[ISEA2011] Paper: Emre Erkal – Sonification of Emergent Urban Events with Granular Synthesis as an Urban Design Tool


Parallel to the increase in problems due to contemporary urbanization, it is not possible to state that today’s cities are better analyzed, designed or known, all yielding to a current crisis of comprehensibility. One set of the reasons has to do with the qualitative change in the urban realm, while another set of reasons arise out of the tools we try to understand our cities with.

Rapid urbanization brings unexpectedly dynamic problems in certain parts of the world. In addition, technological advances increase mobility and communicative connectivity. Clearly these new dimensions have to be included in urban analysis with their fully temporal nature and inter-scale relationships in the city. An operative framework based on the notion of ‘event’ could be devised for a novel understanding of the effects of new technologies on the emergent transformations in the city, as well as design and intervention tools, in mind.

The old tools for urban representation such as plans, sections and maps have remained non-temporal spatial tools that reflect abstract Euclidean space ideals. With these, it is not possible to trace the temporal processes on urban networks and the environment. Mathematical and computer models devised later also relate to the same conceptual fundamentals. Following these observations and the reported insufficiencies of the tools that have been used, it seems logical to argue that new tools with digital interfaces could begin to provide a new sense of understanding and intervention.

It is shown that the auditory sense is fit for the task of tracking emergent events with its temporal qualities and knowledge processing capacities*). Furthermore, ecological psychological principles could be used to map these events to our sensory matrix. Therefore, a sonification environment with operative principles of granular synthesis is proposed in order to explore emergent events in the temporal and multi-scalar processes such as urban mobility. Real-time applications as ongoing research show the perceptive potential for developing such a new urban design interface.

*) Erkal, F. Emre, 2006. Ecological Event Perception In The City: A Proposal For An Urban Design Tool Based On Sonification. Doctoral Thesis, Istanbul Technical University, Faculty of Architecture.

  • Emre Erkal is a practicing architect and sound artist from Ankara and İstanbul.  His prize-winning projects for Architectural and Urban Design competitions, as well as completed buildings received several awards. In addition to his professional designs in interactive media in Turkey and the USA, his sound art installations have been featured invenues including the Istanbul Biennial, Istanbul Architecture Festival, ZKM in Karlsruhe, Mediamatic in Amsterdam, De Singel Conservatory in Antwerp, NAiM – Netherlands Institute of Architecture in Maastricht. Erkal holds a BSc degree in electronics engineering from Middle East Technical University (METU), after which he studied computer graphics and cognitive science at postgraduate and level at various institutions in Turkey and the USA. He received his MArch from Harvard University Graduate School of Design, where he participated at research projects at MIT Media Laboratory. He holds a PhD in Architecture from Istanbul Technical University. Erkal is a co-founder of NOMAD – an initiative for digital arts and culture in Istanbul.  erkalarchitects.com   nomad-tv.net

Full text (PDF) p. 774-780