About

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 Urban Transcripts was born of a desire to create a new ‘tool’ through which to explore the city as a complex phenomenon, in a participatory and cross-disciplinary way. It was initiated in 2010 as an annual programme of events such as exhibitions, conferences, and workshops, focused on, and hosted in, a different city every year.

Our Unit 5 Mapping Emergence: Nomads, Nodes, Strings & Paths was realised as part of the Urban Transcripts 2012: London, the (n)ever-changing city international workshop.

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Urban Transcripts 2012 | Unit 5 brief

Design by Regner Ramos

Design by Regner Ramos

Mapping emergence: nomads, nodes, paths, and strings

Guest Tutor Dr Eugenia Fratzeskou

Host Tutor Regner Ramos

keywords

digital spaces, hybrid spaces, urban spaces, diagramming, boundary, emergence

intro

This workshop unit creatively addresses the twenty-first-century Londoner’s perception, interaction and use of urban space change in the light of social networks and mobile technologies upsurge. Giving these relationships a physical form poses as an important possibility and challenge for contemporary architecture and essentially, a way of redefining “digital architecture”.

aims and objectives

Developing methods of inventive mapping enable participants to creatively reveal and interact with the invisible layers of Post-Olympic London, and the hybrid spaces emerging through their interaction with the built environment. The emphasis is placed on mapping the emerging nomadic trajectories, how these enable the breakage of spatio-temporal restrictions and the boundaries of the self and city, yielding new realities through identity and spatial fragmentation and reconstruction.

urban context

“In Ersilia, to establish the relationships that sustain the city’s life, the inhabitants stretch strings from the corners of the houses… When the strings become so numerous that you can no longer pass among them, the inhabitants leave: the houses are dismantled; only the strings and their supports remain… [as] spider webs of intricate relationships seeking a form.”

Calvino (1997, p.68)

London’s morphology has not been significantly altered during the last thirty years, apart from the obvious distinct, singular projects, and some areas of renovation, e.g., the Olympic Zone, the areas neighbouring King’s Cross, the upcoming skyscrapers that will tower over the City, the socially devoid Canary Wharf, and even the infamous Brixton. These areas are undergoing new spatial configurations, creating architectural landmarks to make them residentially, financially, and/or commercially thriving areas of London. Nevertheless, the way London has been experienced, lived, and understood in the twenty-first century is significantly different now than three decades ago due largely to the Internet; the invisible ‘force’, greatly influencing human interaction, the production of knowledge, the exchange of goods and information.

Canary Wharf

                                             Canary Wharf, London, photo by Danielle Wilkens, 2012

Imagine various nodes emerging throughout the domestic and professional spheres of the city. Fixed within interior spaces, these static nodes – desktop computers and servers – are interconnected in an invisible web. If we were to reveal their invisible strings, we would have been able to decipher a different layer over the built environment; one of global, trans-spatial connectivity. Today, these nodes have become mobile, e.g., smart phones. As the nodes move with their users, the invisible network over the city is constantly changing. With this evolving invisible network, which is essentially the path of data and bits, citizens’ perception and relationship to the built environment are also changing. Nevertheless, these changes are ‘transparent’ and thus imperceptible, because mobile technologies become an extension of our self, as Marshall McLuhan (2010) predicted in the mid 60s. The subsequent alteration of self-perception concurrently extends also into our interpersonal relationships and perception of the built environment. Its cognitive processes resemble the way the Internet functions, in terms of the importance of the node over the path.

Adriana de Souza e Silva (2006) states that “… not only the nodes of the network become mobile, but also the paths through which they move are critical to the configuration of the network”, arguing that through merging digital spaces (especially the ones fostering social interaction) with urban spaces, a new configuration of space, i.e. “hybrid space”, is created. Italo Calvino might have stumbled upon theories that surpassed the figurations of urban, interpersonal relationships in the form of strings. Instead, light has been shed to the hybrid spaces that are a product of the paths the nomad cyborg-citizen ‘traces’ with his digital devices.

The figure of the nomadic Londoner is foregrounded in light of Calvino’s story and its relation to de Souza e Silva and McLuhan’s theories on digital prosthetics and hybrid, mobile spaces. Modern Londoners walk throughout the city, carrying their hybrid space with them, making it accessible with a click or touch. These digital spaces enable the breakage of spatio-temporal restrictions. New subjectivities are thus produced while the citizen undergoes processes of identity fragmentation, and reconstruction. Citizens’ understanding of the built environment is altered. These processes are the invisible paths that go unnoticed by city-dwellers and even architects themselves. For de Souza e Silva:

“Although the nomad is not ignorant of points, he focuses on paths, on the movement… In the nomadic network, the points are subordinated to the paths…” (2006).

It becomes clear that this second, invisible city-layer, composed of a flow of data and bits morphing, entangling, fusing, and wrapping around the built environment and amongst themselves, can be visualised in a physical form. These interpersonal relationships can be manifested physically for quenching the cyborg-citizen’s hunger, so that the built environment does not get left behind.

For centuries, the architect has been in charge of bringing the immaterial/abstract into physical existence. According to de Souza e Silva (2006), Kevin Kelly argues that the true meaning of a space, similar to Lefebvre, is related to its ‘ability’ to ‘absorb’ connections and relationships. If the formation of space – or rather, place – is intrinsically related to the formation of interpersonal relationships, could the messy entanglements produced by these invisible networks be visualised by the architect or designer of human interaction in space? We are facing the arrival of hybrid spaces resembling Calvino’s “spiderwebs of intricate relationships seeking a form.” Giving these relationships a physical form is an important possibility and challenge for contemporary architecture.

working methods

“Mr. Palomar is standing on the shore, looking at a wave… you cannot observe a wave without bearing in mind the complex features that concur in shaping it and the other, equally complex ones that the wave itself originates”

Calvino, (1999, pp.34)

A boundary signifies both an end and a beginning and, in this sense particularly in digital design, it may be a‘leftover’of a trajectory, path or string. As part of a complex reality, a boundary is transitional and precarious as it ‘mediates’ between various unsettling and dynamically interacting spatial orders. In conjunction with the intermediate types of spatiality emerging, the nature of the boundary can be best explored through devising original processes of spatial digital diagramming. The emphasis is placed on mapping and intervening into the unanticipated exchanges, paradoxes and conflicts characterising the evolving relationships between local/global, self/city, form/programme.

Διαφάνεια1Sky Ear by Usman Haque, 2004

Instead of ‘mastering’ the complexity of the city by reducing it to its simplest mechanisms or creating a ‘pattern model’, the aim is to reveal and engage with the opposing ‘thrusts’, dynamic divergences-convergences of the deep, multilayered city-space. The clash of evolution and emergence with the city-substrata defines the relationship between hyper-, infra- and super-structures as in Usman Haque’s SkyEar (2004) [fig. 16]. This condition alters the status of the boundary and subsequently, the relationship between invisible/visible, reality/virtuality, form/in-formation, and our interaction with them. Diverse types of reality and geometry may also ‘co-exist’. As the media theorist Lev Manovich (2005) explains,

“…software and computer networks redefine the very concept of form… …new forms are often variable, emergent, distributed and not directly observable… “

The advanced use of digital visualisation systems surpasses a limiting focus on mere imaging. Particular instances of data-flows can be visually captured as having intrinsic types of in-formation geometry, challenging existing aesthetics and the customary modes of visualisation and simulation (Fratzeskou, 2009; 2012). Spatial diagrammatic analysis, visualisation and modelling processes operate between the immateriality of digital technology and the specificity and materiality of actual sites, so that intermediate hybrid spaces emerge.

Διαφάνεια2

 Interstitial geometry emerging from progressive invalid solids boundary formation, from Fratzeskou, E. 2012a, p.59

Alongside common activities (film-screening, discussion, etc.), the main unit phases has been formed as follows:

1. Introductory session

Introductory presentations orienting participants to the workshop unit is followed by a group discussion between workshop tutors and participants.

Phase 1a. Urban exploration: city-mapping & data-collection

The experiential reading and transitory mapping of the heterogeneous cityscape commences with an urban exploration of London through a city-walk. Participants may create their own trajectories, explore existing ones and collect information through their preferred means (photography, video, mobile devices, drawing, notes, etc.). This exploration can be complemented with the relevant online research. New ways of seeing are developed which challenge what we normally take for granted or might escape our attention. The emphasis is placed on mapping the areas of change, excess, potential or paradox. These spaces may be discovered in the incidental properties of the city or social interaction found in emergent territories, areas of complexity, ambiguity, experimentation, fragments, voids, undeveloped areas, para-sites, the non-linear, fleeting datascapes.

Phase 1b. Group discussion

Group discussions focus on how the city has been experienced, explored and mapped, what particular data has been collected and how, the challenges and opportunities for taking forward to the second phase of the project.

Phase 2. Developing work

Participants are invited to invent creative ways of ‘city-decoding’, not only for revealing what is normally invisible, but also, for expanding the definition and interdisciplinary potential of spatial digital diagramming. Developing 3D mixed analyses, processes and representations would lead to design processes enabling the proposed city readings or interventions in any material and digital media. A successful methodological approach demonstrates originality, creativity and depth of critical thinking.

Phase 3. Critical Review & Outcome Presentation

The workshop culminates in a critical review not only of the each project outcome, but also of the methods and approaches that have been developed, as process and outcome are of equal importance. Participants evaluate how their vision of and engagement with the city have changed, to position and evaluate their work both in terms of process and outcome, and to carry forward the challenges and possibilities that arose through their participation in the workshop. The reviewed workshop outcomes have been presented at the Urban Transcripts 2012 Conference (8th December 2012, UCL).

references

Calvino, I. 1997. Invisible cities. Translated from Italian by W. Weaver. London: Vintage Books.

Calvino, I. 1999. Mr Palomar. 3rd ed. Translated from Italian by W. Weaver. London: Vintage Books.

De Souza e Silva, A. 2006. “From cyber to hybrid: Mobile technologies as interfaces of hybrid spaces” in Space & Culture [online]. 9.3. Available from:

<http://repository.lib.ncsu.edu/publicaTons/bitstream/1840.2/80/1/SpaceandCulture_011806pre.pdf&gt; [accessed 31 August 2012].

Fratzeskou, E. 2009. Visualising Boolean Set Operations: Real & virtual boundaries in contemporary site-specific art. Saarbrücken: Lambert Academic Publishing.

Fratzeskou, E. 2012. Interstitiality in contemporary art & architecture: An inter-passage from delineating to unfolding the boundaries of space. Saarbrücken: Lambert Academic Publishing.

Fratzeskou E. 2012. “Drawing the invisible – Urban Transcripts 2011” in Digimag international magazine: digital art, digital culture, new media art [online]. 71. Available from: <http://www.digicult.it/digimag/issue-071/italiano-drawing-the-invisible-urban-transcripts-2011/&gt;   [accessed 25 February 2012].

Haque U. 2004. Sky Ear [online]. Available from: <http://www.haque.co.uk/skyear/information.html> [accessed 30 November 2008].

Manovich L. 2005. The shape of information [online]. Available from:  <http://www.manovich.net/DOCS/IA_Domus_3.doc&gt;   [accessed 17 September 2010].

McLuhan, M. 2010. Understanding media: The extensions of man. Oxford and New York: Routledge.

Click here for  Dr Eugenia Fratzeskou UNIT 5– Working Methods Lecture & Regner Ramos UNIT 5 – Urban Problematics & Exploration Lecture.

Urban Transcripts 2012: London, the (n)ever-changing city full Workshop Programme

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UNIT 5 GUIDELINES (compiled/drafted by Dr Eugenia Fratzeskou)

 

Main Aims

1. How does the twenty-first-century Londoner’s perception, interaction and use of urban space change in light of social networks and mobile technologies upsurge?

2. Could the complex entanglements produced by these invisible networks be visualised by the architect or designer of human interaction in space?

 

Key Phase Objectives

 

[A1] Urban exploration: An experiential ‘reading’ and mapping of the heterogeneous city-scape commences with an urban exploration of London with a city-visit (on foot &/or various means of transport). Trafalgar Square is set as the centre of our city exploration. Each participant will choose a particular mobile application/device (a ‘string’) to explore the agreed route. Main tasks:

1. Envisage new ‘nomadic’ trajectories &/or explore existing ones.

2.  Collect location-specific information through the chosen means.

3. Develop new ways of seeing, challenging what we normally take for granted or might escape our attention.

 

[A2] Group discussion Following Regner & Eugenia’s Introductory Unit Presentations, a roundtable discussion will focus on:

A. Analysing and evaluating:

  1. How has the city been experienced, explored and mapped?
  2. What particular data has been collected and how?
  3. What challenges can be identified, and what ideas can be taken forward to the second phase of the project?

B. Devising a plan of groupwork for the second phase.

 

[B] Developing design work

1. ‘Locative’ mapping (e.g. geo-tagging) of the emerging nomadic trajectories (combined with their possible evolution and/or adaptation where appropriate).

2. Creative city and social trajectory analysis (through 3D mixed analyses, city-flows and social networks critical mapping, combined processes, visual/textual presentations, or other). Various scales.

3.  ‘Interpreting/proposing’ (with the aid of models, diagrams, photos etc.):

3.1. How do the nomadic trajectories enable the breakage of spatio-temporal restrictions and  the boundaries of the self and the city (may consider the issues of spatial definition loss, territorial blur, overabundance of data and cultural/identity mixtures)?

3.2. Do digital spaces yield new identities, spatial fragmentation and reconstruction?

4. Diagrammatic ‘tracing’ of the possible ‘(inter)spaces’ formed by the trajectories, e.g.:

4.1. Identify particular interaction cases between trajectories, users and the built environment.

4.2. ‘Interpret’ the available data into spatial design co-ordinates/parameters, etc.

4.3. Propose new forms, codes and/or languages to visualise ‘footprints’ and exchanges

across the urban datascape, for revealing new design territories.

5. Proposing new hybrid spaces that break spatio-temporal restrictions and emerge through the interaction of built and digital spaces, architecture and urbanism, e.g.:

5.1. Shared Space: the spaces for natural dynamic, user-influence for multiple experiences, probing changes in the use of space/social organisation.

                 5.2. Interaction space: between urban environment and pervasive computing systems (places would emerge at crossovers between infrastructure)

5.3. Mixed or other proposed designs that may be participatory/adaptable,   situational/transient, relational, etc.

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[ U N I T   5   W O R K S H O P    S N A P S H O T S ]

 

Urban Exploration: Trafalgar Square (images by Regner Ramos)

 

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A brave urban exploration in progress despite the adverse weather!  Clockwise: Riccardo Conti, Regner Ramos, Valentina Chiesa & Zlatina Kalaydzhieva

 

Unit 5 at work at the ]performance s p a c e[ studio, London

 

team

Collaborative studio work at its peak. Clockwise: Valentina Chiesa, Riccardo Conti, Hediyeh Miri & Zlatina Kalaydzhieva (images by Regner Ramos)

 

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(image by Urban Transcripts)

 

 

 

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