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Generating Utopia – Transforming land using location-based behaviour of its residents

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Created by Stefan Wagner, an interaction and motion designer based in Würzburg-Germany, Generating Utopia is a realtime visualisation of social location data. The project explores questions of what human habitats could look like if it was possible to transform them depending on the location-based behaviour of their residents. The data was taken from various users of Foursquare and visualised using Processing.

Although current discussions might indicate otherwise, the pictures we draw of ourselves within todays’ social media channels are no reliable representations of who we are in real life. We select what others get to see from our reality, and mostly, we share and publicly like only what considerably leaves a good impression on the rest of the world. We build an utopia, telling the story of what we think our lives should look like. This conclusion is all the more inspiring, regarding the fact that social networks begin to expand into physical space: we’re not only telling what we are up to, but also where we are.

The realtime Processing application starts with an airplane view on an existing city in its current topology. By selecting a dataset from one of its inhabitants, the city will morph into something else, growing mountains and tubes exactly at those places, where the person checked in with their Foursquare account. From this, one can see in what different ways persons are “using” their city – respectively what they want their social environment to think they do. A utopian (or dystopian) version of the cityscape begins to grow from the ground. The city seen in the footage is a middle-sized German town called Würzburg.


The application was made using Processing relying mostly on the data data available online. For example, the buildings are downloaded from the API as outlines, translated into 3d models and rendered at their according places – there was no custom modeling involved. The application also uses API as mentioned and Bayerische Vermessungsverwaltung – satellite imagery for creating the ground and building textures.

Generating Utopia makes intense use of the advanced OpenGL features implemented into Processing by Andres Colubri. Karsten Schmidt’s library toxiclibs is used for some model calculations. For the depth-of-field effect, a slightly adapted version of Martin Upitis’ DOF shader was used.

Project Page | Stefan Wagner


  • Smart Syntax

    I’m an Architect/Urbanist from Argentina, and i find your job really interesting and usefull. Thanks for sharing. :)

  • Jamie Groenestein

    This would be so much more interesting if we just had enough data to mine. But still a great effort!