artists takes on mapping. The exhibition manages a few things, it brings together a large collection of very old maps, covering the past 500 years. It presents scientific aspects of mapmaking as well as cultural and social aspects. In fact there is a strong emphasis on the cultural aspect of maps, how they comunicate and manifest wealth and status. In this sense they are presented less in a scientific sense but an cultural. Maybe this explains the absence of modern maps and the presence of artists impressions.
For me the fascinating aspect of the exhibition are the many different roles maps have played and the much more holistic approach to map making cartographers applied in these early days. The rich illustrations the additional informations around the outside the characters that were as important as the symbols. Compared to this richness the clean and 'objective' maps of today apear really boring.
One of the most beautiful maps in the exhibition is Diogo Homem's 'A Chart of the Mediterranean Sea, 1570. A map of the Mediterranean only showing the shorelines, in a very imaginative abstraction decorated with colours and gold.
Another impressive object is the Hereford Mappa Mundi c1300. Its name meaning 'cloth of the world' and it is drawn on calf skin. The BBC documentarie discussed it at length. Fascinating is the way the map combines different times of past and present as well as eternity into the same picture. Also it combines knowledge and myths, believe and culture as elements of the same whole. In this sense it shows as much of the known as of the unknown and also presents the beginning as well as the end. This cyclical aspect ist the key to its power.

image description
Image taken from Wikipedia / Hereford Mappa Mundi, about 1300, Hereford Cathedral, England. A classic "T-O" map with Jerusalem at center and east toward the top. Find a version with description HERE.

At the heart of the map is Jerusalem and the main orientation is East. Of course this reflects a very christian world view but historically this is important. In temporal terms the map depicts events separated by hundreds of years. There are activities such as the Caesar sending out helpers to map the world, the Arche Noah and the crucifixion of Christ in the same image representing the history of the world. Outside the disc of the world additional scenes put it into context. There is judgement day at the top of the map and the passage to another world at the bottom of the world. Interestingly the disc of the world is fastened to the surrounding eternity by the letters M, O, R, S - latin for death. This all sits in the context of the late medieval world view, but surprisingly to me this represents a sort of inside out understanding of life, a sort of progress from the centre to the edge and beyond. This narrative approach to mapping was for me the exciting and surprising part.

I have to say immediately after seeing the exhibition I was a bit disappointed not to see the art of map making progress through to the current state. However the more I thought about it, the more I realised how much of the detail and additional aspects of old maps would have been distracted from by new maps purely focused on technology.
The BBC does present the topic on their website, the Beauty of Maps, in two parts of them one are the old maps and the other part are the modern maps. This includes for examples Google Earth or MapTube, a platform to create and share maps.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Afghan Conflict - Scenario Mapping

Predicting the future is a trade of its own. What the future holds has been a mysterie fascinating man kind since the early days. With predicting you can either get it right or wrong. The closest to the prediction probably comes the planning approach. This is applied widely in science and planning. A specific concept of scenario planning was developed in the 60's. The idea is to analyse the current situation and test possible future options. Along 'factual' parameters a solution corridor can be defined, within which the options can take place. Defining factors can be policies, time requirements or resources.

the Afghan Conflict, old 164cm x 70cm Print

Image taken from the Afghan Conflict / Detail. Stay or Leave?.

A very beautiful example of this technique was recently developed in the context of a Politikvisualisierung lecture in winter 2009/2010 at the Fachhochschule Potsdam. The Afghan Conflict is concerned with possible scenarios for the future of Afghanistan. The country is still in the prime light of the world as everyone follows the developments. The informations are often disconnected and mainly focused on military activities. To see some of the elements cleanly arranged and put in relation to one another makes it possible to orientate.

the Afghan Conflict, old 164cm x 70cm Print

Image taken from the Afghan Conflict / View of the print, old 164cm x 70cm Print.

"The Afghan Conflict - A Map of Possible Scenarios starts with the current Timeline, a single line on the map. Which then splits into more and more possible future scenarios currently discussed. The scenarios split and join, or lead to other ones according to events that may take place or decisions made. The design is pure and minimalistic, using only lines and typographic elements, which does not resemble the ugliness of a war, but helps understanding a complex structure of problems without being visually manipulated by polemic images."

The work is developed by Pierre la Baume, Karen Hentschel and Marc Tiedemann. They can be contacted via info [at] theafghanconflict .de
In the prezy below you can explore the resulting map in its totality.

Found via

Friday, 21 May 2010

Book - Cycles in Urban Environments

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.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Book - Radical Games, Never Trust a Hippie

The recent Book Radical Games: Popping the Bubble of 1960s Architecture by Lara Schrijver and published by NAi Publishers is looking back at the last century of architecture theory to formulate a new direction for craftmanshipt. Going from modernist theories to postmodernists to projective architecture Schrijver cals for an 'embedding of of speculations on fundamental societal questions in the material forms of architecture that allow a multiple reading independent of societal hierarchies and preconceptions.' [p.218] In the sense of Sennett's craftman she urges to connect the intellect with the action to move beyond a 'post-critical' approach.

Image taken from Radical Games / Title page with a suggestive illustration to get you thinking right from the start.

In short this is the conclusion of the book. But it is not about the end point, what maters is the process to get there and in this sense this is a book worth reading from beginning to end. A beautifully told and carefully narrated theory book, that will take you through a master lesson in architectural theory.
Schrijver is putting a focus on the work of three modernist critical groups to develop her position. This is to be seen of course in the recent revival of these 1960s' ideas. Seen for example in the recent debate on Ecological Urbanism.
The first are the Situationist International and their review of the twenthiest-century city. Here with a beautifully suggestive chapter title 'From the modernist Battlefield to the Situationists Playground.
The second are Venturi and Schott Brown with signs and symbols and the last is Archigram the London based group of architects, active between 1961 and 1974.
The structure of the book however is interestingly based on three different elements. The areas thought to be crucial here are the city, the image and technology. Those are identified by Schrijver as the main topics of criticism and resistance of modernism. And this is for me the interesting part of the book, it is not simply again a chronological review of the history, but a purpose built argumentation.
This book stands in a series of publications of young architects and architects theorists who really seem to develop a new perspective and with it start to shape a new position. See for example 'Grand urban Rues' by Alex Lehnerer or 'Subnature' by David Gissen.

For additional reviews see also Archidose and ArtBook.

Schrijver, L., 2009. Radical Games: Popping the Bubble of 1960s Architecture, Rotterdam: NAI Publishers.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

MyTime Interview - Kaidie and Life 3.0

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, privat and public, reality and virtual. This interview series will not be continuos, but more adhoc, so you might want to use the interview tag to catch up with the rest.


3rdlifeKaidie is the latest incarnation of artist/curator/educator Kai Syng Tan as part of her PhD research at the Slade School of Fine Art, University College London. Trained in London, Chicago and Tokyo, the diehard Singaporean posits herself as a traveller/tourist. Kai Syng’s interdisciplinary work has been shown in more than 40 cities (Guangzhou Triennale, Biennale of Sydney, ICA London). Kai Syng has won several grants and scholarships, residencies (NIFCA in Helsinki, Japan Foundation in Beppu), and awards (SFIFF merit award, Young Artist Award, Most Promising Young Artist Award). Kai is advisor in digital arts in panels in Singapore, and for 7 years, she was film lecturer and ran a Video Art degree programme. Her large-scale permanent artwork is on display in a central subway Station in Singapore.

Image by Kaidie / Time heals no wounds.

urbanTick: How does time pass in relation to your life of 1000 days?

3rdlifekaidie: Kaidie is alive from 12.12.2009 to the last day of the London Olympics, 09.09.2012. (Do note that the dates form a pseudo-pallindrome of sorts!) As we speak, Kaidie is already 150 days-old, and has only 850 days or 216,000 minutes left. Having a clear knowledge of one's duration Kaidie's existence all the more intense and augmented. It is in living a death sentence that one is compelled to question what one's priorities in life is. It is an extremely positive and focused experience, as Kaidie lives every minute to the fullest. Being a runner only accentuates this. Running echoes the speed at which technology is changing today. This technological rush and running both make Kaidie run out of breath. That said, she is not a sprinter.

Image by Kaidie / Every time Kaidie runs at the Regents Fark, she takes a reality and time check at the Bee Tee Tower.

urbanTick: Your life is constrained to 1000 days. How does 1000 days feel? The limitation probably is even more obvious compared to something that lasts longer. What do you measure the passage of your life against?
You are talking about living life to the limit, experienceing it intense and running. Is there a slow and a fast time?

3rdlifekaidie: 1000 days is both tortuosly long and terribly short. What could be accomplished in 1000 days? For Kaidie, she has to find the Meaning of Life 3.0 (with)in/before time runs out. Is 1000 days long enough for that? Or is it too thinned out? 800 or 8000 days is still not feel sufficient for one to heal the wound of a dead memory; 1 day is 1 too many to go cold turkey on an addiction/obsession/obscure object of desire; every minute of every single day is a new discovery, a new beginning for a baby. Running 42km for 5 hours seems a little preposterous; 'hanging out' with a loved one for the same duration seems too short, as one always yearns (futilely) to 'spend the rest of one's life' with an other. Kaidie rejects any notion of eternity and permanence (if there is one thing that is remotely 'forever', it is the notion of changeableness). Instead, Kaidie plunges into the moment of the now/here, and lives like all tommorow's parties (and funerals) are right now.

As Kaidie traverses between the real and virtual worlds, she measures her time against the calender in real life. Taking the cue from one of her favourite performance artists Teh-Ching Hsieh and his 1-year performances, Kaidie cannot cut her hair for 1000 days. Well, most of her hair. It would be rather unbecoming to appear excessively Neanderthal, would it not.

Image by Kaidie / Kaidie's Meaning of Life 3.0

urbanTick: Is it important to be on time? What is you strongest time experience?

3rdlifekaidie: Of course it is important to be on time - especially given that Kaidie has such a short lifespan of all of 1000 days only. Not to add that it is incredibly rude to keep someone else waiting – unless one intends to offend the other party, in which case it works rather well. One of Kaidie’s stronger time experiences so far was when she took part in the 10km charity run for the Friends of Medecins Sans Frontieres. She split up the workload with her Facebook friend, Kailives, and managed to complete the race in half her usual time. Another instance was when she was advised by her reader to 'look for love' in her Life 3.0. Being so short of time, she went on a speeddating session. However, she found nothing. Maybe such things need more time? Perhaps she will learn in time to come.

3 rounds painful 1st 4km, switched on only from KingsX by urbantick at Garmin Connect - Details
Image by Kaidie / 3 loops around Regent’s Fark

urbanTick: The clock time is everywhere on planet earth different, how would you describe the current time of the planet globally? In a rather global sense, how would you define time?

3rdlifekaidie: Time is process, journey, running, goes on, does not stop, goes on in spite of, change, memory, experience, imagination, fantasy, learning, not learning, wounds, healing, not healing, life goes on, in spite of.

urbanTick: I always presumed the virtual world to be a replication of the real world. You are spending a lot of time in the virtual world. Can you explain what the terms 'space and 'time' mean in life 2.0?
Are you using a specific definition of time in each of the worlds, and if so how do you translate it?

3rdlifekaidie: Where Kaidie is, in Life 3.0. Life 3.0 is the tactic of the dérive in the ma (in between) of Life 1.0 and Life 2.0. It occurs in a dimension in which space and time are ‘mutually responsive’, in a ‘chaotic, mixed condition’.

Typical of cultures that view life as cyclical and temporal, ma appears to be imprecise according to Western paradigms, adhering to the exasperating ‘oriental’ logic of ‘contradiction’.[ii] Ma, which refers to ‘an "interval" between two (or more) spatial or temporal things and events,[iii] departs from the Cartesian expression of space-time as a ‘homogeneous and infinite continuum’. That ma encapsulates in its meaning the notions of both time and space can be seen in compound terms such as time (jikan), and space (kuukan). Instead of being ‘abstracted as a regulated, homogenous flow’, time was believed to exist ‘only in relation to movements or spaces’[iv] in Japan. Noh actor Komparu Kunio admits the ambiguity and power alike of the single term ma:

Because it includes three meanings, time, space, and space-time, the word ma at first seems vague, but it is the multiplicity of meanings and at the same time the conciseness of the single word that makes ma a unique conceptual term, one without parallel in other languages.[v]

Cyberspace, one of the components of Life 2.0 in the discussion, is itself an unstable and still-untamed site. The ‘nonspace of the mind’ [vi] is a site of ‘consensual hallucination’. [vii] It is also ‘the ether that lies inside and occupies the in-betweens of all the computers’[viii]. Superimposing the notion of dérive to that of ma as ‘space between’ [ix], ‘time between’[x] and space-time-between[xi] Life 1.0 and Life 2.0, Life 3.0 is the restless travelling in between space, travelling in between time, as well as travelling in between the space and time between space and time.

[i] Isozaki, Arata, and Ken Tadashi Oshima, Arata Isozaki (Phaidon Press, 2009), p. 157.
[ii]Daniel Charles, ‘Bringing The Ryoan-Ji To The Screen’, Taka Iimura homepage , accessed 21 November 2009.
[iii] Pilgrim, Richard B., ‘Intervals ("Ma") in Space and Time: Foundations for a Religio-Aesthetic Paradigm in Japan.’ History of Religions 25, no. 3, February 1986, p. 255.
[iv] Isozaki and Oshima, 157.
[v] Isozaki and Oshima, p. 158
[vi] William Gibson, Neuromancer, new edition, Voyager, 1995.
[vii] Gibson.
[viii] Sardar Z. & Ravetz J.R., 1995. From Martin Dodge, ‘Cybergeography’, Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design 28(1) 1-2, 2001 , accessed 4 January 2010.
[ix] Pilgrim, p. 255.
[x] Pilgrim, p. 255.
[xi] Isozaki and Oshima, p. 158

Image by Kaidie / Kaidie Running for her lives (after Muybridge)

urbanTick: At work you run, well you are running all the time, how do you relate to time while you run? Is there a backup system if the timing fails?

3rdlifekaidie: Rather than a static condition, Life 3.0 is a verb of action, of restless running in between Life 1.0 (physical reality) and Life 2.0 (realm of imagination, and Web 2.0). Kaidie runs, albeit slowly, as her race is a marathon of her life journey. Any marathon is a test of one’s physical as well as mental stamina. In any long-distance run, there are ups and downs. Kaidie gets her fair share of ‘runner’s highs’. When this happens, time (and space) are not of any consequence. However, when Kaidie hits the walls, or runs with blisters and aches, time slows down, or even comes to a standstill. In times like these, Kaidie ploughs through, runs through the pain and moves on.

Image by Kaidie / Permanence/transience/forevers/nows/what nexts

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Constrained City - the Pain of Everyday Life

The urban context directly shapes our experience of the city. As we make our way down to the bus stop the sun rays falling through the leave canopy bouncing on the shiny metall of the railing burn an image in your memory and evoke a smile on your lips. Breathing can be difficult down below underground in a full tube carriage, while trying not to fall over and clinging on to a handle. In the evening the feet burn from walking for miles across the tarmac. An still while closing the eyes the pattern of walkway slabs disappearing beneath the steps flicker by your eyes while lying in bed.
Exploring the city as a flaneur in the sense of the Situationist's can multiply these experiences. And this body city interaction has been subject to a number of investigations in different disciplines from architects, planner, geographers and artists. How does this excitement, pain or tiredness visualise? How does the city inscribe its extension on the human body?
In the bio mapping work of Christian Nold the excitement was registered via a Galvanic Skin Response and later plotted on a map.

Image by Gordan Savicic taken from / The resulting marks on the artist's body as  record of the network activity.
Image by Gordan Savicic taken from / The resulting marks on the artist's body as record of the network activity.

In the project “The pain of everyday life” the artist Gordan Savicic goes a step further and directly 'inscribes' the parameters on the human body as an intensified transformation. His responsive fetish corset translates urban communication network signals into physical compression. The wearer is squeezed according to the signal strengt of surrounding WI-FI access points. Depending on the area this can feel quite squashed.
'A chest strap (corset) with high torque servo motors and a WIFI-enabled game-console are worn as fetish object. The higher the wireless signal strength of close encrypted networks, the tighter the corset becomes. Closed network points improve the pleasurable play of tight lacing the performer‘s bustier.'(
The resulting pain map is recorded and can be rendered into a general tourist city map. A set of maps are available, but more interesting might be the experience of accelerated sensing.

Friday, 14 May 2010

City Life - Drama

A nice timeLapse clip with very dramatic music composed together by Constantin Philippou. It is just another taken on the city thing, but the soundscape makes this an intense portrait of everydayLife with some touching behind the (City) scenes moments. So turn your headphones up.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Design, Time and a New City

The general discussion around Ecological Urbanism or Sustainability in an urban context is very often not about design. It is about technical aspects, about technology and science. Very much in the sense that Kiril Stanilov pointed out in his post, planning but also the design of are focused on the implementation of technology. Stanislov points out that his was the invention of the modernist movement and it changed the city dramatically. But is also poses the question of what roe can design play now? And to actually play a role again it needs to move beyond acting as a mere container for technology. Clever cities in the sense of computers might be fun for computer scientists but in terms of everyday life and spacial experience there might be little gain. This current discussion here on urbanTick has beside the post by Annick Labec on the Architecture of R&Sie not featured this aspect enough and in a second instalment of this discuss there would need be to focus more clearly on the design aspects. This is not to say that technology doesn't matter, quite the opposite, but it has to be put in a context or better a network.
The Atom is the past. The symbol of science for the next century is the dynamical Net. The Net is the archetype displayed to represent all circuits, all intelligence, all interdependence, all things economic and social and ecological, all communications, all democracy, all groups, all large systems [Kevin Kelly, Out of Control in Richard Rogers, edited by Phillip Gumuchdjian, Cities for a small planet, page 146].
Similar to the design aspect, time, features very little in the debate. Already the concept of past present and future is applied in a very limited sense. Usually learning form the past means to borrow ideas and implement them in the present. Retro doesn't apply to the current environmental problems we have today, the condition have changed dramatically in the last forty years. But also much shorter time scales do not yet play an important enough role in the city. The complete infrastructure is designed to cope throughout with peak flows, even though most of the day the general use is half or less of this amount. The importance of flows and networks as discussed by Duncan Smith play the important part here. Again infrastructure of flows is a product defined largely by the modernist concept of the city and it would be very interesting to discuss new emerging concepts of an integrated approach.
This is then in a next step also very much dependant on scale and for an Ecological Urbanism to be effective it has to cover aspects throughout the different scales. This I believe is a very positive thing though, because it brings disciplines closer together and highlights the relationships between the scales. This requires the planning to become more dynamic and the old categories have to be reshaped into dynamic categories. This is especially interesting regarding social aspects of an Ecological Urbanism. In a distinct post, DPR has pointed out the importance of the social apexes. Through out the social scales from society, to neighbourhoods and groups to individuals everyone plays a role. Since sustainability is something everyone is involved, as Luis Suarez has discussed, the city requires everyone to take part it has the potential to transform the relationship and define it anew. It could become a tool to overcome the dogma of the machine city, the city that serves, the city as an infrastructure and free the citizen from being a user. And under the title used by Stanza for his contribution this could create the 'Emergent City'. A new relationship under the aspect of an Ecological Urbanism could see the people becoming an active element in the urban context with attributed capacity of creation and decision and lead to a more engaged and participatory urbanism, were responsibility could have a meaning again.
To archive this involvement education has to be part of the plan. Sustainability is to some extend a question of education and knowledge. To understand things in such a way, of course there is education needed. I don‘t think it is an accident that sustainability appears together with a systemic understanding of the world in the early seventies of the last century. The discovery of the system description enables to become aware of action impacts and raises the key questions of sustainability.
The first satellite picture from outer space in 1959 gave these new thoughts an image. The whole world could look at it self and capture the finiteness of our living room. And it is maybe still the most powerful image to support all activities around sustainability. Sustainability is also about images > Spaceship Earth [in Fuller, R.B., 1982. Critical Path 2nd ed., St. Martin's Griffin.] as Martin Callanan has beautifuy illustrated with his work 'A Planetary Order'.

Image taken from / The earth from outer space.
Image taken from / The earth from outer space.

It is not about one field of action where sustainability haste to take place in such a manner. First, sustainability has to take place through all scales up to a global level in all fields. Every action is embedded in a system of elements, relations and impacts; every action has to be taken in awareness of this fact. Every action matters through all the scales. But all partners need to be on the same level of understanding. Sustainability is also about equal rights. If you want to build solutions for the future and have people working with you, every citizen has to understand the system very well. You have to have a commitment with simplicity. Every child should know the design of his or her own city. They should design the city even, because if you can design the city you can understand the city. If you understand the city, you will respect the city [Jaime Lerner on public transport in Mau, B., Leonard, J. & Boundaries, I.W., 2004. Massive Change, Phaidon Press. Page 59].

I would like to thank the people who contributed to this now closing series of posts on the topic of Ecological Urbanism very much for their participation. Those are, in order of appearance: Duncan Smith, Luis Suarez, DPR-Barcelona, Annick Labecca, Martin John Callanan, Stanza, Kiril Stanilov.
It has been produced on very short notice and contributors have reacted enthusiastic and thanks to them this series of post turned out so well.
The topics discussed have provided many insights and have stimulated especially in cross combination a wider range of thoughts. In this sense and with the topics in mind that were highlighted by the debate as in need of more attention I am please to announce that a second instalment of the discussion of Ecological Urbanism is in planning and should take place in two month time. With this we are for now closing the contributions on this invited series on Ecological Urbanism on urbanTick. In the mean time please leave comments and suggestions, it would be great if we could extend the discussion further. If you are interested to contribute in the next format, please drop me a note and we can work out the details.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Ecological Urbanism - Redesigning the City 2.0

Spearheaded by the current energy, financial, and climate crises the sustainability agenda has called upon planners, architects, and urban designers to rethink profoundly the ways in which we build our cities. This, however, is not the first time when modern society is faced with such an imperative. Roughly one hundred years ago, in the beginning of the twentieth century, the explosive growth of cities during the industrial era posed a similarly overwhelming challenge. Thus, before we embrace wholeheartedly and without reservations the new emerging paradigm of sustainable design, it is worthwhile to consider the historical experience of western society when faced previously with the heroic task of redesigning the city.

The unprecedented rate of urbanization in Europe and North America towards the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries, produced a number of severe urban problems related to congestion, overcrowding, pollution, and public health. The western civilization produced two strategies for addressing these issues. The first one was an instinctive response based on the idea of decentralization. Thus, over the course of the twentieth century, the processes of suburbanization were effectively fuelled by a confluence of economic, cultural, and political forces stretching the boundaries of cities to engulf ever-greater patches of their surrounding landscapes. The second response to the challenges of rapid urbanization was based on the principles of the emerging modernist movement, putting its faith in the application of science and technology as a way of combating all social ills and advancing society forward into a new era of universal progress. In the context of city planning, this line of thinking called for massive reorganization of the urban fabric with the goal of increasing the efficiency with which cities performed their functions.

Image taken from Integrated Sustainable Design / In North America, more and more of the landscape is being converted to what has been called the wildland-urban interface, where urban sprawl takes over natural landscapes, as seen in this aerial view of the expansion of Albuquerque, New Mexico into the surrounding desert landscapes.

During the twentieth century, the two strategies (suburbanization and modernization) were applied simultaneously throughout the western world. The market-driven economies placing emphasis on suburbanization, and the central command-driven societies emphasizing modernization defined the two extremes of this range. It should be noted that to a great extent, both of these strategies achieved their goals. They reduced overcrowding, rationalized and improved the delivery of urban services, and offered to a great share of urban residents better quality housing (both in the form of suburban homes and high-rise urban dwellings) compared to the slums and squatters of the nineteenth century industrial city. However, both of these strategies created their own set of urban problems, which became very obvious toward the end of the century. The fallacy of modernist planning (the separation of uses leading to the demise of urban vitality) and the negative social, economic, and environmental impacts of urban sprawl are extensively documented in urban literature and need not be recounted here.

The point that I am trying to make is that we should examine very carefully the principles of sustainable urban design before it is too late to deal with its unintended consequences. I am afraid that efforts for such critical evaluation are still lacking or easily drowned in the euphoria of embracing the new green agenda. My main concern is that sustainable design principles, if they are too rigorously applied, can easily become a dogma that can threaten the most salient feature of cities – the intensity and richness of social interaction reflected in the complexity and richness of urban form. This can happen on several fronts and disturbing parallels could be drawn with the dawn of the modernist movement.

Image taken from / Le Corbusier, Plan Voisin, Paris 1935.

One of the most alarming overtones heard among the ranks of the most radical sustainability proponents is the notion that the severity of the environmental crisis, coupled with the needs of today’s profoundly transformed society, call for a complete redesign of the built environment. The rejection of the past and its structures is a familiar rallying cry of the modernist thinkers, best exemplified by Corbusier’s Plan Voisin. Luckily, most sustainability proponents exercise considerably more constraint in their public proclamations, but one is often left with the impression that appreciation of the existing urban fabric does not rank very high on the sustainability agenda.

Related to that is another point of concern deriving from the narrow interpretation of sustainability. Quite frequently, particularly during the last couple of years, sustainability is equated with minimising energy and resource use. I am afraid that applied to the urban realm, the dictate of resource efficiency can produce similar outcomes to those generated by the push for greater functionality which dominated modernist city planning during the previous century. Following such rationale, for instance, one can easily make the argument for the wholesale replacement of the energy inefficient historic housing stock of many cities around the world.

Another analogy between modernist and sustainability ideologists is their shared belief in technology as a main tool for accomplishing societal goals. This time around, the reinstatement of technology as a liberating force comes not in the form of a shiny machine, but as a delicate organic membrane wrapped around the body of the building, a network of sensors draped over the city governing the self-regulation of its interlinked systems. The digital delirium of the twenty-first century has replaced the fetishism of the machine championed one hundred years ago.

Recently, the notion of flexibility and fluidity characterizing natural systems has been pulled in to serve as an inspiration of architectural and urban design. The fluency of space, both interior and exterior, has been emphasized as form-shifting buildings and nomadic public spaces adjust to the ever-changing requirements of a highly dynamic urban reality. The permanence of architecture and the built environment, one of the city’s most reassuring psychological traits, is replaced by an overly responsive environment eager to please the users in whichever possible way.

These are just a few thoughts, admittedly rather dark ones. Overall, I am rather skeptical of the ability of societies to learn from the past. Yet I hope that the experience from the attempts to redesign the city during the last century could bring some humility and insights to our efforts toward sustainable design.

This Guest post by Kiril Staniov forms part of the discussion in the urbanTick series on Ecological Urbanism.


Kiril Stanilov holds a Professional Diploma in Architecture from the University of Architecture, Civil Engineering and Geodesy, Sofia; a Master of Community Planning from the University of Cincinnati; and a PhD in Urban Design and Planning from the University of Washington. From 1998 to 2008 he was an Assistant and an Associate Professor in Planning at the University of Cincinnati where he taught courses in urban design, physical planning, and contemporary urbanization.
Kiril Stanilov’s research interests are centered on explorations of contemporary patterns of urban growth and change, and the role played by public policies in shaping urban form transformations.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The Emergent City

The city experience is a web of connected networks and multi layered threaded paths that condition us to the emotional state of the city space. In essence, the city fabric is a giant multi user multi data sphere. To take part you really have to put something back in, that's like life. In this case, to take part you have to input data so others 'may' see the output of the data response. One day we all be tracked, our ID in our passports with rfid chips, implants in our arms and new software in skies. One day aliens will arrive and having heard our call they will eat us. One day, one day…….one thing is for certain things do change.

The Mother of Big Brother

Imagine walking out the door, and knowing every single action, movement, sound, micro movement, pulse, and thread of information is being tracked, monitored, stored, analyzed, interpreted, and logged. The world we will live in seems to be a much bigger brother than the Orwellian vision, its the mother of big brother.
Can we use new technologies to imagine a world where we are liberated and empowered, where finally all of the technology becomes more than gimmick and starts to actually work for us or are these technologies going to control us, separate us, divide us, create more borders. Will the securitzation of city space create digital borders that monitor our movement and charge us for our own micro movements inside the system.

Image by Stanza / Sensity on a round globe display tested at County Hall London (Live data on globe 2006)
Image by Stanza / Sensity on a round globe display tested at County Hall London (Live data on globe 2006)

Real time.

There is a argument to opening up the level of control and responsibility in the system. It is a good argument until something changes, the passwords change, the building goes private, and every single piece of data is used for something that it wasn't intended for. Some things change for the better but sometimes they don't; one thing is for sure; things change.

My focus is on the things that change, the flow, the data that describes our experience of the city as space. Data from all sides in systems that can be mediated by all, with varying visualizations communicated over the internet and represented onto different display systems. Recurring themes throughout my career include, the urban landscape, surveillance culture and alienation in the city. I am particularly interested in real aspects of the city. Although there are theoretical aspects to my work my works is practise based……in other words I make stuff. It is through this process of research that I find my next questions.

Image by Stanza / Above image shows xml data from London and Copenhagen mashed up together to form a mixed merged city space. Stanza 2008
Image by Stanza / Above image shows xml data from London and Copenhagen mashed up together to form a mixed merged city space. Stanza 2008

My wireless sensor networks are set up to visualize cities as 'worlds' full of data, a city of bits. These new data-spaces can help us understand the fundamentals of our outside environment.

Image by Stanza
Image by Stanza

In Sensity I have visited ten world cities and made visualisations. This artwork is made from data that is collected across the urban and environment infrastructure ie from the city. My aim is to re-engage with the urban fabric and enable new artistic metaphors within city space. The sensors are positioned across the city. Custom made software now enables these sensors to communicate will one another in a network over a proxy server in real time. Control to the hardware is opened up. The data is then turned into online real time visualizations of the space.

This work opens up a discourse about networks and surveillance technologies. The ownership and interrogation of public domain space is opened out where anyone can view all the data in these networks. This work aim to reclaim the city which is remade as a real time virtualised space belonging to all.

Sensity can also be shown / exhibited as an installation and projected ie, making a display based on the net based interfaces using the data collected. Sensity can also installed permanently for a longer period in rural or urban space.

The changing data is what affects what you see and experience. The flash interfaces reflect these real time changes in the interactive city space. This is open source so other academics, urban designers, researchers as well as artists can make use of the data. The sensors monitor temperature, sounds, noise, light, vibration, humidity, and gps. The outputs from sensors are also visable on google maps. The social space is opened up into a real time flow space, a new virtualized data space emerges. see

Image by Stanza
Image by Stanza

Stanza Artworks using urban sensors.

A dynamic public sculpture viewable over the internet. House describes the space, a real Victorian terraced house, in this case, that the artist lives in. In “House”, the private interior has been made public. The sensor data unfolds and discloses the inherent properties of the space, creating an online artwork visualisation. The environment is disclosed and made public opened up and made transparent.

Gallery describes the space, in this case the upper gallery in Plymouth Arts Centre, England. Made during an artist in residency project in situ in the gallery space during feb 2008. "Gallery", is part of a series of process led experiments in data visualization within the context on an art gallery. Stanza asks, "what happens during the process of visiting the gallery as a dataspace"; ie what happens to the gallery and what do the visitor do? The gallery laid bare as a work of art. Gallery proposes that the data is art. The art is a real time flow of the things around us that allow our senses to invoke understanding. The gallery space becomes the art described by the shifts in light, temperature and noises in the space over time.

Field. Tree. Park. Lake.
A series of sonifications and visualisations of landscapes. The landscape becomes virtual, dynamic, and encoded. I am trying to disclose the underlying data that we see that is changing all the time in front of us. The sounds you hear are streams of data acquired and processed in custom made software from thirty motes sensors; this is changed into sounds. The squiggles or painterly stuff on the image is a response to the changing light, temperature, noise, humidity and pollution of the landscape....which is also fixed by its gps position.

Image by Stanza
Image by Stanza

Sonicity is a responsive installation, a sonification of the space. The system monitors the space (the building) and the environment (the city) and captures live real time data ( light , temperature, noise, humidity, position) to create an ambient sonification, an acoustic responsive environment, literally the sound of the micro incidents of change that occur over time. The interactions of all this data are re-formed and re-contextualised in real time as a audio experience. Hundreds of small speakers are wired together and an installation is made across the available space.

Image by Stanza
Image by Stanza

An installation responding to changes in the environmental data. There are electronic components all over the floor. (Fans, Lead, Soleniods, Motors) these move only in response to a wireless sensor network of 40 motes deployed in the gallery and across the environment. The light temperature, noise, humidity of the space and the city. As this data changes this wired city changes. That is the physical world is made virtual and them made real again. IE fans turn when the temperature changes, motors turn when the light changes. This whole piece is a living and breathing city. The real city captured made virtual and made real in another form.

Image by Stanza
Image by Stanza

An interactive responsive architecture linked to the culture of the AOF Nova building within the city of Trondheim, Norway. The objective is for the Nova building to become the focus and the centre of a new social space harvesting data and information from across the city. The facade presents the emotional real time state of the city by using live data and CCTV images to represent the Nova Building as a living breathing entity. Using custom made software the artist will interpret the data collected into the artworks that are incorporated into the display. Exciting use of the Texlon envelope can be integrated manipulate surface quality, with laminate LEDs allows the creation of envelopes of almost infinite visual variety and interest. The surface can be designed to capture projected light for displaying images, video or colour. Each layer can be engineered to transmit, reflect or scatter the image, enabling the full exploitation of the envelope to operate as a visual panorama.

Image by Stanza
Image by Stanza

Disclaimer - All rights reserved. The copyright for any material published on this website is reserved. Any duplication or use of objects such as images, diagrams and texts is not permitted without Stanza's written agreement.
© Copyright stanza 2004-10.

This Guest post by Stanza forms part of the discussion in the urbanTick series on Ecological Urbanism.


Stanza is an internationally recognised artist, who has been exhibiting worldwide since 1984. His artworks have won prestigious painting prizes and ten first prize art awards including:- Vidalife 6.0 First Prize. SeNef Grand Prix. Videobrasil First Prize. Stanzas art has also been rewarded with a prestigious Nesta Dreamtime Award, an Arts Humanities Creative Fellowship and a Clarks bursary award. His mediums include; painting, video, prints, generative artworks and installations. Stanza is an expert in arts technology, CCTV, online networks, touch screens, environmental sensors, and interactive artworks. Recurring themes throughout his career include, the urban landscape, surveillance culture and alienation in the city.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Data Soliloquies : Clouds

In their role as climate change canaries, clouds are both more prevalent and closer to home than Arctic ice-caps or polar bears. Cloud patterns have long been read as short-range weather indicators, but more recently they have begun to be seen as longer term climatic signals. Their messages are far from clear, however, and so far little is certain about the roles that clouds are likely to play in shaping future conditions on earth.
Will clouds turn out to be agents of warming, veiling us in an ever-thickening greenhouse of emissions, or will they end up saving the day by reflecting ever more sunlight back into space? These, it turns out, are far from simple questions, and cloud behaviour continues to offer serious impediments to understanding future climates, since a change in almost any aspect of clouds, such as their type, location, water content, longevity, altitude, particle size and overall shape, changes the degree to which clouds will serve to warm or cool the earth.

As is so often the case with climate science, research yields apparently contradictory results. On the one hand, for example, many climate scientists believe that continued surface warming will cause increased water vapour to rise from the oceans, leading to an overall increase in cloud formation — while on the other hand, particularly in warmer latitudes, an increase in the water vapour content of our atmosphere could see large convective cumuliform clouds building up and raining out far quicker than they do at present, thereby leading to a net decrease in the earth’s total cloud cover. Low-level stratiform clouds, meanwhile, tend to shield the earth from incoming solar radiation, but recent research has shown that such clouds are more likely to dissipate in warmer conditions, thus allowing the oceans to heat up further, and causing yet further stratiform cloud loss. Scientists currently have no idea which of these outcomes is the most likely, nor do they really know the kind of long-term influences that either is likely to have. Even if, for the sake of argument, it’s assumed that overall cloud cover will increase as the surface of our planet continues to warm, it remains unclear what kind of clouds (and thus what kind of feedback mechanisms) are likely to predominate.

For instance, high, thin clouds, such as cirrostratus, tend to have an overall warming effect, as they admit shortwave solar radiation in from above, while bouncing longwave back-radiation (reflected from the sunlit ground) back down to earth. Any increase in cirrostratus cloud cover would therefore add another warming mechanism to our climate. In contrast, however, bright, dense cumulus clouds serve to cool the earth by reflecting incoming sunlight back into space by day. At night, these same clouds tend to exert a slight warming effect, by absorbing or reflecting back-radiation, but their overall influence is a cooling one, especially when their summits grow dense and white. So, in theory, an increase in high, thin clouds would amplify the global warming effect, while an increase in low, dense, puffy clouds would have a contrary cooling effect — which is why cloud-whitening has recently been advanced as a geo-engineering idea for mitigating the effects of climate change, with salt water to be sprayed from thousands of ships in order to create brighter and more reflective clouds over the oceans. In reality, of course, things are never that simple, and clouds have always had an interesting habit of behaving in unpredictable ways.

For example, after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, all commercial flights in the United States were grounded for several days, leaving the skies contrail-free for the first time in decades. The result, according to a comparison of nationwide temperature records, was slightly warmer days and slightly cooler nights than were usual for that time of year, the normal night/day temperature range having increased by 1.1 degrees C. According to the climate scientists who worked on the data, this was probably due to additional sunlight reaching the surface by day, and additional radiation escaping at night through the unusually cloudless skies. At first sight this might seem counter-intuitive, for surely the kind of cirriform clouds created by the spreading of aircraft contrails are straightforward warming clouds, the kind that allow sunlight through, while bouncing back-radiation down to the lower atmosphere? Surely an absence of contrails ought to have an overall cooling effect?

But contrails are a lot more complicated than that, because when they are in their initial, water droplet, stage they are denser than natural cirrus clouds, since they are created from two distinct sources of vapour: the moisture emitted by the aircraft’s exhaust, and the moisture already in the atmosphere, all of which is condensed into a turbulent mixture of large water droplets and ice crystals, seeded on the solid particulates present in the exhaust plume. At first, this young contrail behaves more like a fluffy low-level cloud, reflecting sunlight back into space, and exerting a short-term localized cooling effect. But if persistent contrails start to spread, they thin out into cirriform cloud layers, which can often cover large areas of sky. Their overall effect then reverts to a warming one, consistent with the known behaviour of natural cirriform clouds.

Image taken from NASA / Contrails over the southeastern U.S. January 2004

The picture is complicated yet further by the time of day that the contrails form and spread. If contrails spread during the early morning or late evening, they can exercise a slight cooling effect, due to the angle at which sunlight is reflected off the ice crystals into the upper atmosphere. At night, by contrast, all clouds, including contrails, can only exert a warming effect, since there is no incoming sunlight to reflect into space. Any increase in night flights is therefore likely to raise temperatures on the ground: and that increase is already well underway. In fact, the projected warming effects associated with the rise in night flights are in the region of a 0.2-0.3 degrees C hike per decade in the United States alone — and this figure does not include the other warming effects of aviation, such as increased CO2 emissions and local ozone formation. Of course, much about contrail science remains new and uncertain, and little about these man-made clouds is understood entirely, especially when it comes to the skies above the developing world, where flights are becoming increasingly prevalent. But the difference between the skies above busy flight corridors and those above sparsely flown areas is clearly visible from space. Whether aircraft of the future will need to change the altitudes or times of day at which they fly in order to modify their contrail formation is a matter of current speculation; as David Travis, the atmospheric scientist who led the post-9/11 contrail research, has pointed out, ‘what we’ve shown is that contrails are capable of affecting temperatures. Which direction, in terms of net heating or cooling, is still up in the air.’

Equally up in the air, albeit at a far greater distance, are noctilucent clouds (NLCs), the changing patterns of which have become apparent over the past two decades. First observed and named in the 1880s, NLCs were once the rarest clouds of all, but not only are they now appearing far more often, they also shine brighter than they did before, and are observable from increasingly lower latitudes. According to one hypothesis, NLCs are being formed from plumes of space shuttle exhaust jettisoned into the earth’s upper atmosphere, where neither water vapour nor dust nuclei are common natural occurrences, and therefore these clouds’ increased appearance (an increase of 8 percent per decade) is due to a proportionate increase in space shuttle traffic. Other research, however, points to the fact that extreme cold is needed to form icy clouds in environments as dry as the mesosphere, 50 to 80 kilometres above the earth’s surface, where temperatures as low as -130 degrees C are normal.

Image taken form NASA / Noctilucent clouds

Strange as it may seem, the increased concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gases that have contributed to raising temperatures on earth are also serving to create colder conditions in the earth’s outer atmosphere. This is because greenhouse gases trap much of the longwave surface radiation that has started its return journey back out into space. With less thermal energy able to escape from the lower atmosphere, the upper atmosphere is thereby growing correspondingly chillier. So could the observed increase in noctilucent cloud formation be due to mesospheric cooling, the lesser-known counterpart to global surface warming; and might their increased brightness be due to larger ice crystals being formed from a high-altitude influx of water vapour from the warming layers below? After all, NLCs have only been in evidence since the 1880s, the heyday of the Industrial Revolution, so it is possible that they will turn out to be yet another anthropogenic phenomenon — if so, the visible impact of human activity will have extended much further into our fragile atmosphere than we could ever have previously suspected. Whatever the secrets of these mysterious clouds, it is hoped that the AIM (Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere) satellite, which was launched by NASA in April 2007 on a mission to study NLCs at close range, will be able to provide some answers to these questions.

Viewed from ground level, clouds are short-lived localized phenomena, undergoing rapid alterations as they pass overhead; when viewed from space, however, their individual movements are subsumed into large-scale formations that range slowly across the earth’s surface, connecting vast tracts of land and sea through enormous geophysical processes. Seen from space, what from earth is merely an indistinct bank of stratocumulus cloud, becomes part of a visible planetary order. It was this dual perspective that led Martin John Callanan to produce a terrestrial cloud globe, entitled A Planetary Order, the many technical challenges of which were worked through and overcome during his residency at the UCL Environment Institute.

Image by Martin John Callanan / A Planetary Order (Terrestrial Cloud Globe), 2009

‘Unlike Richard, who’s got a huge fascination with clouds, I’m more interested in systems — systems that define how we live our lives’ (MJC). Showing the earth’s cloud cover from one second in time, the shimmering white cloud globe freeze-frames the entire operation of the global atmospheric regime, and highlights how fragile the environmental (and informational) systems are that operate across the world. For the globe is created from raw information, being a physical visualization of real-time scientific data. One second’s worth of readings from all six cloud-monitoring satellites that are currently overseen by NASA and the European Space Agency was transformed into a virtual 3-D computer model, which was ‘3-D drawn’, or rather, laser melted, at the Digital Manufacturing Centre at the UCL Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment. It was the largest object ever created by the Digital Manufacturing Centre, and it took two full days to build, the delicate outlines and profiles of the clouds emerging slowly as the laser carved gently across the compacted nylon powder surface of the sphere.

Unlike most of NASA’s own data visualizations, the globe features no added colour, only the sculpted whiteness of the raw material that throws a maze of faint shadows across the structure. From out of these shadows, in the right angles of light, emerge the global cloud patterns taken on 2 February 2009 at 0600 UTC precisely, and, under them, the implied outlines of the continents below, seen as though glimpsed through mist, or rather, through the mystifying quantity of atmospheric data that is currently being collected from the silent fleet of satellites in orbit some 36,000 kilometres out in space — an increasingly hertzian environment, where an electronic Babel of satellites, radio signals, text messages and security frequencies vibrate with an invisible stream of man-made weather. Though far from earth’s surface, we have nevertheless made it back to something resembling Borges’s 1:1 scale Map of the Empire, for, by taking a single second’s worth of transmitted information, our entire world has been made anew, pristine, white, and wreathed in the haze of an artificial atmosphere, held aloft like the fossilized egg of a long-extinct species that is about to be brought back to life from a single rescued strand of DNA.

This Guest post by Martin John Callanan forms part of the discussion in the urbanTick series on Ecological Urbanism.
It is an extract from the book Data Soliloquies, commissioned by UCL Environment Institute


Martin John Callanan is an artist whose work spans numerous media and engages both emerging and commonplace technology. His work includes translating active communication data into music; freezing in time the earth’s water system; writing thousands of letters; capturing newspapers from around the world as they are published; taming wind onto the Internet and broadcasting his precise physical location live for over two years. Martin is currently Teaching Fellow in Fine Art Media at the Slade School of Fine Art in London.

Richard Hamblyn is an environmental writer and historian; his books include Terra: Tales of the Earth, a study of natural disasters; The Invention of Clouds, which won the 2002 Los Angeles Times Book Prize; The Cloud Book and Extraordinary Clouds (both in association with the Met Office). He is currently editing The Picador Book of Science, and researching a book about man-made landscapes.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

R&Sie(n): the question of morpho-ecological architecture and Engineering

I wrote in a previous text on BIG, precisely, on the use of Circle Packing in their project The Ren Peoples Buildings, quoting Cynthia Ottchen, (AD, p.23) that there is an increasing interest for scripted design methodologies, in particular, genetic algorithms based on a biological model (morphogenesis), mathematical means, and advanced parametric modeling tools such as that offer by Rhinoscript (Rhino 3D), Maya Embedded Language (MEL), Catia, GenerativeComponent Software (Bentley System), Processing, MatLab or Mathematica depending on the computer system the architect use (Mac, Linux or Windows .Net). Cynthia Ottchen has noted in the issue Closing the Gap: Information Models in Contemporain Design Practice: Architectural design of Architectural Design (March 2009) that «the profession’s further development of specialist software for structural and environmental analyses and simulations, and building information modeling (BIM) parametisation of material proprieties as well as fabricated and assembly constraints, has elevated practical, technological data to a newly privileged status.» Here I stop the generalization of these architects who use generic algorithms, scripts and modeling. There is a gap between the group of architects such as BIG, FOA, OMA, etc., that of architects such as Asymptote, Iwamoto and Scott Architecture, and that of R&Sie(n). R&Sie(n), the agency co-founded by François Roche and Stéphanie Lavaux, uses modeling and scripting in understanding the structural performance of the environment where they construct.
I formulate my hypothesis as such: R&Sie(n), by using morphogenetic and parametric, try to demonstrate that nature cannot be, and I quote them, «domesticated and purely sympathic and predictable»; nature should be though as it «brings some aspect of fear or danger or psycho- repulsion». I won’t discuss the place and the role of fiction in their work, meaning that I won’t speak of fear or danger that emanates from their projects, for instance, I’m Lost in Paris. I would like to focus on how R&Sie(n) uses tools such as modeling and scripts to question the evolution of nature and its interaction with urban elements such as housing. I will essentially interrogate three of their projects that illustrate brilliantly this research of the devenir-écologique (to quote Felix Guattari and of course Gilles Deleuze two of R&Sie(n) influences) of cities. I will follow a few number of core elements such as self-organization and architecture, adaptation, contingence, uncertainty (contingence), redundancy.
If I borrow the system of phylogenesis, I will notice a very interesting evolution in R&Sie(n)’s their research and a focus on ecology. I will not use the term of «green» because «greenery» is predictable, and convenu (obvious, in French in the text). As Javier Arbona argues, «most green architecture spatialises nature either as a neatly bounded territory where, in isolation, it shall regenerate.» Yet, R&Sie(n) questions the way nature and molecular nature of cities interact. Nature is unpredictable so that it cannot be easily domesticated. The notion of «contingent» that can be heideggerian (See, among others, Building, Dwelling, Thinking from Poetry, Language, Thought) is the most appropriate. François Roche and Stéphanie Lavaux have reappropriated this notion in their research on ecological architecture and urbanism. Their latest project I’m Lost In Paris (2008-9) examines how the intrusion of nature (fern) causes stress not only on the plants but also the inhabitant of a quiet haussmannian-style housing. Contingence means, for François Roche, relational, conflictual, and transactional mode). For R&Sie(n) nature is reactive and not proactive. I’m Lost in Paris is an ecological house with 1200 ferns that grow around the building. These ferns are fed by hydroponic tubes that carry water from the roof to the plants. To a certain extent, these ferns are fed from an unnatural and human source.
To choose such plant, such ecological site requires research on evolutionary development, behavior and material organization of plants.

Image by R&Sie(n), Paris, 2008-2009 / I'm Lost In Paris, view of the ferns around the house.

Michael Weinstock, Director of the Emergent technologies and design Programme of AA School of London, has undertaken research since a decade on the interaction of evolution of biological elements. He found similarities between the biological structure and parametric and morphogenetic architecture and urbanism. As he wrote for the issue on Techniques and morphogenetic of the Architectural Design (Vol., March/April 2006), «plants are hierarchical structures, made of material with subtle properties that are capable of being changed by the plant in response to local or global stresses.» In the case of I’m Lost in Paris, the principle is clear: ferns will grow up thanks to the installation of hydroponic system that will feed them. The house will probably disappear and provoke fear to the neighbors.

RS_Blow-glass tube
Image by R&Sie(n), Paris, 2008-2009 / I'm Lost In Paris, Blow-glass tube. The ferns receive water from the hydroponic system made of blow-glass tube.

Image by R&Sie(n), Paris, 2008-2009 / I'm Lost In Paris, Ferns. A detail of the ferns that will grow up thanks to the nutrition from the blow-glass tube of water.

Image by R&Sie(n), Paris, 2008-2009 / I'm Lost In Paris, Aerial view of house with the ferns that grow around the house.

The choice of this plant, the fern, is strategic. As we know, there is a strong relationship between a mass of plant form and its lifespan. Big plants live longer than small ones, as noted Michael Weinstock.
A similar project is Spider Net in the Wood, that R&Sie(n) constructed in 2007 at Nîmes (France), confirm Michael Weinstock’s assertion. The scenario is clear and simple: «Over density of existing forest plantation (trees will be at the right level in 5 years)...» R&Sie(n) has posted a series of pictures of the evolution of the plant one year after the construction, entitled Growing plants. As we can see, plants, gradually, seem to absorb the house. The structure is made of netting and wrapping the forecasted size of adult trees with a polypropylene mesh in order to develop a labyrinth in the branches. The house consists of stealth indoor 400 m2 summer 2-stories building that has been plugged and connected to the labyrinth by a huge sliding glass door.

Image by R&Sie(n), Nîmes, 2007 / Spider net in the Wood, Detail of the net.

This house functions as the principle of plants: it is unpredictable, if not to say, self-organizational. It aims at demonstrating that building as well as plants is capable of being changed in response to local or global stresses. This house is a prototype of François Roche and Stéphanie Lavaux’s interest for biomimetics, biomimetics or else the behavior of building stressed by nature, to summarize simply (the same Michael Weinstock wrote this: «[...] abstracting principles from the way in which biological processes develop a natural material system, applying analogous methods in an industrial context, and using stronger materials to manufacture a material that has no natural analogue.»). The plan of the house shows the relationship of the building and its surrounding environment.

Image by R&Sie(n), Nîmes, 2007 / Spider net in the Wood, plan of the house and its surrounding environment.

Nature will gradually control the building the building, as I wrote above, will, gradually, be absorbed by its surrounding environment.

Image by R&Sie(n), Nîmes, 2007 / Spider net in the Wood, One year after: view of the house and its surrounding environment.

Image by R&Sie(n), Nîmes, 2007 / Spider net in the Wood, one year after: view of the pool.

What I find fascinating here is the concept of adaptive: in R&Sie(n)’s architectural projects, the building functions as the plants, meaning: it is adaptive. It will be obliged to manage its behavior facing the plants as the plants will resist to this structure made of various technologies and techniques. Plants as well as buildings function in the same way. Precisely, building needs to capture light, ventilation as well as it will exchange gases such as metabolic structures. This is what François Roche and Stéphanie Lavaux call Uncertainties, a research that they have been undertaking since 2005 (since their exhibition I’ve Head about). It is very instructive not only for architects but for engineers who work on ecological architecture and urbanism.
Michael Weinstock discussed the concept of redundancy that can be easily used here (Spider Net in the Wood), there (I’m Lost In Paris), and there again (Mosquito). Redundancy, in a biological meaning, as Michael Weinstock wrote, is «not only that the system has more cells available in each tissue than any single task would require, but also that the hierarchical organization of cells is arranged so that issue has sufficient excess capacity for adaptation to changing environmental stresses» while in Engineering, redundancy is considered as an opposition «to efficiency». The distinction, he noted, is that this concept is important if not to say crucial for biology «without which adaptation and response to changing environmental pressures would be possible».
Now I would like to finish this short post with the use of modeling and scripts, and their value in understanding the behavior of nature, and its interaction with urban structure.
Analyzing pictures, plans, diagrams of R&Sie(n)’s projects teaches us the complexity of the process of their work. Let’s take, for instance, the project Mosquito Bottleneck, a house project built in 2003 for an art collector in Trinidad. Precisely, the illustration that shows the movement of the mosquito. This movement produces a simple form that, then, will be assembled to form a complex structure that have behaviors which, in turn, will self-assembled into a more complex structure, and so forth.

Image by R&Sie(n), Trinidad 2003 / Mosquito Bottleneck, Sketch of the mosquito. Study of the movement of the mosquito.

These descriptions and digital models, as I mentioned above, permit a better understanding of the structural performance not only of the biological structure (here: the mosquito, there: surrounding environment, there again: the ferns) but also the building. In the case of Mosquito Bottleneck, the analysis of the movement of the mosquito turned into a klein-bottle twist between the two contradictory data: that of humans and that of insects.

It is interesting to note that the architects used a fragile structure and materials for this building as if they wanted to simulate the fragility of the mosquito lifespan... and our fragility facing with the Mosquito-borne West Nil Fever virus... The skin of the building consists of plastic wire and plastic shrink-warp to weave together the house from the floor to the roof. The goal was to build a skin that would actually attract mosquitoes and move them through the building, while, of course, keeping them separate from the occupants. The result is: the dwelling structure behaves like the mosquitoes as it vibrates like the buzzing of the mosquitoes.

Image by R&Sie(n), Trinidad 2003 / Mosquito Bottleneck, detail of the skin of the house.

Image by R&Sie(n), Trinidad 2003 / Mosquito Bottleneck, diagram of the bottle-klein house. Mosquito trap.

Image by R&Sie(n), Trinidad 2003 / Mosquito Bottleneck, diagram of the Bottle-klein house.

Digital models facilitate the construction of these projects Mosquito Bottleneck, Spider in the Wood, I’m Lost In Paris as well as previous and forthcoming projects. It enables analysis and simulations. The natural behavior of the mosquito is then shifted into a structural behavior that will be modeled, then, scripted with the use of softwares from 3D softwares to mathematical softwares. The analysis of natural environment leads to the construction of house that will be progressively controlled by nature. Conversely, the intrusion of nature (the ferns) in an urban environment (Haussmanian buildings) has previously been simulated with advanced tools in order to draw various scenarios of relationship and conflict between nature, urban environment and humans, etc.
In conclusion (temporarily), these tools permit to test, simulate at various scale behaviors, scenarios, etc., that, will, then, be reinterpreted into construction, meaning, architecture and engineering. They reveal an agenda for new strategies not only in terms of design but also in terms of construction, that is, new system for advanced architectural engineering. If one wonders what ecology can bring to architecture, first answers can be found in projects such as R&Sie(n)’s ones.

Bibliographies R&Sie(n),
Roche François, «[Science]Fiction & Mass culture Crisis», in R&Sie(n), DD 05 R&Sie:Corrupted Biotopes, Damdi, 2005, pp.6-17.
Corbellini Giovanni, Bioboot: The Architecture of R&Sie(n), Princeton Architectural Press, 2010.
Gissen David, Subnature: Architecture’s Other Environment, Princeton Architectural Press, 2009.
Weinstock Michael, «Self-Organisation and structural dynamic of plants», in Hansel Michael, Menges Achim, Weinstock Michael (Guest editors), Techniques and Technologies in Morphogenetic design, Architectural design, March 2006, pp.26-33;
Weinstock Michael, «Self-Organisation and material construction», in Hansel Michael, Menges Achim, Weinstock Michael (Guest editors), Techniques and Technologies in Morphogenetic design, Architectural Design, March 2006, pp.34-41.
Weinstock Michael, «Metabolism and Morphology», in Hansel Michael, Menges Achim (Guest editors), Versality and Vicissitude: Performance in Morpho-Ecological Design, Architectural Design, March 2008, pp.27-33.
Arbona Javier, «It’s in your nature I’m lost in Paris», Gissen David (Guest editor), Territory, Architectural Design, May 2010, pp.46-53.

See also Lally Sean (Guest editor), Energies: New Material Boundaries, in Architectural design, April 2009, in particular Michelle Addington’s text Contingent Behaviours, Mathieu Lehanneur’s text Domestic Micro-Environments.
Hensel Michael, Menges Achim, Weinstock Michael (Gest editors), Emergence: Morphogenetic Design Strategies, May 2004, in particular, Michael Weinstock’s Morphogenesis and the Mathematics of Emergence, Achim Menges’s Morpho-Ecologies: Approaching Complex Environments, George Jeronimidis’s Biodynamics.

This Guest post by Annick Labeca forms part of the discussion in the urbanTick series on Ecological Urbanism.


Annick Labeca is a researcher on Japanese cities based between Paris and Tôkyô. She has a deep interest on typomorphology and morphogenetic architecture.