UCL Urban Laboratory


How images shape our cities: UCL Urban Laboratory launches Picturing Place with Guardian Cities

1 December 2014

Today marks the launch of an exciting new Guardian Cities series on urban images authored by Ben Campkin (UCL), Mariana Mogilevich (Princeton) and Rebecca Ross (Central Saint Martins).

The series surveys the ways that images shape cities and influence perceptions of place. It features ten articles, to be published daily, on exemplar images that have had powerful effects - looking across different places, periods and media, including maps, plans, photographs, renders, computer generated images, street art and signage. It begins by interrogating the role of architect Oscar Niemeyer's conceptual sketch in the creation of Brazil's capital city, Brasilla.

Drawing on the research project, Picturing Place, the series highlights unexpected relationships across images and observes the influential role that visual languages play in struggles over urban space.

It also opens a space for the public to debate, share and discuss images that have impacted on cities or are currently shaping them

Dr Ben Campkin, Director of UCL Urban Laboratory and one of the research collaborators said: 'Picturing Place aims to encourage discussion amongst a wide range of urban citizens and practitioners about the roles that visual languages have in the production of the built environment, and the interactive relationships between images and cities. We're trying to create awareness of how images encountered on the street are an important aspect of larger power struggles over the future of the city'.

'The question we are asking with this research is whether a more critically rigorous approach to images in built environment discourse could lead to better and more transparent decision making, and representation of a greater range of people, in the production of cities.

The articles can be viewed here:

Intro - How images shape our cities

1 - The iconic origins of Brazil's capital city

2 - The architects of apartheid

3 - Dubai's Palm Jumeirah islands only look like palm trees from space - but that doesn't matter

4 - This 'hero shot' of Shanghai's future skyline projects China's success

5 - Ebenezer Howard's three magnets

Assignment - Neighbourhood murals: share your pictures and stories

6 - Chicago's Wall of Respect: how a mural elicited a sense of collective ownership

7 - The symbolic simplicity of Mexico City's metro signs

8 - Pruitt Igoe: Blowing up this St Louis housing project was easier than demolishing the myth it created

9 - London's post-war reconstruction plan promised 'new order and dignity'

10 - 'There's land if you want it': how a hand-drawn map is transforming vacant lots in Brooklyn

Readers' pictures - The best neighbourhood murals around the world - readers' pictures 

Gallery - The ten best murals

Further information

Picturing Place is an interdisciplinary research project that critically explores the role of images, image-production, and image-circulation, in urban change. The starting point for the research is to consider how images of cities - e.g. plans, maps, renderings of projected future spaces - and images in cities - e.g. billboards, community murals - influence urban change and perceptions of place. The goal is to develop a methodology that demands more from images.

The research collaborators are Dr Ben Campkin (Senior Lecturer at UCL Bartlett School of Architecture and Director of the Urban Laboratory), Dr Mariana Mogilevich (Mellon Fellow in Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities at Princeton University), and Dr Rebecca Ross (Senior Lecturer and MA Course Leader in Graphic Communication Design at Central Saint Martins).