Locating the Observer in Computerised View Analysis for Urban and Environmental Planning

Speaker: Moa Carlsson # Architecture, ECA

27th Jan 2020

15:00 - 17:00

Violet Laidlaw Room, CMB, 6th Floor

Deployment of computerised methods for analysing views—simulations of what an individual would see from a specific position in an environment—is increasing in urban and environmental planning, despite the lack of empirical evidence as to whose point of view the systems actually ‘embody’. With their proliferation, it has become widely accepted in British and North American urban planning that results produced with such semi-automated procedures can tell decision makers something about how individuals or community groups perceive an environment, even though individuals (other than the analysts) are entirely removed from the process. I will begin the seminar by discussing the origins of this technology, drawing on three case studies of pioneering developments in computing at the US Forest Service and the UK Central Electricity Generating Board during the 1960s and 70s, and more recent events at the Greater London Authority. My overall argument is that the computer programs developed at these institutions, by mapping and visualising sight lines, not only enabled the organisations involved to solve problems (shortage of staff, potential planning objections, and consolidating the agenda of city leaders, respectively), but also reduced the perceiving human subject to a geometric algorithm, representing an average, reproducible observer stripped of social, cultural, political or emotional responses. In the final part of my talk, I will introduce my new research project dedicated to the emergence of Edinburgh’s view management and skyline protection policies – some of the most detailed in the UK.

Moa Carlsson is a Lecturer in Architectural Design in ECA, University of Edinburgh