Ethan Miller

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Urban Observatory Visualization

June, 2008

In collaboration with:

From the original proposal:

The Urban Observatory project is an exploration of the unstable relationships between physical environments and mediated environments. A secure sense of place and direction develops around tools we use for navigating through spaces: maps, guidebooks, photo reference, GPS, etc. At the same time, those very tools are competing representations of those spaces. In the networked and media-infused cultures of the world, the representations of places modify, conflate, or completely replace the experience of those places. The Urban Observatory works to examine this dynamic through an intertwined articulation of the two modes of experience. The sense of being in a public space, and being subject to the physical constraints of that space will be contrasted with networked, mediated representations of both near and distant spaces.

The physical installation, a prototype construction by Michael Herrman, provided a translucent surface for projecting the visualization. This allowed visitors to feel connected to the immediate surroundings, but also allowed them to explore distant places. Bruce Gardner and I created the visualization using four networked computers and four projectors, each dedicated to a cardinal direction. On the floor of the structure we used pressure sensitive buttons to allow navigation within the visualization.

The map aspect of the visualization was a simple vector image of the world. As the visitor moved around the map, we connected to Panoramio to collect geo-tagged imagery. The overall effect was an immersive CAVE-like environment with a unique interface that allowed the visitor to explore information both geo-spatially and through networked image data.

"Urban Observatory" is commissioned (in part) by ZERO1 for the 2nd Biennial 01SJ Global Festival of Art on the Edge with the support of the James L. Irvine Foundation. Additional support provided by Montalvo Arts Center.


  • Urban Observatory