Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Networks, Interfaces, and Computer-Generated Images: Learning from Digital Visualisations of Urban Redevelopment Projects

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Networks, Interfaces, and Computer-Generated Images: Learning from Digital Visualisations of Urban Redevelopment Projects

Article excerpt

Abstract. Over the past five years, computer-generated images (CGIs) have become commonplace as a means to market urban redevelopments. To date, however, they have been given relatively little attention as a new form of visualising the urban. In this paper we argue that these CGIs deserve more attention, and attention of a particular kind. We argue that, instead of approaching them as images situated in urban space, their digitality invites us to understand them as interfaces circulating through a software-supported network space. We use an actor-network theory understanding of 'network' and argue that the action done on and with CGIs as they are created takes place at a series of interfaces. These interfaces--between and among humans, software, and hardware--are where work is done both to create the CGI and to create the conditions for their circulation. These claims are explored in relation to the CGIs made for a large urban redevelopment project in Doha, Qatar. We conclude by suggesting that geographers need to reconsider their understanding of digital images and be as attentive to the interfaces embedded in the image as to the CGI's visual content.

Keywords: computer-generated image, digital visualisation, actor-network theory, network, interface, Doha, Qatar

1 Introduction

It is a rare urban redevelopment project that does not now use computer-generated images (CGIs) to visualise what the project will look like when complete. Over the past five years CGIs have become commonplace as a means to market urban redevelopments. From advertisements found on bus stops and on building site hoardings (figure 1), to elaborate websites and exhibitions at global real estate fairs, digital visualisations of developments not yet built are ubiquitous. Indeed, it could be argued that they are now one of the most pervasive ways in which visions of future urban space are expressed.

To date however, they have been given relatively little attention as a new form of visualising the urban. When they have been examined, their digitality has been understood only as enhancing images' ability to represent places--in this case, places not yet built--in ever more seductive and persuasive ways. This type of digital image is understood as no more (though no less) than "a key marketing strategy" (Kaika, 2011, page 985), whose role, like any other advertising imagery, is to "affectively allure" investors into buying property (Jackson and della Dora, 2011a, page 295). Scholarly literatures exploring place marketing are thus uninterested in the distinctiveness of this kind of image.

While it is without doubt the case that these digital visualisations have some similarities with nondigital marketing images--and indeed with much longer traditions of representing designs for urban spaces--this paper will nonetheless argue that these CGIs are distinctive. They thus deserve more attention, and attention of a particular kind. Sheller's (2009) discussion of the CGIs used to sell a new development in the Turks and Caicos Islands is suggestive here. Much of her analysis of the CGIs is focused on how those images represent that development "in a global infosphere" (page 1397)--that is, her analysis, like those just mentioned, attends to what the marketing images show. However, she also places them in the context of what she calls "software-supported spatiality" (page 1386). 'Software-supported spatiality' is her term for the spaces structured by the software codes that, she argues, are increasingly shaping places, territories, and mobilities both in the Caribbean and globally. Her essay is thus part of what is now an extensive body of work that considers software as an infrastructure for the production of space. From Graham and Marvin's pathbreaking book Splintering Urbanism (2001) to Kitchin and Dodge's Code/Space (2011) and beyond, over a decade of scholarship has explored diverse relationships between digital technologies and urban spaces [forreviews see Burrows and Beer (2013), Dodge et al (2009), Kinsley (2013)]. …

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