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Unless otherwise attributed, all material Š Carley Hodgkinson, 2012. All rights reserved.



My grateful thanks to my friends and colleagues in the MDes class of 2012 – HANA, IAN, YANYAN, LYLY, MARTYN, LEEANDRA, KEVIN, STUART, JOSEPH, MICHAEL, LINGHAN & GRACE – may we look back at this time one day with a huge laugh and a beer. Or, a really nice glass of champagne. To our instructors, Christopher, Rudi, Michael and Marlene for their tireless efforts and gracious insights – may you also look back on our class with a huge laugh. To my parents, who don’t seem to mind too much that I keep going back to school. I promise to get a real job soon. And, finally, to LC – couldn’t have done this without you. Here’s to our many future collaborations.














14 · Place vs Space 16 · Mapping the City 19 · Growth, Transformation & Dissolution 22 · Urban Perception 24 · Immanence & Embodiment 27 · The Digital City 29 · Invisible & Impermanent Spaces 36 · Contextual Review Summary Concepts 38 · Arriving at the Research Question 42 · Case Study · CITY OF MELBOURNE SMART CITY 44 · Case Study · INTELLIGENCE INCOGNITO 46 · Existing Technologies 48




56 · Introduction 58 · Model 1 Barrington Street 67 · Model 2 North End Parkade 69 · Model 3 Personal Routes and Routines (HCCB personal device) 74 · Model 4 Grafton Street Pit Kit 77 · Model 5 Digital DNA / Modular Topographies 84 · Matching to Theory: Design Models Against Tuning Theory 89









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62 · fig 40 MODEL 1 AS ANIMATION

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72 · fig 46 MODEL 3: GLITCH

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30 · fig 14 NEW YORK & MELBOURNE SMART CITIES 31 · fig 15


32 · fig 16 FAKE ESTATES & BUILDING CUTS 33 · fig 17


34 · fig 18 MOBILE CORNUCOPIA 39 · fig 19



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Urban centres are often in constant states of ux, with levels of destruction, stasis, and regeneration at play. These temporary and invisible spaces in our cities intersect with our own personal geographies, revealing patterns of behavior and perception as we go about our everyday lives. This thesis explores current work in the ďŹ elds of sociology, architecture, urban planning and design as a method of investigating urban voids. Design themes parsed from the background theory are used as source materials for visualizing speculative design outcomes that propose void and invisible spaces as surfaces for co-created communication and design. This thesis proposes a novel visual approach to combining existing theories of rhythm capture, microtuning and moving geographies to generate an underlying strategy of socio-technological intervention in transitional public space. The proposed design outcomes have been tested using the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia, as a model.

KEYWORDS: temporary, hidden, invisible, urban voids, rhythm, pattern, everyday, moving geographies, relational space, tuning, sound theory



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temporary, void & invisible DESIGN urban spaces { GOES HERE & surfaces







The memory of cities exists through the marks and the traces of local actors; these cannot be physically erased since they are no longer labile. They are expressed through narratives, slogans, photographs, film sequences and buildings. We can identify cities that are “full of traces and marks”, that have been molded by social and spatial changes and are accustomed to the perpetual transformation of their destiny: they are composed of a diverse array of buildings and social groups which reactivate the memory of places. (Fijalkow, 2010, 8) fig 1

THESIS CONCEPTS SUMMARY Diagram showing major thesis concepts: the repetition of daily social rituals like commuting contributes to social rhythm-making, which in turn can be used to create unique, real-time visual expressions on city surfaces. Space is contantly re-activated and reconstituted, the cityscape in turn reflecting back the changing internal states of its citizens. Major research themes are summarized on page 14.

This thesis proposes speculative design outcomes that will address how we can better use temporary, invisible and void spaces in the city. The research builds from a desire to make sense of the everyday, of the real way that most of us spend our time, in commuting to work, in making to-do lists, in dividing up our time between commitments and play, and in the myriad micro-relationships that we form each day with the strangers in our city. How do our regular movements, internal conversations and interactions with strangers contribute to underlying rhythms and collective meaning? How can design harness these shared rhythms in surprising and thoughtful ways to propose spaces that improve everyday living with an underlying strategy of change? Temporary, invisible and void spaces are everywhere around us: the same back and forth route to work, the empty housing lot, the secret pedestrian route down the alley. These are the spaces in between, the liminal spaces, that define something that is other than the strictly defined spaces of architecture and urban planning. These are often the spaces with the greatest potential, having no name that predetermines their cultural reception as any one kind of space, and being in a state of flux, of change, of receptivity to the new. Citydwellers are equally in states of flux, in going about the business of the everyday with the traces of their own ongoing internal dialogue and complex personal narrative. In finding points of intersection between the narrative of the city and that of its inhabitants, an integrated system of socio-technological intervention can contribute to ideas of play, change and delight in the urban landscape. We so often in our modern urban life seek out experiences external to ourselves to fill certain needs: theatre or music or travel, a walk in the forest, even shopping, as a kind of salve to the everyday. What if the sensory experiences that we seek out existed as a subtle system of traces in the urban environment, changing in real-time, providing the slightest gestures to lift us from our own headspace and commuter cognitive blindness? And what if, by contributing to a basic, underlying rhythm in our city simply by moving and participating in the everyday, we could actually contribute to these traces, as visuals on city surfaces? We could then experience an urban landscape that reflected back to us our own fluid geographies and intricate relationship to place.


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The aim of this contextual review is to provide the theoretical framework for the predictive nature of the design outcomes. By painting a picture of how we are in the city – physically, emotionally, digitally – this thesis argues for a fresh vision of the future city, one in which we create open access opportunities for the creation of a living, breathing, changing cityscape that uses its void and invisible spaces as surfaces for co-created communication and design, while embracing change and impermanence as system strategies. The thesis intent and contextual review in some ways suggest ways of living that are connected to rural strategies: the overlap is acknowledged, but will not be discussed as part of the research. The review is divided into nine subsections, each with overlapping themes that summarize current ideas in urban planning, sociology, architecture, and design. The background research frames how we perceive space, make sense of our urban environments, and use networked media as another layer in our everyday lives. The theoretical subsections lead toward the case study section, which breaks down how two design teams have translated abstract ideas into tangible design solutions; and to initial visual outcomes and design hunches that further helped refine the research question. Ultimately, the thesis focus in the visual outcomes is much narrower than the topics laid out in the contextual review: there was a necessary narrowing in the translation and synthesis of theory to outcome. Although it might make sense to condense this review to better reflect the more specific investigation in the visual methodologies, a fuller record is a more accurate reflection of the thesis planning and synthesis stages.



fig 2



safety defined meaning cultural order


freedom uncertainty undefined


activated reconstituted ahistorical

If place is a focus “of nurture and support” (Tuan, 1977, 29), then space is a symbol of freedom and movement, of future potential; “undifferentiated space becomes place as we get to know it better and endow it with value” (2). Yi-Fu Tuan argues that we need place to satisfy our sense of security and space to satisfy our innate curiosity and desire for the unknown – place is a pause, space is movement (1977). We flow in and out of moments of tension and ease as we encounter both spaces and places. Michel de Certeau describes place as a stable relationship of coexistence among elements (1988). A space only becomes “actuated” (117) as a result of the interactions of the mobile elements within it. A street, for example, on its own a place defined by lamp posts, benches, sidewalks and its own static geometry, “is transformed into a space by walkers” (117). While Tuan argues for an experiential differentiation, de Certeau proposes a relational system in which place becomes activated into space by the interplay of objects and people (figure 2). Rebecca Solnit describes places as “leaky containers” (2010, vii), in which the space described on the map “no longer matches the actual terrain”(6): places “always refer beyond themselves, ..., and can be imagined in various scales, from the drama of a back alley to transcontinental forces and global climate” (vii). In compiling her atlas of San Francisco, she talks about the ghosts that she lives with: that in the present, the places that she occupies have both historical and emotional contexts created by herself and by countless before her. Richard Sennett wishes for us to embrace otherness; Ivan Illich expresses a similar idea in his definition of conviviality: “autonomous and creative intercourse among persons, and the intercourse of persons with their environment” (1973, 11). He differentiates this type of interaction from the conditioned responses required by our work or by external social or political forces. In keeping with Tuan’s original distinction between space and place, Illich’s call for conviviality as an “ethical value” (11) places the responsibility on the city dweller to create place through their interrelationships with people and their surroundings. Erik Swyngedouw echoes Illich is his call for a visionary program of urban thinking that “permits and encourages the living of unoppressed and unoppressing desires” (Read, Rosemann & van Eldijk, 2005, 144) in order to “recaptur[e] the urban as [an] embodiment of ‘jouissance’”(144). Tim Edensor and Liane Lefaivre argue that notions of the creative class (popularized by Richard Florida’s book Who’s Your City?, 2009) privilege “particular notions of creativity, producing a hierarchical ordering which champions specific forms of urban development” (Edensor, 2010, 1; Lefaivre, 2007). Lefaivre takes this one step further in despairing a neoliberal agenda that favours a top-down approach

part 1


Image © Candy Chang,

fig 3


BEFORE I DIE... Candy Chang 2011, New Orleans Candy Chang’s self-initiated community project Before I Die is an example of vernacular creativity – although she provided the basic template, the project comes alive through community engagement in Chang’s own neighbourhood in New Orleans. Passersby write down their answers using provided coloured chalk.

to urban planning. The result for both architects are cities that have distinct “hot spots” (Edensor, 2010, 1) at the expense of “their spatial ‘other’: cultural deserts devoid of coolness” (1). In Edensor’s book Vernacular Creativity (2010), he calls for a study into and understanding of the ways in which the non-creative class – regular people – contribute to the creation of place in the public arena through community-based creative ventures (figure 3). The organization People for Public Spaces sees evidence of this kind of placemaking “when people enjoy a place for its special social and physical attributes, and when they are allowed to influence decision-making about that space” (“What is Placemaking?”, ¶14). The phenomenologist geographer David Seamon proposes that the repetition of certain movements in space – something as banal as reaching for scissors in a drawer – results from the body’s own intelligence to direct preconscious behaviors (Seamon, 1980). In looking at group behavior, Seamon evocatively describes the emergence of a ‘place-ballet’, in which “the mobilities of bodies combine in space and time to produce ... a feeling of belonging within the rhythm of life in place” (Cresswell, 2004, 34).

RELEVANCE Space can be considered as fixed or as relational. In this thesis exploration, relational space, which is constantly re-constituted, is used as an underlying theme for design visualization. Particularly in looking at ideas of hidden, invisible or vacant spaces, distinctions of place versus space that play with perception are a potentially powerful area of exploration for design. Furthermore, consideration for spaces that engage city dwellers in openness, conviviality and shared placemaking is a rich area for design (both in creating and in questioning these strategies).


MAPPING THE CITY ‘Urbanism has always been associated with mobilities and their control, and continues to be so more than ever. The technologies, infrastructure, material fabric and representational machinery of cities support these mobilities, while also being shaped and re-shaped by them.’ (Sheller & Urry , 2006, 2) Walter Benjamin explored the Paris Métro, choosing slow walking as his means of exploration. He looked at the urban landscape as a topography, of different scales and heights above and below street level, and was compelled by how the city could reveal itself to the urban “flâneur” (as cited in Vidler, 2000). He believed in feeling your way through the city, almost as a dreamscape, faithfully recording his findings as geographer but interested as much in the psychological dimensions of space as in the architectural and landscape features. Guy Debord later wrote very similarly about the dérive as a practice of urban psychogeography, a means of clearing the mind to perceive the interstitial spaces of the city (1958). In her atlas, Infinite City, Rebecca Solnit (2010) describes San Francisco as a city of more than “800,000 living maps” (3) as each citizen carries with them: areas of knowledge, rumors, fears, friendships, remembered histories and facts, alternate versions, desires, the map of everyday activity versus the map of occasional discovery, the past versus the present, the maps of this place in relation to others that could be confined... (2010, 3)

She restates what Benjamin and Debord had earlier discovered about their city walks: that the spaces and places of the city are equally defined by both physical and psychological dimensions (figure 4). Geographer Hayden Lorimer (2011) cites Robert Macfarlane’s taxonomy of walkers in his introduction to pedestrian studies: the marathon man, the flâneurs (“anthropologists of the street, botanists of the asphalt”), the psychogeographers, the adventurers, and the wandererwonderers (Macfarlane, 2007, 79). Lorimer devises his own system of taxonomy, placing the walking habits of the modern pedestrian into four categories: walks as the products of places; walks as an ordinary feature of everyday life; walks as the reflections of the self-centred walker; walks as wilful and artful (2011). For the background research to this thesis, the second category is of the greater interest: walks in everyday life. Lorimer describes these generally as short and “task-centred or goal-oriented” (2011, 21): running out for milk, walking the dog, commuting to work. Beyond the purpose of the walk, Lorimer can track these daily routines as part of a larger rhythm, “the massing of people and things as a mobile assemblage, constituted of trans-personal flows of movement, social relations and embodied associations”(22). Michel de Certeau describes “the intertwined paths” (1988, 97) that walkers create as “one of [the] ‘real systems whose existence in fact makes up the city” (97); their movements transform places into spaces. Christian Nold’s Emotional Cartography (2005) project picks up on notions of both psychogeography in a system that he calls biomapping: a user wears a GPS device and a galvanic skin response measuring device to track their location and biochemical response while also recording observations about their environment. Nold then translated the collected data and mapped out responses to determine whether patterns would emerge around specific places in the city (figure 5). In his study into pedestrians, Hayden Lorimer (2011) describes the “affective-emotional

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Image © Rebecca Solnit

fig 4

INFINITE CITY Monarchs and Queens: Butterfly Habitats and Queer Public Spaces from Rebecca Solnit, Infinite City, 2010 Solnit considers the fantastical and narrative qualities of mapping in her atlas of San Francisco.

geography” (23) of walking as a state of being “where self and landscape are always emergent, constantly shifting through repertoires of the unbidden, of affective and kinaesthetic contact, and then dissipating just as easily” (23). Tim Edensor picks up from Lorimer’s research into pedestrian studies to look specifically at the commuter, and argues for a renewed vision of who that person might be in the city, citing Henri Lefebvre’s Rhythmanalysis (2004) as the basis for his thesis (2011, 189). Lefebvre’s theory is later summarized on page 85. In popular cultural representations, the commuter has often been represented as a frustrated, passive and bored figure, patiently suffering the anomic tedium of the monotonous or disrupted journey. Instead of these dystopian and functional visions, and within a broader analysis of the relationships between rhythm, mobility and space, I explore the spatial and experiential dimensions of commuting rhythms and argue that commuting can be alternatively conceived as a mobile practice that offers a rich variety of pleasures and frustrations. (189)

Edensor echoes Lorimer’s earlier ideas about the shared rhythms of repetitive daily activities, further suggesting that “places possess no essence but are ceaselessly (re)constituted out of their connections” (2011, 190). In actively engaging commuters as the makers of the underlying rhythms, he directs us to shift our reception from that of the bored, detached and passive citizen to cocreator of the rituals that “become the tracks to negotiate urban life” (191).


Image Š Christian Nold,


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fig 5

BIOMAPPING Christian Nold’s San Francisco Emotion Map, 2007 The layers of red dots indicate places recorded by GPS devices; the overlay of text indicates qualitative responses to location based on experience and memory.



Richard Coyne (2010) picks up from Edensor’s commuter studies in describing the tactics of walking. In his overall thesis of the tuning of place, Coyne describes “the environment ... as an overlay of visible and invisible, surveilled and private, named and unnamed, networked and blanked-out zones” (167). When walking, Coyne suggests that we make microadjustments along our paths to finetune our relationships to place, “drawing on cues, tags, labels, and devices to hand [mobile media]” (167). These microadjustments, which employ basic navigation practices, result from the place of “the interstitial sites of uncertainty” (167) that walking occupies. Coyne’s theory of tuning, that occurs individually but that is contributed to collectively and socially, is drawn from Lefebvre’s study of Rhythmanalysis and from sound theory (2010).

RELEVANCE Alan Blum cites Mary Corcoran’s study of the effects of change on longterm inhabitants of Dublin in arguing that “the biography of persons is governed by the biography of spaces” (2003, 61). In terms of a design practice, the ideas underlying rhythmanalysis, psychogeography and the tuning of place begin to point toward basic design principles in solving larger design challenges: rhythm and repetition, change over time, and microadjustments as well as the more abstract representations of both emotion and memory in response to place.

GROWTH, TRANSFORMATION AND DISSOLUTION In this thesis exploration, urban environments that are relatively hidden, invisible and temporary are proposed as spaces of potential, and of collective representation. In proposing design that works within a system of moving geographies and relational space, it seems critical to address change as a strategy in urban design planning: cycles of growth, transformation and dissolution (Hwang, 2006) are a natural part of the urban environment. Verb Natures (Hwang, 2006) asks: How can this evolution be generated, controlled, enhanced, or imagined? How does technology animate space, and how do users and programs animate matter?

Verb Nature’s case studies (2006) include building a grotto based on the underlying structure and geometry of boulders (figure 6); investigating ivy growth patterns; looking to insects to investigate swarm theory; and using tagged pigeons as a means of researching flight and relationship patterns in birds, all with the intention of combining nature with technology to solve design and engineering challenges. The urban sociologist Alan Blum studies how people orient themselves to change “and how they alternately take advantage or remain indifferent to such

Images © Aranda & Lasch,


fig 6


Grotto, 2007 Taking as their task the design of a grotto, traditionally a man-made imitation of a natural cave, a type of the organic and the synthetic, Ben Aranda and Chris Lasch use an intensive exploration of computergenerated geometries and advanced fabrication technologies to produce a modern version of this space: a wholly man-made environment whose formal complexity transcends the artificial. The structural unit of the grotto is the boulder. Like a brick it can stack. Unlike a brick, each boulder is different. —Aranda & Lasch (“Grotto”, n.d.)

interpretations in action” (2003, 61). European avant-garde architects in the ’60s and ’70s were very much interested in pushing this notion of fixed planning and fixed meaning in the urban environment: “[Archigram, for example] embrace[d] the transient, the ephemeral and the expendable qualities of modern urban existence” (Pinder, 2011, 170). They created fanciful and experimental work that embraced transience and the individual, with such pieces as Instant City and Walking City (see figure 7). Archigram took the creative ordering away from the top-down approach of conventional urban planning and placed it back onto the individual, living in the city. Alan Blum cites Lefebvre in stating that “for urban change to be liberating,...,it must involve the transformation of both everyday life and space” (2003, 181) by invested appropriation by the city’s inhabitants. This idea of a collective movement, or consciousness, in reclaiming and reconstituting the city, answers Stephen Read’s (2005) call for a new program of urban understanding, in embracing change and renewal. Cedric Price espoused principles of “Doubt, Delight and Change” (“Cedric Price”, ¶11) in his conception of an architectural practice that responded to temporary conditions in the city. In his Magnet series, Price “proposed the creation of inbetween spaces – steps to the subway, bus stops, shopping streets – as triggers of urbanity to stimulate new patterns of encounter” (Döll, 2007, 43–44). Price understood the value of the liminal zone in the city, in connecting design to the everyday, lived experience. In his essay Notes for a research program (Koolhaus, Boeri & Kwinter, 2000),Stefano Boeri describes a number of urban planning mutation strategies that occur in the transformation and rebuilding of cities: grafts, inundation, détournement, osmosis, intensification, expansion, dissemination, transplant, clearing, inertia and pulsation (figure 7). A graft, for example, is the insertion of a foreign element into a previously historically and socially-constructed space. Boeri points out that the potential of a graft is to change radically the perception of a space. The combined movements of these mutations:

fig 7



Images courtesy The Archigram Archival Project, © Archigram

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ARCHIGRAM CONCEPTS Top: Walking City (at Night), 1964 A city of giant, reptilian structures literally glided across the globe on enormous legs until its inhabitants found a place where they wanted to settle. Bottom: Instant City Airship, 1968 [Archigram] proposed to transport all the entertainment and education resources of a metropolis in an Instant City airship, which would fly from place to place and temporarily ‘land’ in small communites to enable the inhabitants to enjoy the buzz of life in a city. — Design Museum (“Archigram”, 2007)

also have a rhythm of change – those thousands of tiny quivers that suddenly culminate in a radical shift of the tectonic plates. Grafts, densifications, condensations, punctuations, these upheavals are radical in terms of physical geography, and often indifferent to political geography (2000, 371). RELEVANCE In the overview of notions of transformation and change, themes start to emerge that could direct design studies: observing nature for its patterning, geometry, social organization and cycles of growth/decay; mutation as a strategy of change; the temporary intervention as a design strategy. These are appropriate themes when looking at hidden, invisible and temporary city spaces as these spaces themselves undergo cycles of transformation.

URBAN PERCEPTION Architect Leon van Schaik, in writing about spatial intelligence, argues that “powerful spaces act on us through three levels of expression: the architectonic, the poetic and the narrative” (2008, 85). van Schaik argues that an understanding of mental space is critical in the development of meaningful spaces. He speaks from


fig 8

NEUROAESTHETICS Diagram, Trish McAlaster 2012 In this diagram prepared for the Globe and Mail, the major centres of the brain involved with perceiving aesthetics are highlighted.

the perspective of an architect (and of built structures), but the power of the city’s other spaces – the void and temporary use spaces – is just as relevant. Medical science is equally invested in spatial intelligence: the new field of neuroaesthetics looks at ways that the human brain responds to and processes beauty (figure 8). The University of Toronto-Scarborough’s Dr. Vartanian is undertaking a study that looks specifically at “architecture and design – he hopes a greater understanding of how and why we respond to features in the buildings in which we live, work, study and visit will help shape the design of spaces more suited to particular functions, like teamwork or creative thinking” (McIlroy, 2012, ¶3). Richard Sennett cites the urbanist Kevin Lynch in describing the importance of “legibility” in the urban landscape in how inhabitants perceive the cityscape: By this we mean the ease with which its parts can be recognized and can be organized into a coherent pattern. Just as this printed page, if it is legible, can be visually grasped as a relational pattern of recognizable symbols, so a legible city would be one whose districts or landmarks or pathways are easily identifiable and are easily grouped into an over-all pattern” (as cited in Sennett, 1990, 33).

Tim Hall, in discussing the place of public art, discusses the difference between reading the city as sign, and creating meaning “at the level of everyday experience” (2003, 13). The legibility of the city is more fundamentally about sensemaking and cognition: our ability to feel grounded in place based on recognition of a culturallydetermined – but geometrically built – physical landscape. In the case of public art, Tim Hall’s argument is that often public art fails because it meets the needs of the semiotic, surface reading of the city by presenting “selective versions of history, or myths of harmony” (2003, 112), but fails the needs of the public who views the art every day, the people who create meaning in their cities. Urbanist William H. Whyte observed in New York City that “[s]ome of the best spaces are accidental ones....Similarly, some of the most useful items of street furniture function more out of inadvertence than design” (Whyte, 1988, 102). Whyte is describing on a small, pedestrian-level scale what Hall has also observed: that how a city is perceived to outsiders and how it is actually used by citydwellers point to markedly different readings of place. Whyte’s accidental spaces are examples of the liminal space in action, of a break between the intended use for a space and its temporary use. Michel de Certeau describes “[a] migrational, or metaphorical, city [that] slips into the clear text of the planned and readable city” (1988, 93). Ed Soja introduces the term Thirdspace (figure 9) to describe “the lived, interstitial space that is worked out through perception and imagination; a space simultaneously

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real and imagined, material and metaphorical, ordered and disordered” (Soja, 1996). Swyndegouw argues for urban planning that extends beyond the gridded, “aestheticized packaging”(144) of our contemporary idea of city-planning into embracing more freely ideas that combine Soja’s intersection of space (lived/ perceived/conceived); time/history; and being-in-the-world (1996). These last ideas pick up on van Schaik’s consideration for spatial intelligence.




Everything comes together in Thirdspace: subjectivity and objectivity, the abstract and the concrete, the real and the imagined, the knowable and the unimaginable, the repetitive and the differential, structure and agency, mind and body, consciousness and the unconscious, the disciplined and the transdisciplinary, everyday life and unending history. — Ed Soja (1996, 56–57)

Walter Benjamin noted that the perception of our everyday surroundings diminishes with habit and use (as cited in Vidler, 2000, 83). Anthony Vidler describes the modern perception of our cityscape this way: Streets and buildings, even those considered major monuments, are in everyday life little more than backgrounds for introverted thought, passages through which our bodies pass “on the way to work”. In this sense cities are “invisible” to us, felt rather than seen, moved through rather than visually taken in (2000, 81).

Benjamin called the habitual viewer (of architecture) in a perpetual state of distraction, as opposed to the captive audience of the tourist, who, in seeing everything for the first time, applies “attentive concentration” (as cited in Vidler, 2000, 82) to his surroundings. In part this distraction can be attributed to a normal cognitive state, in the same way that we stop feeling the touch of clothing on our skin or stop smelling our own perfume. We become less visually aware over time from repetitive viewing, and not from being inherently boring, bored, or detached. Alison Creba, a local Halifax artist, worked on a public art project in Halifax in summer 2011 called City Mail (figure 10). She set up eight mail boxes – for the collection of physical, snail mail letters – in and around Halifax, and published a monthly newsletter updating the City Mail project progress and publishing locally-made emotionally and situationally-derived maps of the city. In the August 2011 issue of the newsletter, she writes about the state of flux in Halifax at that time, referring to ongoing construction throughout the city: A month past, and the dust has begun to settle since then. In the rubble remaining, the city is reflected. For, July was a month of construction/destruction. / And in the constant flux of the city, there are patterns. .../ And in these days where the flux is so potent, we are reminded once again of the importance of the aesthetics of the street./ A street is kept by its people, who are in turn held by the way in which they feel on it. Aware.unaware of the deeper currents, its resilient tale is told in the materials which are found there. / Reflected in the materials, are shards of ideology; while architecture tells of the times, built on social structures.

It reads like a manifesto, providing a meaningful summary to ideas of perception, to the symbolic and collective reading of the city, to the preservation (and


fig 10


City Mail newsletter (detail), Alison Creba, August 2011, distributed in Halifax, Nova Scotia Artist-run mail and mapping project that considers the effects of the transitional

Image © Alison Creba,

state of the city on city dwellers

acknowledgement) of the city’s interstitial spaces, and to the critical involvement of a city’s inhabitants in maintaining and contributing to “the aesthetics of the street” (Creba, 2011).

RELEVANCE Observing how ordinary people both perceive and use their cities can provide information about what is successful and what is lacking, and to the levels of visual and sensory information that city dwellers engage with in day to day activities. Acknowledgement of the liminal zone, or interstitial space, which is below the surface of our daily awareness, is at the heart of this thesis, and a powerful place for design to play with perception.

IMMANENCE & EMBODIMENT The term embodiment surfaces frequently around discussions of both urban space planning and design research (particularly in interactive and product design disciplines). The phenomenologist Merleau-Ponty used the term to describe the state of ‘being-in-the-world’, placing emphasis on the“importance of the body” (as cited in Hall, 2003, 141), through which we can “truly experience space” (141). In the design world, embodiment speaks to both cognition and sensory experience, and to a strong connection with our own biology. In a study conducted at the Main Branch of the public library in Vancouver in 2001, Loretta Lees notes that “urban meaning is not immanent to architectural form and space, but changes according to the social interaction of city dweller” (as cited in Hall, 2003, 114). In a series of “ethnographic vignettes” (115), Lees captured how individuals used spaces in the library for their own purposes, beyond the strict intentions of the architectural plan. Lakeoff and Johnson further “argue that a fundamental part of cognition is the development and usage of base metaphors that are built up through the experience of the physical object” (as cited in Sutton,

fig 11

GAE HOUSE Atelier Bow-Wow Gae House, 2003 A residential home built using the rhythms and repetitions of everyday tasks as the underlying structure.



Image © Atelier Bow-Wow,

part 5

Brind & Mckenzie, 2007, 141). For an architectural space like the public library, the importance is in the embodiment of the space, the feeling, over the visual aesthetic of the structure (141). Alan Blum echoes these same ideas in stating that “human occupants endow environments with symbolic significance, with meanings” (2003, 71), so that the spaces are constantly reconstructed “through associations and emotions of awe, love, attraction, fear, hate, revulsion, and even banal indifference” (71). Atelier Bow-Wow designed Gae House by observing the normal, routine habits of home life (figure 11). Tsukamoto describes their architectural practice as “[the organization of] the managing the repetition of minute, daily activities of the human body within defined performance space” (2010, 128). Through response to form, geometry and to programme, and to consideration above all for human activity, the design fits within an embodied practice. The IDEO Kiss Communicator (Hall, 2003), an example of embodied object design, is meant to help partners separated by distance communicate a physical expression of love (figure 12). The device lights up when you breathe on it or kiss it, an example of a “tender technology” (149) that can communicate at the level of the private and intimate human experience. Alan Parkinson, founder of Architects of Air, designs pneumatic architectural sculptures (figure 13). The forms are playful and organic – inside, visitors encounter soft walls like the inside of the body, tunnels that are like vessels, lit in vibrant colour combinations. Parkinson describes his inspiration for the structures, which he calls luminaria, below: What motivates me to design is the fact that I continue to be struck by the beauty of light and colour found in the luminaria. These structures nurture an awareness of a pure phenomenon that gently cuts through everyday conditioned perceptions and awakens a sense of wonder in people (“Alan Parkinson”, n.d., ¶4)


KISS COMMUNICATOR IDEO conceptual prototype, Kiss Communicator, 1999 Example of embodied design; touching Image © IDEO, 1999

fig 12

or blowing on the device “transmits a kiss-like signal” (IDEO, n.d., “Body Design”) to a partner on the receiving end.

Parkinson finds in his design work a way back to the natural embodiment and sensorial richness of space through his use of the organic, the open-ended, and the temporary (his structures travel from city to city and are meant to be transient or ephemeral experiences). In his study of walkers in the city, Hayden Lorimer suggests that “[w]alking offers an embodied space where searching questions are considered, and sometimes answered” (2011, 23). The act of walking elucidates how “[p]laces are... continually (re)produced through the mobile flows which course through and around them, bringing together ephemeral, contingent and relatively stable arrangements of people, energy and matter” (Edensor, 2011, 190). Lorimer recognizes the potential of walking studies to reveal layers of geography: from social connections mapped to or created “through types of passage” (2011, 28) to individual memories or emotional connections to “atmospherics (e.g. washes of weather and elemental force fields)” (30).

RELEVANCE Immanence and embodiment both lend a vocabulary that helps focus design outcomes: by observing how we use our bodies in space and relate to information through haptics and the full spectrum of the senses; how we create meaning based on memory and emotion more than on the aesthetic (visual) reception of built form; and how design can help, as Parkinson discovered, break up our everyday perception by instilling a sense of wonder, awe and surprise (through the use of the senses and embodied space); and, that, at the level of the street, and the pedestrian, design can potentially take advantage of the already existing embodied space that walking engenders.

THE DIGITAL CITY Faced with an increasing blurring of the frontiers between the physical and the informational dimension of our cities, Verb Connection explores the relation between virtual connections – the effect of digital networks on the spaces and uses of the city – and the persistent role of architecture in creating physical connections between people, programs, and uses. (ACTAR, 2004)



Image © Architects of Air, www.

Image © Architects of Air, www., Frederik Beeftink

part 6

fig 13

LUMINARIA Luminaria, interior and exterior views Architects of Air Pneumatic, sensorial sculptures designed to inspire wonder

Edge cities and network cities are expanding the boundaries of the traditional cities and are creating new urban entities and new dimensions of urban life. (Read, 2005, 1)

New York City and the City of Melbourne have both published reports that position them as global leaders in becoming “smart cities” (figure 14): cities that acknowledge the importance of networked communications and that want to use available and emergent technologies to create accessible, transparent, citizencentred, and sustainable communities (NYC, 2011, 5). NYC’s programme, under Mayor Bloomberg, is already rolling out (2011). Melbourne Smart City is in the earlier stages of a phased programme that will see the city make use of urban informatics, real-time digital interfaces that will relay information around sustainability. Urban informatics can take the form of “audio-visual displays and interfaces, installations, websites and systems, all driven via these real-time learning layers overlaid onto the existing city” (Arup, 2010, 9). Over time, Arup, the design agency behind the proposal, hopes that the programme of urban informatics will create behavioral changes in Melbourne’s citizens, effectively creating a high-efficiency feedback loop among the people who produce, the people who manage and the people who consume available resources. Stephen Read argued, in 2005, that the future contemporary city “needs to be seen as a production of the real social and economic interconnections that people and their transactions trace through the physical and virtual network spaces of the city at a variety of speeds and scales” (7). The smart city design concept communicates these connections in a tangible manner. Arup use Facebook and iTunes as examples of emergent social networking systems that “indicate a new kind of system, one that is user-centred, responsive, real-time, flexible, local and global, pervasive, location-based, platformbased...”(2010, 10). They ask, against the power of social networking, “how do existing city systems stack up?” (10). Arup also note how the increasing interest

Image © Arup (Melbourne Smart City); right, © The City of New York

fig 14

NEW YORK AND MELBOURNE SMART CITIES Above left: Melbourne Smart City design proposal, “Stadium as canvas for visualisation” (Arup, 2010, 39) Above right: Chart, Priorities for Achieving New York City’s Digital Potential (The City of New York, 2011, 3)


in blogging (and Facebook updating) by both individuals and communities – essentially making public “descriptive data about their lives and activities” (11) – adds further strength to their vision of the smart city, “in which almost every urban activity is enabled by pervasive, wireless technology” (11). Davies and Parrinder describe the “nodes, connections, and currents” that connect us, creating a “living, breathing, and collaborative, social web” (2010, 59). Richard Coyne, in The Tuning of Place: Sociable Spaces and Pervasive Digital Media (2010), argues that the pervasive digital devices that we use every day, including smartphones, iPods, and cameras, “help us formulate a sense of place...through their capacity to introduce small changes, in the same way that tuning a musical instrument invokes the subtle process of recalibration” (“The Tuning of Place”, Coyne, n.d., ¶1). These incremental changes are a means of tuning both place and social relations (figure 15). Most significantly, Coyne writes for designers interested in “interventions into the environment” (¶2), by suggesting themes that come out of the tuning argument:“intervention, calibration, wedges, habits, rhythm, tags, taps, tactics, thresholds, aggregation, noise, and interference” (¶2; Coyne, 2010). Coyne’s idea is also compelling at the level of scale: he’s looking at small change, rather than huge, fundamental change, an idea reflected back by Lev Manovich, who questioned “[h]ow can all the information out there be translated back to the scale of human perception?” (2002).

RELEVANCE In thinking about the invisible and impermanent spaces in the city, the underlying hum of digital networking is all-pervasive, and creates another layer to the existing physical and psychogeographical city contexts. Designers are already using the language of networking and the potential of urban informatics, like Arup’s proposal for Melbourne Smart City. Richard Coyne proposes a new language, based in sound theory and programming, that will emerge as individuals contribute to sensemaking through their continuous use of mediated digital devices.

INVISIBLE AND IMPERMANENT SPACES By invoking a more provocative terminology, contemporary architectural urbanism might conscript the typology of gaps, seams, the uncanny, the sublime, dark space, warped space, and non-place in its typology. —Richard Coyne (2010, xxiii)

part 7


Image © Murray Schafer

fig 14


GRAPHIC NOTATION, SOUNDWALK Murray Schafer, 1977 Richard Coyne (2010) argues that we all participate in the microtuning of our environments, particularly with the use of pervasive digital media; Coyne references Schafer as an early sound theorist linking tuning to place.

The terms urban voids, temporary use, and impermanent spaces are more conventionally employed to describe “transitional” spaces – construction sites, derelict neighbourhoods, abandoned shopping malls. Invisible space is used in different contexts: Nadia Amaroso (2010) uses the term to express hidden underlying social and economic conditions in a city; Arup use the same terminology to indicate the potential of the smart city to make “the invisible visible, thus raising awareness about urban infrastructure, activity and ecosystem” (2010, 9–10). More lyrical expressions include “edge cities” (Read, Rosemann & van Eldijk, 2005, 1); “labyrinthine environment of banal, beautiful, or wretched houses” (Walter Benjamin, cited in Vidler, 2000, 84); “...the invisible spaces of the urban margins (suburbanized ghettos, the ecological catastrophes produced through the relentless demand of cities for energy or materials...)” (Read et al., 2005, 133). In general, the spaces imagined in the context of this thesis are twofold: urban voids and invisible spaces that result from a loss of perception from daily routine. Read acknowledges that “the strange, unnameable spaces of the periphery” (Read, Rosemann & van Eldijk, 2005, 7) are just as much part of the city and its cyclical nature; “it is often these spaces which shout to us about the potentials of the urban, of an environment which is open to shifting valences, to expedient and practical appropriation, and to an unprogrammed and unpredictable vitality” (7). Walter Benjamin viewed urban voids as the epitome of the modern city: he saw in the impermanence, the “fleeting and perpetually recast materiality and porous experiences” (as cited in Swyndegouw, 132), the potential to create the forever new. Michel de Certeau describes the experience of the “ordinary practitioners of the city”, who live “below the thresholds at which visibility begins” (1988, 93). Walkers, moving and existing at this threshold, “make use of spaces that cannot be seen” (93). Kymäläinen and Nordström (2010; Sheller & Urry, 2006) describe ideas of moving geographies, in which relational space is privileged over conventional, set notions of fixed space. The temporary nature and constant cycling of urban voids makes aligns these spaces with practices of moving geographies. The term non-place is also used, but not in the sense of an urban void. Marc Augé (1995) uses the term to describe spaces that are so transient and anonymous in

32 Images courtesy the Gordon Matta-Clark Estate and David Zwirner Gallery

fig 16

FAKE ESTATES & BUILDING CUTS Gordon Matta-Clark Fake Estates, 1973, above Matta-Clark purchased thirteen parcels of land, which he then photo documented and archived, essentially creating invented histories for a set of vacant lots. Conical Intersect, 1975, at left One of a series of “building cuts”: Matta-Clark cut large holes in a derelict building in Paris to expose different planes and ways of seeing built form; viewers and passerby unknowingly became part of the architectural intervention.

part 7



© The Spatial Information Design Lab,

nature as to be “non-places”: spaces like airports, supermarkets and hotels. A nonplace functions as a mental opt-out, a physical space without collective memory: no future, no past, defined only by its present use. In the case of design exploration, the concept of non-place is deeply resonant in the possible construction of urban space that has no previous narrative, that can be constructed from something novel. In 1973, Gordon Matta-Clark “purchased thirteen parcels of residual land in Queens, New York, that had been deemed ‘gutter space’ or ‘curb property’ (Abruzzo & Solomon, 2008, 173). He then undertook a massive documentation project, collecting photographs and historical ephemera for each of the land parcels to construct fake histories of essentially non-places (figure 16). Matta-Clark died before the project reached completion, but the work remains as a project that was both performative and deeply suggestive of the potential for constructed meaning of abandoned or underutilized space. The mayor of St.John, New Brunswick, Ivan Court, supports giving “free property to people who want to build on vacant land in core parts of the city” (“Saint John mayor supports vacant lot development”, 2011, ¶1). Although Court refers to giving free access to developers, the potential exists within this kind of municipal gesture to allow for temporary spaces to be built up on vacant lots.

fig 17

MILLION DOLLAR BLOCKS Million Dollar Blocks, 2005 The Spatial Information Design Lab & Justice Mapping Center The project continues to present ongoing work on criminal justice statistics to make visible the geography of incarceration and return in New York, Phoenix, New Orleans, and Wichita, prompting new ways of understanding the spatial dimension of an area of public policy. — Spatial Information Design Lab (“Million Dollar Blocks”, 2005, ¶3)

In her project, Million Dollar Blocks (“Million Dollar Blocks”, 2005), Laura Kurgan visualized statistics about US prisons as a means of showing resource and space allocation to corrections services, as well as revealing hidden ethnographic dimensions about the inmates themselves (figure 17). In this way, she took on a relatively invisible social and political topic and, using mapping techniques, made the data visible (Abruzzo & Solomon, 2008; Davies & Parrinder, 2010). The Hypothetical Development Organization creates speculative projects, based in New Orleans, that ask questions about how we live and create narratives to illustrate possible futures. HDO identifies neglected-looking buildings, and devises blatantly implausible (but entertaining and engaging) futures for them. These ideas are illustrated by our team of talented artists, and printed on large signs inspired by those of real-world real estate developers. The signs are then posted on the actual buildings (“Implausible Futures For Unpopular Places”, About the Book, ¶2).

In the project “Mobile Cornucopia” (figure 18), Hypothetical Development asked designer Candy Chang to visualize “an implausible solution to grocery access: [a]n entire building mounted on a pickup, and overflowing with tasty foodstuffs” (“Mobile Cornucopia”, ¶1). Other projects include The Loitering Centre, Snooze Towers, and The Museum of the Self.


© Candy Chang,

fig 18

MOBILE CORNUCOPIA Mobile Cornucopia Candy Chang, 2010 A design concept that imagines a future in which a truck can transport an entire grocery store to deliver food to underserviced and underprivileged neighborhoods. Designed for the Hypothetical Development Organization.

RELEVANCE [W]hat economic, political, and environmental factors influence how we understand dimension and its effects? Witness, the future of tall buildings explored in the narrative format of a graphic novel, walls made of atmosphere, the material distortions that occur as a laser drills through acrylic. In their totality, these projects, articles, and definitions break open endemic dualities of contemporary design: the precise yet ambiguous, the specific yet flexible, the ideal yet spiritual (Abruzzo & Solomon, 2008, 17).

Tim Hall calls the gaps – the structural holes - in public space “sources of inconvenience, danger and uncertainty” (2003, 209). From a city planner’s perspective, he may be absolutely correct: but from a place of embracing change and transformation, the interstitial space, richest at the point at which it is not yet defined, the structural holes have as much potential value as does the built environment. A space that is not yet defined retains its plasticity, and therefore its “connections with the language and wisdom of the body” (Sutton, Brind & Mckenzie, 2007, 143). This is a place for design, to play with or alter the perception of gaps or urban voids.

part 7



CONCLUSION TO PARTS 1 TO 7 In his book, Outside Lies Magic, John Stilgoe describes the “narrow ribbon” (1998, 81), the secret pathway that runs through the city, the local pedestrian knowledge of back alleys and “undeveloped sites” (81) transferred onto the cityscape. Connecting tuning and social patterning, including commuting, to visual outcomes in the cityscape, this thesis proposes an integrated design system that works with existing void and derelict spaces in the city. The co-creation of biographical traces and the capturing of rhythms that change and grow and dissolve in real time, result in flashes of change and delight and surprise in pursuit of the everyday. The city innately becomes a smart city, itself the narrow ribbon that Stilgoe describes, reflecting back through a programme of urban informatics the real-time affective states and biological rhythms of its citydwellers.




















part 8

fig 19

3D MODEL: URBAN VOIDS Opposite page Urban voids An early design model that imagines the psychology of urban voids on the citydweller as much as a planned space like a park. Below, and on page 37: early sketches building toward major thesis themes




SYNTHESIS & EARLY HUNCHES At the very earliest stages of visualization for this thesis, a 3D model was built to visualize a possible speculative design outcome: the reading and subsequent visualization of a creative thought or idea projected or interpreted onto a city surface (in this case, an alley or hidden side wall of a building). The partner idea to this one was the possibility of another person sharing the idea, or adding to it in some way (figure 20). Although this initial idea was not investigated any deeper beyond this model, there are existing precedents that support this line of inquiry. Labrune, Lakatos, Kumpf and Ishii (MIT, 2010) at MIT Media Labs propose IdeaGarden: The IdeaGarden allows participants of creative activities to collectively capture, select, and share (CCSS) the stories, sketches, and ideas they produce in physical and digital spaces. The iGarden attempts to optimize the CCSS loop and to bring it from hours to seconds in order to turn asynchronous collaborative thought processes into synchronous real-time cognitive flows. The iGarden system is composed of a tangible capturing system including recording devices always “at-hand”, of a selection workflow that allows the group to reflect and reduce the complexity of captured data in real-time and of a sharing module that connects socially selected information to the cloud.

This central idea of Collectively Capture, Select, and Share is an elegant means of summarizing what this thesis model proposes in raw form: the process of recording an idea “at-hand”, not in a specialized environment or necessarily mediated by one kind of capture (e.g. by conventional software or by smartphone), and then allowing for “synchronous real-time cognitive flows” (Tangible Media, IdeaGarden, 2010) with other individuals.


This thesis model deviates from IdeaGarden in recognizing specifically the cognitive link between walking and clearing the mind (Lorimer, 2011). In this state of openness and readiness, ideas may spark in the moment and catch the thinker off-guard. Trying to remember the idea an hour later is impossible – it’s gone. Having an immediate surface for visualization saves that idea and opens the possibility for real-time collaboration. Furthermore, a new line of research called neuroaesthetics looks at the links between architectural and spatial environments and our aesthetic reception to those spaces (McIlroy, 2012). It’s a leap to suggest that void and transitional city spaces necessarily fit within a typically measurable spectrum of beauty, but as spaces of potential, they do provide a natural starting point for creative thought.


fig 20

3D MODEL: IDEA LANDSCAPE Early 3D model that proposes a system of capturing and projecting creative ideas onto urban surfaces.

Design proposals stemming from Idea Landscape Model · conversation starters / design steps in for social awkwardness A subset take of a shared space for creativity is that of a sensor-linked accessible screen or surface that inputs social cues and reads sparks of ideas to make suggestions for conversations or shared interests. Imagine being on a first date, and running out of rehearsed, canned topics, and not knowing where to go next. This handy piece of design takes the awkward small-talk phase out of the scenario and provides you and your date with some deeper common ground. · visual mnemonics Imagine being stuck in the produce department at the grocery store trying to remember what you were planning to make for dinner or what your partner had asked you to pick up. You know there’s a lemon involved, but what else? By picking up the lemon, trace patterns lead you to the next item, setting off or in some way liberating your memory of the list or recipe. · lost In a similar scenario to the grocery store sudden memory loss situation, imagine getting turned around on your way home, or on the way to a friend’s house. You have your smartphone with GPS, but what you see on the map and what you see at street level seem completely different. This system could provide trace visuals in the physical landscape that are more intuitive than map directions alone. The city of London changed their tourist maps last year to reflect a street level sensibility and spatial recognition of landmarks (as opposed to a typical bird’s eye view map, which can be spatially disorienting). A system of subtle indications of place that locate memory to spatial, sensory and geographic systems could more successfully help with longer term recall of place.


how can a person’s internal story/complexity be revealed to enable connection? how can nervousness or internal dialogue fuel a process? how can that energy be harnessed? how can points of connection between two strangers be revealed without the stress of small talk?

How do we spend our time? Data projected into city spaces that reflects back your own time allotment (personal, by neighbourhood, by demographic, by job?) How do we show both known and liminal spaces in the cityscape? Can areas of potential be revealed by using forgotten city spaces as texts? Why do we forget some things and remember others? Can design be used to reveal subtle, personal, mnemonic devices in the landscape?



Reflection These first ideas were formulated prior to most of the thesis foundational research. They seemed to be beyond the ability to be explained or rationalized as the accompanying infrastructure and technologies were essentially non-existent. They were never pursued to a model stage. Having completed a number of other models, coming back to these ideas is useful in seeing the spectrum of design proposals, from the near-possible to the purely speculative. These last ideas are, in fact, very practical and human in their concerns (seamless creative workflows, mnemonics, wayfinding, conversation helpers) and could be brought down to a feasible design phase. Although not related as directly to theories of tuning or rhythm-making, the overlap with the later ideas is in the associations between physical spaces and cognition, and in the place of design in the everyday.



Images Š Arup, 2010

ďŹ g 21

ARUP DESIGN PROPOSALS The Net: Suspended three-dimensional layer of data installed in cityspace, that displays real-time data that can also be accessed via smartphone. The Net is meant to be a subtle aesthetic feature as much as a functional system of information delivery. Water Sculpture: Moving, changing signage that uses the water in the River Yarra (in Melbourne) itself to reveal water quality (and any change over time with efforts to clean and maintain water quality).

part 9



Within a smart city, urban informatics plays the role of making data tangible, by creating design-led interventions, often drawing from real-time data on urban activity. It provides the new interfaces through which citizens can engage with their city. It encompasses web and mobile services, urban-scale displays, and extends from analytical dashboard to public art. —Arup, 2010, 16

SUMMARY The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40) is a network of large and engaged cities from around the world committed to implementing meaningful and sustainable climate-related actions locally that will help address climate change globally (c40 Cities, About Us, ¶1). Melbourne is a member of the 58-strong C40 group, and as part of their climate change initiatives, hired the design firm Arup to design a smart city strategy. Arup prepared a proposal document in 2010 which laid out the major plans and proposals for a plan in which real-time information about transportation schedules, traffic and energy usage would be made available through smartphone apps and urban informatics, digital projections onto various surfaces in the city. The goal of the strategy is to create a seamless and transparent system between city-dwellers, levels of government, and services; and, in relating information about resource use and sustainability, to create a feedback loop that will influence awareness and usage behaviors (figure 21). Arup plays with the ideas of hard and soft in their design strategy: the bones of the city – existing buildings, roads, parks, public use spaces – are (more or less) permanent, but the potential for design lies in the overlay of the soft infrastructure of data onto the built environment (the hard infrastructure).

RELEVANCE · · · · · · ·

the layered effect of the digital onto physical urban spaces; the use of varied city spaces and surfaces to communicate information; levels of interaction with users (urban dwellers); change over time; combining data and aesthetics in the creation of surface visualizations; efforts to change or influence behaviors and cognition; visualization tactics (communicating speculative design proposals);

KEYWORDS urban informatics; digital and physical layering; real-time delivery of data; feedback loop; transparency


Image Š Anab Jain and Alex Taylor

part 9

fig 22





Anab Jain and Alex Taylor propose a speculative design project in which they imagine that our physical and bodily environments will be embedded with RFID (radio-frequency identification) tags, creating a seamless digital layering of physical and virtual landscapes, and the complex interplay of social situations.

Anab Jain & Alex Taylor 2006–2008 Clockwise from top left: RFID public landscape, revealing possible secret/

This ‘user-generated’, ‘open-source’ tagging system allows people to instrument their environments for aesthetic as well as practical reasons. It thus comes to be used as a performative resource as people manipulate, extend and constantly update their digital selves. The digital landscapes blend with the physical; beautiful, accessory-like readers are carried and worn to sense the ever-changing social and spatial digital environment. Ideas of privacy are altered dramatically as personal information once invisible is made visible and even appropriated into a new aesthetic sensibility. (Anab & Jain, 2008,66)

hidden dimensions of tag users RFID tag embedded in brooch; RFID tag tattooed onto skin

In their process PDF, they present the initial stages of their research and prototyping through the design of RFID readers (figure 22).

RELEVANCE · · · · · ·

the layered effect of technology onto physical urban spaces; development of use scenarios to describe abstract ideas; efforts to change or influence behaviors and cognition; visualization tactics (communicating speculative design proposals); the interplay of public/private in the pervasive use of RFID tagging an example of critical design; intentionally provocative

METHODS (ANAB & JAIN, 2008, 6) Critical engagement with people using speculative designed narratives as a form of enquiry: How does one engage with people to talk about quite abstract ideas? Making futures tangible today to understand the implications of emerging technologies and how people think of them: We were keen to look at emerging technologies, but also more importantly, think of ways to make some of our scenarios seem tangible.

KEYWORDS RFID tags; tuning the environment; digital and physical layering; rich content; public/private; critical design; open-source; user-generated





Image ©Andy Ryan Image ©Chris Harrison

Image ©Texas A & M Interface Ecology Lab,

Chris Harrison, Carnegie Mellon University

Texas A & M Interface Ecology Lab

Suzanne Seitinger, MIT


LabCast #56, MIT LightBridge,

“The TapSense prototype can distinguish between four different modes of touch input – the pad of your finger, the tip, your knuckle, or your fingernail. That means you have four different ways of invoking touchscreen functionality with just one digit.”


“A screen less, sensor-bordered tool that allows the user to draw using fingertips, hands or fully immersed arms.”


“... Sensors in the display respond to the movement of pedestrians on the bridge and ambient data such as the weather, blurring the boundaries between traditional city lighting and the responsive infrastructures of tomorrow.”


Image © Ben Alun-Jones Image courtesy MIT ©MIT

Image © Sabine Marcelis

MIT SENSEable City Lab

Sabine Marcelis

Ben Alun-Jones people eat less.

“Flyfire ... aims to transform any ordinary space into a highly immersive and interactive display environment. In its first implementation, the Flyfire project sets out to explore the capabilities of this display system by using a large number of self-organizing micro helicopters. Each helicopter contains small LEDs and acts as a smart pixel.”

“Table-Table is covered in “smart glass” that, at the press of the button, magically transforms from a transparent to an opaque surface.”

“From afar, the chair looks virtually invisible, its acrylic and mirrored-film surface gently reflecting the surroundings. But inch near, and a matrix of embedded LEDs lights up at which point, “the chair wakes, becoming transparent, revealing hidden depths and creating an almost infinite space beneath.”



CURRENT TECHNOLOGIES Opposite page and below: Though the design outcomes in this thesis are largely predictive, the projects included in this section are intended to demonstrate their near-future feasibility with technologies that employ similar lines of thinking. Keywords at right summarize overall design themes.




Image ©Tomoaki Yanagisawa

Image © MIT Media

Tomoaki Yanagisawa, 2004–2006

“A living sensor on a window, for example, communicates temperature both visually and emotionally, reacting with goose bumps or sweating.”

Joe Paradiso and Brian Mayton

“WristQue is a wristband sensor that is comfortable and customizable to encourage widespread adoption. The hardware is 3D

printable, giving users a choice of materials and colors. Internally, the wristband will include a main board with microprocessor, standard sensors, and localization/wireless communication, and an additional expansion board that can be replaced to customize functionality of the device for a wide variety of applications. Environmental sensors (temperature, humidity, light) combined with fine-grained indoor localization will enable smarter building infrastructure, allowing HVAC and lighting systems to optimize to the locations and ways that people are actually using the space.”


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The research needed for social practice can best be characterized as research for social management or social engineering. It is a type of action-research, a comparative research on the conditions and effects of various forms of social action, and research leading to social action. Research that produces nothing but books will not suffice (Lewin 1946, reproduced in Lewin 1948: 202-3)

Swann (2002) observed the close relationship between the design process (generalized as a process of problem/research; analysis; synthesis;

Action research methodology is used in this thesis as the basis for investigation and evaluation. In basic terms, action research is a methodology of mindful inquiry that has at its root “the systematic collection and analysis of data for the purpose of taking action and making change” (Jackson, 212). Hart and Bond define action research with the following characteristics:

execution; production; evaluation) and action research methodology (53). In the diagram at left, which shows the author’s own design process with Action Research mapped on top, the relationship can be shown as: PLAN Read brief/research/write/ideation ACT first creative / production planning / refinements / final design OBSERVE re-examine first creative against constraints / Test / Feedback / (Refine) REFLECT evaluate / Tweak methods

fig 25 ACTION RESEARCH METHODOLOGY RE-VISITED A streamlined look at Plan/Act/ Observe/Reflect and how methods used along the way contributed to or elucidated arriving at the reseach

· · · · · · ·

educative deals with individuals as members of a social group is problem-focused, context-specific and future-oriented involves a change intervention aims at improvement and involvement involves a cyclic process in which research, action and evaluation are interlinked is founded on a research relationship in which those involved are participants in the change process A critical characteristic of action research is its cyclical nature: arriving at the reflective stage, new questions open up, circling back to multiple possible cycles of Plan/Act/Observe/Reflect. Action research as a methodology is an iterative series of divergent and convergent steps that marry both praxis (action) and reflection. The action descriptor refers to the ongoing testing and risk-taking involved in putting into the field the designed outcomes, followed by their subsequent observation and evaluation (figures 23 and 29). This thesis proposes a series of speculative design outcomes that arise from topics and themes explored in the Contextual Review. As Cal Swann notes in his essay Action Research and the Practice of Design (2002), “[a]ction research is an appropriate methodology for any design project where the final outcome is undefined” (58).

question. The first (top) diagram was visualized before thesis research; the


bottom diagram, at the time of the

Swann argues that “[d]esign is for human consumption and not bounded by the quantifiable ‘certainties’ of the physical world” (Swann, 2002, 51). Unlike scientific methodologies, design thinking is necessarily bound up with an understanding and acceptance of uncertainty, intuition, inspired guesswork and holistic thinking. As part of a means of communicating sometimes uncertain or partially defined

thesis write-up.


fig 26

outcomes, “[v]isual a valid form of knowledge” (52). Jon Kolko describes the sensemaking (synthesis) aspects of the design process as a form of abductive reasoning, which is a means of providing “the argument to the best explanation” (Kolko, 2010, 20). Abductive reasoning allows for informed and intuitive guesswork, as well as personal insight, within a grounded research framework (21).

PROCESS SKETCHES Top left: articulating the “Plan” part of the Action Research cycle; bottom: an example of an alternative method of 3D modelling; opposite bottom left:

Nigel Cross argues for a more thorough definition of design thinking in his book Designerly Ways of Knowing (2007), in which design is described as rhetorical, persuasive, exploratory, emergent, opportunistic, abductive, reflective, ambiguous, and risky. Fiona Doloughan further supports a broader approach to design methodology, arguing that “the language of art and design is necessarily poetic, and that to write about metaphysical concepts and reflective practices requires a new kind of discourse, one which runs the gamut of technological innovation and rhetorical presentation, and can integrate the discursive, the pictorial, the persuasive, and the instrumental” (2002, 62).

connecting major themes running throughout the 3D models – sketch for 2D visualization, detail

SUMMARY, OR, DESIGN AS A CONVERSATION WITH THE MATERIALS OF A SITUATION (DONALD SCHÖN) Taken together, these definitions of design thinking, abductive reasoning and reflective practice support action research methodology as a viable strategy for design, in which research, practice, and reflection co-evolve. Under the umbrella methodology of action research, several methods will be used in the research, synthesis, analysis and reflective aspects of this thesis.

RESEARCH WALL Jon Kolko (2010) argues that, at some point, a designer’s ability to retain information and make sense of written materials and visual research on the computer is overwhelming and restrictive. An outward expression of the design process – the release of the contents as notes, Post-Its, sketches, etc. – away from the computer permits relationships to appear that might otherwise remain unclear as a linear digital research process (figures 26 and 28). SENSEMAKING PROCESS (JON KOLKO)

· · · · · · ·

Collect & store > Selective pruning and visual organization > Externalize data via spatialization > Wall, marker, sticky note > Mental model > Identify explicit and implicit relationships > Make groupings


fig 27

RESEARCH WALL Process of “abductive sensemaking”: externalizing the research to better make connections among ideas.

3D model image © Miah, Dunne & Raby, 2008


fig 28

EVIDENCE DOLLS Dunne, Raby & Miah 2008 An example of a 3D model used as part of a speculative design project in which participants were asked to describe

PHOTOGRAPHY/PHOTODOCUMENTATION Photographs of Halifax documenting urban voids will be used as the basis for some of the design outcomes (as framing references and as evidence of types of temporary spatial states). The photos were taken in Halifax’s North End in September 2011 (figure 27). They are by no means comprehensive and they are taken with the author’s bias in mind – they do, however, offer a starting point for addressing existing derelict spaces in Halifax.

past partners in an effort to screen qualitatively for “undesirable genes”.


Dunne and Raby translated the written

In their project Screening for Undesirable Genes: The Evidence Dolls Project, (figure 25) Anthony Dunne, Fiona Raby and Andy Miah employ a combination of interview techniques, questionnaires and 3D doll models to explore “how design can be used as a medium for public debate on the social, cultural and ethical impact of emerging technologies” (Miah, 2008, 063). Their project involves asking participants to describe their past and current partners, and to answer specifically in terms of physical and emotional attributes that may determine their fitness/ genetic desirability. The detailed descriptions are then translated onto the otherwise featureless dolls, creating tangible models of the screening processes by which ordinary people choose their sexual partners. The project is not based on scientific data, but rather on lived experience and the speculative narrative of a not-so-distant future where intensive genomic screening may be a reality.

partner descriptions onto otherwise white, neutral dolls.

fig 29

PHOTODOCUMENTATION opposite A selection of photos of urban voids, North End, Halifax, September 2011

In providing a tangible model, the future-thinking aspects of the project become real enough to discuss and to imagine, and provide a touchstone to participants to elaborate on their own personal narratives (please see Outcomes & Analyis of Visual Outcomes, pg 56).

INTERVIEWS AND/OR WORKSHOPPING CONCEPT PROTOTYPES As much as workshopping a concept prototype would have been the icing on the proverbial thesis cake, an interview to cap off the research proved a reality. Siobhan Wiggans, an arts programmer with the HRM, sat down for an interview in March 2012, to offer her insights into the push-pull process of passing public art initiatives at the municipal level. The interview can be found in Appendix A, pages 88–90.



fig 30


MINDMAPPING + PLANNING Below and opposite: Piecing together key concepts to find connections and make sense of the background research; figuring out major themes

Summary data diagrams were created to make better sense of complex ideas throughout the thesis write-up. As with the 3D models, over time, the combination of written and visualized concepts helped clarify and specify the thesis aims. Mindmapping and planning sketches (figure 30) led to more legible and simplified data visualizations.

and categories for the contextual review and 3D models (leading to summary diagrams found in the Introduction, Contextual al Review and Outcomes sections).
















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fig 31

3D MODELS SUMMARY Although the models in this section are numbered 1 through 5 for ease of communication, the models


3D MODELS 3D models were constructed in order to visualize and generate concrete theoretical concepts (figure 31). Central tenets running throughout the thesis that informed the models include:

themselves do not follow a linear


process, but in fact inform and overlap

Research into the cognitive state(s) of the city pedestrian going about his everyday activities informed the visual outcomes for this first model (Blum, 2005; Sennett, 1990; Vidler, 2000). The central idea of invisibility of, or blindness to, everyday surroundings because of repetition and the distraction of internal dialogue is used to generate visual forms.

with each other.

THE CITY AS SURFACE Urban surroundings, and any type of built or transitional infrastructure, provide natural surfaces for communication design outcomes.

REAL-TIME URBAN INFORMATICS This thesis in part proposes an urban design strategy whereby the normal rhythms and rituals of going to and from the daily responsibilities of work and school can be harnessed as design metrics for real-time visual displays. This strategy is a more personal extension of existing Smart City projects including Melbourne, 2010 (where the focus is on environmental sustainability and citizen behavioral change) and NYC, 2011 (where the focus is on transparency and seamless digital communication between citizens and city-level government agencies).

URBAN VOIDS This thesis proposes that urban voids are in fact spaces of great unused potential. Urban voids in the context of the thesis include built spaces in states of flux (renovations and construction) and dereliction.

REPETITION AND SOCIAL RITUALS Collectively, urban pedestrians, particularly along commuter routes at peak hours, contribute to a shared sense of social ritual; attendant to this practice is the passive and unconscious creation of social pattern and rhythm-making. This patterning can potentially be translated visually or acoustically to create constantly changing and updated cityscapes that reflect the everyday activities of city dwellers.

PLAY AND DELIGHT The reception of the proposed visual outcomes can only be speculated, but the intent is, in part, to produce a sense of joy and a sense of well-being in the simple

58 fig 32

MODEL 1 LOCATION A stretch of Barrington Street in Halifax, NS between Sackville and Prince Photos taken January 2012 opposite From top, clockwise: Figure 33, Model 1full view Figure 34, Moiré Figure 35, Personal biographies

pursuit of the everyday. The visuals are intended as traces of personal biography, traces of activity, traces of social connections. The secondary outcome, beyond the aesthetic improvement, is to surprise and delight with change, renewal and co-creation.

MODEL 1 · BARRINGTON STREET Imagine walking down a main street in the downtown core of your city. This is a street that you walk down every day on your way to work. Formerly vibrant, the area is undergoing a slow restoration. Many of the buildings are in in-between states, undergoing reconstruction, next to newer buildings and businesses. Mostly you pass through here on your way to somewhere else, not bothering to look closely at the streetscape. Sometimes you stop for a coffee or notice a particular storefront. You pass by other commuters each day on this same stetch – there’s a familiarity, and a sense of belonging, even in passing.. Barrington Street is a major commuter and transit corridor in Halifax’s downtown core, lined with commercial and entertainment businesses. At the time of writing, three heritage buildings on the west side of Barrington Street between Sackville and Prince were undergoing renovations (figure 32). The building faces were maintained, but the windows and building interiors gutted. Because of the extended duration of the renovation (at eight months and counting), the gutted buildings contribute to a sense of dereliction along this stretch of Barrington. The Barrington Street model demonstrates uses for buildings (and spaces) in states of transition.

DESIGN METHODS 1.1 Review of text references (in particular, The Tuning of the World, Schafer, 1977): Before the model could be visualized, part of the synthesis took place by reviewing and gaining insight from sound theory (both written and visual notation). 1.2 Initial sketching and ideation Initial sketching led to a breakdown of the possible layering that makes up the commuter route: digital, physical, social media, smartphones, digital cameras DIGITAL

walking, tactics of pa passing ng on the sidewalk e PHYSICAL

al dialogue internal ACOUSTIC

a earphones

b ambient noise weather

fig 36

STREET LAYERS These five overlapping categories of the street experience (beyond the streetscape itself, architecture, etc,) were considered when developing


ers conversation, k acknowledgement

the Barrington Street model design proposals.

figure 33

figure 35

figure 34



fig 37

The transparent cubes represent the internal dialogue of passing pedestrians projected as mass into the urban void of the Barrington Street buildings; the green patterns represent collected walking rhythms.

atmospheric, acoustic, and social layering. Attempting to pull out and address each of these layers separately seemed both too literal and too daunting, but more intuitive approaches to combining the layers led to the model.

1.3 Photography and map construction Building scale and form were constructed by combining both snapshots and Google Earth street view screen shots. Though not acceptable as a valid architectural approach to scale, this more ad hoc method provided a fast means of establishing a viable sense of scale and structure. 1.4 Model construction The photo collage was then translated into a 1:7 scale model using common materials. 1.5 Visuals 1.5.1 Sound spectrogram 1.5.2 Pattern inlay in sidewalk 1.5.3 Sliced personal histories or internal conversations as moving film 1.5.4 Internal dialogue as volume 1.5.5 Moiré patterns 1.5.6 Animation sequence 1.5.1 Sound Spectrogram atmospheric (wind) and acoustic (ambient and social noise) layers A sound spectrogram is a visual representation of a sound that incorporates the three dimensions that make up that sound: amplitude and frequency over time. The visual looks in its most naïvely described form like a textured topographic mountain or a storm cloud. Without needing to know what it is, for the casual viewer it carries a rich haptic quality. A sound spectrogram was sourced from the internet (without regard to content, merely to form), and was cut, re-distributed and attached in layers to the exterior of the building at the northwest corner of Sackville and Barrington (figure 38). The spectrogram was meant to represent a visual projection of the ambient noise at that corner, including sources from traffic, conversation and wind. The data is tracked in real time, allowing for a shifting visual that grows or shrinks in relation

61 fig 38


fig 39


to shifts in activity and noise. The layering creates a dimensional effect away from the flat surface of the building, and adds to the possible reception of the spectrogram as ominous. In the case of the model, the source image is a grayscale spectrogram, which further contributes to its appearance as a stormcloud and a sense of foreboding: this was not necessarily the intent when imagining this outcome on paper, but the model did elucidate this reading when attached to the building surface. 1.5.2 Pattern inlay in the sidewalk physical layer (walking, social pattern-making) When thinking of the streetscape, the lens of the commuter’s visual landscape can be shifted from a (more typically linear) dead-ahead/man-on-a-mission eye tracking to a flickering, changing 180 degrees. The sidewalk is one such opportunity to shift this lens. In the model, one section of sidewalk has been removed and replaced with a repeating overlay of green and yellow rectangles (figure 37). This visual, again sourced from the internet as a sample only, represents a collision of pedestrian walking rhythms that, when captured, can be translated into an abstract, but still relational, visual outcome. Like the capture of ambient sound, the pattern translation of walking rhythms shifts and changes in real time, and demonstrates shifts in volume, and differences in walking speeds. 1.5.3 Sliced personal histories or internal conversations as moving film acoustic (internal dialogue) layer This thesis looks at ways that design can interpret and make visible hidden, invisible, and void spaces, in the physical landscape but equally as a creative output of everyday activity and everyday internal conversation. In the model, this internal conversation, or parcels of personal biographies, from several people is captured and sliced together as a moving series of thin colour blocks. The personal is abstracted, and interpreted as a trace only. The sliced film in the model is projected against the blown-out windows of one of the refurbished heritage buildings, using the void spaces as natural screens (figure 35).




ďŹ g 40

Opposite: Selected frames from 3-second sequence; below: enlarged single frame to show detail


Images ©Texas A & M Interface Ecology Lab

fig 41


1.5.4 Internal dialogue as volume acoustic (internal dialogue), social (conversation) and digital (texting, social media updates)

ZeroTouch screenless screen technology; fingers, hands and arms can be used to generate simple visual patterns.

In the initial stages of the visual development, most of the ideation centred around using flat surfaces (sides of buildings, sidewalks, etc.) as surfaces for design. At the model planning stage, the idea of volume became evident as an additional and complimentary approach. Internal dialogue – making to-do lists, re-working past conversations, rehearsing future conversations, worrying about the day ahead, reflecting on the events of the day, etc. – can create this idea of volume, of literally filling up your head. In the model, this internalization is made real in space, in the form of stackable transparent word cubes (figure 37). The form itself is not so important as the sense of volume, of externalization of mental clutter. The text could be equally derived from conversations in the street or from the digital layer of ongoing conversation, through texting or Twitter updates. As with the sound spectrogram, which may appear ominous, the intention or effect of the visual is not necessarily a positive or happy outcome: the text landscape could literally spill out or take over a space (as a transgressive act). 1.5.5 Moiré patterns Physical (walking) Instead of necessarily being required to work with an existing space or void, and to accept it as is, one design outcome proposes that by combining both rhythm and intent, the collective patterns of multiple pedestrians could be used to create moiré patterns that obliterate or alter an existing structure. Each pedestrian step creates an aftershock of concentric circles, like a rain drop in a puddle. Taken together, overlapping patterns of concentric circles create vibrating moiré patterns that could essentially make invisible a space or building. In the model, this is represented by the third heritage building front, which is covered from the front with layers of circled patterns (figure 34). This could be read as a means of citizen transgression, of marking the city in ways that delineate community-ownership, as a result of subtle co-creation. 1.5.6 Animation sequence A video was recorded of a walking sequence. The video was parsed into individual frames, at a frame rate of 15 frames per second. The walking figure in each frame was traced by hand, scanned, and then placed within the narrative of the short animation. Three seconds were produced as a final animation. The animation is intended to show a gestalt understanding of the intent of the Barrington Street model proposals, that something as ordinary as walking can generate rich patterns, and an entire volume of experience (keyframes, pages 60 and 61).


fig 42

MODEL 2: NORTH END PARKADE North End parking lot, behind Gottingen on Portland Street, in Halifax. Above: railings along alley entrance; at right, the two-storey portion of the parkade.

REFLECTION · at the level of intent: The design outcomes were mostly visualized as neutral, or as positive and delight-inspiring. In part because of scale, but also in part because of the complexities of the ultimate users (a vast cross-section of Halifax citizens), it became evident through building the 3D model that some of the outcomes could be perceived as transgressive, as demarcating space in challenging ways. The thesis investigates biological growth and cycles as one source of research: within these cycles, there are mutations and overgrowths. Similarly, human behavior, both in the thinking and in the receiving, cannot be programmed to accept abstract visual language as one set of cultural absolutes, as universally positive. The notion that design doesn’t always have to do “good” is compelling: there is a hugely established critical aspect to urbanization. Locating gaps between the practices of architecture and urban planning and the actual lived experience of the city (i.e. between intention and reality over time) opens up the possibilities for communication design. In imagining spaces like a volumetric text landscape, that grows uncontrollably, the social critique may be accidental (i.e. not the original intention), but it is present, and became more concrete because of the model. · designing a strategy: One of the observations made over the course of making models was that the actual visual itself didn’t matter as much as the set of ideas backing up that visual. While that may sound simplistic and obvious, the process was freeing – the ideas shone over any absolute pre-determined visual outcome. Taken together, the visual outcomes started to look like a proposal for a strategy of integration within the scope of city planning. This notion of a set of standards, as opposed to a string of loose concepts, revealed gaps in the argument and contributed to a more streamlined design approach. This first model looked at broad approaches with a broad audience along a commuter route; in the second model, a more neighbourhood-specific proposal addressed issues of safety, fostering social relationships, and using existing urban infrastructure for visualizations; the third, a personal device, dropped down to the individual, and to the experience of the urban landscape from that sole viewpoint.

67 fig 43

MODEL 2 FULL VIEW Opposite Top: ZeroTouch screens are integrated into existing railing; passersby can create projections that fill the parking lot Bottom: A sculptural growth fills the lower level of the parkade as a safety warning

· beating a dead horse: Looking back at the summer and fall process books, the same ideas came up again and again, all of which were addressed (in various condensed formats) in the Barrington Street model. They needed to get out, to be exorcised in physical form, in order to leave them behind. In the weeks since that first model, the subsequent models progressed much further than the initial ideas.

· summarizing a dead horse: In the last writing week, it still seemed as though there was one key piece missing in the visual modelling. Though not entirely necessary in terms of advancing concept, the animation was produced last of all of the models, as a partial response to this need to summarize the intent and to humanize the sometimes technical language of rhythm/volume/growth. This was also the result of a personal challenge to learn a new technical skill by hand rendering a simple (but labour intensive!) rotoscoping technique.

MODEL 2 · NORTH END PARKADE Imagine walking home one day, taking a different route, off the main streets and along alleys and sidestreets. You come across little pockets of your neighbourhood that you’d never noticed before. Some of the spaces that seem off-grid are the most interesting, and make you feel like you really belong in your neighbourhood – there’s a mix of new and old, old history and history-in-the-making. The Barrington Street model looked at a short stretch of downtown Halifax, a section in a state of transition and renewal. The North End parkade model looks at an existing parkade that is situated in a transitional neighbourhood: on one side, a low-income section of Gottingen, on the other, a gentrified micro-neighbourhood of high-end row houses. The parkade bridges these two spaces, and has itself seen much better days (figure 42). For all intents and purposes, the parkade appears derelict (though is still in active use): aging infrastructure, crumbling concrete and graffiti all contribute to this reading. On the north end of the parkade there sits a second storey: the lower storey is dark and low to the ground, inviting security concerns.

DESIGN METHODS 2.1 Initial sketching and ideation The photos of this parkade were taken in September 2011 without knowing how they would or could be used. Returning to these photos and to the existing infrastructure (railings, two-storey parkade, vast open centre space) in combination with research into existing new technologies led to the first idea of the embedded screens.

2.2 Photography and map construction Parkade scale and form were constructed by combining both snapshots and Google Earth street view screen shots.

2.3 Model construction The photo collage was then translated into a 1:10 scale model using common materials.

2.4 Visuals 2.4.1 Screenless screens 2.4.2 Sculptural growth 2.4.1 Screenless screens The screenless screens (“ZeroTouch”, Texas A&M) can be inserted into existing framework, like the metal tubed railings that sit on the western (alley) side of the parkade (figure 42). These railings have existing rectangular openings, perfect receptacles for the ZeroTouch screens. Passersby can come upon these screens


by accident or by word of mouth, and, in the spirit of serendipity and play, use their hands and arms to draw into the landscape of the parkade. Because ZeroTouch is in its infancy, the nature of the resulting drawings is quite primitive (simple spray paint textures, radial lines, webbed lines, impressions of fingerprints) (figure 41). This is in fact a benefit in this case: the technology limits the expression, rendering a kind of fair use/level creative playing field. The drawings can be added to by other people, creating a potential environment for social interaction and active co-creation. The resulting drawings would be time-limited and could be endlessly erased and re-written. The potential exists for some kind of database to be maintained, where you could go to retrieve your own contribution, or to track changes made over time. In this light, the drawing projections have the feel and spirit of graffiti culture, in that there’s a kind of unspoken respect for and competition for space and for one-upmanship. 2.4.2 Sculptural growth In addition to the embedded ZeroTouch screens, the second aspect to this model is an organic, growth-like, massed modular sculpture that sits within the lower storey of the parkade (figure 43). Safety concerns came up when examining both the model and the original photos – because of the heaviness of the architectural style and the low-frequency use of the parkade, the lower storey appears dark and foreboding. Instead of addressing safety in a conventional manner, through public service messages or dire warnings, the sculptural growth is a kind of psychic, playful manifestation of a warning that draws attention to the threat of the space by filling it up and containing it.

REFLECTION The North End Parkade model differs from the first model in that it was a more specific intervention, one that addressed a neighbourhood, a fixed space, and a more active type of use, over the broader interventions in the Barrington Street space. There is still something unresolved about this model, but this uncertainty is beneficial: viable ideas poke through that cannot necessarily be rationalized or neatly packaged. In particular, the idea of a growing, modular, voluminous mass is not something that can be explained in terms of its construction or plausibility, but the concept of denoting danger in a novel way does make sense. · extension of an idea:This model is not entirely rational, and helped to (incrementally) loosen a hold on a strict need to know every element of the rationale. The idea that language itself already imposes a conceptual framework became evident: the intuitive response was strong, but the rational response raised red flags. · small changes and subtle differentiations helped to refine visual thinking: having to make a second model on the heels of the first forced a refinement of the ideas, and a higher level of differentiation outside the visuals themselves. In this case, the switch from a passive to an active audience; from a broad to a community user base; from a transitional, core space to an outlying urban void; and to an underlying idea of serendipity. This refinement further defined a missing element in the visual outcomes: the place of the individual.


MODEL 3 · PERSONAL ROUTES AND ROUTINES There are already a number of sports health-tracking devices that you can wear, that measure heart rate, distance, the number of steps you take... but what if the routes that you normally take in your city could be recorded as your own biography beyond your health? The recorded data would be very personal, and a measure of what you really wanted to do – a kind of calibration tool.


From left: An 8-bit (8-colour) Microsoft high capacity color barcode; the HCCB wearable device paper prototype; the HCCB device attached to a purse

In the earliest stages of the thesis exploration, boredom was often assumed to be the only cognitive state associated with the repetition of (commuter) walking routes. The research has since departed from this limited view to a practice of routine as social ritual, as a shared cultural practice and evidence of how a city functions (through work and common goals). The idea of compiling routine routes as a metric was still compelling in the scope of the thesis research, and led to the design of a wearable device that records the user’s daily routes, and leads to behavioral and disruptive changes in the public and private spheres.

DESIGN METHODS 3.1 Ideation and sketching This phase took the longest to generate; multiple forms were investigated, but were determined to be too involved in both their explanation and in the generation of their form. The design for the device is almost non-design: it is meant to be small, innocuous, and gender-neutral. The device operates using a technology called a high capacity colour barcode (HCCB). Microsoft has developed this more powerful form of QR code that uses a combination of coloured triangles (4-bit or 8-bit) to store scannable data. The resulting “code” is remarkably beautiful beyond its data capacity: as a stand-alone visual, the HCCB is a viable choice for a wearable device (figure 44). 3.2 Model making and use scenario It made sense to photograph a plausible scenario of use for the wearable device using a participant wearing a paper model.

3.3 Determining device function 3.3.1 Route tracking and recording 3.3.2 In the private sphere: Customization 3.3.3 in the public sphere: Glitch 3.3.1 Route tracking and recording The device model is a standard rectangular pin that can be worn externally, attached to clothing or to accessories (back packs, satchels, purses, etc.; figure 44); alternatively, with the pin backing removed, the device can be stored in a dedicated pocket, or in the base of a shoe (as with Nike’s existing system, which allows users to store a digital pedometer in the base of their shoe).


fig 45

MODEL 3: CUSTOMIZATION From top left: Device without data, pinned to purse; daily walking routes recorded as a high-density barcode; full device removed at end of day and used

In its zero state, the pin device appears as a plain black rectangle; as you wear the device, your walking routes are recorded for the day, the data stored and visualized as a high density barcode. Once activated, the most current route barcode remains visible until an additional route is added for the day. At the end of the day (or of the week), the pin can be inserted into a scanning device at home which can generate an analog (printed) version of your HCCB. The analog print outs can be collected and observed as a reminder of the week’s activities.

wirelessly with laptop to create an iTunes playlist that reflects the route data (i.e. level of risk).

3.3.2 In the private sphere: Customization The device can also be used wirelessly to connect with home small appliances, like a stereo, lamp or fridge (figure 45). The collected data is translated to reflect your level of risk and change over time and can be harnessed to draw down a playlist, a change in lighting, a particular grocery list. The translation of the data may be perceived as calming, as neutral, or as encouraging risk and change. 3.3.3 In the public sphere: Glitch In software studies (Fuller, 2008), Goriunova and Shulgin discuss the notion of a glitch as “an unpredictable change in the system’s behavior, when something obviously goes wrong” (110). The glitch is a modification or misreading of the original command, resulting in an unexpected new result. A glitch can have a negative consequence (for example, a complete shutdown of a website or online banking system) or can open the door serendipitously to be exploited (a glitch in an online game can lead to novel forms of problem-solving). Glitch is also in part the idea behind mixing and sampling. In the context of this wearable device, the concept of glitch is incorporated to disrupt fellow pedestrians’ plugged-in states. The device can emit a signal, based on the pattern information that it has stored about the user’s walking routes, that produces a momentary glitch in a fellow passerby’s music (on their iPod, for example), mobile phone or digital camera (figure 46). The glitch is meant to break the recipient’s plugged-in state, to cause a small alarm or a brief moment of questioning, and then return to the normal state. The type of glitch that will result will depend on the stored data: a user who keeps to the same daily routine will have a different pattern generated than another user who is more likely to break up their daily routes. The glitch could lead a new type of sampling: the error state could be perceived as a novel shared sound or visual aesthetic.

REFLECTION At the most basic and rational level, most of us take the same routes each day because they are the most efficient, the safest, or the closest to necessary amenities or transit routes. But every so often, we deviate from a known route: we choose the secondary way home, on a whim, or to carry out a task that takes us off-grid. There are no particularly deep or resonant conclusions from that observation, but the recording of these traces of everyday practices feeds back into the aim of the thesis overall, to draw out instances of a shared social practice and to visualize data associated with the everyday. · invisible design to capture the invisible There were a number of more complex and organic design options before arriving at something nearly invisible. In this case, the form itself seemed secondary to the incorporated technology (which in itself housed the aesthetic component of the device), and to the behavioral and perceptual changes that occur using the data capture as the content.

+ =

74 fig 46

MODEL 3: GLITCH Pages 70–71, from top left: Device user on right passes a fellow pedestrian wearing headphones; the device emits a brief disruptive signal, causing a glitch in the passerby’s digital device. The glitch is momentary, designed to break the recipient out of their own internal dialogue; on right hand page, the triangular pattern of the high density barcode as a 3D expression

· does this still fit the aim of the thesis? This model is the first to cross the threshold into personal living space, and to bring the habits and experiences of the outside world to the privacy and known limits of a home environment. The model does keep to themes of mapping, moving geographies, and pattern-making, which then collide with ritual behaviors in the home. The secondary function of glitch as a subtle social strategy also maintains the place of the wearable device equally in the public sphere. · test it and move on There was too much questioning and worrying about what to keep and what not to keep, instead of thinking about this first iteration as a simple early prototype to get the idea moving somewhere. The idea of depicting a simple scenario with a series of photographs was the easiest means of showing the device in action. The device design is not resolved, but its functions and place within the overall thesis can be analyzed within the context of the scenario. · cognitive, aesthetic and sensory mixing In his book on sound theory, The Tuning of the World, Murray Schafer (1977) noted that, as early as the ‘60s, the distinction between signal and noise became murkier, as elements of feedback, looping, scratch and other “noise” techniques were recorded and worked into contemporary music. Cognitive, aesthetic and sensory mixing has a long history in visual culture: this device, combined with the programming concept of glitch, fits within this same tradition.

OBSERVATIONS ABOUT MODELS 1 TO 3 · themes pulled from sound theory, Richard Coyne’s microtuning and Lefebvre’s Rhythmanalysis have provided a solid conceptual basis to the design outcomes; originally, the theory seemed too dense and too difficult to translate visually, but has in fact helped set the foundation against which the design outcomes can be tested; · the design explorations all seem to carry multiple readings: originally, the intent was for the design outcomes to be uniformly positive, but there is potential in design that also creates moments of chaos, of uncertainty and of possible transgression and personal expression

MODEL 4 · GRAFTON STREET PIT KIT You’re sitting on the patio drinking a beer with friends, enjoying the day, when you look over and see an open contruction site, or maybe simply a grown-over plot of land that used to be a building but that is now just an empty space. What if you could use that space to build something? To sit outside, a bit of nature in the city, but more than a park – a space that you design, that you decide? For this model, the design proposal moves away from strict reliance on technology into a scenario that brings together vernacular (local, citizen-led) creativity, existing urban void infrastructure, and the construction of temporary modular street furniture (figure 47).

DESIGN METHODS 4.1 Ideation and sketching Initial sketches were of a combination of organic shapes (boulders, but possibly also pneumatic structures like very strong balloons) with geometrics (2x4s? infrastructure within the site itself?) to build structural landscapes: staircases, bridges, seating.



fig 47

Citydwellers can build onto existing infrastructure in urban voids using a simple “pit kit” of materials.

4.2 Choice of site and phtodocumentation A void site on Grafton Street between Sackville and Prince in Halifax’s downtown core proved to be a compelling choice for the model. This site, which occupies the length of a city block, but is only half as deep, was formerly the site of several row buildings. The void site is composed of the remnants of the building footprints, and each footprint has a defined space like a room, with indications of a back wall, and crumbling dividing walls between footprints.

4.3 Model construction The site photos were then used as the basis for a 1:10 scale model using common materials.

4.4 Interpretation and visualization 4.4.1 Street furniture 4.4.2 Organic growth & aging 4.4.1 Street furniture In this model, two foundational ideas lead the design: vernacular creativity and using existing infrastructure to build situationally-derived, novel forms of street furniture. The idea is not guerrilla – the city participates and encourages this kind of citizen-led innovation by providing (and/or partnering with a supplier) the “pit kit” basic materials. In the model, these include wood scraps, pneumatic materials (giant balloons), and the core components to build the set of stools. Vernacular creativity (Edensor, 2011) is the idea that, given the impetus for change in their own communities, regular people will come up with creative solutions


without direction from designers or architects. Many abandoned sites have some remnants of their former selves: foundation walls, fencing, railing, etc. that is still solid and can be used as the starting point for a fusion build of a set of modular pieces of furniture (figures 47 and 48). 4.4.2 Organic growth & aging In the model, the flocked coloured stools (figure 48, lower) are meant to represent street furniture that shows age with the addition of sprayed-on mosses (or other organic growth, depending on local climate). The void and transitional spaces imagined for this type of intervention also show aging and decay, and the layering of additional, intentional aging is meant to act as a kind of gentle political statement about the spaces themselves while also embracing the full cycle of change as being a good thing in a city. If not a “good” thing, then at least indicative of a place’s history and natural battle with the elements over time.


fig 48

Opposite: detail views; top, figure in foreground is carrying his pit kit supplies; in lower photo, the stools age with addition of sprayed moss spores, mimicking the aging of the site itself.

Reflection This is the first model to step away from a strictly technological intervention. The model’s basic ideas are not particularly original in that many architects have envisioned modular street furniture – the new aspect to this particular iteration is in suggesting a deliberately citizen-led (and socially based: better furniture can be built by sharing resources) design intervention. Many practical issues arise, mostly around location safety and materials cost. And, additionally, around what happens next – once something is built, what are the rules/steps in dismantling a structure, rebuilding, adding to or mixing into someone’s else piece? · is this too conventional a solution? The jury’s still out, but the model was worth the effort in articulating what seemed like a next logical step after the North End parkade model: if you take away the technology, is there still a system in place for design to integrate with community, with serendipity, and with co-creation? And with the ongoing theme of tuning/calibration? · this moves away from pattern/rhythm-making, sticks with biological growth and transformation...but... Ugh. There’s something about the aesthetics of this model that seduces over the content. The whole thing feels unresolved, and borrows from too many sources that are already excellent in this territory (for example, the Grotto project in the Contextual Review).

MODEL 5 · COMMUTER AFFECTIVE-EMOTIONAL VISUALIZATION Imagine taking the same route – with occasional variations – to work each day. The day of the week changes, the season changes, the weather changes, but the distance, and the pacing, and most of the physical environment stays the same. If you were asked, what would you remember from that route each day? Is there a favourite coffee spot? A particularly busy intersection? A storefront? The weight of your backpack? A conversation with a friend? What would you include and what would you forget in your mind’s eye of the route? In Christian Nold’s biomapping project (Nold, n.d.), which fits within a larger category of locative media and geotagging, he used a set of both qualitative and quantitative data to map out an emotional response to location. This visual experiment draws from that research, but looks specifically at the commuter as the subject. The hypothesis put forth about the commuter assumes that his or her journey differs fundamentally from a journey of discovery or nostalgia tracked by Nold’s project. In its repetitive and goal-oriented nature, the commuter journey is largely about an internal dialogue, and a blindness to the surrounding physical


fig 49


5 categories

Test commuter route with notations of

PHYSICAL SPATIAL (most tangible)

recalled experiences and feelings; the



EMOTIONAL (least tanglible)

written information was then placed into five hypothesized categories (opposite page, left column).

fig 50 MODEL 5 DATA DNA VISUALIZATIONS Opposite: Visualizations of two design

examples of categorization from test route MEMORY DESCRIPTION


Uncommon Grounds: stop for a banana scone?

Emotional (want) & sensory (taste)

Wind tunnel just after Spring Garden


Breathing space: bench, openness


proposals: data stored as strata, and data stored as modular information used to change the physical appearance of the landscape.




test route visualization DNA / STRATA

physical & emotional sensory physical spatial emotional emotional spatial

visual emotional spatial

emotional sensory sensory visual sensory emotional sensory






test route visualization MODULAR / GEOMETRIC


test route visualization DIGITAL DNA / STRATA

test route visualization MALLEABLE (MODULAR) TOPOGRAPHY


and sensory world. The experiment is meant to confirm or refute this hypothesis by providing actual experiential evidence of a test commuter route.

DESIGN METHODS 5.1 Experience design test case The test participant was asked to record their most common commute route and, from memory, write down or draw specific parts of the route that they could remember clearly or that in some way stood out for them. These details could be: · stops and starts · emotional responses · awarenesses/landmarks · sensory details (smells, sounds, etc.) fig 51 MODEL 5 DATA DNA HIDDEN STRATA AND “MALLEABLE TOPOGRAPHIES” Top: in this illustration, data gathered from

5.2 Analysis and categorization The next step in the visualization was to analyze and interpret the responses into categories; assign each category a visual value (a pattern or colour); and translate the written or drawn responses into a graphic pattern.

commuter route responses is stored as

5.3 Interpretation and visualization

DNA strata beneath the sidewalk, with

5.3.1 Digital DNA / Strata 5.3.2 Malleable (modular) topographies 5.3.3 Existing design proposals

the potential to enact change; bottom: in this illustration, data is stored as modular components that can be used to change the actual topography (form of a landmass), in this case, adding to Citadel Hill.

Purpose In both the Barrington Street model and in the High Capacity Colour Barcode (HCCB) personal device, pedestrian rhythms (from walking) are captured, stored and used to generate visuals and, in the case of the HCCB device, possibly to enable disruptive activity. Specifying the dimensions of the rhythm capture and subsequent pattern translation will demonstrate the tuning nuances of the design proposals. Categories The hypothesis assumed five categories into which route observations could be placed, ordered from most to least tangible, from exterior to interior: · Physical (awareness of weather, of contact with other people, of other contact with objects, environment) · Spatial (awareness of changes in the landscape, or of sense of space) · Visual (including attention to architecture, signage, storefronts, etc.) · Sensory (senses other than visual) · Emotional (emotional states as well as need/desire) Two key factors were left out of this visual exercise: time and conventional mapping. The memory-based approach creates a compressed experience of a timeline: anything that is present in the physical path that is not recalled is essentially erased and rendered null in the visual translation (this time is seen as internal – dialogue, daydreaming, periods of low or no awareness). The commuter experience stops being linear and instead becomes a series of slices (similar to the biographical slicing described on page 56). The five categories of experience were translated into two visualizations (figure 50): stratified form for compact storage below the surface of the street and into modular geometric form for building up or changing the physical appearance of a landmass (a city’s topography). The choice of presenting abstracted form derived from personal details is again an attempt to provide traces only of experience, rather than pointing to specific experience.

82 © Corbin Fraser

fig 52

MODEL 5: CITADEL HILL Left: Citadel Hill, Halifax, NS; right: paper model of Citadel Hill showing the existing topography in grey, and possible changes (mutations) to the topography in orange, white and yellow

5.3.1 Digital DNA / Strata In figure 50, route data from the test journey is separated into the above categories and assigned a stratified pattern, much like DNA banding. Multiple participants could generate enough data to begin observing certain patterns (as Nold observed in his biomapping projects). In this thesis’ simplified memorybased version, the generated visuals could be stored as hidden “digital DNA” to enact change above or below street level. At the corner where the test participant experienced a strong wind tunnel, for example (see figure 51), stored stratified data could generate heat exchange on the sidewalk immediately following the wind tunnel, as sensory compensation for the shock of the strong wind. 5.3.2 Malleable (Modular) Topographies In an informal phone interview in November 2011, artist Alison Creba described the theory underlying the Citymail project that she initiated in Halifax (see page 22). She notes that in the documentation of a relationship by an ephemeral form like a letter, this physical token of the relationship itself creates a greater perception of the physical dimensions of the world around us. Letters affect our emotional landscape, leading to an awareness of how the shapes of things affect us by blocking or revealing pathways. Along these same theoretical lines, the route data could also be stored as a set of modular instructions that could enact change on the landscape itself (figures 51 and 53). This is the most literal translation of biography into tangible form: that the layering and complexity of an everyday experience could, in fact, shift the shape of a city structure (in the example case, the shape of Citadel Hill in Halifax) to suit a personal desire or mood. This proposal for the storage of digital DNA has a rhetorical power that responds back to the initial thesis investigation into hidden and invisible spaces; in addition to intervening into existing spaces, the storage and harnessing of the collective patterning of citygoers could contribute to a fluid, mobile vision of a city that shifts not only with the passage of time (and with the growth or decline of population), but with individual and collective needs and narratives.



fig 53

Citadel Hill layered with the imagined change in its physical appearance.

5.3.3 Existing design proposals The collection of data for storage as digital DNA can also be used as the foundation for both the Barrington Street (62, sidewalk patterns, sliced biographical films) and HCCB personal device (69, calibrated home appliances, glitch scenarios with fellow passersby) models. Reflection This investigation into the specifics of route collection stemmed from an effort to stitch together the various models under one theoretical umbrella (the diagram on pages 82 and 83 provides a visual summary). · serendipity This visual iteration had a certain serendipity to it, in that a tie-in could be linked back to an earlier unfinished idea, that of malleable topographies (figure 52, paper model). The specificity and categorization of the test journey from home to school provided a stronger analytical tool to attach to the more speculative proposal for a malleable, moving topographical landscape. This was not the original intent of the test, but only became apparent once the visuals were realized. · opening up an idea with the choice of material Something about the nature of this iteration pointed to using non-digital means to articulate the data. Choosing a simple watercolour sketch worked to suggest the personal but also the speculative aspects of the proposals in a way that a purely digital sketch could not. · matching to theory the test journey and resulting data, though simple in their approach, could be tested against the two overarching theories, tuning and rhythmanalysis (figure 54), as well as referenced against existing ideas and research about the cognitive and behavioral effects of space.






fig 54 RHYTHMANALYSIS & THE TUNING OF PLACE Opposite: Summary concepts from Henri Lefebvre’s study of rhythmanalysis, and below, of Richard Coyne’s theory of the tuning of place. Coyne incorporates Lefebvre’s theory to arrive at his set of tuning (microtuning) practices.

fig 55

SUMMARY OF VISUAL OUTCOMES Below and continued on pages 86–87, the five design proposals compared by audience, type of intervention and types of primary and secondary microtuning practices.








MATCHING TO THEORY: DESIGN MODELS AGAINST TUNING THEORY On the facing page, the diagram (figure 54) outlines in basic terms the broad strokes of Lefebvre’s study of Rhythmanalysis (in which he talks about rhythm and everyday life), and technology theorist Richard Coyne’s theory of the tuning of place. In the latter, Coyne breaks down tuning practices into specific categories that draw from sound theory, rhythm theory and the language of programming (Coyne, 2010). He describes tuning practices in relation to the use of pervasive digital devices such as smartphones and iPods – means by which individuals make small tuning adjustments to their own environments. Coyne further subdivides each tuning category more specifically (for example, tactics into gaps, boundaries, ruses, resistances and inflections). This thesis borrows Coyne’s vocabulary and extends the practice of microtuning to the socio-technological interventions proposed as design outcomes. In an effort to summarize the five design models against a tuning practice, the following two pages (figure 55) demonstrate the primary and secondary tuning strategies that are elicited from users (primarily pedestrians) for each model. In addition, core differences in audience and intervention strategy are also highlighted. In the Barrington Street model, for example, the passive pedestrian walking data captured for the biographical slices employs microtuning practices of rhythm (the act of walking), habit (the repetition of the same route), and tags (the biographical, personal nature of the data).











This thesis investigation began rooted in values of social justice, community involvement, and urban revitalization. Many artists and designers – Candy Chang and Broken City Lab being just two – have initiated a programme of intervention into city spaces to draw attention to civic challenges while also inspiring local citizen action and local pride. On larger, municipal scales, smart cities like Melbourne are implementing urban informatics as a means of relaying real-time environmental data that directly affects its citizens, while maintaining a core interest in community. This thesis focus is also about community, proposing a space for design to weave together citydweller affective response, rhythm capture, and urban voids into a strategy of narrative urban informatics. The predicted outcomes are similar to the strategies employed by other designers: to enrich the urban experience by making use of underused spaces, and by leaving a system of visual traces in the urban environment. This thesis further proposes a longterm strategy of design intervention, taking into account that transitional space is as natural a part of the urban cycle as newly built pieces of architecture or infrastructure. An overall strategy of change, in an effort to play with perception, both makes use of and breaks up routine everyday experiences like commuting. This thesis also investigates smallscale interventions that allow for playful pranks between strangers, acknowledging the kinds of tactics involved at street level. What’s new in the overall proposal is the what and the how: walking rhythms, internal dialogue and biography are captured as the data to create generative, real-time visuals in which citydwellers are reflected back by their city.



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fig 56

DAMMSEL DAY Léola LeBlanc, Two of the historical artifacts used in the narratives, from the Darmouth Heritage Museum: at left, Mackie’s suitcase; at right, Baby Harmless DAMMSel Day is a pedestrian-based event set in Dartmouth. Set out on foot with a mobile phone and listen to a fictional narrative while being guided through paths, parking lots, cemeteries, and sidewalks listening to audio segments that intertwine with wandering, observation and experiences. This locative media project engages participants with the spontaneous choreography of the city.

© Léola Le Blanc,


Use of transitional and void urban spaces


The Scott Saunders installation project in the (what I call) Argyle pit caught my eye when it was first installed. I love this installation because I see huge potential for transitional spaces like this one. Does the HRM have any kind of formal planning policy that addresses a place for art/design in transitional spaces and urban voids as part of a programme of civic improvement? Scott Saunders proposed his project as an Open Projects proposal for that space. The project received a lot of feedback, both good and bad – the bad being, people basically not getting it. But it was still a good project because it sparked dialogue. Will Robinson did a project called Parchetypes, a performance in Point Pleasant park that was one of the most resolved Open Art projects. There are two people that spend a lot of time in the park, an accordion player and another guy with a cassette player – they’re both well-known figures. Will installed a piano in a secluded area in the forest. He had regular programming at noon hours, but people would also just stumble across the piano and play it. He recorded throughout and then re-mixed the recorded music and made a cassette tape which was available at the entrance to the park. Will dressed like the cassette-payer fellow in the park – the project was well-thought out, and successful at re-looking at our spaces.

Role of provocative public art in a city

I’m from Vancouver, and much more familiar with public art projects there than I am here. Two more recent projects that are compelling are a typographic installation in the city’s Downtown Eastside (a notoriously poor neighborhood) that reads “Everything will be alright” and another, at a major intersection, a large, white neon cross by local artist Ken Lum that says “East Van” – and depicts an old gang sign from the ‘50s. These two are very much about local knowledge and can be read as both playful and transgressive. Are there examples of this kind of permanent public art in the HRM? Do you see a role for public art that is questioning/provokes discussion? That’s a hard question. I’ve seen proposals that are like that, for example, Go North, a proposal for an installation by the underpass, but it wasn’t accepted by the jury. Permanent public art is really challenging – temporary work can be more cutting-edge in a lot of ways. Ursula Johnson did a piece at Nocturne three years ago, a scalping performance in Grand Parade Square that was really risqué. The audience wasn’t fully prepared for it. One thing that we do is give money to other arts organizations for their own programming. Often they can push things that we can’t at the city level – it’s a nice way for projects to go ahead under the radar.

98 designers taking on roles as city renewal strategists

Designers such as myself (I’m a communication designer and not an architect or urban planner) are tackling urban design issues from the place of design strategist. Do you or have you worked with a designer in a role of longterm planning for revitalization? I’m not aware of that. It feels sometimes like we operate within our silos. When we work with departments like public works and development, it can be hard to get those conversations, to get that buy-in. We were looking at doing some sidewalk art and I met with the planner in charge of the street, but the cost of doing something outside the norm – we couldn’t get that buy-in. It’s a lot about educating our colleagues and Nocturne’s been really successful in that. We have to present all the projects to the special events task force, which includes stakeholders like the police. We also have to have all our insurance extended. It’s about educating the people who make all the magic happen and helping them understand what the projects are about. There was an artist last year who had a really beautiful project about maintenance. He documented all the cracks in the sidewalk and then repaired them, and laid down anti-slip, and included documentation of the repair. But someone caught wind of the project and imposed some restrictions – the project went ahead but at a smaller scale. It’s much more laid back in Toronto (where he did this project no problem). Luckily, the right of way bylaw doesn’t apply to open spaces (like Granville, or the Grand Parade) and we’re able to do more things with those spaces. The public gardens were open two years ago for Nocturne, but then closed last year. The community really wants the Gardens open again this year – so it works on two levels, us educating our colleagues and community feedback asking for change.

the role of technology in urban cultural re-shaping

So-called “Smart cities” like Melbourne and NYC are moving toward the seamless integration of technology with their own civic agendas. The City of Melbourne is incorporating a system of “urban informatics” to inform citizens about real-time data on the environment (in the hopes of changing usage behaviors over time). How much of a role (if any) does technology/mediation of information through technology play in imagining the cultural reshaping of the HRM? Léola Leblanc did a project two years ago called DAMMsel Day, a locative media project in Dartmouth. You could walk around with a smartphone and when you walked into certain areas your phone would vibrate and you’d hear stories from seven scenes that she created. You could also add to the stories. She created a fictional narrative using artefacts from the Dartmouth Heritage Museum. We just commissioned a piece in Sir Fleming Park. NSCAD’s David Clark is creating 24 sundials, which visitors can use as regular sundials, or interact with them using their smartphones. There will also be an integrated video component.

public art initiatives by neighbourhood

Do you have specific areas that you programme? We want to look at both urban and suburban areas. In the past, things were council-driven, but we’re trying to get away from that. If we had more money, I’d like to expand our programming – there is a gap in rural areas. Again, educating and getting buy-in is part of our role.

99 risk-taking in public art initiatives

In design, we sometimes throw around the Raymond Loewy term MAYA – Most Advanced Yet Acceptable. What kinds of constraints (in general terms, I’m sure they’re complicated!) exist in selecting art work in the public arena? Are there times when you are able to make a leap of faith of sorts and bypass conventional guidelines to make a selection? The artworks have to be accountable for us in the end because we’re spending tax payers money. As long as the artists check everything off in the submission, we do have some flexibility. We also have very thoughtful juries, who ask critical questions, like how would this look for the city? People want good art.

biomapping as a metric / how public art is evaluated

One project I refer back to time and again in my thesis is Christian Nold’s system of biomapping, in which a user wears a GPS tracker and a skin response device (to measure changes in their physiological response) while also keeping a journal record of their experiences. Since he started this project in 2005, a number of researchers have used his system as a metric for urban planning initiatives. Are there common metrics used in the HRM for measuring the relative success or public reaction to public art? That’s something we need to get better at...artists usually have to track the number of participants, but that’s not happening. We’re so young – not everything is in place. How we engage our audiences, that’s something I’d like to work on. How many people are involved with each project will affect future projects.

sensory stuff: art walks in the HRM

Do you take people on art walks? Not yet...I’ve started working on a map of all of our public art, using Google Maps. Maybe an interactive element, too, where people can write back. We just started using social media, we have a Twitter account, and Facebook. It changes how the public sees us, makes us more approachable. Still, engagement has to come from the people. I can suggest something, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll go see it. Carley, the other thing I wanted to bring up with you: do you know about Broken City Lab in Windsor? They are doing some really interesting stuff. They’ve installed huge billboards that comment on the economy, they have plantings along chainlinked fencing.... They took empty store fronts and did artist residencies – they’re really engaging with community!

broken city lab! and they’re canadian! windsor revitalization

Broken City Lab Windsor, 2010 Members of Broken City Lab led about 100 participants in a walk around some of Windsor’s urban void spaces.



No, I did not know! That’s awesome, thanks Siobhan. I’ve seen a lot of revitalization projects in places like post-recession Detroit and New Orleans, but it’s cool that a Canadian organization is doing similar projects.


Designing for Experience: Socio-technological Installation in Transitional Public Space  

A design thesis that looks at ways that design can use urban and cognitive voids as spaces for co-created urban visuals.

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