Technologies, Architecture, Urbanisme

Technologies, Architecture, Urbanisme course at l’ESA. Students enrolled in semester 4. Nuit & Exposition Spéciale June 19, 2012. Find the summary of the course and a digest of students’ work on ISSUU.



TEACHING / LEARNING ECOLOGIES: Spaces and Politics of Education

DEADLINE for (abstract + short bibliography + short biography) = September 20, 2012
Publisher: Cambridge Scholars Publishing – Post-­intercultural Communication and Education series.

Fred Dervin, University of Helsinki, Finland, multicultural education
Yasmine Abbas, Research Associate ENSA Paris-­La-­Villette, GERPHAU LAVUE 7218; Research Associate University of Geneva, Institute of Environmental Sciences – Globalization, Urban Planning, Governance

It is the intention of this volume to tell a narrative about what makes successful learning/teaching ecologies and thus education effectiveness. In the contexts of compulsory education, higher education, further education and lifelong learning, the design of spaces and the built environment matter as much as the politics of education. As such spaces and buildings do have social, political and educational functions, which cannot be ignored: they are never impartial. With the increase in online education, learning ecology becomes even more complex. What key aspects should actors involved in education (not) take into account?


Links of interest:
The best school in the world (Finland)
The whole city as a classroom (Japan)
Mobile school (Africa)
The open classroom (UK)

Sentient Cartography – A Method for Research by Design – Part I


This essay follows a series of events that has taken place in an effort to investigate sentient cartography – we use the broad sense of the term cartography, which is the practice of compiling data and visualizing it in some legible form. A contribution by Élise Olmédo to Visions Cartographiques, a blog of the monthly magazine Le Monde Diplomatique, entitled “Cartographie sensible: émotions et imaginaire” (Olmédo, 2011) inspired further reflection on mapping insightfully the intangible and the subjective. It prompted a design workshop organized for the LIFT12 conference held in Geneva, Switzerland, which led to an interview for Les temps modernes, a RTS, the Radio Télévision Suisse, radio program. Later again, second year students at l’ESA, the École Spéciale d’Architecture, explored sensitively the city of Paris in order to understand the impact of digital technologies on architecture and urbanism. This essay is an attempt at understanding what is sentient cartography and what is the aim of it.

The French word “Sensible” is rich with meanings. It is said of instruments that can “measure, record or capture minute phenomena”. The word also designates what can be “perceived by the senses”. A living organism that is “sensible” can “feel, perceive impressions”. Translating the word “sensible” into English was not an easy task, as it could be used, (1), to describe a tool for sensing emotions, (2), to identify a perceivable space or element – a world, an object that is “sensible”, or (3), signal the character of a living organism – that of being able to respond to stimuli. If cartography provides some individuals with the power to represent their world as they envision it, why would we need an adjective to highlight its subjectivity? And which should we consider anyway – emotional, sensory or sentient?

Emotional cartography, as explored by artist, designer and educator Christian Nold, relates to the act of mapping people’s feelings and perceptions “to explore the political, social and cultural implications of visualizing intimate biometric data and emotional experiences using technology” (Nold, 2009). Another project of his, The Sensory Deprivation Map, explores the sensory world of the blindfolded and the deafened. That map was realized by augmenting geo-localized positions with individual observations. In linking motion to emotion, Giuliana Bruno, the film and architecture theorist, gives another take on emotional cartography. Although always a representation, emotional cartography is linked to a process, a displacement, mental and physical, a bodily and imaginary experience. Hence she finds the Carte du Tendre to closely relate to the psychogeographic maps of the Situationists (Bruno, 2002) (Sadler, 1999). Emotional cartography enables us to mentally travel from minute and intimate phenomena to other minute and intimate phenomena.

Beyond representation however, the materiality of the maps can itself trigger various senses, and by that yield to some other understanding or experience of the data explored. A paper map can be held in hands, folded, unfolded, touched, caressed, etc. Historically, embossing contours and Braille text onto the material of a map is a mean by which few of us can read – and imagine – a space. Designers have later experimented with the tangible quality of maps in creating edible or haptic maps, mapping audible landscapes that one can replay or representing smells that one can experience. There are plenty of examples: The artist Kate McLean who created Sensory Maps produced tactile maps of Edinburgh rendering the particularities of a variety of spaces in the city: “Neighborhoods [she writes] have distinct identities, boundaries, often built at different times, for different city expansion projects they have their own textures and ‘feel’”. Élise Olmédo, the author of the article mentioned at the beginning of this essay, used colored pieces of fabric and threads to convey the social and spatial relationship she wanted to highlight. While sound could be incorporated to maps as a means to read them more effectively (Krygier, 1994), it is undeniable that the sense of hearing is also necessary for recalling and locating spaces. This is also the case with the sense of smell. Yet it is probably the most difficult one to represent tangibly. In mapping smells of New York City, illustrator Jason Logan captured familiar odors – especially well known to whom practices the city. One can revisit the scents only virtually, without soliciting olfactory organs. Other designers have gone farther. In an article for The Atlantic, Nicola Twilley, author of the blog Edible Geographies, describes how to make a scratch-and-sniff map – “Scratch ‘N Sniff™ [being] the trade name for a special kind of perfume or scent saturated printing in which the scent is enclosed in minute capsules, which can be broken open by friction.” In an interview conducted by Twilley, urban designer Victoria Henshaw tells us about “the idea of a smellmark [that] obviously comes from the idea of a landmark, and the idea that a distinctive, recurring or constant smell can act as a geographic reference point.” So hearing, touch, smell and taste are just about all the other senses that are missing in the imeageability of a city (Lynch, 1960). Effective sensory maps have qualities that further enhance the total perception of a space. While sensory maps have tangible qualities that digital maps may not have, they nonetheless rely on users’ interactions to activate their narratives. Yet emotional and sensory cartography only render urban experiences. In which way can cartography, in return, influence our experience of the city and the way we shape it?

Tableau des grandes évolutions technologiques

Excerpt from Pierre Lévy, L’intelligence collective : Pour une anthropologie du cyberespace (La Découverte, 1997): p. 64:

Bouger, ce n’est plus se déplacer d’un point à l’autre de la surface terrestre, mais traverser des univers de problèmes, des mondes vécus, des paysages de sens.

– p. 10

I am discovering. J’adore !

Digital – Biodigital

A diagram for a class I give at l’ESA on digital architecture based on the teaching of Antoine Picon who writes that digital culture caused architecture to enter a crisis of scale and tectonic and that architecture is seeing a renewal of ornament [1]. The ornament versus cosmetic argument comes from a text by Jeffrey Kipnis [2]. My interest in mobility and ecology leads me to believe that architecture is actually going beyond ornament, and that we have integrated to our digital manipulations molecular scale and structure. This is what constitute biodigital architecture. You see how both are linked. To be continued!

[1] Antoine Picon, Culture numérique et architecture – une introduction (Birkhäuser, 2010)
[2] Jeffrey Kipnis, “The Cunning of Cosmetics,” El Croquis 84 (1997): 22 – 28

Kevin Lynch’s method #imageability

An old post that I am unearthing – I should say unclouding – as it is quite relevant to the course I am teaching at l’ESA this semester. Here below is a summary of the method lynch undertook to analyze the imageability of Boston, Jersey City and L.A.!

Lynch developed his system of rules for analyzing cities by looking at three urban case studies, Boston, Jersey City and Los Angeles. He interviewed for about an hour and a half a sample of citizens and observing their habitat. The goal was to test his concept of “Imageability” – of which he distinguishes five elements: paths, edges, districts, nodes and landmarks.


Researchers interviewed 30 people in Boston, about 15 in Jersey City and Los Angeles. Lynch thought of this sample to be “inordinately small.” He writes that “clearly, a retest with a larger sample is needed, and this requires more rapid and precise methods.” (p. 152) Respondents were primarily from a middle class background (hence omitting some areas of the city), which might have skewed the results.

During a first interview, respondents were asked to sketch a map of their city, describe in detail some of their city travels (for example the trip they normally take from home to work and inversely), and tell what their strongest connection to the urban environment was.

The interview was recorded on tape, and then transcribed (carefully recording pauses and inflections). Some of the respondents were willing to be interviewed a second time.

During the second interview, researchers showed respondents photographs of their cities and of other cities (the photographs of the respondent’s cities covered “the entire district in a systematic way, but given to the subject in random order.”). Respondents – the “subjects” – had to identify and classify the pictures: “The photographs recognized were then reassembled, and the subject was asked to lay them out on a large table as if they were placing them in their proper position on a large map of the city.” (p. 142)

Researchers went with some of these respondents to the field and enacted the city travel they described during the earlier interview. This was also tape-recorded. “The subject was asked to lead the way, to discuss why a particular route was chosen, to point out what he saw along the way, and to indicate where he felt confident or lost.” (p. 142)

Researchers organized the data collected. They checked it by running informal interviews (asking directions) of four to five passersby in each of the chosen places in the city – 7 destinations and 5 origin points.

The sketch map had a strong correlation with the “verbal interviews” yet bore differences when it came to connection and organization.


The researchers who covered the field survey were conditioned, taught the concept of “imageability” before hand, prepared accordingly a map of the area to study. They hence came back with a structured set of information. During the field analysis (three to four working days), researchers tested the concept, assessed what were really landmarks and what were not for example.

The field analysis corroborated with the interviews conducted for the cities of Boston and Los Angeles, less so with the city of New Jersey.

“The field analysis done on foot developed two faults: a tendency to neglect minor elements important for automobile circulation, and a tendency to pass over certain minor features of districts that are especially important to subjects because of the social status they reflect. Our field method therefore, if supplemented by automobile surveys seems to be a technique that can predict the probable composite image with some success, allowing for the “invisible” effects of social prestige, and for the more random fixing of attention in a visually undifferentiated environment.” (p. 144)

The method described was meant to develop urban design directions. Lynch thought on complementing the study of the five single elements of “imageability” with an understanding of “element interrelations, patterns, sequences and whole”. (p. 155) Lynch even suggested using the method for city areas of different scales: buildings, landscapes, and transportation systems etc. According to Lynch, the study could also be used to understand how strangers or children build their personal image of a city, so to anticipate urban city design. He also writes that “as our habitat becomes ever more fluid and shifting, it becomes critical to know how to maintain image continuity through these upheavals [external changes].” (p. 158)

Kevin Lynch, The Image of the City (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1960)