Outcomes of the Visualizar Workshop Database City

Posted: November 28th, 2008 | 1 Comment »

This year’s Visualizar workshop “Database City” ended a couple of weeks ago. Curator José Luis de Vicente designed this 2-weeks workshop in 4 steps. I started with a 2-days seminar to theoretically ground the theme, then 5 days to frame the goals of the 7 selected projects and perform some exploration with the tools and datasets. The seconds week was dedicated to the development of the visualizations and finally wrap everything into a self-contained web site and video. A blog (“diario de campo”) kept track of the daily outcomes of the process.

Capturing the audience
Lecturer Adam Greenfield on the battlefield (and why he was there)

As a lecturer and tutor of the first week, I helped participants in moving beyond the pioneers works that aimed at solely mapping the emerging patterns of these new urban data. I encouraged them to explore analysis techniques (e.g. data-mining, statistics, user interaction) as the necessary next step to understand and assess the real meaning and potentials of urban data for the digital cities.

Most of the groups delivered very high profile outcomes. They can be seen at Medialab-Prado in Madrid until January 11. Great works include:

In the Air, led by Nerea Calvillo

In the Air is a visualization project which aims to make visible the microscopic and invisible agents of Madrid´s air (gases, particles, pollen, diseases, etc), to see how they perform, react and interact with the rest of the city.


The visualization tool is a web-based dynamic model which builds up the space the components generate, where through data crossing behavior patterns emerge. The results of these data feed a physical prototype of what we have called a “diffuse façade”, a massive indicator of the air´s components through a changing cloud, blurring architecture with the atmosphere it has invaded and mediating the activity of the participants it envelops. (Wiki of the projectVideo of the making)

Murmur Madrid, led by the group Writing Academic English

Visualising the media attention to the urban space, street by streets. Official news, blog and personal website, thematic media will be monitored to generated maps that highlight the pattern of perceptions on the urban space. This mapping will lead to the creation of an atlas that will monitor in time the changing perception of the city areas. The atlas will produce different dynamic visualizations based on themes, sources and time. (their stunning poster on How does a Murmur come to life?)

Much Ado About Nothing, led by Iván Huelves Illas

This project proposes to create an interactive tool (mixing visualization and auralization)  that makes it possible to consult noise level at specific locations in Madrd.

BCNoids, led by Marina Rocarols and Enrique Soriano


A group of students in architecture that used a Boids framework to develop an interactive visualization of the online data generated by the bike-sharing system Bicing (Video of their experiments). The long term objective is to design an applet for the improvement of the bicing website, including a prediction of the number of available bikes in each station.

Relation to my thesis: A unique hands-on workshop where I probably learned as much as the participants. There is still a high fascination in mapping urban data and our digital footprints. To try to move beyond the pure innovative visualization, I challenged very early the groups in asking themselves “so what?”, in other works: “why should people care?”, “who do I communicate this to and for what purpose?”, “what are the scenarios of interactions?”, “what is their context?” and question how these kinds of works and the message they carry integrate the digital city of the future (e.g. cultural, readability issues).

Many thanks for José Luis de Vicente for the invitation. It was great fun to cross path with the Bestiario‘s Ortiz cousing Andrès and Santiago, Juan Freire (in his talk… he puts his marin biologist hat and draws comparisons between the ocean and the city and their digital skins… with references to Stephen Graham, now my chapeau is off), Greg J. Smith, Futurelab’s Dietmar Offenhuber and good companion Adam Greenfield and and the energetic media lab prado squad,

Apparently, Dan Hill is running a similar 2-weeks sting at the antipode: The street as platform, under construction.

From Sentient to Responsive Cities, Long Version

Posted: November 11th, 2008 | 1 Comment »

Last week at Visualizar’08, I presented the long version of my talk From Sentient to Responsive Cities (slides with notes, video). This talk compiles many of the thoughts and works I produced over these past couple of years. It is divided into three parts:

Microscopes and telescopes
I discuss the dynamic data we generate when actively or passively interacting with new urban actors such as wireless networks or RFID systems. The mapping of these data reveal many invisible dynamics of the city and this often in real-time (with Bicing, Velib or Flickr as data sources). Research in that domain have produced beautiful microscopes and telescopes to visualize urban dynamics. Besides their utility in stretching the imagination of stakeholders in the city, they do not allow to understand “what we see”.

New urban actors
Mapping new urban actors

Evidence and loops
New techniques are being developed to transform the massive amount of dynamic urban data into evidences and information that can be acted upon; moving from purely Sentient to Responsive cities. From the dynamic census of a city from its cellular network activity to the definition of indicators to measure the evolution of the attractiveness of places, there are potential to create a new type of urbanism based evidences generated with the analysis of digital footprints actors of a place leave behind them. These evidences can transform the evaluation of urban design and digital urban services with post-occupency evaluations often overlooked in the practice of architecture and urban design. Similarly the communication of the information generated back to actors of the urban space could create a feedback loop in which the analysis of the data impact the activity of people that create new data and so on.

flows june october
The evolution of the flows of photographers in Lower Manhattan in Summers of 2006, 2007 and 2008.

Taxi drivers
But how to integrate this type of mechanism by taking into consideration the complex socio-technical assemblage of cities? A set of answers can come from the observation of current deployment of ubiquitous technologies in the city. Therefore, I studied of the integration of satellite navigation system into the practice of taxi drivers describes the co-evolution people have with technologies: how they adapt to it and how they adapt it to their practice. The observations reveal the necessity to have a large knowledge of the city judge the quality of the information provided by sat-nav system. Novice taxi drivers were often not trusting system and access the paper street guide and maps to support their navigation and wayfinding; the satnav system becoming a tool among a large eco-system of artifacts.

Introducing a direction Expalining Searching map Reading map
A taxi driver mixing the use of a satnav and the official street guide of Barcelona.

Relation to my thesis: An attempt to find a coherence in my multiple works. I might have found a good line of thoughts in describing the potentials to transform urban data into evidences and information that can be acted upon. (Paco Gonzalez produced a summary in Spanish)

At Visualizar08 Database City

Posted: November 4th, 2008 | 1 Comment »

This week, I am Visualizar08 Database City Workshop at Media Lab Prado in Madrid. The program of this 2-weeks workshop mixes theoretical seminars with hands-on development of 9 selected projects of data visualization applied to the urban context. Today I gave the long version of my “From sentient to responsive cities” talk in which I laid out many aspects of my research including the mix of quantitative urban data analysis and qualitative observations (taxi drivers). More on that later.

Other lecturers include Juan Freire (Visualizing Urban Spaces’ Digital Skin. How? Why?), Andrés Ortiz from Bestiario (What’s that good for?) and Adam Greenfield with his opus The Long Here, the Big Now, and other tales of the networked city.

Relation to my thesis: A unique event that covers my thoughts and instantiation discussed here. I used my talk as an experiment to find a coherent line of thought for the outline of my dissertation.