151209 - BaukulturIn a lot of urban planning circles here in Germany, there is a new concept called Baukultur, which translates loosely to ‘a culture of building.’ The term is also linked with a state-funded foundation called the Bundesstiftung Baukultur (The Federal Foundation of Building Culture, founded in 2006). In their annual report (pdfs in Eng/Deu), the Foundation gives the following as a definition for Baukultur:

Baukultur aims at good planning and building. It combines a high design standard with a holistic view of social, economic, and environmental aspects, and thus has an emotional and aesthetic dimension. Baukultur is essential to produce an environment that is perceived as liveable. It serves to secure and develop the social and economic values thus created. Producing Baukultur is a social process based on a broad understanding of qualitative values and goals and their implementation with high levels of interdisciplinary expertise. Baukultur is the positive result of a good process culture.

What I gather so far is that Baukultur is a concept, which scholars and the foundation are trying to apply to the process of building construction. They give a few examples of where Baukultur could operate on the German page:

…Private Bauherren können für sich eine Basis für den lang­fristigen Werterhalt oder Wertzuwachs ihrer Investitionen schaffen. Die öffentliche Hand kann mit ihren Projekten zur Unverwechselbarkeit unserer Städte beitragen und damit lokal und national Identität stiften. Politiker können durch Initiativen Unzufriedenheitspotenzial aufnehmen und in produktive Bahnen lenken und auf diese Weise breite Zustimmung für Entwicklungen und Veränderungen erzielen…

(sketchy translation: Private building owners can create for themselves a foundation for the long-term preservation or increase of the worth of their investment. The public sector can contribute to the uniqueness of our cities with their projects and thus help create local and national identities. Politicians can make use of the potential power in people’s discontent, steer them in productive ways and in so doing, achieve broad approval for developments and changes.)

Baukultur and the Foundation seem to be tools to connect architecture with planning, civil engineering, development and other fields to create an interdisciplinary network promoting sustainable, good construction. The Foundation works largely from the public sector (being a federal foundation), connecting with outside actors in the building sectors.

There are some things however, that I found hard to understand, which I think says something about my perspective on planning and urbanism as a Canadian/North American.

First of all, I am not used to (a certain type of) aesthetics being such an important part of planning over and above other more function-based considerations. In the case of this Baukultur report, a survey was conducted asking city planning departments what were the most important criteria to the concept of Baukultur. Most said that aesthetics (94.7%), local identity (93.0%), maintenance of worthy building stock (91.7%), and craftsmanship (84.7%) were most important, while fewer said sustainability (77.7%) stakeholder consensus (56.9%), consideration of social issues (50.0%) and adaptability (44.8%) were important. This is shocking to me, as city planning departments (from my limited experience) in Canada would likely focus more on the latter goals.

What I also found strange was that there is no ‘public’ in these definitions. The concept seems generally to be geared towards those in power and those who may be in charge of the construction of the city rather than the people who are to live in the city. As I read through the pages and report, I see that there is a general theme: that good buildings and structures will be the cause of better, more satisfied lives. I think this is somehow a dangerous path to tread if it is not in combination with stakeholder agreement and attention to wider social problems that may actually be solved with less construction.

Still, there is some mention of the importance of giving the public a say in the building process. In Germany I have heard of the so-called Phase-Zero, a term that refers to the first part of a building’s construction. It is a time when stakeholders have the most power to impact the design of a structure. Conversely, Phase-Ten is a phase where stakeholders can provide recommendations and judgement on the quality of a finished work. Both of these concepts are given space in the Report.

Beyond this, there were many other things that I found really wonderful that are often missing from the Canadian planning discourse. For example, there is a whole section on the importance of energy-saving, renewables and building construction. The nice thing is that the report and the Institute are making a case for interdisciplinary cooperation between planners, designers, city officials and the building trades. They mention many examples of where urban energy policies affect the built form of a city and, in turn, colour public opinion. This is particularly true in the choice of building materials and the construction of the facade.

The mention of conflict is also a refreshing turn (instead of the celebration of planning/architectural successes). With surveys and percentages, the report provides many examples of where planning and building policy is leading to possible conflict. Densification of urban centers was one conflict area, as well as gentrification, increasing public engagement efforts, aging populations, increasing privatization and the growth of shopping malls throughout Germany. Although they do not provide solutions, it was nice to see a somewhat frank discussion of these problems, especially since the audience of this work is so broad.

Finally the mention of the internet’s role in altering a city’s built form was definitely interesting to read. There is a section talking about the possible conflicts arising from increasing use of the internet for commerce and communication. Questions arising from lower interest in ‘brick-and-mortar’ style shopping and the increasing communication about the city through the internet were concepts that the report deemed important for their multidisciplinary audience. This was also refreshing to read as I think many Canadian planning publications and thought have shied away from wading into those waters.

As I read more and more, I am finding situations where the European planning world is simultaneously far behind and way ahead of the Canadian or North American planning world. The idea of Baukultur is something that I feel is definitely a step forward for planning theory, but I will want to keep a skeptical eye on it towards the future.



151110 - Stadtklang

A map I just came across today is this one – the Stadtklang map by the German Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung and Wissenschaft im Dialog. The map is part of the German government’s science year programming, this year’s theme being The City of the Future (Zukunftsstadt).

The map is an interesting way of trying to get people to submit and collect the sounds around them. Part of the map is actually an upload section where you provide the sound recordings you’ve made. What I found interesting was the flow of the site – in order to hear the sounds, you follow a link on the front page. This takes you to a list, where you can immediately input your postal code (PLZ) to hear sounds nearby. Within these audio entries, there is a smaller link saying, “see on map (Auf Karte ansehen).” I think this is great because the flow matches people’s general tendency with maps to hone in on their home first and foremost. Once a person has their bearings, they can decide to let their eyes wander and explore the map. I am often a fan of these situations where the map ‘knows its place’, so to speak.

Link (to map):

150830 - CartoDBTomorrow is the last day to submit an entry to CartoDB’s Insight Competition for maps designed with this mapping utility. Check out the competition brief at their website:

The submission can be anything from online platforms to sculptures and anything in between. The main focus is that CartoDB was used in the process of creation.

I’ve written a few blog posts in the past on different web-based projects that use CartoDB. Some of these projects, I hope, are still running and can be seen under my tag, CartoDB. There will be much more to blog about when the winners are announced on September 3rd so stay tuned!

In the meantime, check out CartoDB’s own map blog with featured projects.

This week’s tab-closing is all about sensory mapping – many people are wandering into the world of mapping the senses and a lot of very interesting problems are being faced. There are growing questions about what the purpose of geographical accuracy holds in the spatial representation of the senses. As well, the purpose of the map is called into question – is it for planning purposes, or to experience the senses of the world? What is the point of ‘collecting’ and archiving sensory experiences? Interestingly many of the maps and analyses have come out of the UK.

Sensory Mapping 1

(Photo copyright Joe Cornish)

British Coast Sound Map 

During the summer of 2015, the British Library is crowdsourcing a map of the sounds of the UK coast. The Library basically collects the sounds and posts them to the coordinates of the recording location. The result is a Google map with several points corresponding to different sounds throughout the UK’s coast. The aim was to have a permanent archive of the sounds of the UK summer. Interestingly the British Library already has an enormous collection of sound recordings in their holdings. Some of the holdings can be seen here:


Sensory mapping 3

(Photo copyright Kate McLean, Daniele Quercia, Rossano Schifanella and Luca Maria Aiello)

London’s Stinkmap 

Another map by UK designer Kate McLean, along with three computer scientists. The stinkmaps are visualizations of tags and words from social media posts, based on smell-words. The words were collected into a few categories (animals, food, emissions, nature) using algorithms that found word clusters.  Apparently the group has made the first dictionary of urban scents, containing about 285 words in English.


Sensory Mapping 4

(Photo copyright the Sound Survey UK)

Mapping the sound of London’s waterways 

This is a map collecting sounds of along London’s canals and streams. The map is based on the London Tube map. It always seems like subway map design is often a popular way to visualize data – people seem always to be attracted to these forms of maps.


Sensory Mapping 5

(Photo copyright

Questioning Sound Maps

From the same blog as the waterways sound map, is an interesting critique of sound maps that are overly dependent on spatial accuracy (specifically Google maps). The post discusses different ways in which sound mapping and web design are being creatively developed on the internet. It also contains a treasure trove of interesting interactive sound websites.


Sensory Mapping 6

(Photo copyright Eric Moschopedis and Mia Rushton)

Tasting Toronto through neighbourhood vegetation

This event took place at the Luminato Festival this past June and involved two artists cooking plant life from three iconic Torontonian neighbourhoods. The idea would be to give a sense of what the different communities ‘taste like’. The artists cook the plant material and serve it as meals for attendees.

As I continue to try to close my browser tabs, I will post today of some map examples that I wanted to keep track of. The topic – the evolution of Berlin’s nightlife and transit system map designs.

Berlin Club Kataster

Blog - Berlin Maps - Club Kadaster

The Berlin Club Kataster is a map that shows the locations of known Berlin nightclubs from the beginning of the 20th century to present day. The map shows different forms of clubs, including music bars, theaters, galleries and others. It also allows the user to play through time to watch the clubs appear and disappear. According to urbannightlife, there is a marked increase in clubs around 2009, mostly because many clubs couldn’t pin down exactly when they were established, and so, use that date as a catchall.

The map is especially interesting because of all the information it provides for each club and venue. The map was created by Musicboard Berlin GmbH, and is constantly being updated.


Mapping Berlin’s Transit System

Blog - Berlin Maps - Old Transit Map

This article in Slow Travel Berlin, provides a number of examples of old maps that were created to show Berlin’s underground and surface rail system. One of the most interesting things that these maps show are the psychological connections we have to a transit system that may not necessarily be directly about the use. The last section of the article shows the way politics and current events influenced the design of the transit map – first through Berlin’s east-west division, and then through Germany’s unification. The contemporary map was interestingly designed with much of the system still incomplete. The most prominent symbol, the Ring Bahn, was incomplete when the map was designed, but was such a strong symbol for unity that it was displayed regardless.


Recreating an S-Bahn (overground) transit map from the divided Berlin 


The final closed tab was all about a single map of Berlin’s transit, the S-Bahn map of 1980 recreated by Max Robert. This map was especially interesting as it was produced when Berlin was still separated, and had to somehow display the space of West Berlin as a separate nation. Further, the article talks about the politics of infrastructure and proposes that the colourful design was meant to aid in promoting the use of the network. Still, much is unknown about the design decisions underlying the map.

56bks_spread_5253I came across this work by Sebastian Schmieg in collaboration with Silvio Lorusso. The work consists of a book of images of Kindle screens that have been broken in some way.

The Kindle is unique in screens in that it utilizes an E-ink display. In this display, the pigments on the display are made of small particles that are sensitive to charge. From what I understand, pages are encoded as a matrix of charges, which cause the pigments to turn black, white or in between. Broken displays will encode some of the correct data, but will encode some wrong data making a sort of collage of different parts and pieces. Seems also like it encodes data from other pages and functional screens.

The effect produces a really sensitive image of the death of these devices and their physical (chemical?) nature.


San Francisco MapThis data visualization comes from the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project in San Francisco. The map visualizes the locations of evictions related to the use of a certain state law (the Ellis Act). The act, as the mappers describe, gives landlords the power to evict residents and has been linked to growing volumes of more expensive tenancy-in-common flats and condominium-style residential housing. San Francisco’s housing market has been in the news with many residents angry about the rapidly rising costs of living and gentrification that is causing large shifts in demographics in the City.

The map visualizes evictions as ‘explosions’ leaving a black and red ‘crater’ where the eviction happened. The size of the explosion relates to the number of evictions. There is a time slider to show the progression of evictions over time, leaving prominent neighbourhoods of San Francisco pockmarked. The map is built with leaflet, D3 and CartoDB.

Critique and notes after the jump, map link below:


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