UCL Urban Laboratory


Picturing Place: The Agency of Images in Urban Change

Could a more critically rigorous approach to images in built environment discourse lead to better and more transparent decision making, and representation of a greater range of publics?

Mexico City icon subway map. Credit: Luisalvaz on Wikimedia Commons

Picturing Place is an interdisciplinary research project which 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.

Our goal is to develop a methodology that demands more from images.

The project 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 research is a collaboration between Dr Mariana Mogilevich (Princeton University), Dr Rebecca Ross (Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London) and Prof Ben Campkin (UCL).

A series of articles were published in collaboration with The Guardian in December 2014. 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

Image: Mexico City Metro map. Credit: Luisalvaz on Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)