Javascript, Three Js
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Holobiont Urbanism – City as a complex, adaptive, biological superstructure

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Created by Regina Flores as a part of her MFA thesis at the Parsons, with support from the Playful Systems Group at the MIT Media Lab, Holobiont Urbanism is a research project that sets out to study, map, and visualize the microbiome of New York City, inviting participants to reimagine the city they live in as more than a vast metropolis, but rather as a complex and adaptive biological superstructure.

Quantitative and artistic methods are used to produce data visualizations that are the basis for a data art installation created by using thermal imaging to capture a live video stream of streets in New York, web-based 3D technologies to artistically render the video, and developing a design aesthetic crafted from a scientific framework.

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↑ “Taxonomical Maps for the four hives – Astoria, Crown Heights Langsroth, Crown Heights Top Bar and Fort Greene”


↑ First prototype of correlation map and a more developed version showing unique values in black and UI elements in red.

The initial idea for the design work stemmed from creating a volumetric representation of the city including using Tangram library and WebGL shaders to visualise “microbes” interacting with the built environment. This also included working with Tangram add-on for openFrameworks, using a physics engines in combination with spatial mapping. Regina also worked with Google Maps and Hyperlapse.js that could generate a video from a user-generate route through the city. Finally Regina resorted to WebGL and primarily exploring techniques to manipulate video using Three.Js. Finally inspired and informed by the observations of microbes in nature, Regina decided to use thermal imaging and “infrared spectrum” to investigate and contextualise spatial navigation in urban environment in comparison to behaviour of microbes. The final web work, as can be seen in the link below, relies on the post-processing library by Jaume Sanchez which allows recreation of some of the microscopic effects. These include blurring, dirty lens, zooming, dark field, color camera and brightening effects.

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The project seeks to distort the participant’s perception of the known reality so as to see the city through the lens of the microbial world. Once aware of the companion species that live among us, on us, and in us, participants may begin to review what it means to be human and their relationship to their bodies and to their urban environments.

The final visualisation is an attempt to provide “microscopic” perspective onto the city, navigating through it as one would through a petri dish using a microscope.

Project PageRegina Flores | Playful Systems | Parsons

Collaborators: Kevin Slavin and Miguel Perez (Playful Systems Group at the MIT Media Lab), Dr. Elizabeth Henaff and Dr. Chris Mason (Mason Lab at Weil Cornel), Devora Najjar (The Cooper Union), Chris Woebken (Extrapolation Factory), Regina Flores Mir (Parsons School of Design), local beekeepers in Brooklyn and Queens.

Supported by the Mori Building Corporation, Tokyo.

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  • David Linderman

    How much science was seriously thrown at this, and for what end and why?

    What does this work illuminate about Life in New York City (human life, neighborhoods, people?) other than a (nice) showcase of random video clips and opaque data beautified through the “microscopic” lens of generative digital video effects? Generative art art was great. But let’s move on.