The image of the city by day is continuous and made up of traces of the past, raising awareness of a social order which is visible by means of architecture. On the contrary, at night, perception is based on the understanding of lighted fragments which often are historical buildings but also banks, supermarkets and petrol stations. These elements are now building our landscape and our visible memory of night-time, through individual images.
If landscape is an abstract idea based on “what we see” when we look at a territory, nightscape is hardly landscape. In the words of Javier Maderuelo, landscape is the link that enables us to interpret the qualities of a territory or place in cultural and aesthetic terms.1 But at night darkness makes our perceivable reality disappears, transforming our sensible environment. What happen then with landscape, understood as a conscious gaze that is built between us (individuals) and our milieu, when night falls?
The visualizations that follow are the first results of “Atnight,” a research that seeks to respond to questions raised about the existence of nightscape. A night-time landscape that must be addressed from its potential ability to be, making visible what we are unable to see in the darkness or what remains dormant under the sunlight.
“Atnight” aims to explore the potential of representation techniques of the city image by developing a night cartography (focused in Barcelona), taken as a process of experimentation of the own drawing tools that enables us to assign geometry and measure to intangible aspects of the reality, making the invisible visible (drawing intangibles).
In this sense, data visualization has emerged as a key tool for urban design thinking that harnesses the immense power of visual communication in order to explain, in a transversal manner, the relationships of meaning, cause and dependency established between citizens and their environment.
Moreover, the need for further description of landscape as a cognitive and sensitive relationship between people and their environment creates a new context for identification of citizens with their territory which is based in digital technologies. According to the irruption of the smart city model, the process of “identity construction” has apparently changed trough social technologies that have intimately hybridized our behaviors towards the environment.
Given that recent technological developments have led to the consolidation of an urban model which unfolds the use of sensors of all kind to monitor urban life in real time (weather, traffic, flow of people, contamination, etc.), what if these same digital achievements allow us to use the data in reverse, enabling a creative process to build a common imaginary from the collective and collaborative contribution?
In this regard, “Atnight” not only uses data visualization to set up a possible interpretation of night values but also to generate a model of intervention which unveils the possible landscapes hidden behind the visible. We believe that the opportunity to lay the basis of nightscape design and other intangible assets involves the construction of a valid representation of itself. A model according to which we could share, discuss and develop ideas, that should transcend from singular to shared experience, by means of an abstraction process that should teach us to look at the territory with aesthetic interest.
The following images2 aim to be a first step towards building the image of the night, a necessary first contribution to the (re)definition of the nigh-time identity. Through the development of an interpretive model, which should be able to establish a link between thought and real world, “at night” landscape would be explored as a possible model of intervention to other invisible landscapes which make up our intangible heritage.
Night landscape is in the eye of the beholder.
The first set of views show an initial approach to the visible structure of the city, obtained by mapping geolocated information stored on Flickr. At first glance, the image may seem a satellite image of Barcelona as we are able to recognize the main elements of its urban morphology (mountain and coastal geography and territorial and urban axis). But a more accurate approach reveals a loss of compactness in favor of the uniqueness of certain areas which are represented by a higher density of points, which have been superimposed according to different grade of opacity. The evocative power of this image invites us to rethink the framework that lies beyond urban materials and patterns.
The image of the city
Like other instruments and methods of representation, the aerial view reflects and constructs the world. What is revealed in this extensive visual panorama of Barcelona, which has been drawn from the previous data assigning a sphere of influence to each point, is an organic interdependency between physical and visual structure of the city. If the Pla Cerdà has given Barcelona its urban form based on a bidirectional pattern (mountain-sea), this aerial view plays on certain abstraction such as making visible strategic organizations of elements across the ground plane or revealing certain interrelational structures that are not visible in Cerda’s layout. In this sense, we could probably affirm that most visible areas design the shape of the city as perceived by their inhabitants and visitors. Monuments like Sagrada Familia, Parc Güell or Agbar Tower and large public spaces as Plaça Catalunya or Plaça dels Àngels construct a synoptic image of Barcelona.
Barcelona night and day
If previous images possess an internal eloquence while revealing aspects of the land that would otherwise remain hidden or unseen, the following step demand to decode the city in terms of night and day perception by assigning color to each point according to time of day (blue for the night and orange for the day). The resulting representation shows us that day time maintains the rigor of continuity trough the basic grid of streets (La Rambla-Passeig de Gracia, Paral·el) and its associated monuments while night perception produce a discontinuous but complex and varied city which extends from the center to the periphery. This first experience raises questions about the configuration of the nocturnal image of the city that, although it remains the same in its materiality, it is completely altered in appearance, not only in color but in the hierarchies of elements that compose the urban form: values, reference items and, in general, any dimension of limit.
In contrast to the previous set of images where the shape of the city was perfectly recognizable based on most visible areas or night and day perception, the last representation in the series harbor a more poetic and creative potential. The cartogram of Barcelona, which is a deformation of the layout of the city according to the density of points within a grid of 130 x 130 m, reveals that perception is more continuous in the boundaries of the city as the alteration between night and day appearances is higher in the center than in the periphery. In the same regard, day perception is based on the uniqueness of certain central areas (Sagrada Familia, Parc Güell and Plaça Catalunya are the most distorted sites) while at night city takes the form of multiple focus which apparently could seem anonymous places in a map, but actually uphold urban identity. As a first conclusion, we could affirm that nightscapes are built upon presences and absences, the latter understood not as gaps in the mesh of the visible but as the basis on which the visible is based.
The inscriptions, additions, and deletions that we subsequently make to these maps embody, however, an attempt to acknowledge the primacy of visual image in the forging of the nightscapes while revealing the fictional and metaphorical dimensions of the night construction. These first results will be further completed by a new set of data visualization based on information stored in social networks with the ultimate aim of generating a model of intervention which unveils other possible landscapes.