Urban Radiance

Urban Radiance

Urban Radiance

A visual companion for the essay “Sticky data – context and friction in the use of urban data proxies.” published in Data and the City. ed. Rob Kitchin, Tracey P. Lauriault, and Gavin McArdlel. New York: Routledge. [pdf]

What have global data sets that estimate population density, economic productivity, measles outbreaks, rural poverty, resource footprints and electrification rates, urbanization and suburbanization, or average wages in common? They are all based on nighttime imagery of city lights captured by the Operational Line Scanner (OLS) sensor on the satellites from the US Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP).

What should later become the workhorse of geographers and economists was initially a completely accidental by-product: of a cold-war era military satellite program—launched in the 1950s by the US Air Force for estimating cloud cover and precipitation for reconnaissance missions. Army engineers discovered that the sensors were sensitive enough to capture the artificial radiance of cities during moonless nights without cloud cover.

In 1978, Thomas A. Croft published the first global composite of night-time images in the Scientific American. At that time, the image data had to be manually stitched together from analog films ejected in capsules from the satellite, which had to be laboriously recovered by the military. Today, the Black Marble data set has become one of the most popular motifs of space imagery.

While DPMS images are usually used to show regional differences, this project visualizes the temporal change in urban radiance from 1992 until 2015. It is the first interactive visualization of radiance time series data.

Link to project

Indexical Design Conference

Indexical Design Conference

Indexical Design Conference

Symposium curated at Northeastern University.

Indexical Design addresses the difference between data and evidence. The symposium explores the physical trace and its role for making sense of the world. We will investigate the different scientific, aesthetic, and rhetoric techniques for making traces “speak.”

Information visualization is traditionally concerned with the symbolic languages of charts, maps, and diagrams. Its underlying data are also symbolic representations: the results of processes encoding traces and events. At the same time, traces such as tree rings, fingerprints, or ice core samples are also visualizations that we can directly experience.

Traces, like data, are often assumed as being “given,” but again, like data, they are revealed through measurement. How we perceive traces is a result of how we frame them. The symposium proposes “Indexical Design” as a new paradigm for data visualization that is specifically relevant for fields that deal with traces, markers, and indices; fields such as microbiology, forensics, or citizen science. We will bring together experts from these and other fields to investigate the physical manifestations of information and discuss the role of design in framing how these traces speak to us.

Slides from my opening remarks

Graphic design: Pedro Cruz, Tom Starr

Organization
Dep. Art+Design: Judy Ulman, Zohreh Firouzabadian, Chris Franson, Alison Kelly, Doug Scott, Ann McDonald, Kristian Kloeckl, Tom Starr, Nathan Felde
Northeastern Center for the Arts: Bree Edwards, Tom Vannatter, Terri Evans, Daniel Lim
Student volunteers: Aldo Viramontes, Armin Akhavan, Lia Petronio, Navarjun Grewal, Ryan Morrill, Andrew Tang, Kim McDevitt, Jinni Luo, Irene De La Torre, Jessie Richards, Maaria Assami
Special thanks to Mary Sherman

With generous support by
Goethe Institute: Christoph Mücher, Annette Klein
Swissnex: Cecile Vulliemin, Arthur Emery

Photo May 27, 3 47 43 PM

Conference program with built-in Cyanometer, a device for measuring the blueness of the sky. Designed by Pedro Cruz and Tom Starr

Excavating a 2002 piece – wegzeit

Excavating a 2002 piece – wegzeit

Excavating a 2002 piece – wegzeit

An old project, part of my thesis in architecture 2002: an early web-3d visualization project introducing different cartogram techniques and methods of urban time-space representation using real-time traffic information. Since the technology used then does no longer work (Virtools), I tried to salvage what still worked for the video.

“When you ask someone in Los Angeles how far it is from the beach to downtown, he or she will answer with the number of minutes it generally takes to traverse the distance rather than noting the number of miles. This system of defining and representing distance has recently been codified for use on the California Department of Transportation’s large LED “Freeway Condition” signs, which offer up-to-the-minute projections of estimated drive times: “8 minutes to downtown;” “22 minutes to 605 freeway,” and so on. Intrigued by the shift from the absolute units of distance traditionally used to describe space to the relative space of approximate drive times, Dietmar Offenhuber undertook an investigation of other examples in which data about the city is visualized in relative terms. The result of his work is Wegzeit, which uses six 3-D mapping paradigms – or cartograms – to visualize the city according to a range of conditions and interests.”

Feature in vectors online journal 2005
Link of the original 2002 project
pdf of thesis (in german)
Siggraph 2002 short paper

Urban entropy

Urban entropy

Urban entropy

A project for the ars electronica facade, created during a residency at ars for the connecting cities conference and the soundframe festival. My explanation from a blog post:

My project is actually quite simple. On the LED façade, I display complaints received by the city, and thus visualize in the public sphere what people are complaining about. I find this fascinating because there are now many different systems that publish such complaints on a website. But I think it’s something completely different when they’re displayed right in the cityscape. The result is the development of a certain dynamism. People who submit a complaint are made cognizant of the fact that it’s then immediately visible by anyone in the cityscape. Here, I’m simply interested in these social dynamics that emerge between individual citizens and the municipal administration. But I find it very interesting on the aesthetic side too, since the city is actually always in motion and never in a perfect state of equilibrium. There’s never a time when everything has been cleaned up, maintained or repaired, and there’s actually no prospect that this will ever be the case. This state of imperfection goes on and on, ad infinitum.

Sorting Out Cities

Sorting Out Cities

Sorting Out Cities

Piece for the Geo-Cosmos display at Miraikan – the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, Tokyo. Dietmar Offenhuber & Ars Electronica Futurelab – Roland Haring, Peter Holzkorn, Andreas Jalsovec , Michael Mayr, Nicolas Naveau, Emiko Ogawa

Although cities cover only a small fraction of the earth, they have a tremendous impact on the world. This theme explores how cities relate to the rest of the world in terms of the space they occupy, the people they shelter, the resources they use, the global movements they facilitate and are subjected to. The exhibit uses an unique approach to visualize topics such as land-use and urban extent, rural and urban population, water availability and consumption, global accessibility and migration. By literally sorting out the complex spatial relationships between cities and the world, global connections, trends, and inequalities become directly observable.

“As I see it, a key aspect of the city of the future is informality. Of the world’s 20 largest cities in 2030, only one will be in Europe and two in North America. The rest will be in what used to be referred to as developing countries (though that hasn’t been accurate for a long time now). However, these megacities are to a great extent characterized by informal economies and infrastructures. Technology plays a role here as well. The smartphone, for example, makes formal processes more informal; as a result, many structures break down. At the same time, it makes informal processes more formal, since, for example, every movement and every conversation via smartphone leaves behind traces. The city of the future will be more chaotic and more dynamic, but most certainly not the way these are portrayed in clinical science fiction and smart city visions.”

Data sources: Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment (SAGE), University of Wisconsin-Madison, Center for International Earth Science Information Network – CIESIN – Columbia University, International Food Policy Research Institute – IFPRI, the World Bank, Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical, Deutscher Wetterdienst, the Water Footprint Network, Global Environment Monitoring Unit – Joint Research Center (JRC), Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital, United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division

The storyboard, interview in German and English