Article in MONU – magazine on urbanism #14

We wrote an article for MONU – magazine on urbanism, together with Ben Cerveny, our ubiquitous mentor, digital urbanist and co-founder of VURB. The latest edition of MONU (#14 – EDITING URBANISM) addresses the enormous potential of the already existing urban material under the title ‘Editing Urbanism’.

Other contributions, from a.o. Rem Koolhaas’ OMA and our dear friend and ‘Shinto-architect’ Jarrik Ouburg, focused on such topics as urban and architectural restoration, preservation, renovation, redevelopment, renewal and adaptive reuse of old structures.

In our article, “Controlling the City”, we argue that:

“The contemporary city does not only consist of physical architecture, but is increasingly shaped by flows of data and information that are continuously transforming and expanding. The enormous increase in the use of hand-held devices and mobile applications in recent years is allowing a new and more direct interaction with our built environment.

Together with the tools we use to design cities, the way we envision and understand cities is being transformed just as well. We are slowly beginning to develop systems that allow us to see urban development patterns over large spans of time and space, enabling us to use the information to really improve our cities.”

Given our obsession with music and DJ-culture we immediately liked MONU’s introduction to our text:

“Just as remixes of songs are alternative versions of recorded songs, made from original versions, remixes of cities can be alternative versions of the original cities.”

Just imagine that you can control the traffic lights, simply by using your iPhone…

But how will all these new data and interactive tools affect the way we experience and manage cities? Can a city become a game? Who will own and control all the content generated by smart cities – governments, the community or private corporations? And how can the underprivileged and disconnected also benefit from all of this?

With our article we hope to provide some answers to these urgent questions.

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You can buy a copy of the magazine at a selection of book shops around the world and online on MONU’s website or browse the entire issue #14 on YouTube.

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By Michiel — Posted May 1, 2011 — 94 Comments

A tool to keep protesters safe during demonstrations

Visible Cities, our regular night on the networked city in De Verdieping in Amsterdam, returns on Wednesday 9 March with a presentation of Sukey. It is a set of applications designed to keep people protected and informed during protests. Sukey brings together in-house code, resources like Google Maps and open-source software like SwiftRiver.

With the recent uprising in the Middle East and North-Africa, and student protests in the UK, mobile technologies have become the de facto standard for sharing information, distributing eye-witness reports, and organising collaborative strategies in real space and time. For this edition we are still looking for an extra speaker with knowledge of how crowds behave during protests and public gatherings. Please get in touch with via e-mail if you know or are such person, and would be able to join us on this evening.

Visible Cities has been taking place in De Verdieping since 2009. Its aim is to make visible the myriad of design research and deep thinking that is taking place in the Netherlands and beyond in the field of urban informatics. Topics are civic information systems, collaborative redevelopment, urban systems literacy and responsive environments. Previous speakers were a.o. Ben Cerveny (VURB, Bloom), Euro Beinat (Current City) and Ole Bouman (NAi). De Verdieping is a temporary site for urban and cultural innovation. It is housed in a former printing press.

Join this event on Facebook.

By Juha — Posted March 1, 2011 — 2 Comments

Urbanode call for collaboration

Yesterday I had the privilege to give a brief presentation of Urbanode at the Cognitive Cities Conference in Berlin. To give more background information, here is the full text on Urbanode as written by VURB co-founder Ben Cerveny:

The Urbanode project, a research partnership with Digitale Pioneers, begins the process of creating public system software by wrapping the controls for lighting control systems, such as those found in theaters and nightclubs, in a javascript programming framework.

Javascript is well on its way to being the default choice of lightweight scripting notations for all types of webservices. It has become common practice for any large-scale social networks, streaming media services, and informations systems to present a publicly accessible javascript application programming interface, or API, so that 3rd party developers can call on their functions or read their data in any program. In HTML5, the latest specification for web browser functionality, javascript takes on animation capabilities with the concept of a canvas that the application can draw to, as well as the more traditional mechanisms for creating dynamic applications by manipulating the Document Object Model. In Urbanode, we start to apply these same document-related scripting paradigms to space itself. How do you write applications in javascript that treat space as a canvas? What does the Spatial Object Model, or SOM, look like?

In thinking about designing for programmable spaces, it might be useful to consider a few user scenarios. In this first pass at understanding the design opportunities, lets look at use cases in 3 separate categories of interaction:

1) Direct Manipulation

2) Environmental Control

3) Ambient Information

Direct manipulation is perhaps the most straightforward example. A user might come into a danceclub or other venue and open their Urbanode browser on their mobile device. The Urbanode browser would query the local server and return a list of applications available in the space. In this scenario, let’s suppose there is only one called “Light Commander”. The user selects this application and the browser retrieves the appropriate web interface, which initially presents a schematic view of the lighting in the space, with each light color-coded to indicate whether it is under the control of the venue operator, another user, or available to be controlled. The user taps on an ‘open’ spotlight and is presented with a control interface with a color wheel, directional controls, sliders for focus and brightness, and light pattern icons. There might also be a timer counting down a short interval until the light reverts to ‘open’ and must be re-acquired.

Urbanode running from an Android Phone from VURB on Vimeo.

Environmental control is oriented around locations within the space, rather than specific pieces of controllable hardware. In the scenario we will consider here, let’s imagine a restaurant in which each table has network-accessible properties like “mood” or “energy level”. When the diners first sit, they can open the Urbanode browser and scan a a symbol on the table with their phone’s camera to log-in to that space. The application presented is a simple scrolling list of mood choices like “romantic”, “party”, and “family”. Each choice dynamically effects the table-specific lighting brightness, color, and variation over time. These mood choices might also reconfigure the music stream or other audio, and also be displayed to the staff on a separate monitor so they might choose to service tables differently depending on selected mood.

Ambient information applications serve as ways to map data from network sources [webservices data, mobile device polling, or sensor data] to attributes of environmental mediation like lighting or audio. Let’s suppose the spotlighting on an obelisk in a public square is programmable using Urbanode. A citizen with permission to control those lights could build an application that displayed realtime sporting information using abstract color patterns and sequences. As citizens entered the square, they could consult their mobile devices, open the Urbanode browser, choose the “SportsMonument” application, and learn what the color mappings represented [say a soccer match in which the team colors of the team in the lead would be displayed, brighter depending on how big the lead is].

These examples are by no means an exhaustive catalogue of possible uses of the Urbanode infrastructure. On the contrary, we hope this initial framework inspires a whole range of uses, many surprising to us. We plan to continue adding to the catalog of environmental services Urbanode can control, starting a broader range of lighting equipment and eventually audio hardware and projectors. This kickoff phase in collaboration with Digitale Pioneers marks a strong start to an ongoing investigation of how we will build and live in the public spaces of the future.

The VURB Foundation is looking for new partners and collaborators to start working on new prototypes and services. For more information, please send an e-mail to juha@vurb.eu.

By Juha — Posted February 27, 2011 — 148 Comments

Contribution to Time Out magazine out now

With contributions from 36 of our dearest friends and heroes, including Ben Cerveny, Nalden, Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Saskia Sassen and Winy Maas, our co-created vison of Amsterdam in 2020 appeared in the new year’s edition of Time Out magazine Amsterdam. Download it here.

— Read more ›

By Michiel — Posted January 3, 2010 — 140 Comments

Non-fiction in 2009 (and we’ve only just begun..)

It has been an exciting first year (in beta) for us at Non-fiction, with projects ranging from social media strategies for the Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ and Tropenmuseum Junior, via new concepts for an illustrious canal house ánd an ancient castle to a range of workshops in a.o. Ljubljana and Zürich. Together with our friends at TrouwAmsterdam we opened the temporary project space ‘De Verdieping‘, hosting a wide range of cultural and social events. The year ended with a cover story in Time Out magazine, giving our co-created vision of Amsterdam in 2020. The start of the next decade promises to be even more innovative, collaborative and challenging..

So what happened in 2009?

At the beginning of the year we worked with the renowned Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ, the Concerthall of the 21st Century, helping the organization with their public strategy, new media development and visual identity.

In the months leading up to the summer we organized Aura: an exhibition and a series of events in the historic premises of Castrum Peregrini Foundation, where in WWII young German Jews survived in hiding.

Since March we are responsible for the artistic direction and strategic development of a cultural project space, De Verdieping, in the basement of the Berlin-style club and restaurant TrouwAmsterdam, resulting in a series of lively public discussions, art and architecture exhibitions, experimental performances and film nights in collaboration with half the city (and soon the world).

Around the summer working with the Tropenmuseum Junior (TMJ) in Amsterdam to devise a social strategy for their new exhibition ‘Qi of China‘ and an online game that enables children in the age of 6 – 13 to experience a number of key cultural values in Chinese culture.

Halfway through the year Non-fiction relocated its office from the Scheepvaartmuseum (National Maritime Museum) to the former laboratory of the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage, right in the cultural heart of Amsterdam overlooking Museumplein (Museumsquare).

in July 2009 Non-fiction’s Juha van ‘t Zelfde co-founded VURB, together with Ben Cerveny, design strategist and data visualization theorist and in collaboration with James Burke (RoomwareNarb). VURB is a European framework for policy and design research concerning urban computational systems.

Next spring and summer we will be organizing several projects at Duivenvoorde Castle, a stately museum-mansion and unique parkland (see below) near the city of The Hague. We received a request from the organization to make a contribution to their yearlong celebration of the museum’s 50th anniversary in 2010.

In the past four years, we have been organizing experimental music events at Bimhuis, Melkweg, De Verdieping and TrouwAmsterdam. These nights are organized under our electronic music label Viral Radio, which has a regular show on Dutch public network VPRO‘s 3voor12.

In december we visited lovely Ljubljana to give a presentation and a series of workshops for the Access to Contemporary Art Conservation conference, organized by the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage in collaboration with Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid and kindly hosted by the Moderna Galerija in Ljubljana.

Non-fiction’s Juha participated an intimate workshop in Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich in his role as editor of Soundmuseum. ‘Audio Art on the Radio’ was organized by the Institute for Contemporary Arts Research of the Zurich University of the Arts, and focused on the question how open, interactive and democratic radio should be?

Recently the Amsterdam branch of the international city periodical Time Out invited us to come up with a vision of the city in the year 2020, so we decided to provide them with a collaborative urban visions by collecting dozens of thought-provoking Twitter-style messages from our friends and heroes from around the world.  The magazine has just hit the stores, so check it out or contact us if you wish to receive a copy!

Wow, that’s a lot..

And we even forgot to tell you about Curating the City, our night long interview series with museum professionals and artists about ‘the museum in the city and the city as museum’ during the annual Museumnight (n8), and about our latest publications and our friends, new and old, and about the birth of Michiel’s daughter and Juha’s hobbies.

And what are our plans for 2010?

Now the ‘noughties’ make way for a brand new decade, Non-fiction is gearing up for yet another year of recession-defying activities and  intelligent pragmatism. We will continu our exploration of the pro’s and con’s of co-creation, social media, urban interventions, guerilla gardening, data visualization, public accessibility, augmented reality, ubiquitous museums and other innovative ideas that will fundamentally change our lives.

And we will jumpstart the new year with presentations and proposals for such diverse organizations as the local municipality, SNS REAAL Foundation, Binger Filmlab, the Zuidas, PICNIC, ICN, Paradiso, Duivenvoorde and ING. And we are happy to receive more inquiries and invitations, since we can always outsource some of our activities to our man in India.

We will keep you updated on our website and on Facebook and Twitter (and here and here), but please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us if you are looking for a stimulating conversation, a good laugh or a place to meet kindred spirits.

Please join us for the opening of the new year in De Verdieping with a special sound performance by our dear friend and multi-instrumentalist Machinefabriek on Wednesday 6 January at 8 pm. And later that month, on Thursday 28 January at 8 pm we are hosting the ’2020 vision’ event at De Verdieping in collaboration with Time Out Amsterdam, showcasing different perspectives on the future of Amsterdam by KesselsKramer, LAgroup, Concrete, Benthem Crouwel and… Non-fiction.

Drive and shoot straight on New Year’s Eve!

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By Michiel — Posted December 31, 2009 — 58 Comments

The city is everybody

twitteropolis

We are in the last day of our Time Out Amsterdam Future City tweet aggregation, and have been enthused by the imaginative, witty and sometimes harsh messages from the future. Artist Aaron Koblin hopped off the 5 minute electro-magnet train from Utrecht, transcontinental VURB founder Ben Cerveny printed 30 bikes and discovered that the floating polder Almere III had been altered by the residents (again), and ubicompuman Adam Greenfield is upset he needs to pay 100k to get into Europe.

The answers to our question “What are you doing in Amsterdam in 2020?” are coming from all sides of the planet, from Winy Maas and Friedrich Von Borries to Radna Rumping and Nalden. You are still welcome to join us in building our collaborative Twitteropolis. But hurry, our deadline is Monday morning. So according to you, what is happening in Amsterdam in 2020?

By Juha — Posted November 29, 2009 — No comments

Architect John Lonsdale at Rijksakademie Beamclub

On the brink of the 2009 Open Studios at the Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten, architect and 2001 Prix de Rome winner (with his project ‘Shifting Horizons, Towards a non-Deterministic Urbanism’John Lonsdale will visit De Verdieping for the Rijksakademie BeamClub. Lonsdale will talk about his activity of the last years, mapping the ‘Mudscapes of the Netherlands’ whereby he strives for the reconciliation of architecture with landscape. He sees a future where humankind can live in a sustainable way in newly created wildernesses or mudscapes.

The Rijksakademie BeamClub is an initiative by artist and Rijksakademie resident Sarah van Sonsbeeck and De Verdieping, the cultural project space in the basement of TrouwAmsterdam that is programmed by Non-fiction. It is a night where artists present works that inspire them in their own practice. Previous speakers have been Hans Aarsman, Nicoline van Harskamp and Ben Cerveny.

By Juha — Posted November 25, 2009 — 5 Comments

The Medium is the Metropolis

Oakland Crimespotting by Stamen

Oakland Crimespotting by Stamen

“The age of ubiquitous computation is condensing around us even as you read this.  The various systems throughout a modern city that you probably interact with everyday are beginning to maintain persistent memories of their own use, communicate with each other about their status, and even reconfigure themselves based on your dynamic needs.”

This is the opening statement of VURB, a European framework for policy and design research concerning urban computational systems. VURB was founded in July 2009 by our friend Ben Cerveny, design strategist and data visualization theorist, in collaboration with James Burke (Roomware, Narb) and Non-fiction’s Juha van ‘t Zelfde.

“In the same way that social networks and digital representation have had profound consequences on the cultures of print, music, and video, so too will the urban fabric of the city itself be transformed into an information layered, collaboratively shapable medium.”

The VURB foundation, based in Amsterdam in the Non-fiction office at Museumplein, provides direction and resources to a portfolio of projects investigating how our cultures might come to use networked digital resources to change the way we understand, build, and inhabit cities.

“The modern city is built not just upon physical infrastructure, but also patterns and flows of information that are always growing and transforming. We are only now beginning to develop the tools that allow us to see these patterns of information over huge spans of time and space, or in any local context in realtime.

Just as the industrial age transformed cities with the addition of towers to the skyline and far-reaching transit networks, the digital age will bring new urban-scale infrastructure into  everyday experience.  Where the products of industrial urban evolution were huge physical manifestations that celebrated the magnitude of urban culture, the digital era is instead producing equally impressive manifestations that live in the cloud.”

For more information on VURB, visit http://vurb.eu .

By Juha — Posted September 6, 2009 — 89 Comments

Competition entry: Collection of Crowds exhibition

Yesterday we submitted our entry for the so-called Fifth Curator Competition, a jont initiative of the British Council and Whitechapel Gallery in London’s East End. The competition brief stated that:

“The Fifth Curator Competition is a unique opportunity for an aspiring curator to select an exhibition of works from the British Council Collection. The winning curator will be given unlimited access to the Collection, which includes over 8,500 key works of British art, and the resulting exhibition will be shown at the Whitechapel Gallery in the vibrant east end of London in April 2010. We are looking for someone who is based permanently outside the UK, who believes they have the passion and knowledge to be a leading curator.

Fifth Curator

Well, that sounds interesting and challenging. But how can you make a selection out of such a vast and varied body of art works? Is it possible to choose from over 8.500 collection items in any authoritative way? And can one deal with the physical limitations of a gallery space, no matter how spatious and elegant? These are the most important questions that we addressed in our exhibition proposal, titled “Collection of Crowds“.

The concept is based on the ideas of James Surowiecki who, in his critically acclaimed book The Wisdom of Crowds, asserts that a diverse crowd is often wiser at making decisions than expert individuals. Collection of Crowds explores whether this concept can be applied to an art collection, raising the question whether a diverse crowd is just as “wise” at evaluating art and making a selection as professional curators.

Collection of Crowds

For our proposal we adopted and combined three highly influential phenomena from the world of (online) media: data visualization, user generated content and augmented reality. Collection of Crowds (hopefuly) will be an exhibition in three consecutive parts:

  1. We first provide a new way to navigate through the collection, comparable to SFMOMA’s ArtScope.
  2. Secondly we enable (online) visitors to choose their favourite work from the collection and to tag, rank, discuss and share it, by applying folksonomies the way that our dear friend Seb Chan is doing to radically open up Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum.
  3. The online process culminates in the actual exhibition, presenting the highest ranking works in each category in an interactive data sphere. You can think of it as an updated version of the Digital Depot by Kossmann.Dejong at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, this time adding real time (user generated) data.

By transforming (user generated) data into information, information into knowledge and knowledge into new layers of meaning, we can enrich our understanding of the British Council’s Collection and of the way it is perceived by people. Instead of a ‘grand curatorial decision’, we leave the shaping of the exhibition to the ‘wisdom of crowds’.

The final idea for the exhibition took shape during a lengthy and lively conversation with Ben Cerveny, our ‘digital daddy’ who told us about Karsten Schmidt, a computational designer based in London who builds unique, highly adaptable platforms, installations, services and systems for some well known brands and cultural institutions.  In the event that our proposal is short listed or selected as the winner, we hope to be able to collaborate with both of them.

The (six) short listed applicants will be selected and notified at the beginning of October, so pray for us..

By Michiel — Posted September 5, 2009 — 99 Comments