Parametric Urbanism Final Projects

NataliaCundari_bike accident
South Lake Union Bike Accidents by Natalia Cundari

In last summer’s Parametric Urbanism seminar we looked at how social media could be aggregated to better understand urban behavior. Using the South Lake Union neighborhood of Seattle, the students looked at everything from MapMyRun paths to Flickr hashtags. The information was gathered and positioned with Grasshopper plugins Elk, gHowl, Mosquito and Lunch Box and exported to Google Earth. Some of the projects are embedded below, please note that for many of them you will have to pan down to see the information.

**Please note: The GEarthHacks plugin seems to work best with Google Chrome. There may be loading issues with older browsers.

Urban Tribes / Hyper-Local By Sophie Brasfield
An investigation into local subcultures through searching for keywords on Google Maps reviews and proprietor websites, then mapping the aggregation of these keywords.
Hypothesis: Amazon will not kill small business, it will change it however. What’s left after the internet? Places that offer an experience.



South Lake Union Recreation by Dale Lusk
This file uses MapMyRun data to map the aggregation of running routes in South Lake Union. Highways are described as barriers, parks described as nodes, and paths mapped between them. The paths stack, growing wider, taller, and with more color information based off of how many people use them.

Flickr Moods by Zhu Zhu and Stevie Hartman
The lines are the collection of different moods. (the sad mood line is composed of sad mood points; the happy mood line is composed of happy mood points etc.)
Metaball are used to show the density of the mood points too.


happy, joyful, fun, interesting, beautiful, elegant, surprised …
Negative (blue):
sad, cry, tear, depressed, angry, suck, disgusting…..

Craigslist Flotsam by Catherine Harris
South Lake Union is a man shaped lake with filled in marsh land and extensive dredging mostly accomplished in the early 20th Century. I became interested in the idea of flotsam — those items that wash up on shore, as an index of human presence in South Lake Union.
I looked on craigslist and found all the items people were selling in a particular 24 hour period. I then filtered for items which included a google map. Then I took those items and found their geo coordinates and placed a marker in google earth. I also used those geo coordinates to generate a metaball geometry through gHowl and Grasshopper, which mapped centers of intensity, by creating a dome like structure reflecting the numbers of contiguous or nearby points.

I used a nearest point mapping module in Grasshopper to take a tracing of the two most near coastlines, the southern shore of South Lake Union and the nearest ocean front and from those two lines, generated a series of possible lines to form the shortest distances between the two shorelines. This mapping is only possible because of the early 20th Century removal of Denny Hill, which was leveled to create the current topography of South Lake Union. Thus the land can be seen as transiently in its current angle of repose.

The conjunction of these two forms, projected on a Google Earth mapping of South Lake Union, gives a reading of the marginalized material goods and their potential trajectories.

Grocery Situation in South Lake Union by Michael Salinas
An investigation into food accessibility in South Lake Union, articulated by geometric aggregations and separations in an attempt to define a range of grocery territory.

All Google Earth Embeds powered by Google Earth Hacks.

james rojas’ interactive design

Posted by on Oct 16, 2009 in design, urban planning | No Comments

it’s easy to get mired in a view of design that focuses data exchange between ecotect and grasshopper, performative skin systems in generative components, and scripting architectural solutions,  but once in a while you find a completely different take on what design is and what you really should be doing to be creating a design solution.  james rojas of g727 and metro has one of these takes on design on an urban scale: let the community members design it themselves.  if you haven’t seen one of james’ installations for yourself, you can’t imagine the vast amount of trinkets, toys, and other items that people can use to construct their own vision of their environment.  by using either items we recognize as toys or elements taken out of context, the users have a remarkably high amount of creativity and exploration.

read more about one of james’ installations on ::industrianism.

a vehicle of density: why PRT is more than an iMac car

Posted by on May 19, 2009 in transportation, urban planning | 2 Comments


“mass transit… so hot right now…”

if you look at the perception of sustainable architecture today as opposed to 10 years ago there is a pretty remarkable shift. more and more there is less emphasis on off-the-grid cabins in bucolic landscapes and much more mixed-use projects and transit orient developments. the pastoral solar cottage as sustainable icon isn’t going anywhere, but as there is a collective realization of the scale of the problems sustainability needs to address, there is more focus on how architects can make cities themselves more green as opposed to isolated homes. as alex steffen wrote in worldchanging, “if you want to be green, live in a city.” the efficiency of having large masses of people in the same area to bring resources to will trump any sort of gains met by a wind-powered rural cabin, especially as we look to greening our society as a whole.

one of the main issues with sustainability on a city level is how the residents move around within it. unfortunately for many american cities, this is more of a planning issue than anything else. mass transit in a city with a dense central core like new york, philadelphia or seattle is much more successful than a more diffuse city like los angeles or phoenix.

image from

the term Personal Rapid Transit sounds a little bit like an oxymoron or a desperate re-branding of the automobile by GM. while it sounds like “personal” would be referring to either the size or scale of the vehicle, it is more a reference to how the system works. the only built PRT system in morgantown, west virginia uses vehicles that are sized for 20 riders- but what makes it “personal” is that the riders collectively decide where the vehicle goes and that the cars are dispatched as needed. if the there are more riders at one station as opposed to another, the system sends the cars there and if the riders on a car aren’t heading to a specific stop the car bypasses it.

image from systematica through treehugger.

while the WVU system is interesting, it still only runs along a single line. this is a fairly conventional model of how we understand transit it to work- one line takes us a set of destinations where we can either use a different form of transportation or transfer to another line. but what is interesting about a networked or intelligent system is that it has the potential of breaking this model and creating a more facile one. a route is simply a conceptual machine to help a rider understand where that vehicle will take them, but if the rider were to tell the vehicle where they needed to go, the idea of a route would no longer be as important.

the remarkable flexibility of the system is why PRT could have the potential of working incredibly well in more spread out urban and suburban areas. urban planners and transportation designers frequently describe the biggest issue with mass transit is the problem of the last mile- mass transit can frequently take people from one general area to another general area well, but moving people within those areas is a challenge. but with a “personal” mass transit system, the possibility of people quickly and conveniently moving from their houses to a larger transit hub seems likely.

so what makes a PRT system different from the currently form of flexible, personal transportation (the car)? parking. aside from the implied emissions and energy usage improvements of electric vehicles, parking is a clear advantage of a PRT.

in an article titled “we paved paradise”, reported the effects that municipal parking requirements have had land use policy, the classic example being that a typical code for a restaurant would require five times as much space for parking than the actual restaurant. at one point I had been told (though I can’t seem to source it), that in LA there are five parking spots for every car. while the environmental effects of that many impermeable surfaces and that many heat islands is massive, the real problem is how more and more parking spots continue to spread out our cities more and more- making the need for parking more and more necessary.

this is where the PRT is a really compelling idea. in theory, PRTs are never parked. they either constantly move or shuffle themselves to the station that has the highest probability of needing a vehicle the soonest. so the energy efficient, non-emitting communal machines were already compelling enough to most environmental advocates, but reducing the need for automotive parking could not just provide a cleaner alternative but could begin to significantly alter the way our cities are organized. a more efficient, closer urban fabric is easier to navigate by foot or by bike, which reduces the need for an artificially powered vehicle to begin with- which is ultimately the most sustainable goal of all. more than energy efficiency and resource use, a vehicle that can act as an agent against suburban sparsity will ultimately reduce the needs for vehicles to begin with.

PRTs as a commonly used urban vehicle is still a long way off- but at the moment they provide a clear example of how the vehicles in which we choose to move ourselves can directly effect the space we inhabit. it’s not just about the energy our vehicles use- it’s all of the resources they demand that will determine if they are sustainable or not.

[youtube= ]

the future PRT system at heathrow airport

::ULTra’s construction photos of the heathrow system

::BBC news on heathrow’s PRT system

::a treehugger interview with luca guala with systematica on the PRT system at madsar city

::treehugger on PRTs in uppsala, sweden.

Posted by on Apr 4, 2009 in design, globalization, urban planning | No Comments


richard saul wurman, creator of the TED conferences, has a created an online proposal to examine 19 cities in the world, with 20 million people, in the 21st century.

even though he hasn’t actually done/published the research yet, the initial analysis of our global population as an “urban species” is very compelling and the site design is pretty slick.