Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Virtual Landscape and a Peak for the London 2012 Olympic Park


I will be speaking at the Society of Cartographers 48th Annual Conference today. The talk will focus on the New City Landscape maps under the title New City Landscape Maps: Urban Areas According to Tweet Density.

The maps are visualising location based tweet activity in urban areas and part of the talk will focus on urban morphology and real world feature to influence the virtual activity. The range of maps produced show that unique conditions exist for different cities from around the world and this is reflected in the Twitter landscape maps.

Three types have been identified showing similar characteristics. A type with one central core are, a type with several different islands of high activity and a type showing an area or shape of high activity.

NCL20_centreEx NCL20_featureEx NCL20_islandEx Image by urbanTick for NCL / Top row central type, middle row feature type and bottom row island type.

Also we have been monitoring Twitter activity in London during the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Whilst this is still ongoing a first preview of the data is showing a surprising shift of activity, a new addition to the landscape of the NCL-London map respectively.

There has an actual peak appeared over the area of the Olympic park with masses of location based tweets. It is something we have always talked about in presentations of the maps in the past couple of month and here it is, it finally did show up as a major 'landmark' in the virtual map of London.

NCL_London2012_sketchZoom Image by urbanTick for NCL / Locationbased Twitter activity in London during the London 2012 Olympic Games. The Olympic park on the right does show up as a remarkable peak during the early period of the Olympic Games. A final version will be produced in the after the end of the Paralympic Games.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Olympics 2012 in London and some Twitter Visuals


The Olympics are in town and about to kick off tonight in a packed Olympic Stadium out in Stratford. The last week was all about gearing up to for London to this big event. There were a few new changes, including the Olympic lanes for official traffic, but also simple things like chaining the timing of traffic lights for example.


Image taken from zimbio / The Olympic Rings 2012 being shipped up the Thames past the O2.


Image taken from msn.car / The official Olympics 2012 London car.

However so far things are running smoothly if only the weather plays along. But then a bit of the very British weather won't harm the good spirit, it's the Olympics!

The venues are reported to be all set. The velodrome was one of the first venues to be finished already last year. Now the Olympic Stadium is open, the Aquatics centre plus the little venues. Also the observation tower in the Olympic Park is open to visitors, at extra cot unfortunately.


Image taken from London2012 / The Olympic Park as of July 2012. Compare to earlier stages for example in previous posts on urbanTick.

London has prepared through out the city a massive events program to go alongside the Olympic Games. There are cultural events like the Tate is running at the newly opened Tanks or of course the official Olympic Festival with a massive program of arts and culture events through out the Olympics.

The sponsors have all their own way of being present at the games. Coke has set up a pavilion that is at the same time a musical instrument. The facade is built from sensor equipped cushions and visitors can play tunes by interacting with the facade of the pavilion.

EDF, also one of the big sponsors is running a special light show on their very own London Eye. Every evening the light on this big London attraction will have a light show on display that is governed by the mood of the nation.


Image taken from gizmag / The London Eye with the Energy of the Nation light show in progress, earlier this week.

The installation is using Twitter data to feel the pulse of the nation through out the day and summarise it in the evening for a show of flashing lights and colours. The data from Twitter is analysed regarding the positive or negative content of the message. The overall count of this rating is then via an algorithm transformed into the pattern of light and colour displayed on the wheel.

For the Energy of the Nation project, EDF is work with Mike Thelwall, from the University of Wolverhampton and SOSO design company on this project, to light up the London Eye with a daily custom light show.



Talking about Twitter data visualisation another one, pretty unrelated to the Olympics has been put together recently by Nikhil Bobb. Its a lens flare sort of visual effect to let the tweets blink up on a map. Looks very nice and the map is interactive and you don't have to wait until the evening to enjoy it. You can check it out round the clock fro London from HERE. Other cities are in the list on the left if you want to travel the world on a lens flare trip. Via Living Geography.

twitterLenseFlare
Image by urbanTick / Tweet flare visualisation of real time tweets by Nikhil Bobb.

Let the Games Begin!

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Book - Rethinking a Lot


Since the early half of the last century the car is a defining aspect of the urban environment. Pre-car urban pattern are obviously different and many scholars and practitioners have since covered the topic of how things have changed.

It is in most parts of Europe no longer as dominant as it was in the 70s as the directing constraint, but is obviously still very much present. Present not only in the way it moved and demands space to move, but cars also occupy space to stop and stand.

Parking lots are required to supply this need for cars to be parked and they area permanent infrastructure taking up space whether in use or unused. little can be combined with these lots and indeed most of the time they sit there empty, just like that, as a tarmaced free space with a few white lines.

Outside Europe in higly car dependant areas, such as the Unites States, Canada, England and increasingly Asia most lots for cars are surface parking. Meaning each building requires a plain surface in immediate proximity the size according to the number of peak time occupants.

What the residence of for example Milton Keynes, UK, know very well from their everyday experience, the perceived density of the urban environment is exceptionally low. This because there is never a feeling of closedness, of held space, because of the constant distance between ones position and the parking lots and between buildings. A list of the largest parking lots was put together by Forbes HERE.




In a new publication this topic of lots and parking is examined in detail from an american perspective in an MIT Press publication by Eran Ben-Joseph in Rethinking a Lot: The Design and Culture of Parking. The author is MIT Professor of Landscape Architecture and Planning and as he explains in the introduction tot he book has ben teaching one of the most famous courses at MIT architecture. The course runs already for over 75 years under the title Site Planning. It has been taught by a hand full of, as Ben-Josephs calls them, luminaries of urban design and city planning, foremost Kevin Lynch, who took over the course in 1956.

Image taken from emspy.com / Car Park and Terminus Strasbourg designed by Zaha Hadid in 1998, completed in 2001.

This for the context of the book. Whilst of course the course covers a whole range of other subjects, the design and arangements of parking lots is only a part of the course. Nevertheless a subject that, as Ben-Joseph stresses, in the US not had a lot of attention.

Indeed it is tricky, thinking on your feet, to come up with a handfull of good lot designs. Probably Hadid's parking design for Car Park and Terminus Strasbourg would be one of them.

Image taken from democraticunderground / To make matters worse, a lot of parking lots are not only pooly designed and landscaped, but also maintained.

The publication is structured in three parts. Whilst the first part covers the topic from todays perspective focusing on problems, questions and requirements, introduced with a quote by J.B Jackson, taken from his Landscape in Sight: Looking at America, but also covering natural aspects. The second part covers the history and the development of parking lots. In the third part practice, design and examples are presented.

Whilst the book design is not extremely exciting, with mix of photograph quality, different styles of sketches and diagrams. its content is fascinating. The creative and playful approach to wording, especially titles and descriptions, for example A Lot in Common, Musing a Lot, Lots of Lifestyles or From Street to Lot, make it a pleasant read. But foremost the depth of research into the topic and the presentation of it in a lot of context and history make it a truly useful addition to your library.

Image taken from MIT / Book front and back cover.


Ben-joseph, E., 2012. Rethinking a Lot: The Design and Culture of Parking, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The Fastest Connection in the City


This week at the Institut Architektur at FHNW we started new fieldwork for a GPS tracking project in Basel, Switzerland. Earlier the UrbanDiary project already tracked individuals everyday movements in the same urban context. See HERE and HERE for posts. With the new project the perspective is still on movement in the urban context, but the motivation is very different. Whilst the travel in the earlier project was guided by a handful of personally important hotspot locations business connections guide the routing in the KurierT project. The trackers are carried by the professional bicycle messengers of the KurierZentrale Basel. What we are looking at are business connections and how they link across the city.


Image taken from KurierZentrale / Bicycle messenger in action.

The bicycle couriers are probably the jguys with the best local knowledge there are to be found for any city. From their daily experience of navigating the streets and blocks specific non physical aspects are expected to influence the decision making process. This includes traffic, terrain, season or weather maybe. As part of this project we are planning to look into these influencing aspects.

On the other hand another interest is on how the service the couriers provide describes the city. In many ways the activity of delivering mail between different locations creates a network of connections. This describes the city in terms of links. Beyond the locations of the sender and receiver, the interesting part is in how this connection physically manifests in an optimised routing provided by the courier. As part of the project the aim is to develop these relationships into a descriptive atlas of the city linking the aspects of a social network to the physical conditions of the link.

KurierT_vorstudieRoutes
Image by urbanTick for KurierT / Routing around Basel showing the tracks of one courier over two days. Software used Cartogaphica.

The couriers offer a range of services. Whilst most of the jobs are small parcels and letters between different businesses in the city, there are jobs in the wider region of Basel or heavier loads for which the couriers change from bicycle to a car. Beside the business services the couriers have a meal service over lunch and in the evening around dinner time. From a selections of restaurants in the city meals can be ordered and get them delivered.

This combination of business and private services makes the data collected ver rich in that we not only have a picture of the business contacts but also see a shift in activities and cover residential areas. This extended business model covers more areas in the city and the expected black spots in the urban fragment not covered by the couriers' movements are dramatically reduced. The resulting overview covers a very particular perspective on the city and generalisation is limited, but within the particular setting the results are expected to provide valuable insight in urban connections, urban networks and routing. In terms of planning this has practical application for example in the provision of cycle routes for the general public.

KT_vorstudieSpeed
Image by urbanTick for KurierT / Routing around Basel showing the tracks of one courier over two days. The tracks are coloured according to speed. Red is slow and white is fast, above 30. The background shows a point density indicating locations and high traffic areas. Software used Cartogaphica.

The temporal aspect of traveling the city is particularly part of the bicycle messenger daily business. Besides safely getting from A to B the speed of delivery is crucial and directly influences not only the customer satisfaction but the daily salary of the rider. From a research perspective these constraints are interesting as to how accessible the different areas of the city actually are. The data will be analysed towards the time cost of travel from a whole range of origins. Based on speed and and travel time the results can be summarised in a time zone map of the city, indicating accessibility.

Ultimately the results are expected to feed into a description of urban space. This description will be focused towards physical quality and identity of place. In comparison to existing political defined neighbourhoods the results form this study are expected to lead to an alternative description of urban areas based on connection and time.

The project is developed in collaboration with the Institut Vermessung und Geoinformation. For the analysis one of the tools developed at the institute called See You will be used. The online GIS system analyses GPS tracks based on point density and stationary time. The GPS tracks are interpreted as heat map and hotspots are marked by the system based on the analysis of stationary time. These can be filtered based on duration. In the example below for example the no 1 (bottom of the picture) identifies the location of the KurierZentrale offices as the most important location of the map. The riders start from here and return back to after the shift.

KurierT_vorstudieSeeYou01
Image by urbanTick for KurierT / Routing around Basel showing the tracks of one courier over two days. The online GIS service SeeYou developed by the Institut Vermessung und Geoinformation at FHNW is used for the visualisation. Tracks shown as a heat map. As background the OSM service is used. The numbers highlight important locations as interpreted by the system automatically.

The project runs over the next couple of month and results will be posted along the way. A report is expected towards the end of the year. Continuous updates will be posted here, so stay tuned. A detailed project desription can be found online at the Institut Architektur.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Book - Informotion


Infographics are everywhere and a lot of development both in therms of technology and style has gone into the representation of information in the last few years. It is however an old topic and through out the past century aspects of graphics, design and technology in regards to the presentation of data and information were developed.

The Gestalt Theory (Detailed article in the German Wikipedia) was developed in the early 20s of the last century or Tufte (earlier on urbanTick) wrote his much influential books in the 80s and 90s to name two.

Image taken from the189.com / Informotion project by Bryan Ku docuemnting the final game in the 122nd edition of the Wimbeldon Championship Men's Final between tennis giants Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. See the animated version HERE.

The reason for some more recent development in information design and especially and especially handling is connected to technological and practical changes, but also the increased availability of raw data and details to be turned into information graphics.

Often however the subject to the data is temporal or process based with need for background or lead in, change of place or frequent change of perspective. For these cases animated inforgraphics can be a great way to communicate knowledge. Besides who doesn't like to look at motion pictures? It really fits in with the whole TV consuming sort of urban lifestyle.



Its pretty save to say, that for the first time the book Informotion: Animated Infographics by Gestalten bring together a selection of the best motion picture graphics communicating knowledge. All of the examples are very recent projects and most can be found on either vimeo or youtube of course. However the interesting bit on the book is the context the examples are being put in. The editors Tim Finke and Sebastian Manger put great emphasis on contextual details in a wider sense. Where publications like the recent Taschen Infographics are a mere selection of great examples the Informotion book includes the theoretical and practical aspects too.

This of course makes the book heavier to read, it's also but not only to look at, but you get a lot more out of it for your practice. Besides inspiration the book provides a refresh and update on the graphic, visual and design theories as well as the technical details of animation production such as software, storyboards or size, resolution or format.

Image taken from binalogue.com / Images showing the page spread design. The example shown here is an animated infographic by binalogue showing the CANAL Isabel II water cycle. See video below for the original animation.



There is also one of the aNCL (animated New City Landscape) informmotion graphics included as anexample in the book (p.188-189). It is the animation produced in collaboration between urbanTick and Anders Johansson on the Twitter landscape in the area arond the city of Zuerich in Switzerland. The original post on the animation can be found here, the animation is below.



Of course there is something awkward about a printed book about animated examples. However the content lives up to the expectations and whilst the animations can not be shown in the book the story can still be told. Even more so that the examples are discussed in detail and help to illustrate the theoretical elements of the book. In this sense there is literally more to the book than just the pictures and lines of text there is actual information in there plus Gestalten have a website where readers can get additional info and links to the animations. The list of examples can be found HERE.

Image taken from Gestalten / Book cover.


Finke, T. & Manger, S. eds., 2012. Informotion: Animated Infographics, Berlin: Gestalten.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Book - Food for the City


Everybody needs to eat. Eating and sleeping are two of the very fundamental repetitive necessities of life. There is no going without it for longer periods of time. Food needs to be accessible on a regular basis continuously. This is as such already a spatial condition that forms part of the spatial organisation pattern of settlements. For cities where a large number of people live in a relatively small area this means its a basic element that needs to be integrated to supply this demand.

No easy task to feed a million people who generally do not contribute a single carrot, nor potato, salad, nor tomato, nor wheat, nor anything to their own daily need. Every single aspect of food has to be provided through specialists trading for something. The specialisation has gone this far as to that there is no way any of the structures would survive without the others and supplying food is one of the fundamental aspects of forming densely inhabited settlements.

Image taken from stroom / Wheatfield - A Confrontation by the American artist Agnes Denes, 1982 in the middle of New York.

Its nothing new, this has been an aspect of settlements and cities for as long as they exist, however with site and degree of specialisation of its inhabitants the task has become more complex. Today we are as far detached from the food we eat as to not knowing where it comes from or how it is produced. We are the generation for whom everything simply comes from the supermarket shelf as if it would grow there. The rest of the supply chain and especially the origin of products as simple as apple, bread or milk is a mystery. Do potatoes grow on bushes, is milk a product of vegetables and monkey nuts are roots?

In a recent NAi Publishers / Stroom Den Haag publication Food for the City: A Future for the Metropolis this topic of the food supply chain and the various connected aspect in regards not the city are discussed. In 13 show essays a range of views from food production to food delivery to food processing and food consumption are in detail presented. The core element is a continuous photo essay documenting and illustrating the topic in a wider context.

Food has become part of the wider discussion surrounding cities in the wake of environmental consciousness and the push for sustainability. It has become clear that even though the food supply chain has disappeared from the daily business of the individual citizen it is a major task requiring a lot of resources. From the production, to transportation, to storage, to recycling food requires energy. On the other hand the modern food chain poses high risks and requires a level of security.

Image taken from foodprint / Michiko Nitta en Michael Burton, Algaculture, early works.

The essays in the publication, most of which focus on a specific aspic or case study imply wider application to other situations and a such can be read in combination or in multiple contexts. With this the publication is seeking to cover the topic more widely. There is the Industrialist proposing a new paradigm for 2050 to feed the world, the chef finds answers in the rubble of Haiti, the farmer writes on how to think out of the box, the technologist of course solves the problem of food production and the architect discusses the food network in arctic communities.

Whilst the topics are very interesting and definitely timely the essays each are very short and only really give an overview of the topic. Little goes deep and brings up questions or proposals that would affect the reader as individual. A bit disappointing really is how the title of the publication is misleading the reader to believe the publication is on cities. The is little to no taking about urban structures beyond the broader assumption as that if in 2050 75% of the worlds population lives in urban areas any talking about food is talking about cities.

Nevertheless the topic is very uptodate and something that has been neglected by the broader discussion for a while. The basic food supply definitely is and poses a range of problem in many ways for the metropolis and will even more so in the future. The problems are not only production, as the publication points out if the population grows at this rate by 2050 a number of additional planets would be necessary to produce the required amount of food, but also there are sustainability problems health problems and cultural problems emerging. The discussion is launched.

Image taken from Wietske Maas / Book cover Food for the City: A Future for the Metropolis.


van der Sande, B. ed., 2012. Food for the City - A Future for the Metropolis, Rotterdam: NAI Publishers.

Monday, 30 April 2012

Book - Information Graphics


Information graphics are the subject to a brand new Taschen publication Information Graphics that is bringing complicated data made understandable through brilliant designs to a strong coffee table near you. The book is colourful with strong visual guidance, large, very large and heavy, some 480 pages heavy. As this outline shows, its a bold publication that doesn't hide behind all the various examples of graphic design, but provides a tasteful framework to showcase the many awesome examples of data narratives.

Cover Information Graphics
Image taken from aestheticsofjoy by Stephanie Posavec / Writing without words exploring possibilities to visually represent text.

Of course info graphics are currently trending and one of the most talked and specially passed around topic, not only online but more recently also in the media. All the large media houses have a special information design group and the publication showcases a number of these examples. In this context the book is not the first such collection of good designed information, but certainly one of the boldest in a positive sense.
The publication is edited by Julius Wiedemann und features contributions by Sandra Rendgen, Richard Saul Wurman, Simon Rogers from the Guardian Data Blog and Paolo Ciuccarelli. This is a very interesting team Taschen has put together for this publication with, whilst still being information specialists, covering a broad spectrum of perspectives and expertise.

NYT Historic Shift NYT Historic Shift
Image taken from dynamicdiagrams by NYT / Interactive visualisation showing the changes in election results over the period 2006-2010. Find the interactive version at NYT

Where other publications, for examples Data Flow by Gestalten, Otto Neurat by NAi or indeed Edward Tufte focus on the context of the graphics, the theoretical background of narrating information as well as the actual teaching of how to present information the Taschen publication is a showcase. It is foremost about showing great examples from a variety of sources on how to visualise data sets graphically in mainly 2D. There are a few web based, animated or interactive examples too though. This takes into account that complexity showing in these graphics is continually rising.

Husevaag Escape Routes Husevaag Escape Routes
Image by Torgeir Husevaag / Escape Routes, 2010-2011. A series of drawing studying possibilities of spatial movement under given time constraints. On the left the map and on the right a detail of some of the blue shaded location sixth path details

Showcasing such a large collection of examples is tricky in that the ordering system as to how the examples are organised becomes very prominent and therefore important. Here the editor has decided to go with a very low number of groups to arrange the info graphics. Where other publications make an exercise out of inventing a whole new system to clarify and characterise the examples this one takes the simple approach. This both refreshingly straight forward and annoyingly rough. What do the chosen terms Location, Time, Category and Hierarchy actually describe, or more importantly how are they distinguished?
The questions remain unanswered however, this does not stand in the way to enjoy the great quality and variety this collection shows. Its a book to brows, jump and flip, a publication you will keep in reach for a long time and always go back to to enjoy or indeed recharge your design batteries.

Cover Information Graphics
Image by Taschen / Book cover Information Graphics.


Rendgen, S., 2012. Information Graphics J. Wiedemann, ed., Köln: Taschen GmbH.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Conference - CASA Smart Cities: bridging physical and digital


CASA is running a one day conference under the title CASA Smart Cities: bridging physical and digital. The title basically explains the aim of the event and besides a exciting line up of speakers with interesting projects there is also an exhibition with interactive installations.

Pigeon Sim
Image by Dr George MacKerron / Pigeon Sim, how to navigate the flight icons.

As the Keynote speaker Professor Carlo Ratti, Director, Senseable City Lab, MIT is invited. Other speakers include: Professor Michael Batty, Chairman, CASA, Professor of Planning; Dr Andy Hudson-Smith, Director and Head of Department, CASA; CASA researchers including Richard Milton, Oliver O’Brien, Dr James Cheshire, Steven Gray, Dr George MacKerron, Dr Jon Reades, Dr Joan Serras and Dr Duncan Smith


Pigeon Sim
Image by CASA / Conference flyer.

This event is supported by CASA research grants: ANALOGIES (EPSRC), COSMIC (ERA-NET), GENeSIS (ESRC) and TALISMAN (ESRC, NCRM).

The four main aspects of the conference are:
Find out about groundbreaking research being carried out at CASA, with talks covering crowd-sourcing and participatory mapping, sensing using social media and experience sampling, data dashboards, public transport, public bike schemes and more. Explore a brand new interactive exhibition, showcasing some of CASA’s latest models and maps. Meet and network with academic, public and private sector attendees during coffee breaks, a catered lunch, and an evening drinks reception. Find out more about the courses we offer at CASA.

The Programm can be found HERE. Registration is on http://casasmartcities.eventbrite.co.uk/. The Twitter hashtag for this conference is #casaconf.

The exhibition part will include some exciting experimental interactive media installations. In Pigeon Sim the visitor can fly around Google Earth, navigating by flapping the arms, there are simulations running interactively on touch tables and also the live London Dashboard installation is on display.

NCL_3DPhModel02
Image by urbanTick for NCL / The 3D London NCL model.

Some of the Twitter work is on display too. The analogue Tweet-O-Meter, last on show at the British Library will be installed and a a 3D physical model of the London New City Landscape map will be on display. This model was layered from the contour lines and includes the labels and tag. With it some of the aNCL network clips will be on display, showing the connective aspects of the data. In these clips other cities than London will also be on show to extend on the perspective.

NCL_3DPhModel01
Image by urbanTick for NCL / The 3D London NCL model.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Gamma After Life


What kind of nuclear future awaits us? The recent discussion on the next generation of nuclear power has ebbed away much too quickly. However especially in the UK a public discussion would be much needed with the current plants becoming out of date and a urgent requirement to either decommission them and replace or refurbish to keep going.

The afterlife of nuclear power, being it military or civil usage is however, a much undiscussed topic. It is a field of uncertainties and projections. A whole range of interesting problems are associated with it, not the least the dramatic time span it covers. See also a post on http://urbantick.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/message-to-future.html. How to plan for 10'000 years?

Gamma
Image by Factory Fifteen taken from architizer taken from Dezeen / A vision of the post nuclear city.

Many futures are possible and Factory Fifteen has produced a short on their vision, quite a disturbing one but amazingly produced, mixing some CGI and real footage.

The Synopsis of the film in short: In a post-nuclear future, when the earth is riddled with radiation, a new urban developer proposes to regenerate the cities back into civilisation. GAMMA sets out to stabilise the atomic mistakes of yesteryear for the re-inhabitation of future generations. Using its patented 'Nuke-Root' technology; part fungi, part mollusc, GAMMA intends to soak up the radiation and remove it from the irradiated cities, rebuilding them in the process.
Setting out from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, GAMMA launches its RIG_01 BETA and heads east to the iconic disaster sites of 1980's USSR. The film follows a group of researchers investigating GAMMA's practice from launch to deployment. Moving through a trail of unsuccessful ships across the desert, we follow the researchers from Aralsk's littered sea bed east to the Ukraine.

GAMMA begins its quest of nuclear stability in the Ukraine; Pripyat is used as a test bed for the deployment of GAMMA's patented 'Nuke-root' organisms. Intended to soak up the radiation, the roots infiltrate the ground and built structures to absorb the ‘nuclear nasty's'. As with many urban developers, GAMMA's execution is cheap and ineffective. The city is in turn rendered more radioactive, broken and uninhabitable than before, only now with an outbreak of growing 'Nuke-roots'. The film follows the researchers through the ruins of the 70's utopia, moving across a whole city that consists solely of desolation and total abandon, the researchers witness the aftermath of GAMMA's almighty cock-up.


Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Catching up with the World - a Hub for the UK


The defining airport for the last few decades has to be sent into retirement. Heathrow is at its capacity limit and with a growth expectations of only 1.5% also at its expansion limits. It has however, influenced largely airports around the world and was for many years the airport number one, both in terms of handling and standards.

Established in 1944 as a very big airfield and subsequently developed into the patchwork of extensions we see today. Terminal 5 being the latest completed addon, opened in 2008 and terminal 2 currently being under redevelopment. It serves as the Hub for the UK with 75 airlines flying to 170 destinations, Wikipedia. Interesting are the statistics, only about 11% are UK bound passengers, 43% are short-haul international passengers and 46% are long-haul international passengers.

Thames Hub airport proposal
Image by Foster + Partner taken from Dezeen / The new Thames Hub international airport proposal in the Thames Estuary to replace Heathrow by Foster + Partner and Halcrow.

It serves as a connection point between America and Asia as a stop over airport. With such a strategic location it is very valuable for business and trade and through passenger, business and fright it is the UK's connection to the world.

New and alternatives have been proposed over the last two decades. The problem really is not new. Officials and operatios have known about it for years. Options are to extend either Heathrow, the project is on the table for a third runway, or any of the other airports, second runways in Gatwick or Stansted as well as extending some of the smaller airfields around the capital. The other option is to build a new airport from scratch on the green field.

Thames Hub airport proposal
Image by Foster + Partner taken from telegraph.co.uk / The new Thames Hub international airport proposal in the Thames Estuary to replace Heathrow by Foster + Partner and Halcrow. The new Thames flood barrier is located strategically to the west of the airport proposal as an will regulate the water flow in and out of the Thames maximising the protected areas further up the river and at the same time serving as a tunnel for infrastructure to and from the airport but as a Thames crossing in general.

The green field option is the favourite currently since the private sector prefers the promis such a project bares that it has not the strings attached an extension might have in terms of legacy. The location currently in the spot light is the Thames Estuary,, being the least populated area in the South West potentially offering the opportunity for 24 hours operation whilst minimising the noise pollution over inhabited areas.

Several proposals have been put forwards including two floating airports. The latest proposal Thames Hub is put together as a private initiative by Fosters + Partners and economics consultants Halcrow. The proposal is nice and tidy, plausible and put forwards in a very rational manner. Fosters know how to do that sort of thing. THe firm has a lot of experience in delivering large international airport projects. They delivered Hong-Kong, Beijing and Terminal 5. Details on Wikipedia or a collection of images on Dezeen

The real interesting part of the project is not the airport but how they manage to tie it in with every other major infrastructure problem the UK currently faces. They claim to solve the problem for ports, rail water, flood defence, CO2 emissions, broadband and the imbalance between the north and south regions in the UK. If thats not an agenda!

Thames Hub airport proposal links across the UK and Europe
Thames Hub airport proposal links across the UK and Europe
Thames Hub airport proposal links across the UK and Europe
Image by Foster + Partner taken from the Atlantic Cities / The infrastructure side of the proposal extends right across the UK including links to main land Europe. From new high speed rail links (including visibility shields and integrated infrastructure media, water broadband and so on) and the proposed link across the Thames serving for flood defence, infrastructure and transport tunnel.

The project was presented at lecture evening at UCL by Sir Peter Hall, Huw Thomas from Foster + Partner and Andrew Price from Halcrow.

But its true, the UK actually faces a massively overaged infrastructure system that is constantly patched together poring in emergency funding to actually keep it going, but in no way to renew it. The country is in desperate need to renew these structures, but the real goal of course it to make the airport the essential piece of this task in order to build up enough pressure to get a tiny piece of the necessary changes actually built. This of course would be the airport.

cAKA_clockbank_2006-08-08.ai
Image by jafud / Proposal for a floating city in the Thames Estuary, including an international airport and a deep water access port for London. Developed by jafud 2006, the Bartlett. Part of this proposal was published in the book Cycles in Urban Environments: Investigating Temporal Rhythms
, by Fabian Neuhaus, 2010
.


Such an argumentation of course it no new strategy. Previous projects have tried to integrate new flood defence flood barriers for the Thames Gateway and ultimately London as part of a new International Airport in the Estuary. So for example Thames Reach Airport put forward in 2002, actually proposed more or less on the same location as the new Thames Hub by Foster + Partners. There was also the Thames Reach Airport project put forward in 2009. THere were however much older proposals for example the Maplin project proposed in the early 70s under the then prime minister Edward Heath. There are som many more including the ArKwAy project developed at the Bartlett's MSc Urban Design of a floating city in the Thames Estuary that would include a major new airport as well as a port. A very comprehensive summary is the parliament report Aviation:proposals for an airport in the Thames estuary, 1945-2012 - Commons Library Standard Note summarising the last 67 years of airport planning in the Thames Estuary.

Thames airport proposal 1934 outside parliament
Image taken from Skyscrapercity / Proposal for an airport above the Thames in the center of London just outside Parliement as published in Popular Science Monthly, March, 1934, p28.

The main problem is how the planning is done in the UK. As it is with pretty much all the large scale projects, the Government is doing nothing, it is the privat sector that is pushing it and finally delivering. The politicians have missed the opportunity 2003, ten years ago, because they could not decide. Now the new Government is also against everything and all options, but unable to come up with proposals for solutions.

This practice leaves the essentials and crucial UK infrastructure to be proposed, planned and delivered by the private sector. The result will be once more a cost effective business hybride that works, but is not at all innovative, nor is it ground braking or future proof. It will be just another quick fix, badly stitched together from pieces copied from examples from around the world (maybe UK companies have delivered them, but abroad they all work much better) and crucially it will be too late.

The private sector and comercial businesses can't be blamed. At least they deliver. It is not in their interest to look ahead when they are still busy maximising the profit they can squeeze out fo horribly run down but still profitable, with public money supported infrastructure pieces. To plan and organize a countries infrastructure, serving primarily its people should definitely be the governments business. They should be in charge of developing the strategies for the future, covering energy network and grid, transport infrastructure and communication networks as well as environment including disaster management and water security. Its a public job for the community to secure the essentials in a sustainable and future proof way definitely not a private sector job.

This does not mean the private sector can not deliver, nor pay for it. But the strategy has to be thought out an prepared by the politicians as a matter of national interest. However, this government is not gona do it, they privatise schools and the police force, why should they develop the national grid of infrastructure? Further more there is nothing that points towards the planning system being overhauled into this direction. The government will unveil plans to change the planning system very soon, according to an article on the BBC Planning system awaits overhaul in England, but its going exactly the other way. It will open the doors to planning free for all strengthening such private sector proposals and takeovers on a whole range of scales whilst at the same time again weakening any public authority's position. They are actively taking themselves out of the responsibility.

It is again in fact not far of the earlier example of crowd funding of projects on web platforms such as Spacehive as discussed earlier HERE. The new Hub for the UK will be built in a similar way. The first group that comes along saying the have the money to deliver it, will get the job, no matter what the project, nor which option they are proposing.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Crowd Funded Projects a Model for Planning?


The internet has opened up new resources for funding opportunities. Platforms to advertise projects and find sponsors and funders are developing fast. On such platform is Kickstarter, where developers can promote their project and ask for funding to develop prototyps and deliver products. Others are Go4funds, JustGiving or Profunder. They all have their specialities and niches but essentially they are all about projects and proposals that need to be funded.

A new project called Spacehive has come up in the UK with its own niche in this popular funding circus. The focus is on building projects as they call it neighbourhood improvement projects. As it says on the page "For people with inspiring project ideas, Spacehive allows you to pitch for support and funding from your community. For everyone else it's a refreshingly easy way to transform where you live: just find a project you like and pledge a donation. If it gets funded, it gets built!"

The founder Chris Gourlay describes the Spacehive as the world's first online funding platform for neighbourhood improvement projects. The project went live only last December (2011-12-07) and has so far listed a total of seven projects. These range from a Rooftop Aquatic Farm to a Dog Training Facility to the Community Centre project in Glyncoch.

As far as the projects range so do the costs. The platform has no cost restriction or a minimum. For examples the community centre wants to raise some £792,578 and the Revive North Pond project needs £42,320 or the Stokwell Urban Oasis needs only £2,952.

So far none of the projects have been successful. In fact the Glyncoch centre will be the first project to hit the dead line on the 30st of March. The projects currently needs a further £23'000 to go ahead next month. The next 22 days will be nerve racking for the project officials who desperately want their project to go ahead.

Infrastructure as architecture
Image taken from gka.org / The existing community centre in Glyncoch built in 1977. Could do with an update no question about that.

The media has already responded to the project and BBC has reported from Glyncoch after Steven Fry has tweeted about it. The social media is quick in picking stuff like this up and once more Twitter was the media of choice to discover the Spacehive platform. With over 4 million followers Steven Fry tweeting about it is great promotion and the community hopes this will bring the project the remaining money in funds they are short.

The projects are however not purely community funded. The Glyncoch project for examples has already had funding of 95% when is was listed on the Spacehive platform. This funding is Government money the village was promised for a new community centre. Only the remaining £30'000 the project team is trying to raise on the internet for the new centre to serve the 4'125 strong community.

Infrastructure as architecture
Image taken from spacehive.com / The newly proposed community centre for Glyncoch to be built for 7. There are no plans of or drawings, mentions of a program or what kind of facilities exactly it will offer. Its only a simple SketchUp image showig some building form the outside. Very difficult to see how it will unfold its qualities but it seems to be enough to try and rais substantial amounts of money.

Getting the public involved in local projects is nothing new interesting however, is the way the new trend on the internet is pushing terminologies and understandings of such projects. What does it mean if such a project for a community centre that is desperately needed is now promoted a crowd funded project. How does that change the responsibility previously carried by official government bodies and what does such a model mean for the next generation of urban project?

Platforms for crowd funded projects are nothing new as we have discussed above. THey work for software and app development, for products and now also have their big platform for art, but does it work for community projects? Can such a model replace the states responsibility to deliver and maintain standards in communities including infrastructure and facilities like a community centre.

The current UK Government will be very pleased if such a funding process takes off and becomes a model for other community project. It will mean that even in the delivery for public projects competition and free market can be introduced. Cameron could try and argue that the best promotion team could win any community the much deserved project with the add-on of ,if they can't, they don't deserve it. Let the crowd decide who needs what. It fits perfectly with the Tories plan to run schools privately as academies, privatise the police as outsources services to private security providers and now also let public projects be delivered privately.

Infrastructure as architecture
Image taken from spacehive.com / A project for A Roof-top Aquaponic Farm for London! producing fish and vegetables is one of the other projects looking for funders on the Spacehive platform. This project will need £45,602 to go ahead. The project is promoted by urbanFarmersUK a project related to urbanfarmers.ch a Group based in Zuerich, Switzerland.

A state and especially a planning and urban development does't work like that. Values, excellence and quality are not something that is naturally delivered in the free market. Urban planners and practitioners have to stand for such qualities with their expertise. The future of our cities is not to be placed in the hands of lay people, for such important tasks experts should be put in place to develop such plans for the interest of the community.

The deliver should similarly be payed by the state or the local government using the taxes. People already pay a contribution to the community and this should be directed into such projects. The people from Glyncoch have all payed their tax towards this community centre and its not the point to now turn around and say well we are 30'000 short so all of your pay £10 extra and it will get payed. They already have payed!

Further more developing such funding options for urban development will change the responsibilities. The government will no longer be in charge and therefore also looses the power to controle what is happening. Who will be setting the standards and guidelines if the new road or bridge or dump is crowd funded? It will be very easy for large companies and businesses to manipulate such a process and get it don their way whilst ignoring all regulations and guidelines by pretending to work with the community.

Especially here in the UK it will be dramatic since the current development frameworks already are heavily influenced by private interests with the local authority and the government having very weak measures and tools to develop a community based vision. Other countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland have much better developed frameworks and instruments for urban planning and community development.

It will be vital to strengthen the public official in delivering such community projects and bring back authority to plan ahead and deliver. This is the only way for consistent and sustainable development of the communities through out the country. The public can privatise these responsibilities they have to remain in the powers of the authorities.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Using Social Media Data for Research: The Ethical Challenges


Millions of users leave digital traces of their activities, interactions and whereabouts on the world wide web. More and more personal conversations and private messages are being shifted to these on-the-move channels of communication despite the many metadata strings attached. In recent years, the social science aspects of this data has become increasingly interesting for researchers.

Social networking services like Foursquare or Twitter provide programming interfaces for direct access to the real time data stream promoting it as free and public data. Despite signing acceptance of public rights these services have in their usage a predominantly private feel to it, creating for the user an ambivalence between voyeurism and exhibitionism.

What is the position of academic research upon using these datasources and datasets and how can academic standards be extended to cover these new and very dynamic in time and space operating information streams whilst protecting individual users privacy and respecting a high ethical standard?

In this presentation the use of digital social networks data will be discussed both from a user and from a processing for research standpoint. Examples of data mining and visualisation will be explained in detail developing a framework for working standards.

This talk will be presented at the lunchtime seminar at CRASSH, University of Cambridge, today 2012-03-14, 12h00-14h00, Seminar Room 1, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road. The second speaker is Dr Sharath Srinivasan (Centre of Governance and Human Rights, POLIS).


Monday, 12 March 2012

Book - Infrastructure as Architecture


Infrastructure projects have grown into an important role in the public realm taking more and more responsibility in a social context. Over the past arguably hundred years more and more emphasis has be put in to infrastructure, being it transport services and facilities.

As a modernists take on the city technology was to be placed as the driving force behind planning and this of course shall also include infrastructural project. In fact especially here technology could be implemented with the help of additional arguments. Today, infrastructure is running as flag ship projects in many cases being put forward as statements both public and design wise.

Infrastructure as architecture
Image taken from dpr-barcelona / Hans Hollein Aircraft carrier city in landscape, project. Aerial perspective.

The Jovis publication Infrastructure as Architecture: Designing Composite Networks, edited by Katrina Stoll and Scott Lloyd takes a detailed look at this position infrastructure has grown into and how architecture relates to it, thus implying that design has to learn from both in order to support a new take on projects.

The publication discusses the matter in essays organised in five topics. These are: Infrastructure Economy, Infrastructure Ecology, Infrastructure Culture, Infrastructure Politics and Infrastructure Space/Networks. Contributors include for example Dana Cuff from UCLA, LateralOffice, UrbanLAB, Alexander D'Hooghe and MVRDV.

The essays cover a range of topics and reach from the presentation of practical projects, built and planned to theoretical essays of the discussion. Thus there is a wealth of different views that are, as the editors argue: 'providing a framework for understanding the union of infrastructure and architecture'.

Of course it is on one hand a secret claim to but architects in the position to take on and reclaim design agency over infrastructure projects, but more importantly to discuss the dualities of presence and identity of building projects regardless of their function.

It is superbly interesting how this publication argues for a new take on infrastructure and how the argumentation might actually be point out what practice has already incorporated. Whilst the discussions around the relationships infrastructure is bedded into in the urban system is not new, there is a new approach being argued for. Modernists have taken it on at the beginning of the last century and in the 60s the Smithsons and Team X proposed a new take. More and more it grew into a systemic approach and whilst before it was always one or the other it is now being argued for as both, one and the other.

Appleyard and Lynch in A view from the Road already note that the road is producing scenery for the driver and the passengers it is at the same time dominating the landscape as a static bulky object. Alexander D'Hoogh is especially arguing for this in his essay contribution o the publication: The Objectification of Infrastructure: The cultural project of suburban infrastructure design.
This dualism of producing and being is the new aspect in this publication, but probably could in fact reach beyond. Testing this against current trends might revel a deeper interest of our times in this dualism and the fact that problems could have more than one state.

Infrastructure as architecture
Image taken from jonathandsolomon.com / Book cover. A preview of the publication is available from Jovis HERE. The Essay by Jonathan Solomon is available HERE.


Stoll, K. & Lloyd, S., 2010. Infrastructure as Architecture: Designing Composite Networks, Berlin: Jovis Verlag.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Book - Housing Design


Housing design is the one field of architecture arguably being the most accepted core activity of architects. Building houses is architecture as such. The recent NAi publisher book Housing Design: A Manual by Bernhard Leupen and Harald Mooij is published in a second English edition. It picks up on the is core and very traditional architecture activity of building a house and presents designs across a wide range of types in a cultural context.

HousingDesign04
Image by urbanTick / Book spread showing the chapter introductino nad a summary of the discussed elements.Housing Design - A Manual.

The new publication is a revised English-Language edition and is based on the first Dutch edition published as Het ontwerpen van woningen in 2008. The new edition is extended in its content and, being translated to English, definitely open up to a wider audience worldwide.

In a series of eight chapters the publication develops a clear presentation of housing projects, of both built and some unbuilt examples. The chapters organise the projects in several categories. Other than most books on the same subject however, Housing Design does not try to press the examples into descriptive categories. The authors have chosen to group them into programatic categories characterising the process and the context rather than the project itself.

HousingDesign05
Image by urbanTick / Book spread Housing Design - A Manual. The example here is by DKV Architects, Kop van Havendiep (Lelystad, 2004) with detailed sectional drawing.

With this the presentation is more relaxed and less arbitrary in a range of different contexts. Where the descriptive categories often seem out of place the here used programatic categories support the reading of each examples in a wider context.

This is at the same time where the specific strength of this publication lies. It is not just a design manual, but a design reader. The examples are not just standing on their own as a separate entity. Each project is set in a wider context linking it in with a theoretical and practical background.

The book is therefore also great reading material. It is by no means a picture book or a flip book, but presents a systematical approach to the presentation of a range of housing projects in the context of architecture history and practice. In this the publication goes into great detail with the presentation and answering of problems drawing from a great source of architectural history examples. Under the subtitle belly for examples, the problem of the underside of a house if rised on piloties or has an underpass is discussed using Le Corbusier's Unité d'habitation and MVRDV's WOZOCO as examples. Similar the topic scenery and the design of interior spaces draws on Haussmann and Adolf Loos's Haus Moller and Das Prinzip der Bekleidung (The Principle of Cladding).

HousingDesign06
Image by urbanTick / Book spread Housing Design - A Manual. The example here is by Herzog de Meuron, Hebelstrasse 11 Housing (Basel 1988) as an example of a skeleton construction.

Each chapter starts with a theoretical introduction and presents a series of examples. Each with photo plans and drawings. Often this includes construction drawings such as sections. This allows the publication to go in to a lot of detail beyond just the floor layout, discussing construction problems in line with design and questions of aesthetics.

The book concludes in the chapter The Design Process in which three examples are presented as case studies. The discussed aspects are 'applied' or revisited as to how they accompany the different design stages of a project. With this the authors demonstrate that housing design is not simply about finding the right typology and developing a floor plan layout. They make the point very clear that architecture and specifically housing design is a contextual process.

HousingDesign02
Image by urbanTick / Book endsheet showing the different elements and parts of a house that are discussed in details. There are storys, core space, gallery, staircase, street infill and diagonal stacking amongst many others. The pictograms summarise the characteristics of each element very neatly and allow for quick reference and finding.Housing Design - A Manual.

It is a very beautiful publications. It feels good to touch and it is in its design quite complexe without overloading. Actually it looks plain, but with its use of metallic colours and specific fonts for different types of text it is rather playful in a supporting kind of way. The photographs are all black and white and so are the plans and drawings. Despite this no information the information is very clear and readable.

To summ up, this is definitely one of the great publications on housing design and worth having, not only if you are a first year undergrad architecture student. In fact it might be even too complicated for beginners. It might be even more insightful and interesting if you already know about architecture. With its many references and examples across architecture history it is a great reference as well as reading book.

HousingDesign01
Image by urbanTick / Book cover Housing Design - A Manual.


Mooij, H. & Leupen, B., 2011. Housing Design - A Manual, Rotterdam: NAI Publishers.