Visualisation and Design in Space Sociology

Classical urban design is usually driven by the following process: an urban designer is comissioned by an investor to create a development concept, which describes the project in a final stage. This planning strategy has two disadvantages:

  1. it only considers the rich population
  2. it leads to urban segregation, ie. the development of enclaves between fincancially relevant locations.

Therefore several recent development projects were doomed to failure. This is illustrated by more than 1 million abandoned apartments in eastern Germany. Hence, the quest for alternative development strategies seems to be necessary. A very promising idea is the temporary use of urban residual areas as an initiator for alternative urbanism. It has the following potentials:

  • testing new activities
  • space can be used without a clear financial goal
  • activities can be successful or not

This implies the following advantages:

  • space develops a new identity, a gentrification process is initiated
  • activities can mark a turning point in the biography of the actors (which can make the space attractive in a very subtle way)

New planning strategy. Consequently the planners assume a new role: they are not designing physical objects, instead they facilitate usage of space. Thereby they design the boundary conditions and the interaction processes among users, property owners and the authorities. Basically a social process is designed. This means that a process is only initiated, but no final stage is developed.

Planning instrument. In the design of temporary usage the established methods of CAD seem inappropriate. During this project a visualization tool is developed, which enables the designer to create an manage social networks between users and space.

The project was carried out in cooperation with Prof. Manfred Schmutzer, DI Christian Fröhlich, Prof. Philipp Oswalt, Dr. Judith Donath and Prof. Martina Löw.

Space sociology

The visualization tool is based on the theory of space sociology by Martina Löw [1], [2]. Thereby, 'space' is the conceptual abstraction for the constitution of space. Space constitution is defined by:

  • social goods and humans
  • relations between social goods
  • atmosphere (with reference to Heidegger's existential philosophy)

For the development of a graphic language, which will be used later for the visualization of space sociological aspects, we need an abstraction for the associated experiences of humans. Hence, the visualization builds on top of the everyday life aesthetic schemes developed by G. Schulze [3].
Everyday life aesthetic schemes. These schemes organize experiences into the three groups pleasure, distinction and life philosophy. In the following table these schemes are further particularized.

Pleasure Distinction Life philosophy
contemplation anti barbarian perfection
cosiness anti eccentric harmony
action anti conventional narcism

For the visualization, the everyday-life-aesthetic schemes must be translated into graphic formes. This translation is subjective for each urban designer. Furthermore, it must be possible to mix the single schemes in order to describe arbitrary situations. Therefore a special mathematical model was developed. The individual schemes are given graphically in the following table.


Pleasure Distinction Life philosophy
contemplation anti barbarian perfection
cosiness anti eccentric harmony
action anti conventional narcism

The chosen mathematical model allows to intermix the different schemes gradually. In the following example, the components 'action' and 'harmony' were mixed by 50% each.

Mixing of everyday life aesthetic schemes 'action' and 'harmony'.

For the realization of situations, which were planned with the visualization technique, we use urban design patterns. This technique has been established by Christopher Alexander, and is used now widely also in other domains such as object oriented programming.
The design patterns used here were developed by Prof. Philipp Oswalt and modified slightly for the current project.

Sample applications

The visualization tool was used successfully in a number of projects. Two of them will be illustrated here briefly.

Space sociological mood board (top) for the red shaded area of Porto Vecchio, Trieste.

Trieste, Porto Vecchio. The old harbour in the center of Trieste was abandoned due to the larger industrial harbour in Koper, Slovenia. The old harbour became an urban residual area in its archaic sense, although it represents an extremely attractive location. To design a gentrification process, a stepwise development concept with temporary usage was created.

Graz, Südtirolerplatz. The site has experienced serious restructuring due to the new coffee bar 'Thienfeld' and the Kunsthaus. Also the 'K-box' represented a very positive intervention at this location. The visualization tool was used to understand and document the interventions on a sociological basis.

Space sociological mood board (left) for the red shaded area of the Südtirolerplatz, Graz.

[1] Martina Löw, Raumsoziologie, Suhrkamp 2001.
[2] Martina Löw, Die Differenzierung des Städtischen, Leske & Budrich, 2002.
[3] Gerhard Schulze, Die Erlebnisgesellschaft, Kultursoziologie der Gegenwart, Campus Fachbuch, 2000

Sample Applications

3D Geometry

Physical Simulations


Space Sociology

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