SurfaceCities independent work:

The projects presented here were produced in the Cornell Department of Architecture. They are preliminary explorations of images of the city in/formed by the ever-expanding range of [simulated] experiences Google Earth provides. The premise underlying their production is the inverse of the one that motivated Kevin Lynch’s seminal study, “The Image of the City.” Lynch assumed that understanding the mental images of cities we create based on our experiences would help designers propose better, more legible cities. We believe that today, half a century after Lynch’s book, our pervasive ‘experiencing’ the city through its images on Google Earth already informs the way we perceive and use the city. With the expansion of Google Earth and possibly other providers, experiencing the city first through its image will increasingly shape the way we understand and use cities, and the subsequent mental images we form. The designer’s work on the city can already take place through understanding and manipulating the images and the means for experiencing them in Google Earth. Google Earth’s constantly evolving navigational tools and modes of representation, supplemented by a densely layered strata of user-generated information, constitute a richly complex virtual experience of the city. Exposing the city’s unique structure and patterns of use in Google Earth’s gravitationless, layered environment is, like Lynch’s studies in the Image of the City, not only a necessary precondition for manipulating its image, but in fact can already reveal existing alternative images.


SURFACECITIES is a research and teaching initiative, established to study our changing images of cities in the context of a new visual culture developing around information technologies. This website hosts a range of projects and papers developed by faculty and students in the Department of Architecture at Cornell University. We are using information technologies to explore new ways of reading and handling cities for a variety of purposes, from environmental activism to extreme commuting. Our approach is to create dynamic, graphic and situated projects that extend or challenge established theories of urbanism. This work cuts across numerous fields (architecture, information science, and urban studies) in order to challenge traditional conceptions of the city that are static, depersonalized, and focused primarily on built form. In addition, it suggests new configurations of people, computers and cities that shift the discourse on human-computer interaction towards human-computer-environment interaction.