Writing

Publications, articles & papers by Usman Haque


Making Wild Cities — Notes on Participatory Urban (Re)Wilding (Nov 2020)

Participatory urban wilding — reshaping the processes through which our cities are designed, built and lived-in to enable mutual cooperation (humans with each other as well as with non-human systems) — would challenge how we relate to our neighbours, to the mice in our walls, to our political systems, to the environment that supports us. Research notes & discussion on cities, participation and rewilding.


Reimagining urban technologies (July 2018)

Notes from my introduction to the FutureFest18 session ‘Are smart cities broken? Reimagining urban technologies’ on July 16, 2018, a debate and discussion with Francesca Bria, Alison Powell, John Tolva.


How Might We Grow Diverse Internets of Things? (June 2017)

Learning from Project Xanadu & the WWW - a critique of the way that the Internet of Things is being built and conceived, and some thought experiments about how it might be different.


Mutually Assured Construction (May 2017)

Notes on participatory design from the introduction to my talk at re-publica 2017. Mutually assured construction is essentially a set of design strategies for building, acting & deciding a future together, without requiring consensus on that future. Developed in detail in Humanizing Digital Reality, De Rycke K. et al. (eds) (2018)


Citizen Empowerment Through Cultural Infrastructure (March 2017)

Who Gets to Decide What Should be Decided Upon? The capacity to make such crucial decisions by the people who are directly affected by them is evanescent. The idea of local decision-making, in the context of network technologies and topologies that have erased the frictions of distance, seems almost absurd. When people act together they are more effective, and we need to encode participatory, consciously interactive parameters into our algorithms, ones that also value our communality and connectivity.


On art, smart cities and bringing people together (March 2016)

As our world becomes increasingly influenced by data and networked technologies; as real time sensors stream from buildings, streets and mobile devices, informing us about what's happening right now; and as our micro-decisions interact more and more with the micro-decisions of others, being meaningfully and consciously engaged with each other and the world around us might seem increasingly elusive... But each of these technologies was designed. That means that somebody somewhere, some group of people, with their own perspectives and worldviews, made the most important decision of all - they decided, defined and designed the goals each of these systems should strive for.


Urban computing in the wild - A survey on large scale participation and citizen engagement with ubiquitous computing, cyber physical systems, and Internet of Things (March 2015)

What are the ways to trigger and increase the public towards active participation or technological uptake in urban computing? How to design and structure participation for urban computing research and technologies in the wild for it to lead to mass participation with its citizens? These are the questions that are investigated in this paper.


Architecture of Participation (March 2015)

Designing participatory urban systems - Cooperation is difficult, and designing for it is even harder. Even when everybody agrees on an end goal, and everybody agrees on what is needed to achieve that end goal, it does not mean that everyone (or even anyone) will be able to take the first step, which is a most important step. Does collaboration imply consensus, and if not, how can we design systems that allow for such messiness? How do we structure participation in the context of 'super wicked' problems of the urban environment? And why should we? Some tools and strategies for collaboratively designing cities and structuring participation (both online and offline) in a way that doesn't just invite collaboration but requires it, with specific reference to Usman's work on interactive environments, urban spectacles, collaboration platforms and other concrete examples.


Managing Privacy in the Internet of Things (Feb 2015)

Entitlement, which defines who can access your IoT device data, and under what conditions it can be found and used by others, is one of the major challenges that needs to be resolved in the Internet of Things... "People don't protest too much when their personal profile or usage data is employed by companies like Facebook and Google to deliver highly targeted advertisements. But in the Internet of Things, the data generated by all these things tends to be much more personal and commercially sensitive...


Making Data, Making Sense (Nov 2014)

Data is not just 'out there' waiting to be captured like butterflies. It is crafted, collated and curated by someone or something (with someone behind it) that had a reason for doing so... "It's vitally important for us, citizens, to develop a more sensitive relationship to our data, particularly given the growing tendency to abdicate decision making to algorithms buried inside software.


How can we make data more meaningful? (March 2014)

One of the best ways to make data more meaningful is to make it yourself and to experience it, in situ... When you join with others to measure something, you make meaning by having conversations about the data you are collecting. Sensemaking in this situation becomes a collective activity - you don't even need to be using the same measuring equipment, you just need to be able to talk about what you're doing with each other.


In Praise of Messy Cities (July 2013)

The "smart city" approach suggests we simply need appropriate and accurate monitoring equipment to reveal all the intricacies and complexities of a finite and knowable universe -- technology helps us do these things "better", so, the argument goes, we need more technology. Yet, cities are what Russell Ackoff might call a "mess". Every issue interrelates to and interacts with every other issue; there is no clear "solution"; there are no universal objective parameters; and sometimes those working on problems are actually the ones who are causing them. Urban data isn't simply discovered, it is invented, manipulated and crafted; and cities aren't 'solved', they are created through the actions, motivations and decisions of their citizens. The Enlightenment provides clues on how this might play out because, apart from giving rise to a "truly enlightened public", it also gave birth to Grub Street, a scrappy area of London where impoverished hacks, poets, pamphleteers and libellists lived and published. What might the 'smart city' equivalent of Grub Street be?


In Praise of Messy Cities / Grub Street & the super wicked (March 2013)

Notes from my talk at Future Everything March 21 2013. A call to action - build a messy city, for it’s only in a messy city that we will find the richness that makes cities that are worth living in.


What Is a City that It Would Be 'Smart'? [PDF] (December 2012)

Are 'smart cities' as inevitable as is often implied? It's worth considering what it is that we mean by a 'city' and why we would want, or not want, a city to be 'smart'. Proclamations of urban smartness often include assurances of increased efficiency, predictability, and security. We hear of transportation infrastructure that will enable us to get to work on time, or interactive mechanisms to improve our shopping experience, or safeguards that deal with the potential dangers of urban life . But these are things that make city-dwelling bearable, not an imperative, and one wonders why the creators of such cities believe we need to be thus coerced into living in them. My concern is that the benefits of smart cities, as they are being sold to us, sound awfully similar to the benefits that urban planners decades ago were assuring us would accrue if only we had more highways and high-rises - the social, cultural, and environmental impact of which we are now bearing the brunt of. We have no idea what the smart city equivalents might be of Robert Moses' tangled, congested and polluted freeways or the failures of the Pruitt Igoe housing complex.


Notes from my talk at the Open IoT Assembly, June 16-17 2012 (June 2012)

Challenging the 'Wisdom/Knowledge/Info/Data' paradigm of the internet of things, take a step beyond people as sensors (engines for computing complexity), not quantified self but quantified and qualified selves, instrumenting the world to give it a voice - embracing complexity.


Internet of Things Bill of Rights (2011)

The Pachube Internet of Things Bill of Rights is a document in transition. It's an attempt to build up consensus around what we urban citizens should expect of the data that is being gathered, and will be gathered more insistently, by devices, sensors and monitors in our high-growth massively networked cities.


Open Data - how do we want things to change? (July 2010)

Notes prepared for Data City - Doom or Boom - are pervasive digital devices and open data changing the way we interact with the city? How can we, all, be part of the process of defining what that data is, how it is collected and what is done with it.


Notes on the Design of Participatory Systems - for the City or for the Planet [PDF] (June 2010)

Cooperation is difficult. Even when everybody agrees on an end goal, and even when everybody agrees on what is needed to achieve that end goal, it does not mean that everyone (or even anyone) will be able to take the first step, which is the most important step. Yet, while individualistic behaviour within a group results in short term benefit for the individual, competition between groups (anecdotally) favours those that have more altruistic individuals. This paper discusses the paradoxical structures of collaboration and ways that the paradoxes can be harnessed, illustrated occasionally with concrete, though anecdotal, examples. It is based on no research other than direct experience in trying to build participatory systems.


Portholes & plumbing - how AR erases boundaries between 'physical' & 'virtual' (June 2010)

In this paper we make the case that future 'augmented reality' standards should focus on facilitating communications between disparate realities rather than defining how, when or where they are experienced and that standards should be designed expressly to encourage lateral approaches in reality design. In this context, we provide a brief overview of Pachube.com, a web service for storing and sharing sensor, energy and environmental data and the augmented reality application Porthole that helps people make sense of that data.


Haunt Project - An attempt to build a haunted room by manipulating complex electromagnetic fields and infrasound. (May 2009)

Recent research has suggested that a number of environmental factors may be associated with a tendency for susceptible individuals to report mildly anomalous sensations typically associated with "haunted" locations, including a sense of presence, feeling dizzy, inexplicable smells, and so on. Factors that may be associated with such sensations include fluctuations in the electromagnetic field (EMF) and the presence of infrasound. A review of such work is presented, followed by the results of the "Haunt" project in which an attempt was made to construct an artificial "haunted" room by systematically varying such environmental factors.


What is Interaction? Are there different types? (with Hugh Dubberly & Paul Pangaro) (Jan. 2009)

One way to characterize types of interactions is by looking at ways in which systems can be coupled together to interact. We might work out the combinations afforded by a more modest list of dynamic systems - linear systems (0 order), self-regulating systems (first order), and learning systems (second order). Common notions of interaction, those we use every day in describing user experience and design activities, may be inadequate. Pressing a button or turning a lever are often described as basic interactions. Yet reacting to input is not the same as learning, conversing, collaborating, or designing. Even feedback loops, the basis for most models of interaction, may result in rigid and limited forms of interaction. By looking beyond common notions of interactions for a more rigorous definition, we increase the possibilities open to design. And by replacing simple feedback with conversation as our primary model of interaction, we may open the world to new, richer forms of computing.


Conversations with buildings (and other friendly devices) (2008)

Interactive systems, especially in buildings, would enable us to challenge customary models of production and consumption that places firm distinctions between designer, client, owner, and mere occupant. The design process is never finished, an environment continues to adapt throughout its life, buildings converse with other buildings, and an ecosystem of devices fluorishes in and around us, while inhabitants become the real designers of their own spaces.


Urban Versioning System (with Matthew Fuller) (2008)

What lessons can architecture learn from software development, and more specifically, from the Free, Libre, and Open Source Software (FLOSS) movement? Written in the form of a quasi-license, "Urban Versioning System 1.0" posits seven constraints that, if followed, will contribute to an open source urbanism that radically challenges the conventional ways in which cities are constructed. The pamphlet is available as a print-on-demand publication and free pdf download.


The architectural relevance of Gordon Pask [PDF] (2007)

A review of the work of cybernetician Gordon Pask, with suggestions of how his ideas can inform the development of authentically interactive architecture.


Distinguishing Concepts - Lexicons of Interactive Art & Architecture [PDF] (2007)

A discussion of some terms common in the practice of interactive art and architecture, including "interactive", "open source" and "public & private".


Architecture, interaction, systems (2006)

This paper explores what "interactive" means and questions whether things presented to us as such actually are so, before moving on to consider why we might want our designed objects and spaces to be "interactive". Rather than provide at the outset a fixed definition for "interaction", it discuss it from a few different angles, hoping that the sketched-in boundaries enable one to converge on a useful conception of the word.


Arquitetura, Interação e Sistemas (2006)

Architecture, interaction, systems - in Portuguese.


Dressing the shadows of architecture [PDF] (2005)

Consider architecture as something impermanent - how can one design for the ephemeral, knowing that the ephemeral is at every stage just beyond reach? Artists working with technology demonstrate a possible approach by pioneering new creative research roles that can inform architectural practice.


Art vs Architecture as a method of practice (2005)

It is useful for architects wanting to go beyond 'avant-garde' to tread the fine line between "architecture" and "art"; it is even more useful to evade the question of just what distinguishes the two because it allows them to take advantage of the best of both.


New Media Architecture, Or Is it Art and Does it Matter? (2005)

Architects wishing to pursue an advanced conceptual agenda often create work that treads a fine line between "art" and "architecture". Such practitioner-researchers can benefit from employing tactics and approaches that have been developed by new media artists. From collaborating with scientists to pursuing institutional funding models, such artists have found themselves best placed to push the boundaries of technological spatial design. Three projects that employ such an approach are discussed.


Sky Ear - Final Report & Documentation [PDF] (2005)

Detailed project report describing project history, references, design and build process, experiments, as well as flights.


The Choreography of Sensations [PDF] (2004)

Architecture has traditionally been thought of as solid, static and permanent. Here we consider, instead, a soft, dynamic and fluid architecture created with smells, sounds and electromagnetic fields. Suggestions are made for "soft" interfaces based on rich, suggestive outputs that counter usual efforts to increase efficiency and verisimilitude.


Towards an ephemeral architecture (2004)

A description of an architecture that is illusory, transitory, responsive and fluctuating.


Low Tech Sensors and Actuators for artists and architects (2004)

This report describes the results of a collaborative research project to develop a suite of low-tech sensors and actuators that might be useful for artists and architects working with interactive environments. With this project we hoped to consolidate a number of different approaches we had found ourselves taking in our own work and develop both a "kit-of-parts" and a more conceptual framework for producing such works.


Scents of space - an interactive smell system (2004)

Scents of Space is an interactive smell installation. Visitors enter the enclosure and experience carefully controlled zones of fragrance that define and demark areas of space without physical boundaries, encouraging them to encounter an invisible yet tangible smell environment. The installation is a carefully orchestrated sensory environment - smells are emitted singly or in “chords” in combination with a visual cue in the form of glowing cubes.


Invisible Topographies (2003)

Wireless technologies have helped blur the distinctions between art and architecture and altered our relationships to designed space. Projects operating within hertzian space help to reveal the richness of our electromagnetic habitat.


Logical Conflicts - architecture and open source design (2003)

Particularly relevant to architecture (since the design of space is always a collaborative process) is an open source system. Open source interaction and performance become the foundations on which a dynamic architecture, both physical and virtual, is built to allow for different and conflicting logics.


The Science of Imaginary Solutions (2003)

As new media art and architecture draw close to each other, the shared notions of interaction and performance become crucial foundations on which the two are constructed. Like the exquisite corpse, or Julio Cortazar's Hopscotch a collaborative new media architecture project draws on the inventive surrealisms of each individual's creativity.


Architecture and the Poetries of Interaction (2003)

Ubiquitous computing, like architecture, is the practice of designing spatial configurations that provoke interactions between people, and between people and their spaces. Architects contribute to the discourse because their expertise lies in designing spatial and environmental "situations". However, while ubiquitous computing research tends to emphasise efficiency, convenience and predictability, architecture, on the other hand, can give clues about ways to develop spatial poetries.


Hardspace, Softspace and the possibilities of open source architecture [PDF] (2002)

Architecture can be thought of as the hardware of space. An alternative approach is to think of architecture as software - the ephemeral sounds, smells, temperatures, radio waves, even social relations that surround us. Pushing this analogy further, we can think of architecture as a whole as an operating system, within which people write their own programmes for spatial interaction. A collaborative architecture may then be considered along the lines of an open source operating system.


Hardspace, Softspace and the possibilities of open source architecture [PDF - Latvian] (2002)

Architecture can be thought of as the hardware of space. An alternative approach is to think of architecture as software - the ephemeral sounds, smells, temperatures, radio waves, even social relations that surround us. Pushing this analogy further, we can think of architecture as a whole as an operating system, within which people write their own programmes for spatial interaction. A collaborative architecture may then be considered along the lines of an open source operating system.


And they call it Puppy Love... (1997)

Discussion about tamagocchi as a social object for identity-affirmation.


'Understanding' Architecture (1996)

A comprehensive interface between user and architecture is essential for the evolution of dynamic responsive systems. One fairly important area to investigate is the means of recognising and distinguishing between different users and usages. A truly interactive architecture requires an architecture that 'understands'.


Attributing space, Inventing Attributes (1996)

Suppose that it is possible to reconfigure the spatial attributes of one space to give some of the same sensory experiences that another one provides. How might this be done; and what does this imply about "location"?


Transactions and Architecture (1995)

Investigation of psychogeographical space and the emotion of love as applied to a spatial "operating system".


Death of the Architect (1993)

Just as a text is made complete through the act of reading, so too is architectural space made complete by its inhabitation and use. So what is the political role of an architect in the context of "virtual reality"?