Beh/Exp Readings W7

Gilloch, Graeme. “‘Seen from the Window’: Rhythm, Improvisation and the City.” Bauhaus and the City: A Contested Heritage for a Challenging Future1 (2011).


  1. Lefebvre suggests the Bauhaus defined the modern perspective on space: objects in space have dynamic relationships (they are assemblages, not isolated), interior space (and objects within) and exterior space share complementary aspects of a ‘total design,’ and a global space, that of homogeneity, erases the social and political character of its production.


  • “Clean lines and unadorned surfaces are prized as part of a modern technological orthogonal aesthetic based on rationality and austerity. As buildings lose their particular ‘face,’ Lefebvre complains, the cityscape itself is increasingly distinguished by an intense monotony, by a formal and functional anonymity” (187).
  • “When it comes to the question of what the Bauhaus’s audacity produced in the long run, one is obliged to answer: the worldwide, homogeneous and monotonous architecture of the state, whether capitalist or socialist.” (quoted Lefebvre)

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. “A Theoretical Model for Enjoyment.”The Improvisation Studies Reader: Spontaneous Acts. Eds.  Rebecca Caines and Ajay Heble, eds. New York: Routledge, 2015. 150-161.


  1. Flow experiences arise from flow activities–activities in which a person can engage in total involvement, a total merging of activity and awareness. Flow experience is sought after for its intrinsic value rather than external reward.
  2. Flow activities are feasible for the participants, centered around a field of limited stimuli, permitting of a loss of self-consciousness, coherent assemblages of demands and feedback, and rewards in themselves.
  3. Flow activities are achieved when a person’s perception of their skills/capabilities are matched by their perception of the challenges/opportunities the activity presents.


  • “In a variety of human contexts, then, one finds a remarkably similar inner state, which is so enjoyable that people are sometimes willing to forsake a comfortable life for its sake. In many cases, the importance of the experience is blurred by what appear to be the external goals of the activity–the painting that the artist wants to create, the theory that the scientist strives to prove, or the grace of God that the mystic seeks to attain. On a closer look, these goals lose their substance and reveal themselves as mere tokens that justify the activity by giving it a direction and determining rules of action. But the doing is the thing” (151).
  • “Ideally, flow is the result of pure involvement, without any consideration about the results. In practice, however, most people need some inducement to participate in flow activities, at least at the beginning, before they learn to be sensitive to intrinsic rewards” (154).
  • “What is usually lost in flow is not the awareness of one’s body or one’s functions, but only the self construct, the intermediary which one learns to superimpose between stimulus and response” (154).
  • “[…] the various elements of the flow experience are linked together and dependent on each other. By limiting the stimulus field, a flow activity allows people to concentrate their actions and ignore distractions. As a result, they feel in potential control of the environment. Because the flow activity as clear and non-contradictory rules, people who perform in it can temporarily forget their identity and its problems. The result of all these conditions is that one finds the process intrinsically rewarding” (158).
  • “Flow is experienced when people perceive opportunities for action as being evenly matched by their capabilities” (159).

Kloeckl, Kristian. The Urban Improvise. Northeastern University Department of Art + Design and School of Architecture, Boston.


  1. A multi-disciplined advancement in technology has enabled responsive environments and artifacts to constitute the interconnected, real-time urban context. If these interactions are likened to a theatre drama (by Laurel in Computers as Theatre), then the potential to go off-script shifts the appropriate metaphor to that of an improvisation.
  2. Of the improvisational performance, the art comes from an openness to ongoing processes, the felt timing places the exchanges into relevance, and the form is recognized and attributed through (and while) doing.
  3. An improvisation-based view of urban computing, its environments and contexts, and its inhabitants/actors means one may consider a new emphasis on possibility and preparation.


  • “While this conceptual model [Laurel’s Computers as Theatre] has opened up interesting new ground, limitations arise as it is based on forms of scripted theatre: In scripted theatre, unlike real life, the process of choice and decision making takes place during rehearsal and practice and not during the actual staging of the performance. In the sense that drama formulates the enactment and not the action, it is unlike real life. Instead, in improvisational techniques, as in real life, anything can happen. Actions are situated in context and always in flux, situations are essentially unique, the focus is on dynamic choice in a dynamic environment. I suggest, therefore, that improvisation  is a model that can more effectively frame real life interactions in and with responsive environments and artifacts in today’s hybrid cities” (3).
  • “While not following a previously formulated plan as such, improvisation does acquire in this way some form of consistency in that it connects with what has come before in an ongoing process of repetition and variation” (7).
  • “Improvisation overcomes several dichotomies instilled by modern thought. It’s practice overcomes clear distinctions between repetition and novelty, discipline and spontaneity, security and risk, individual and group, and ultimately order and disorder. It overcomes a distinction between these poles by doing away with a binary opposition and embracing a mind frame of complexity, in which order and disorder, information and noise form a mutually constitutive relationship” (7).
  • “The awareness of time in improvisation ensures the relevance of actions. And through the experience of time – when you do something, when you don’t, when you start, when you stop – you realize that you have a choice. You start, you stop. You change. You determine your experience. More than metric time it is felt time  and event time that is of relevance here” (13).
  • “The phenomenology of the moment for improvisational performers is as much material for their art as is their past training and practice of structures and procedures” (13).

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).

Sound Workshop: Ruggles Station

On October 8th, 2015, representatives from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the MBTA’s department of Architecture, and the MBTA’s department of System-Wide Accessibility were in conversation with Sam Auinger and Bruce Odland (O+A, in addition to students from Northeastern University’s Architecture Program, Northeaster University’s Information Design and Visualization Program, and Harvard University’s GSD.  The conversations between these groups will help O+A’s upcoming installation in the Ruggles Station as part of an exhibition sponsored by the Gardner museum and Northeastern Univeristy.

Notes from the Meeting:

The Office of System-Wide Accessibility

  • identifies issues of disability services on MBTA transit
    • trains front-line handling of situations where patrons need assistance
    • oversees maintenance of accessibility technology and tools (speakers, signs, elevators, etc)
  • publishes a quarterly report on accessibility functionality
  • works with both fixed-route and para-transit services
  • recent improvements:
    • wayfinding for the blind
    • audible countdowns for the trains arriving next
  • Information Equivalency
    • how can information many people take in visually be translated to sound and tactile sensations?
    • with non-consistent train station layouts, how can acoustic localization be upheld?
    • how can various sound information remain distinct? how can sound information be withheld in efforts to direct the flow of information release?
    • when is sound puddling effective communication in happenstance events, such as maintenance or repair of accessibility technology?
  • Accessibility needs call for consistency; they aim to clarify information with a lack of cacophony.
  • Sounds perceived as “ambient” or “noise” by most can actually be sonic information for the blind.
  • With the many competing sounds of transit, commerce, and socialization, sonic information competes with masking forces.

Department of Architecture

  • internal department of the MBTA
  • focuses on repairs and additions of current train stations as well as construction of new facilities
  • Art in train stations has always be in policy, but never has it been standardized
    • Temporary Art in train stations has recently had a policy clarified. Artists must suggest space and idea to be reviewed by architecture and accessibility departments. The cost to produce and install will be on the artist.
    • Integral Art is an enhancement to the underlying structure of the train station is partially funded by the US government. Artists/designers will work directly with architecture firms and their work will be incorporated into the construction bids. A fabrication company will then be hired to create the art and install it.
  • Policy is now in place to make sure both types of art in train stations is decided on fairly and with open procurement.
  • Art needs to consider the fundamental use of the space, how it affects accessibility of the space, and safety of materials.

Guest Speakers: Mapping and Sound

A collection of guest speakers, artists, and designers spoke with our Mapping Strategy class on their work with sound, maps and/or both.

Sven Anderson – Dublin, Ireland

Anderson is working with the city of Dublin, in effort to create a new position Urban Acoustic Planner. His efforts are best described as a “year-long public art commission for Dublin City Council, titled MAP or Manual for Acoustic Planning and Urban Sound Design”

Continuous Drift (2015)

Temple Bar’s Meeting House Square – Dublin, Ireland

The above is the site for an interactive, public sound installation (Continuous Drift). The square is populated by shops and bars and the four retractable canopies protected the open square from harsh elements. The architect originally built speakers into these canopies without any discernible use. Anderson commissioned 21 artists to compose/create sound to be controlled by the democratic nature of a singular remote accessible on the web. Users of the square can start, stop, change the volume, or change the track entirely at the press of a button on their smartphones.

“Generally we walk around the city and we have no say in what we hear, and a lot of people have different opinions about what’s noisy, what isn’t noisy, what should be there and shouldn’t be there.” – Sven Anderson, on Continuous Drift

Glass House (2015)

Smithfield Plaza + Torches – Dublin, Ireland

Pictured above is Smithfield Plaza of Dublin, Ireland, and the torches that line its perimeter. The plaza, an uncommon sight of open-space in the dense urban city of Dublin, was originally created to be an active neighborhood center, with open space to hold outdoor rock-concerts and markets. Noise complaints about various activities in the space has rendered it barren, and rarely-used.

Glass House, a sound installation, uses the torches (which no longer run because gas is expensive) as speakers to pipe ambient sound, a fragmented version of the audio from the theatre below the square, into the square. Named after composer John Cage’s analogy relating experimental music to glass architecture, the sonic environment transforms the above ground square from the already-present data from the theatre below.

Peter Cusack – London/Berlin

Favourite Sounds (1998-ongoing)

Peter Cusack, recording sounds at Chernobyl in 2007.

Cusack’s ongoing, crowd-sourced project began in his hometown of London, England by asking people not only what their favorite sound was, but also why. The sounds themselves weren’t the interesting part, it was the reasoning behind the sounds and how subjective pleasing sounds are because of differences in sonic perception and memory.

“It [Favourite Sounds project] was trying to get people talking about the way they hear everyday sounds and how they react to them, or what they think and feel about them, and how important (or not important) they are. And to a certain extent, that project has been successful in that. Because when you ask questions, then people will always talk about other things.” – Peter Cusack, for

Sarah Williams – Cambridge, MA

digitalMatatus (2014)

Mutatus (multi-passenger, fixed-route taxis) popular in Nairobi, Kenya and many other African urban centers

Sarah Williams, director of MIT’s Civic Data Design Lab, engaged with the favored transportation of Nairobi, Kenya: matatus. Matatu (or Matatus) are privately owned minibuses, often decorated vibrantly and play loud music, which offer the only wide-scale transportation needs of inner city Nairobi. Williams, in collaboration with the University of Nairobi, sent out GPS-equipped devices with students to track over 200 matatu routes in the greater area of Niarobi.

A digital map of the many matatu route in Nairobi, Kenya designed by Williams’ team

Upon creation of the digital map, city officials adopted this map as the official matatu map of Nairobi, began a large paper distribution, made it available for download, and have recognized the need for a more-organized public transit. When matatus drivers first saw the map, discussion quickly turned to the creation of new routes where gaps in the map exist. The data collected by Williams and her team has also been added to the Google Maps data base, and can proudly boast it’s inclusion as the first non-formal transit system to be searchable on Google Maps’ direction services.

Sam Auinger + Bruce Odland (O+A) – Berlin/New York

Hearing Perspective

O+A’s work has a foundation in discovering a hearing perspective, much like visual perspective, for a culture which has let its sonic awareness wither. With active listening and sonic thinking, this artist team creates large scale, public sound installations as well as gives lectures and workshops worldwide. With the rapid rise of technology/architecture and lack of sonic consideration, there often arises a disparity between what we see and what we hear. Auinger and Odland suggest “we will not understand ourselves until we understand our noise.” Our noise is our culture. Listening is also a perception of present/dynamic powers mediated by past powers, in that active stimuli are reflected and manipulated by our built environments and spaces.

Harmonic Bridge (1998-ongoing)

A sonic intervention near Mass MOCA in North Adams, MA, Harmonic Bridge connects the town and the museum despite the noise of a highway overpass. Resonating tubes placed under strategic parts of the highway bridge take data from the passing traffic and creates ambient chords that color the space that was once frequently unused.

Designing Information: Chapter 5

Designing Information: Human Factors and Common Sense in Information Design
Joel Katz

Chapter 5: Finding your Way? Movement, Orientation, Situational Geography

5  Finding your Way? Movement, Orientation, Situational Geography

What’s Up? Heads up

  • Heads-up maps, originally developed for pilots to look up and read maps at the same time, orients maps so that up on the map is forwards from their orientation to the sign
  • GM introduced HUDs (heads up displays) in automotives in 1988 and now almost all GPS devices have this option
Heads-Up display of pedestrian maps for Walk!Philadelphia
Heads-Up display of pedestrian maps for Walk!Philadelphia

Signs and Arrows

  • Two arrows in way-finding
    • literal: point in the actual direction
    • literal arrows can have different cultural associations. On a HUD, American “up” arrow means straight ahead, French “down” arrow means straight ahead (as in, go under this sign).
    • theoretical: point in direction of something, possibly distant, but do not clue as to how to get there.

scale and adjacency

  • While scale and adjacency are preferred constant and mapped naturally, printing concerns or restrictions can take precedent.

a movement network genealogy

  • “It is the challenge and responsibility of the information designer to design maps and other navigational aids with an understanding of the different ways in which movement modes are experienced and perceived.”
  • Consider your unit of measurement or perception of measurement when abstracting maps for a user/purpose
    • While walking, we count cross-streets, or monuments, or addresses; while riding a bus, we count stops; while flying there is only a beginning and ending airport.

map or diagram?

  • Mark Noad’s redesign of the London Undergound Map walks the line between a map and a diagram
    • It closely relates to the actual space between stops, but simplifies shapes without being geometrically rigid.
    • Maps are difficult to memorize, but contain a wealth of information for various users
    • Diagrams are easier to memorize and conceptualize, but are sparse in order to help certain users accomplish a certain task.
underground maps of London; Beck, Noas (2012), geographical accuracy
underground maps of London; Beck, Noas (2012), geographical accuracy

information release sequence

  • changes in mode of transport require user to revisit context
  • each modal change sequence is different
  • information user needs to attain is in discreet steps, but each step might not be simple/familiar
    • releasing information depending on location (inside/outside, above/underground) or status (un/paid) helps discreet steps to be completed in order
    • it is a hierarchy that is dependent on time and place


  • maps that measure geographic distance as a function of time
    • if it takes the same time to get there, it is visually equal.
    • takes into account things like: availability of transport, topography, obstacles, etc.

transitions and familiarity

  • the transition from a geographically intact pedestrian map to an abstracted subway map can prove difficult
    • consider how much geographic accuracy is needed for a map to do its job. Can routes be straight when they are really curved? Can routes be less curved in the diagram than in real life? Small discrepancies will generally go unnoticed by users.
    • natural features (river, pond, shore, etc) can help orient users between maps and diagrams

perils of alphabetization

  • organizing information: LATCH (Location, Alphabet, Time, Category, Hierarchy)

the view from below or above

  • placing pictorial representations of buildings on flat maps could give impressions of the facade’s directionality
  • in any one map perspective, at max you can only see 50% of buildings’ facades. Not every building facade will be the iconic, picturesque version of the building.

urban open space

  • Roman urban architecture valued the uniform street facade with intricate public spaces interior.
    • This is instance, designer Giambasttista Nolli published a map that denotes open street space and open courtyard space of equal hierarchy, to allow pedestrians to understand, when faced with a facade, if there interest behind those walls.

Small Urban Spaces: Chapter 2 + Chapter 3

The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces
William H. Whyte

  • Chapter 2: Sitting Space
  • Chapter 3: Sun, Wind, Trees, Water

2 Sitting Space

  • Most plazas examined were similar: on major avenues, occupied block fronts, near bus stops and transportation options, etc.
    • too great of variance between plazas called for a study
  • No singular device showed reason for variance in population: sun, sitting space, food, aesthetics, etc.
    • Aesthetics from the architect or designer’s view were difficult to perceive from ground-level use.
    • Most “strip” plazas were empty most of the time, but shape alone does not dictate success, as many popular plazas were considerably more wide than long, or vice versa.
    • Pure size/available open space can have the opposite effect (can be popular or completely empty)
  • Only Rule: People tend to sit where there are places to sit.
    • The first rule to abide by. Without effective sitting space, people cannot enjoy the sun, the food, the sights, etc.

Integral Sitting

  • Sitting space should focus on being more socially comfortable than physically comfortable.
    • Sitting people like choice. Location, environmental, popularity, proximity, etc.
    • Often, people sit on any surface despite it’s intention. Ledges, steps, etc. all are suitable for sitting.
    • Planting shrubbery, adding rails, or placing water too close can turn a sittable ledge into an unused waste-of-space.
  • When suggesting all ledges should be sittable, guidelines are helpful! Lack of guidelines suggest architects and designers should adhere to convention.

Sitting Height

  • People will sit on any surface between 1 foot and 3 feet high
  • Spaces for sitting that are 2+ backsides deep, and are accessible from both sides, add more sitting space and added social comfort between strangers occupying the same area.
  • Steps should not constitute the same amount of space as ledges in a plaza, but can function like ledges for sitting space
  • Concentrations of people will form in the diagonal of building traffic to corner of the steps.
    • The congestion is amiable, as walkers move around stationary persons usually with ease and no discernible discomfort.
    • The easier the flow between between the street and plaza, the more likely people are to move between the two— to tarry and to sit.


  • Isolating benches from the action of a street or plaza often leads to them not being used
  • Experiment with benches and chairs; place moveable furniture in spaces and watch how people group them and ungroup them.


  • The possibility of choice is as important as the exercise of it.
  • Set pieces of furniture often ignore social distances.
    • Social distances are subtle and ever-changing
  • While many building managers may object to movable seats for fear of theft or damage, take the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC: There are 200 seats out in front of its plaza, and very little vandalism or theft occurs. It costs less to replace a chair occasionally than it does to have someone watch them.
The possibility of choice is as important as the exercise of it.
The possibility of choice is as important as the exercise of it.

Sitting Space

  • Best measured in linear feet, because with ample backside room, depth matters little for use.
  • On the best used plazas, there is almost as much sitting linear ft. as there was perimeter linear feet.
  • One linear foot of sitting space for every 30 square feet of plaza space, but this proportion is a minimum and should be easy to surpass.

3 Sun, Wind, Trees, Water


  • Sun is a critical factor for plaza use when the temperature dictates a need to be warm
    • Relative warmth determines more plaza use (the first 80 degree day in spring will garner more use in a plaza than an 80 degree day mid July)
  • Access to the sun allows a plaza to be successful, but doesn’t solely dictate it
    • Requiring air rights to surrounding low-rise buildings around the plaza helps keeps sunlight in the plaza.
    • Borrowing sun, with reflective architecture, should also be utilized for places not exposed to direct sunlight. The effects are similar to that of direct sunlight.


  • Suntraps: locations blocked by ~3 sides from wind but allow access to sunlight
A suntrap in St. Thomas Church
A suntrap in St. Thomas Church
  • Open plazas alongside buildings may not have this luxury. Wind-tunnel tests should be common practices for architects in respect to structural integrity as well as the human experience.
  • Semi-outside spaces are now the preference, as they are customizable to allow some wind, some sun, etc.


  • In relation to sitting space, trees provide a comforting canopy and shade.
  • The best used trees are those planted in close proximity to walkways and sitting space, that are planted flush with the ground (no ledges or fences blocking access).
  • Clusters of trees are preferable (groves and arbors) to geometric, regular, or sparse spacing of foliage
 a canopy of trees makes this high-traffic area comfortable and welcoming
a canopy of trees makes this high-traffic area comfortable and welcoming


  • Water functions similarly in all forms (waterfalls, rapids, pools, fountains, etc) and generally has only positive effects on an area.
  • Water features are liked for their “look” and their “feel” and their “sound”
    • Ornamental access to water has proven to be the easiest of the three to achieve.
    • Access to the perceptual sensation of water (touching, splashing, dipping) is ideal. Overly guarded or restricted water features will prevent popularity among a plaza. There are no studies showing access to water, even perceived “dangerous” water features, leads to any more accidents that restriction to those places.
    • The sound of moving water can also be tolerated at louder volumes than street traffic because of its associations with tranquility. Without visual context, people will say it’s too loud, but in context it is appreciated.

City as Interface (2014) by M. de Waal + New Spatial Context (1971) by Albers, et al.

The City as Interface: How New Media Are Changing the City (2014)

by Martin de Waal


de Waal’s vision of cities as interfaces for private domains and publics is an interesting perspective for mapping. The idea of parochial domains is widely understood, especially in an age where digital domains allow the transformation of public spaces into more domain factions. In my experiences, I’ve had a difficult time imagining what role public domains play in my existence in public spaces. Face-to-face conversations with complete strangers is not what defines a public domain; it’s the sharing of space, the observations of one another, the mutual respect for personal space, the subtle nods, the eye contact, the complimentary movement that makes a public space.

The Urban Public Space

  • urban public space: the urban mixing chamber
  • trust can develop between residents who briefly exchange greetings, meet on the street or have an occasional superficial chat.
    • this mild socialization creates a modern public group: people who are temporarily united around a common practice.
    • the commonality can be present/physical or mediated (via technology).
  • Any group of city dwellers can for a public group by making any part of their life accessible to others.
    • These groups are not passive audiences, they are listeners and performers
  • It is norm of anonymity and the collective unique diverse backgrounds of city dwellers that drive the creation of modern publics.

Parochial and Public Domains

  • two different domains for members of a public: private and the urban public sphere
  • parochial domains exist in between private and public spheres; any public that is accessible to outsiders but would be received with suspicion
    • gay bars, locals’ pub, Turkish Coffee house in Dutch Neighborhood, etc.
  • parochial domains allow members of the public to be absorbed into collectives, while public domains require strangers to determine how they relate to each other.
  • the 19th century ideal of public domains at the center of a city surrounded by parochial domains potentially never existed
    • rather, more people’s lives reveal parochial domains wherever they go.
    • occasionally parochial domains can overlap, forming one of few modern instances of public domain of equal standing strangers

Digital Media and Urban Public Spaces

  • parochial + public domains = urban public sphere
  • historically, urban public spheres could not develop without the physical proximity of city dwellers. mobile technology now allows partially mediated, partially public public domains and parochial domains.
  • social media is still developing, and much like other historical forms of communication technology, we can influence their development though policy, regulation, design or use.
  • Uses of urban media
    • experience makers: record and share
    • territory devices: record of narrative in a space (domain with past experiences)
  • Mizuko Ito + Diasuke Okabe on phone as a “membrane”
    • mobile phones are not a portal that teleports us from a physical location to a virtual worlds but rather a membrane that enables us to admit mediated contacts to our surroundings and to regulate the here and now the presence of absent others/media files.
    • Similarly, phones can take a public domain and create a mini private domain, albeit temporarily.
  • Urban media can also regulate physical access to locations (smart card access point, etc)
  • With the development of urban media, it is important to consider more than the physical construct of a domain. Focus on aspects of the process of a domain itself: how and under what circumstances do city dwellers take notice of each other and thus form urban publics?

The City as an Interface

  • interface: the place at which independent and often unrelated systems meet and act on or communicate with each other
  • “To a large degree, everyday life revolves around attuning individual and collective identities, attuning the present to the past, and harmonizing the concerns and interests of different urban publics.”
    • communication between individual and communal identities and shared social representations
    • helps to remove the purely-physical construct of a public domains or communities

Platform, Programme, Protocols

  • defining a location or space as parochial or public domains is not of great importance; concern should be given to how city dwellers organize themselves, how they create links between other.
  • Platform: environment, space, location (can be non-physical, like software)
  • Programme: specific use of the platform (residential building, Facebook app for iOS, cookout at neighborhood centre)
  • Protocol: applicable behaviors in a context (“liking” a facebook status, who sits where on a bench, etc)
  • Agency: who has the opportunity to influence the shape of the interface? architects? law-makers? the people themselves? technology?

The New Spatial Context from The Science of Geography (1971)

by Albers, et al.


Relative space is a designers best friend. Customizable mapping is essential to displaying information in it’s most useful form. These concepts of non-euclidian mapping enforce the variance of influences that affect real-life problems and their solutions. Divorcing oneself from spatial geography is an important exercise, but exercising non-spatial geometry should be purposeful since it does require an audience with certain needs and intellect to be effective.

The Nature of Relative Space

  • Historically, geographers measured distance and space in absolute terms.
    • Space is constructed, in this way, by distances along dimensions.
  • Relative space is constructed by relative distance; relative distance could be measured due to constraints, such as obstacles, biases, cost, energy, etc.
  • isochrones are illustrative lines that denote equal travel time from a single point, much like topography lines and elevation.
  • relative mapping physically distorts geography, but the use of geography (like transportation) can be dependent on other factors.
relative distance explained in other terms (against absolute space)
relative distance explained in other terms (against absolute space)
  • “Time and cost are far more powerful determinants of perceived space than are absolute distances, and they are thus better explanatory variables of spacial behavior.”
  • It’s the goal of the user that determines which context to map distances.

Cartograms and Maps of Non-Absolute Space

areal cartogram of US by population
areal cartogram of US by population
  • Areal cartograms can mimic relative space but focus on a scale of population.
  • A logarithmic map, distance from a central point keeps decreasing (in a log proportion) which allows for more information to be displayed near the origin (useful for urban locations) and leaves less room the farther out (such as rural areas)
  • Matrix representations are useful when spatial relationships can not be mapped. Ex: cost of A>B is $7, B>C is $1, and A>C is $4. You can’t make a triangle with sides o 1,4, and 7.
    • Similarly asymmetrical distances (when to is different than from), are more easily represented in a matrix.
  • Man’s continued manipulation of relative spaces creates new spatial contexts which in turn produce new behavior patterns. Space-adjusting techniques (transportation, communication, etc) enable us to restructure space.

Traditional Geographic Questions in a New Spatial Context

Locational Questions

  • Absolute locations can change, but redefining and tracking are not necessary most of the time
    • For example, London and Edinburgh don’t change location, but could grow in size towards each other, or become more accessible by transportation technology. In the first, a redefine might be in order, but the second, the city’s geographic coordinates are secondary to time.

What is where? in Relative Space

  • humanly locations/distributions of phenomena in relative space is more difficult to collect. geographers now rely on census data, but can also conduct interview or administer surveys to assess spatial behavior.

Uniform and Nodal Regions

  • Nodal regions are produced when spacial movement stems from a centralize location.

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.

The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces: Intro + Chapter 1

The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces
William H. Whyte

This video, made by Whyte, follows along with the accompanying book.

Reflection: It is amazing to see how far we’ve come in the scientific process across all disciplines: design, psychology, architecture. In Whyte’s Street Life Project, the research team lead by Whyte innovates (for the 1970s) data collection practices with the use of cameras. While Whyte speaks about some psychological phenomena that is beyond his scope of academia (how construction workers and women-watchers will catcall but have never been recorded successfully approaching a woman), he does so with in jest. These are merely observations of people’s behavior. This text is an interesting precursor to user-centered design and how cognitive walk-throughs can aid usefulness and usability of space.


Foreward, Preface + Introduction

  • Amidst an urban crisis, Whyte observes people in small urban spaces and recognizes similarities and patterns, among them: smiles. When we think of cities, we often criticize instead of remember there are places people enjoy in cities.
  • It should be conservationists goal to conserve both city and country. If a city is deemed uninhabitable, people will move out of them. It is small urban spaces that help foster ideas of habitancy.
  • Findings from the Street Life Project in 1971. The book focuses on spaces that do work, don’t work, and reasons why.
    • Street Life Project focuses on studying city spaces by means of observation. Many observations at the time never dealt directly with American cities experiencing overcrowding; most studies used student populations, animal populations or over-seas city populations.
    • First iteration of the project studied playgrounds, parks and informal areas of recreation.
    • Study found that many parks, even those in densely populated areas, were not crowded—many were even bare. Ample space is not a factor in effectiveness.
    • Assumptions at the time were that many children played in streets because lacking playground space.
  • As the project expanded its observation locations, open plazas in NYC revealed a similar imbalance of space usage.
    • While the percentage of open plazas in downtown NYC is minimal, they are used frequently enough to color the perception of the entire downtown.
    • Open plazas increased in downtown NYC as part of a 1961 city planning incentive. The city awarded permits to build an additional 10 sq. ft of office space above zoning permits, for every 1 sq. ft. of plaza.
    • While some plazas flourished at lunch time, others were left bare. The discrepancies were studied and then presented to the City Planning Commission to create new zoning laws for plazas in NYC.

1  The Life of Plazas

  • The study of plazas was observational. At first, researchers just watched what people did in the space. Some interviewing was also completed.
    • Commuter distance from plaza was relatively short; fewer people from the actual building used the plaza directly in front of their offices.
  • The best-used plazas often have a social air.
    • There are a higher proportion of couples and groups in more-often-used plazas than less-often-used plazas; same with the number of women.
    • Couples or groups choose places to rendez-vous or meet up.
    • Urban plazas were rarely observed to be used for mingling or meeting new people.
    • Men are found in higher proportions on the edges of plazas; women are found in higher proportions on interiors spaces of plazas.
  • Some of the most useful observations came from off-peak hours of plaza use. During peak crowdedness, people choose available options. Less congested hours at the plazas allow people to make conscious choices.


Example of Self-Congestion

“What attracts people most, it would appear, is other people.”

  • People are unreliable on questionnaires; their ideals can be opposite of the actions.
  • Plotting locations on the plaza where conversations of > 1 minute, observations show more times than not conversations in the middle of the crowds, and not off to the side.
    • While conversations are expected to originate within the flow of transportation/walking, conventional thought perceives conversations to drift out of the way. This is rarely the case.
    • People also choose conversation locations at well-defined areas, near objects or landmarks (steps, fountains, wall) which can be near pedestrian flow, but rarely choose wide open spaces.
  • These observations remain true for other cities with a similarly high population density. Suburban areas will lower densities follow slightly different tendencies. Suburban spaces have similar traffic flow, but pace and socialization is reduced greatly.
Sighting Map example Whyte gave to his research fellows to fill out while at on-sight observations