Perspective Mapping: South Station

Tasked with returning to South Station, the following observations were made in light of an essay by urban media designer, Martijn de Waal (of The Mobile City) entitled The City as Interface: How New Media Are Changing the City.

In the essay, de Waal specifies some public space as part of the “urban public sphere,” namely any accessible place where people of various background can potentially meet. In certain aspects, successful public spaces are designed around the identities that weave though the space on a daily basis. A modern urban public are the inhabitants of this public sphere which share a common goal or action (such as transportation in a train station). American sociologist Lyn Lofland introduced a third classification of space (besides public and private): that of the “parochial” domain. A parochial sphere consists of a common group of people that share a sense of commonality despite having a publicly accessible location. Examples include a Turkish hooka bar in a Dutch neighborhood, a gay bar, a bench in a public park where teenagers commonly gather. The ubiquitous nature of personal cellular-run interfaces (phones, laptops, tablets) permits an interlocked analysis of public, parochial and private spaces. These observations try to take in consideration of these three classifications.

Patrons were observed in different zones of the South Station atrium/food court. For the course of three minutes, actions despite walking, were tallied. Included were (phone activity, talking, looking up at ads and way-finding, using the restroom, eating, etc). Actions were then classified into adding to the public domain or participating in a parochial/private domain (since often times it’s difficult to classify which one an individual is participating in).


These are the tallies/raw data from my 3 minute observations about the Atrium:


The concentric circle diagrams are the first steps in my algorithm to determine a network diagram at the perspective of an individual in South Station. My assumption: A patron of South Station will be drawn to areas in which other people are behaving similarly (headphones on, or looking for way-finding, or eating, etc.). My network diagram takes into account which zones are physically accessible to each other (clear pathways) and how much sonic or visual activity is perceivable from his/her vantage point.

The top image is the network diagram with the centers of each zone at their physical distances from each other. The circular chart on the left describes the journey of one individual through South Station in terms of talking on a mobile, looking up at way-finding, and having headphones on. The blue wedge and outlined zone #7 shows where in time and space (respetively) the individual’s perspective is currently. The size of the node represents how many people inhabit that zone on average. The saturation of the node represents how many people are conducting similar actions as the current user’s perspective. The length of the connection represents the potential of the user perceiving ambient information (sonic and visual) in his current perspective.


In this way, space is not a simple function of x-, y- and z-displacement; it is a dynamic system of goal-seeking, resource-exhausting, information-filtering agents which happen to be navigating four dimensions. And when these motivations act on a subject, it is not accurate to plot navigation of a public space in two dimensions.


Mapping Public Spaces: South Station Part 2


After two assignments considering the mapping of South Station, this capstone project is both a summary of research and critique of mapping methodology.

The first visualization observes activity of patrons of South Station in the ticketing and food court atrium. Dots are placed on a plan view of the atrium to show different activity by location. While this visual is helpful to show where different types of activity occur, it is often easily observable: food transactions happen close to food kiosks, etc.

The second iteration of our data concerned perspective mapping. This visualization takes into account a specific user, and to what degree the public sphere can add to his/her experience in Station. The traditional plan view is colored by areas of unique programming. From there a distortion map is created for a user that favors way-finding, noise, visual distractions, and other patrons doing similar actions. While the distortion method is not programmed to be dynamic or algorithmically precise, a series of these maps could help show areas that most alter or add to the urban public sphere.

The third iteration creates a network diagram out of the plan view, considering that area is irrelevant in programming. Programming zones are replaced by nodes, that vary in size by the average population that inhabit those spaces. Connections between nodes are shortened and lengthened according to the similarity of adjacent spaces and strength of their sonic and visual stimuli from the user’s perspective (outlined in blue) and detailed in the circular narrative (blue wedge).

Mapping Public Space: South Station

ARTG 6330: Mapping Strategies
joint studio with NU Architecture

Assigment 1: Mapping Public Spaces at South Station

For the first assignment, groups will need to identify a phenomena that structures space in South Station in downtown Boston, Massachusetts. Once the phenomena is identified, collect data to map the space and visual techniques to clarify the space. Thought and materials to collect the data should be considered, as if a team of researchers would be collecting data for you.

In the main Atrium of South Station, our group observed patrons of the MBTA and their social habits (or lack thereof). My first sketch focuses on the area in front of the overhead electronic arrival/departure timetable. The space in front of it was void of obstacles and measured ~80ft by ~20ft, with the electronic boar above the short edge. While this space is free of obstacles, observations quickly found this space to fluctuate population and usage rapidly.

First attempt at mapping South Station in front of electronic arrival/departure board
First attempt at mapping South Station in front of electronic arrival/departure board

In this diagram, I grid the space in front of the electronic board. Places where patrons had a “social event” or stopped I marked with an X, and the subscript describes # in their party as well as gender. The lines connecting events show pathways to and from the event.

Immediately, some issues became obvious:

  1. Any biographical information that does not change from entrance to exit of South Station (gender, # in party) should be coded w/o labels to avoid confusion.
  2. Layering multiple pathways becomes difficult to record/follow a singular experience in the station.
  3. Pathways are a vector, they should denote direction
  4. Location of social events is may not prove as interesting as comparing location and type of social event (checking phone, greeting someone, reading newspaper).
A physical map/plan view of the Atrium, and some ideas about how to visually code different types of events and people
Descriptions of the Center of the Atrium; Observations from standing in the center of the Atrium; sketch detailing the proportions of the area in front of the electronic arrival/departure board
Defining the phenomena; Attack Plan for Starting Research, including suggested variables to have researchers collect

This is a link to the first-draft of my  Research_Form_South_Station. This is what an Observer would take to South Station and fill out. The goal of this form is to get the independent researcher to understand the study, how to avoid mistakes (often miscommunication), and collect data in a consistent manner.

This project continues with collecting some sample data and creating a sample of the visual language necessary to define the space.