Mapping Emergence: Nomads, Nodes, Strings & Paths – Urban Transcripts 2012

The Mapping Emergence: Nomads, Nodes, Strings & Paths international workshop took place in London during 3 – 8 December 2012, as part of the Urban Transcripts 2012: London, the (n)ever-changing city architecture research programme. [1] Urban Transcripts was born of a desire to create a new ‘tool’ through which to explore the city as a complex phenomenon, in a participatory and cross-disciplinary way. Urban Transcripts was initiated in 2010 as an annual programme of events such as exhibitions, conferences, and workshops, focused on, and hosted in, a different city every year.

The Mapping Emergence workshop Unit was conceived, developed and led by myself (also a Curatorial Committee and Project Review Committee Member) as the guest tutor responsible for the development of the methodological framework and strategy, as well as of the working methodologies for urban research, exploration, analysis, design and evaluation (including the workshop phases planning), together with Regner Ramos as the host tutor responsible for the thematic framework of the workshop, the urban problematics, and for organising and conducting the one-day urban exploration of London. Our workshop Unit participants included an international group of Polytecnico di Milano Graduate & Postgraduate students with a background in architecture, urban planning, interaction design, mobile media and other fields. The workshop participants were Valentina Chiesa, Riccardo Conti, Zlatina Kalaydzhieva and Hediyeh Miri.

The core aim of Mapping Emergence has been to creatively address the twenty-first-century Londoner’s perception, interaction and use of the urban space change in the light of social networks and mobile technologies rapid development. Could the complex entanglements produced by these invisible networks be visualised by the architect or designer of human interaction in space, and why? Giving these relationships a physical form poses as an important possibility and challenge for contemporary architecture and essentially, a way of redefining “digital architecture”. Developing methods of inventive mapping enable participants to creatively reveal and interact with the invisible layers of Post-Olympic London, and the hybrid spaces emerging through their interaction with the built environment. The emphasis is placed on mapping the emerging nomadic trajectories, how these enable the breakage of spatio-temporal restrictions and the boundaries of the self and city, yielding new realities through identity and spatial fragmentation and reconstruction.

Focusing on the actual problematics of the city, combining on-site visits of urban exploration, group studio work and social events, the workshop was an interdisciplinary approach in understanding the urban condition and working towards collaborative solutions. The main objective was to equip participants with a sharpened vision through which to comprehend the city as a complex interactive system. It aimed towards the development of collaborative strategies that challenge conventional methods of urban analysis and cut through disciplinary boundaries, encouraging creativity and originality. Our workshop Unit focused on an original methodological approach of urban investigation and was framed by a set of themes, particular to London, to be explored. Urban explorations, on-site visits, and group work, formed the key pedagogical elements. Additionally, the workshop included a series of transversal activities, such as lectures, film-screenings and social events. The outcomes of our workshop Unit were presented to a large number of international experts, critics, professionals, academics, researchers and the wider public at the Urban Transcripts 2012 Conference (UCL, JZ Young Lecture Theatre, 8th December) and were included in the Urban Transcripts 2012 Exhibition (ICN Space, London, 8 – 14th December).


2. Methodological Context: Challenges and Strategies

My opening Lecture to our Mapping Emergence workshop Unit focused on the methodological context and its development in conjunction with the urban problematics, the resources, the working methodologies for each urban research, exploration, analysis and design phase. [2] The methodological framework of this Unit built upon the one I introduced at my Drawing the Invisible workshop Unit last year (Urban Transcripts 2011, Roma Tre University). [3]

2.1. Mapping Hertzian Space

“Mr. Palomar is standing on the shore, looking at a wave… you cannot observe a wave without bearing in mind the complex features that concur in shaping it and the other, equally complex ones that the wave itself originates”

Italo Calvino, Mr Palomar, 3rd ed., Translated from Italian by W. Weaver, Vintage Books, London, 1999, pp.3-4

Mr Palomar’s struggle to find a way of reading a wave, represents any effort to study and map the world with its unmappable elements, potentialities and probabilities that put human science, perception and cognition to test.

Hertzian wave-space is an invisible and dynamically evolving field of dataflows, where the laws of Quantum and complexity theories and in particular, global dynamics, apply. In 2004, François Bar and Hernan Galperin proposed a decentralised ad-hoc, peer-to-peer mesh-structured Wi-Fi network, for replacing the London Metropolis wired network infrastructure. [4] Despite its apparent ‘fluid’ and ‘liberating’ structure, the city datascape has remained uneven, due to prevailing power restrictions, frequency range variations, special restrictive arrangements (e.g. fibreoptics strengthening and protecting the City of London’s network from any intrusion and algorithm delays), WEP/WPA encryption, etc.

The important prevailing debates on the Hertzian datascape are the following:

- Does it largely lack spatial logic?

- Is it possible to visually map it with accuracy?

- What are the implications of revealing the invisible data-flows for architecture & urbanism and a number of other disciplines?

There have been several efforts to visually map datascapes, but it is generally accepted that it is hard to accurately perceive and represent netspace. Bengt Sjölén, Adam Somlai Fischer and Usman Haque’s collaborative project ‘Wi-Fi Camera’ exemplifies the effort to ‘capture’ the Hertzian wave-space through direct in-situ visualisations in real time. The ‘Wi-Fi Camera’ takes “pictures” of spaces ‘illuminated’ by Wi-Fi, revealing thus the electromagnetic space of our devices and the ‘shadows’ we cast within such spaces. Each colour marks a particular ‘layer’ of the Hertzian datascape, that is, a particular type of wave frequency. [5] 


Apart from capturing data-space as an abstract quantum field, recent developments in visualisation systems contribute towards advancing our understanding of various invisible phenomena, as they reveal unknown patterns and ‘geographies’, invisible or non-existent environments. Statistics and graphics software packages are now largely used for visually describing and analysing spatial data towards enhancing the understanding of cities and their datascapes. The  main persistent issue is error and uncertainty in the data, that may derive from the data quality and/or model assumptions, as well as from the failures in balancing the overambundance and the scarcity of data when visualising the “footprints” of our interaction with the urban environment & digital infrastructures (as when using wireless network communication, taking and sharing digital photos, accessing Google maps and My Location, etc.). Research Labs such as the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) at the Bartlett (UCL, London) propose the development of more sophisticated viualisations in which, as James Cheshire and Michael Batty stress, the description is the starting point for “embracing” “the ubiquity of data visualisations of social phenomena”. [6]

The interest of the architecture and urban design research community in the aforementioned visualisations is growing and has been realised through various innovative forms of interactive mapping. In City Form Lab’s open-source Urban Network Analysis Toolbox for ArcGIS, for instance, spatial analysis on urban street networks is conducted in a similar way to social network analysis. Human interaction includes a. ‘links’/paths along which travel can occur, b. ‘nodes’/intersections where two paths cross, and c. buildings, where most human activities take place. These three elements are used for describing the spatial relationships between people, places and institutions. As described by Andres Sevtsuk and Michael Mekonnen, the system can be used to compute five types of graph analysis measures on spatial networks: Reach, Gravity, Betweenness, Closeness, and Straightness, accounting for both geometry and topology. Buildings are used as another “network element” and are analysed and evaluated in terms of their characteristics e.g. volume, occupants, etc. It is demonstrated how new data and analysis not only transform our perception of cities in comparison to each other, but also improve our understanding of urban environments at the urban design scale. [7]

In London Urban Form 3D Map (a 3D Cartography on ArcGlobe), Duncan Smith (2010, CASA) maps the land use density patterns through devising a dynamic multidimensional mapping system. Office and retail densities as well as mix of uses are mapped in relation to the classic urban location theory models (e.g. Alonso) and theories on the economics of mix-of-uses (e.g. Jacobs). Duncan’s discussion about the means used, is revealing of the achievements and challenges characterising such animated volume-based mapping: The advantages of doing the movie within GIS is the ability to easily combine spatial data at a variety of scales. Some of the more advanced animation effects that I would like to use such as geometry transitions (to show growth and decline) and controlling lighting are however not possible in GIS. [8]

Interesting cases of how urban flows can be mapped, include the dynamic mapping of Public Transport Flows and London’s 114k Daily Bus Trips by Joan Serras and James Cheshire (2011, CASA), as well as the Barclay’s cycle hire data by Martin Zaltz-Austwick and Oliver O’Brien. [9]

 There is also a growing interest for London social networking mapping. In aNCL – London Twitter Traffic, Anders Johansson in collaboration with Steven Gray and Fabian Neuhaus, maps how geo-located tweets spread across the city and interact with each other. He visualises the tweets as yellow circles fading away by time, and the re-tweets as small white points moving onto a line connecting the location of the original tweet and the geo-location of the re-tweeter. [10] Top 10 Twitter Languages in London (Summer, 2012) by Eric Fischer (an ex-programmer at Googledata), is a representative case of social networking mapping in relation to photography and the urban environment. In this mapping, data is combined from the photo-sharing website Flickr and the micro-messaging network Twitter. The location-specific information that has been either embedded in digital cameras or uploaded by the users, is also used. Fischer reveals the previously unseen patterns of human activity within cities, such as in his See Something or Say Something project in which, instances of geotagged Flickr photos versus geotagged tweets in various cities around the world, are compared. There is a spatial distribution of about 3.3 million geo-located tweets (based on GPS) that are colour-coded in accordance to what particular language is detected when using Google’s translation tools. [11]


2.2. Hybrid Spaces of Interaction

Space is an ‘informational substance’; an unsettling multiplicity of real and virtual layers. [12] There is no void space as such, but data flows in dynamic interaction not only with each other, but also with matter and human beings. The “binary logic of visible/invisible” is thus replaced by the dynamic interactions that occur between the various orders of space, challenging our traditional definition of space, place and their boundaries as well as the notion of site-specificity. [13]  

As the fundamental aspect of architecture, the boundary signifies both an end and a beginning and, in this sense particularly in digital design, it may be a ‘leftover’ of a trajectory, path or string. It is essentially through understanding and enacting with the qualities of the changing interrelationships between these aspects that new types of architecture can be invented. As part of a complex reality, a boundary is transitional and precarious as it ‘mediates’ between various unsettling and dynamically interacting spatial orders. In conjunction with the intermediate types of spatiality emerging, the nature of the boundary can be best explored through devising original processes of spatial digital diagramming. The challenge is to map and intervene into the unanticipated exchanges, paradoxes and conflicts characterising the evolving relationships between local/global, self/city, form/programme.

Instead of ‘mastering’ the complexity of the city by either reducing it to its simplest mechanisms or creating a ‘pattern model’, the aim is to reveal and engage with the opposing ‘thrusts’, dynamic divergences-convergences of the deep, multilayered city-space. These ‘thrusts’ derive from the interacting data in conjunction with the built environment, so that intermediate hybrid spaces would emerge. The clash of evolution and emergence with the city-substrata defines the relationship between hyper-, infra- and super-structures as in Usman Haque’s SkyEar (2004). [14] This condition alters the status of the boundary and subsequently, the relationship between invisible/visible, reality/virtuality, form/in-formation, and our interaction with them.

Diverse types of reality and geometry may also ‘co-exist’. As the media theorist Lev Manovich explains: “…software and computer networks redefine the very concept of form… new forms are often variable, emergent, distributed and not directly observable…”  [15]

The advanced use of digital visualisation systems surpasses a limiting focus on mere imaging. Particular instances of data-flows can be visually captured as having intrinsic types of in-formation (endogenous) geometry, challenging existing aesthetics and the customary modes of object-based visualisation and simulation. [16] Characteristic cases of endogenous geometry can be found in Greg Lynn’s ‘deep space’ dynamic design that is based on ‘tracing’ “contextual specificity” and “stored dynamics”. [17] Another case of the indirect generation of architectural boundaries through interference, superposition and grafting can be seen in Peter Eisenman’s Nordliches Devendorf project (1992). [18] Spatial diagrammatic analysis, visualisation and modelling processes operate between the immateriality of digital technology, the specificity and materiality of actual sites.

Intermediate hybrid spaces emerge when investigating in depth, revealing and enacting with the rich and dynamic city-layering through drawing new relationships between each layer. Nevertheless, little work has been done thus far, to place the technological developments (ad-hoc social networks, multidimensional data mapping systems, smart mobile interfaces and pervasive computer systems) within the larger context of urban architecture. The challenge lies in a description of the existing, combined with representations of the possible, while putting architecture, urbanism, Spatially Augmented Reality and social media in a new interplay.


2.3. Main Project Phases

Phase A: Urban Exploration – City-mapping and Data-collection

The experiential reading and transitory mapping of the heterogeneous cityscape commenced with an urban exploration of London through a city-walk. The Trafalgar Square was set as the centre of our city exploration, as it constitutes the heart of London; the historically charged, spatially central, important and iconic public space of the city. Each participant chose a particular mobile application/device (string) to explore the agreed route (path). In that way, participants were able to create new ‘nomadic’ trajectories, explore existing ones, while collecting location-specific information through their preferred means. Their experience of the Trafalgar Square was ‘mapped’ through the use of mobile devices (ipads, iphones, cameras, etc.), mobile applications (Instagram, Twitter, etc.) drawings and notes. The exploration was complemented with the relevant online research (Google Earth, Wikipedia, etc.).

This phase enabled participants to develop new ways of seeing and perceiving, challenging what we normally take for granted or might escape our attention. The emphasis was placed on mapping the areas of change, excess, potential and/or paradox. Such spaces were discovered in the incidental properties of the city and social interaction found in emergent territories, areas of complexity, ambiguity, experimentation, fragments, voids, undeveloped areas, para-sites, the non-linear and fleeting datascapes.

Phase B: Design Development

The methodological framework of the Unit equipped participants towards creatively inventing, developing and evaluating a systematic strategy of urban research and design. Studio group-work commenced with the ‘locative’ mapping (e.g. geo-tagging) of the emerging nomadic trajectories. The mapping was also complemented with the evolution and/or adaptation of those trajectories, where appropriate. The creative city and social trajectory analysis were realised mainly through 3D mixed analyses, the systematic mapping of city-flows and social networks, and the combined processes of visual/textual presentations, at various scales.

The next stage focused on interpreting and/or proposing with the aid of models, diagrams, photos etc., not only the ways in which the nomadic trajectories would enable the breakage of spatio-temporal restrictions, and the boundaries of the self and the city in relation to the issues of spatial definition loss, territorial blur, overabundance of data and cultural/identity mixtures, but also how would digital spaces yield new identities and spatial reconstruction.

The stage of the diagrammatic ‘tracing’ of the possible inter-spaces and inter-faces formed by the trajectories, commenced through identifying particular interaction cases between trajectories, users and the built environment. Participants were able to ‘interpret’ the available data into spatial design co-ordinates/parameters, and propose new forms, codes and languages for visualising ‘footprints’ and exchanges across the urban datascape, as a way of revealing new design territories.

Finally, new hybrid spaces that broke spatio-temporal restrictions emerged at the interaction between built and digital spaces, and the interplay between architecture and urbanism. Those spaces combined the characteristics of the following types of space:

- Shared space: The space that enables natural dynamics, user-influence for multiple experiences, and probes changes in the use of space/social organisation.

- Interaction space: The space between urban environment and pervasive computing systems. Places may emerge at the crossovers between the elements of the infrastructure.

- Mixed or other proposed designs that can be participatory/adaptable, situational/transient, relational, etc.


3. Project Outcomes & Future Directions

Mapping Emergence has been an ambitious research-oriented project. It has involved complicated concepts and challenges, expanding into an interdisciplinary research field. [19] The main focus of the project has been the relationship between flows and spaces as necessitating new spatial research strategies for advancing contemporary architecture and the spatial praxis across a number of disciplines (Spatially Augmented Reality, smart architecture, cyber-theory, software engineering, site-specific art, performance, etc.). The outcomes have been highly successful and innovating in many ways, proposing key developments in response to important opportunities and challenges that characterise professional contemporary architecture, urbanism and interaction design.

Nomad Strata is the final outcome of the project. What is special about Nomad Strata is that it is not simply a design output, but operates as a design tool, a method and an intervention strategy for contemporary architecture, urban and interaction design.

Mobile technology and digital visualisation have been inventively combined for making visible the invisible at a new multidimensional interplay between architecture and urban design. Through mapping the invisible layers of information and analysing the ‘vertical connections’ between these layers, the ‘lived’ spaces and the ‘gaps’ of the Trafalgar Square are designed. In this case, the ‘gap’ is the area where interaction is either limited or missing; a ‘negative’ space found within the physical and digital ‘flows’. Diverse kinds of fluid and evolving ‘connections’ between digital and physical places begin to emerge. The resulting implicit hybrid spaces yield new public spaces. New ways are proposed for visualising them in a topography of spatially augmented 3D holograms and smart architecture interventions based on the digital data produced by the city itself. This new condition can be seen as a surface that ‘activates’ the gaps and ‘transmits’ information to the urban elements that react to the changing requirements of users.

The core aspect of Nomad Strata is the invention hybrid spaces that alter the uses of the Trafalgar Square as well as its city and world-wide relationships. Weather-responsive canopies and pressure-sensitive tiles for generating energy are combined for making a self-sustainable system. Social spaces are created through the fractal-like physical adjustments of the Square’s ‘floor grid’ in response to on the size and the spontaneous activities of the public. The playfully combined visual and textual information that has been generated by visitors at the spot, is projected from the top of Nelson’s column to the Square ‘floor’. A city ‘dashboard’ displaying information on the traffic, weather, pollution etc., is shown when the system is ‘idle’. Visual reversals between the interiors of the National Gallery and the Square are possible with the use of 3D projections for facilitating a visual interplay of histories, uses, experiences and associations. Such interventions would form hubs of common-knowledge resources for fostering creative cultural exchange and activities. The Square can be thus experienced as a performative surface.


As a research outcome, Nomad Strata has been highly successful as it constitutes a pioneering design tool, a method and an intervention strategy for contemporary architecture, urban and interaction design. The processes can be replicated and adapted to other locations worldwide. Nomad Strata intervenes into the city fabric not simply for making the invisible visible, but to do so through new types of architecture and performative urban design, challenging past uses, the status of iconic localities and the passive role of the public, while opening up new opportunities for change.

Mapping Emergence has enabled participants to evaluate how their vision of and engagement with the city have changed, to position and evaluate their work both in terms of process and outcome, and most importantly, to carry forward the challenges and possibilities that stemmed from their participation in the workshop. As acknowledged by the participants, the project enabled them to gain a different understanding of datascape, space, place, interaction design, urbanism and architecture, inspiring challenging and innovative contributions towards advancing architectural research and practice and setting the foundations for undertaking Doctoral research in this field.

As stemming from the assessment of the outcomes during the participants’ Workshop Presentation, as well as from participants and attendees’ interest and enthusiastic feedback at the Urban Transcripts 2012 Conference and Exhibition, the project vision, methodology and outcomes have been of high quality and of promising potential for future expansion. The Unit has innovatively challenged disciplinary boundaries, stretched the scope of contemporary architecture and urban design by putting them in a different perspective and dialogue.


[1] – Fratzeskou, Eugenia, ed., The Mapping Emergence: Nomads, Nodes, Strings & Paths Blog,

[2] – Fratzeskou, Eugenia, Mapping Emergence: Nomads, Nodes, Strings & Paths – Working Methods, delivered as a city methodology Lecture at Urban Transcripts 2012: London, the (n)ever changing city international workshop, Performance Space, London, 4th December 2012.

[3] – Fratzeskou, Eugenia, ed., The Drawing the Invisible Blog, Further reading on relevant fields of research, practice and philosophy: Fratzeskou Eugenia, Visualising Boolean Set Operations: Real & Virtual Boundaries in Contemporary Site-specific Art, LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing, 2009, Fratzeskou, Eugenia, New Types of Drawing in Fine Art: The Role of Fluidity in the Creation Process, LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing, 2010, Fratzeskou, Eugenia, Operative Intersections: Between Site-Specific Drawing and Spatial Digital Diagramming, LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing, 2010, Fratzeskou, Eugenia, Interstitiality in Contemporary Art and Architecture: An Inter-passage from Delineating to Unfolding the Boundaries of Space, LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing, 2012, Fratzeskou, Eugenia, Archives Articles in Digimag and Digicult, 2010 – onwards,

[4] – Bar, François and Hernan Galperin, “Building the Wireless Internet Infrasctructure: From Cordless Ethernet Archipelagos to Wireless Grids”, in Communications & Strategies, 2nd quarter, 2004 (no. 54), pp. 45-68,, accessed: May 9, 2005.

[5] – Usman Haque, et. al., “Wi-Fi Camera”, in, accessed: November 5, 2012.

[6] – Cheshire, James and Michael Batty, “Editorial”, in Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, vol. 39, 2012, pages 413 – 415.
CASA (UCL) is one of the most essential resources for the latest mapping methods: Interesting cases on city densities and flows can also be found here:, accessed: February 1, 2011.

[7] – Sevtsuk, Andres and Michael Mekonnen, “Urban Network Analysis: A Toolbox for ArcGIS 10 / 10.1”, in City Form Lab (SUDT/MIT) official website,, accessed: February 27, 2013.

[8] – Smith, Duncan, “London Urban Form 3D Map”,  2011, in Smith, Duncan ed., Urban Geographics (blog),, accessed: May 1, 2012.

[9] – Cheshire, James, “Sensing the City: Mapping London’s Population Flows”, 2012, in Cheshire, James, ed., (blog),, accessed: May 1, 2012.

[10] – Ibid.

[11] – Cheshire, James, “Mapped: Twitter Languages in London”, 2012, in Cheshire, James, ed., (blog), accessed: October 25, 2012. Jaffe, Eric, “Mapmaker, Artist, or Programmer?”, August 2012, in The Atlantic Cities,, accessed: September 1, 2012.

[12] – Manovich, Lev in Monika Bakke’s introduction to Going Aerial: Air, Art, Architecture, ed. Monika Bakke, Jan van Eyck Akademie, Maastricht, 2006, pp. 11, 14–15. Manovich, Lev, “Abstraction and Complexity,” in NeMe, article no. 94, 2005,, accessed: November 8, 2010. Manovich, Lev, “The Poetics of Augmented Space,” in Lev Manovich’s official Web Site, 2005,, accessed: September 17, 2010.

[13] – Ibid

[14] – Haque, Usman, SkyEar, 2004,, accessed: May 5, 2005. Fratzeskou, Eugenia, “Art And Architecture: Investigation At The Boundaries Of Space”, in Digimag, No. 52, March 2010,, accessed: May 21, 2013.

[15] - Manovich, Lev, “The Shape of Information”, 2005,, accessed: September 17, 2010.

[16] - Fratzeskou, Eugenia, “Inventing New Modes of Digital Visualisation in Contemporary Art,” in Leonardo 41, No. 4, 2008, p.422. Fratzeskou Eugenia, Visualising Boolean Set Operations: Real & Virtual Boundaries in Contemporary Site-specific Art, LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing, 2009, Fratzeskou, Eugenia, Interstitiality in Contemporary Art and Architecture: An Inter-passage from Delineating to Unfolding the Boundaries of Space, LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing, 2012.

[17] – Fratzeskou, Eugenia, “Operative Transformations: Part 2”, in Digimag, No. 67, September 2011,, accessed: May 21, 2013.

[18] – Eisenman, Peter, Diagram Diaries, Thames and Hudson, London, 1999, pp.144-145.

[19] – Fratzeskou, Eugenia, ed., Mapping Emergence 2012: The Outcomes, in The Mapping Emergence: Nomads, Nodes, Strings & Paths Blog, 2012,, accessed: May 21, 2013.

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