unravelling the signs and details that make us love or loath everyday urban spaces.




__ _Identify Space Types
__ _Identify Spaces
__ _Project Participants
__ _Project Research Tools

The processes we devised for this research have been instrumental in facilitating the generation of material and in helping us gather useful and insightful feedback. The combination of our working process and analysis of the feedback has allowed us to start to understand more about typical responses and interpretations to common details in our urban environments ... to start to unravel the urban lexicon.

The work we have conducted can be broadly described in three sections, as Scoping, Wokshops and Analysis and Communication.

1. SCOPING. The first stages of the project involved primary and secondary research to help us frame the specific directions the work needed to take and to decide how to define the parameters to investigate this area of study. During this phase we also conducted planning and tests to iterate and prepare for the participant workshops.

Identify Space Types. Early on in the project we had to categorise the types of urban environments we wanted to look at. We defined the following four space-types as representative of many typical everyday spaces you might enounter in any town or city.

Identify Areas and Spaces. Our wider interest is to better understand peoples' responses to urban details in any city or country. However, to keep this first funded Urban Lexicons project logistically fesible within timescales and resources, we focussed our study within London. Given the diverse nature of this city, we were able to pick four different areas and one of each space-type within each area. Between these sixteen sites and the spaces that linked them we were able to represent extremes of urban environment: as varied as any city in the UK and yet all conveniently accessible by London Underground (mostly!). Click below to see the spaces we studied located on Googlemaps.

[click to see the locations mapped on Google]

Project Participants. To ensure a good cross section of responses and to be sure that any patterns we found in our study couldn't be attributed simply to demographic similarities, we wanted to find a number of different 'participants' to volunteer, to visit our identified spaces with us and give us their feedback. We had originally planned to create workshops with just four contributors but in the end 16 people, from an impressive span of ages, ocupations and backgrounds, kindly gave up half-days, whole days and weekends to participate in our street workshops. The collaboration, responses and contribution of these people became the definitive core to all we have learned through this project.

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Prior to running the final workshops, we iterated development via the making of many test resources, test visits and trial runs to ensure the best use of everyone's time and achive the most productive outcomes possible.

In addition to our trial runs and numerous site visits, we spoke to a number of Advisors and Experts who generously spared their time to consult with us and helped guide the development of the project methods and outcomes. In acknowledgement of these individuals and organisations, we have listed most of them here.

Impact of the Unknown research tools.
As a running archive of much of our learning and process during these first stages, we set up a research blog early on in the project. This helped us keep track of where we were with things and allowed us to easily share and store key material. Additionally we used an online image browser to archive our space scoping visits and ran trials using Google mapping. You can acess these resources via the link in the menu bar or by clicking the image here.

At all times our research efforts involved us in working visually and experimentally, as well as feeding from more traditional data and literature research and dialogue with people. This was important as we knew we wanted to be able extract and share our learning visually or graphically as well as via text based outputs. In this way we believe the material can be quicker to understand, easier to refer to and carry equal or greater depth and value for more people.
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2. STREET WORKSHOPS. The second stages of the project comprised of the final creation, organisation and running of the 'Detail Detectives' workshop activities.

Prior to the workshops we prepared and sent a briefing pack to each participant, to explain more about the project, the workshops and to help them start thinking about the questions we wanted to address. You can download a sample workshop briefing document here (pdf).

On the days of the workshop tours, most of which we conducted between April and June 2008, we provided each participant with a map and response sheet, as well as a digital camera, clipboard and pen. All they had to bring were their five senses and their opinions!

We provided maps for each of the four areas, highlighting the locations of the four different space-types we wanted them to visit in each case. We did not tell the participants which areas we were visiting until we arrived at a station or bus stop for each respective location. That way we could ensure their responses were as natural and instinctive as possible.

Many of the participants had never visited the areas we visited before in their lives, while one or two knew selected parts very well, as they lived or had lived nearby at some stage. In each area we stipulated a start and finish point and allowed between 30 minutes and two hours for people to navigate between and explore the four space-types, but in no instance did we specify an order or particular route that should be taken between them.

After exploring each location, we reconvened with our participants in a coffee shop, bar or in a public space where we could find one(!). The participants could then feedback their immediate responses to what they had encountered and highlight any details that had stood out in relation to how they felt about the places they had visited and what they thought made them feel that way. In some cases we added extra questions to explore themes further and in every case we recorded the interviews, and these became a very important part of our research material.

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3. ANALYSIS AND COMMUNICATION. The third part of this work has involved consolidating the material gathered from the workshops and scoping phases.This included well over 250 sets of data from our participants, in audio, wrtitten and photographic formats as well as our own notes taken from many discussions and observations.

We transcribed the most revealing material from our audio interviews with each participant for each space they had visited. Samples can be viewed via the Documents section of this website. These proved vital to understanding what stimulated people to focus on a particular detail, area or activity, that they might have identified within the workshops.
Simultaneously, we reviewed the responses the participants had made using the workhop site visit forms and we organised all the photos they had taken using image management software. With the help of this software, a bit of intuitioin and and a great many hours spent studying and categorising the material, we were able to draw out common themes and responses among the participants' results. By applying some of the key interview texts to the key visual material, and arranging by space type and rating the material according to the frquency that visual or conceptual theme occurred, we were then able to spot the patterns which were emerging. It is from this process that we saw the importance of the 'Signs of..", as indicators, often implied by groups of details, which together proved to represent different types of environment or human activity, and in turn stimulated the responses from our particpants.

To this point, we have disseminated some of the key results via the Urban Lexicons website and via the pdf documentation we have created. Clearly, to keep the communication of this complex subject as accessible as possible, without it being overwhelming, we have had to start by presenting summaries of our findings in pdf formats. We are keen to publish some of the work in printed format in order to for people to benefit from the work, without having to rely on them having access or inclination to depend wholly on electronic resources.

There is much interesting and valuable material and learning that we have not yet shared, though we are keen to explore opportunities to further develop this work and what we have learned through this first Urban Lexicons project.

We see this as the beginning not the end of the process!



THANK YOU! Acknowledgements:

Workshop participants

Project Advisors and Consultations
Bright Sparks/ Gunpowder Park team plus mentor Andre Dekker
Calum Storrie – Author/ artist and writer on situationism.
Prof. Lorraine Gamman – Director Design Against Crime Research Centre, University of the Arts London
Joyce Rosser – Tottenham Residents Association
David Cottridge – Photographer
Johann Reich – Video artist
Saga Arpino – 3D installation artist
Xavi Camino - Anthropologist

Andy Huntington - Interaction Designer
Chris Leung – Architect/ UCL doctorate responsive architecture,
behaviour measurement

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01/2009 - New version!

We are keen to hear your thoughts on this document and how you think it could be made more useful as a tool for place making: for users, or for designers, planners, architects and others who are involved in the creation or management of public urban places. Please email us with your feedback.

- Rosanna Vitiello
- Marcus Willcocks
- Impact of the Unknown, Bright Sparks
- Urban Lexicons research blog