Real-Time City

The City as an Ambient Interface

Spring 2012/2013 @ TU Delft
MSc 1/2
19 April 2012 / 26 April 2012

Cities are manifestations of multi-relational networks that perpetually become far more complex as we experience a shift from an industrial economy to one driven by the forces of (digital) information and services. Two of the most critical phenomena that incite the proliferating complexity of the contemporary urbanities can, on the one hand be identified in the rapid global urbanization processes and on the other, in the perpetual pervasiveness of information technologies within the urban environments.

This increasing ubiquity of urban systems and networks utilizing digital media technologies for their operation generates immense amounts of real-time data streams, reflecting the city dynamics. The aforementioned continuous information flow constitutes part of what has come to be called “Big Data”. These digital, invisible traces, which represent what Neil Leach has characterized as the contemporary city’s “pulse”, figuratively appear as an additional, intangible layer hovering above the urban fabric.

Yet, how can the perception of ICT media and the derivative ambient data as superimposed layers over the existing city drastically affect the urban layout? Does this overlaid ontology render digital information capable of shaping the urban space in the same way that built components do? To what extent do various sensing methodologies provide quantifiable parameters for the assessment of key performance indicators (KPIs) in strategic urban sectors, such as energy, environment and mobility? And how can we, further, facilitate human participation in providing active feedback for such KPIs?

Embedded in such a dynamic context, the REAL-TIME CITY workshop explored potential ways, with which real-time urban data streams could influence the experience and shape of the physical urban fabric. It, specifically, aimed at developing participatory and replicable methodological frameworks, incorporating embedded interactive urban systems in existing open public spaces. These systems were intended to serve as interactive platforms for both citizens and municipal planning authorities. They were focused on leveraging interrelations among multiple real-time data streams pertaining to environmental, climatic and mobility-related aspects of the city and receiving feedback from the citizens, in relation to respective emergent issues. The workshop focused on the development of real-time systems that were perceived as integral parts of the urban environment and less on the development of specialized smartphone applications or website platforms. Such platforms are conceptually, as well as physically, separated from the actual environment from which the data originate, thereby turning the urban experience into a virtual one.

In addition, the challenge for the proposed systems was to create a relational ecology of different data sets, rather than solely focusing on domain-specific information streams. In this way, the students could meaningfully utilize the abundance of real-time information and, through their proposals, raise awareness and facilitate active human participation in providing feedback for various parameters of the city.

During the workshop we utilized as test-beds a multiplicity of public spaces in the city of Rotterdam. Subsequently, this resulted in the development of 9 real-time urban systems, all interwoven with the specific context of each area of focus and, synchronously, interconnected in an intelligent network with a potential global impact on the wider fabric of the city.

The workshop strongly relates to the emerging research and practice field of Urban Informatics, as well as to the contemporary discourse about Smart Cities.

The projects’ development was streamed online via a dedicated web blog. For a complete overview of the results, read also the online available booklet of the workshop.


Achilleas Psyllidis, Bastiaan Kalmeyer


Anna de Putti, Barbara Jakubowska, Chiarra Cirrone, Daan van Gool, Dapeng Sun, Dilsad Anil, Jonathan Lazar, Karolos Michailidis, Koen Schabalie, Laura Coma Fusté, Lawrence Lo, Mariana Pazos Gonzalez, Marija Mateljan, Marlene Stepp, Marta Rota, Matthew Tanti, Milo Janssen, Mindaugas Šutavičius, Nikola Docekal, René Dekart Singgih, Shuting Tao, Tom Thijssen, Vasiliki Koliaki, Xuefei Li, Yi-hsuan Lin

Guest Critics

Mark Shepard (Assoc. Prof. University at Buffalo – the State University of New York), Dr. Martijn de Waal (The Mobile City platform & University of Amsterdam), Dr. Nimish Biloria (Asst. Prof. at Hyperbody, TU Delft), Willemieke Hornis (Senior Policy Advisor, Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure & the Environment)