Urban Mapping – Helsinki 2012

We were invited to Helsinki in april 2012 to talk about Supertanker as a part of the exhibition “Shorelines” (which again was a part of Helsinki being the “World Design Capital”) It was a good opportunity to go back and reflect on our early work in Supertanker – based in and focused on the Copenhagen Harbour.


Urban Mapping in Hedehusene

This report – in Danish – was done after the mapping we did in Hedehusene spring and early summer 2012. It is a rather thorough report and next time we will publish shorter Zines that are easier to produce and distribute. The report is good if you want to get to know the small town of Hedehusene.

Phase 1: Stories



In the first phase we get around town with our Street Kitchen so we can offer a drink or a bite  – thats always a good way to make people stop and talk.


We write keywords on temporary signs or Street whiteboards and start to make the discussion about space more visible and part of space.


If there is a market or a public event we set up the street kitchen along with a map of the city.  This usually makes people talk about memories, local conflicts and favorite places.


We print out stickers with keywords and stick them on the map. This documents the previous stories and encourages people to comment on these.


Urban Mapping

Urban Mapping is a result of trying to imagine an ideal way of taking mapping to a more active and catalysing level. In many ways it is no longer possible just to talk about mapping since the mapping part is just one of several elements. Below is a number of inspirations in the “food chain of ideas” for “Urban Mapping” (which again became the frontrunner for CiTyBee)

One inspiration was the story by Borges where he talks about the Chinese emperor who wants a map of the country that is so precise that it becomes a 1 : 1 map where traces still can be found today.

A Universal History of Infamy* (Penguin 1984), its
title is “Of Exactitude in Science”

In that Empire, the craft of Cartography attained such Perfection that the Map of a Single province covered the space of an entire City, and the Map of
the Empire itself an entire Province. In the course of Time, these Extensive maps were found somehow wanting, and so the College of Cartographers evolved a Map of the Empire that was of the same Scale as the Empire and that coincided with it point for point. Less attentive to the Study of Cartography, succeeding Generations came to judge a map of such
Magnitude cumbersome, and, not without Irreverence, they abandoned it to the Rigours of sun and Rain. In the western Deserts, tattered Fragments of the Map are still to be found, Sheltering an occasional Beast or beggar; in the whole Nation, no other relic is left of the Discipline of Geography.

Another inspiration was Lefebvre and his talk about Maps as “Instant Infinity” – see the quote here on the Polis Blog

I went to a conference, Moving Maps,  at the EPFL in Lausanne in 2011 where among others Bruno Latour and Carlo Rotti presented. They were both inspiring but in very different ways.

The presentation of Latour was in french and I didn’t understand much (and a friendly person told me that understanding french might not even help) but it made me read his text “Give me a gun and I will make all buildings move”. In the text he argues for a more dynamic representation of architecture since drawings or 3D animations didn’t really show the dynamic process of buildings. He compares the architect with a juggler and the text really applies to the urban scale and “Moving Maps.”

Carlo Ratti and his presentation on Smart Cities with sensors everywhere made me write a short text that argued against his fascination of technology and instead “just being in public space using the best sensor for the rich sensory and emotional diversity of the city: ourselves and our senses”

The contact to EPFL in Lausanne led some inspiring talks with André Ourednik who wrote a text on “Urban Heterostasis” that tries to see the balance between the “hands on” mapping and the power of technology. He also sees his thoughts on Heterostasis as the (only) alternative to – I guess – the Starchitect way of designing the city.

In urbanism, the only alternative practice to heterostasis is the would-be “esthetic” tyranny of the architect, of the drawer of Sforzinda, of the builder of cities in the (social) desert, of the egocentric demiurge only eager to gather fame in the service of dictators. Urban heterostasis is everything  except that type of urbanism. Heterostasis is the open possibility, for all the inhabitants of a city, to play the role they are able to play in producing a desired urban space.

Urban Process Design

For a number of years Supertanker has organised a workshop for 1st year Students at the University of Roskilde. The workshop tries to include a number of elements into an intensive 2 weeks: Sensing, talking and taking space, from appropriation of their own space (here the old train station in Hedehusene) to spatial interventions in public space.

We also started (again) to work with mapping using technology. In this case we let the students use Twitter and a mashup with bing maps

Sensing Hedehusene

The Project “Sensing Hedehusene” was not a Supertanker project but by the UK mapping artist Christian Nold. We were engaged in a parallel participatory process that should ensure, that the results were relevant locally. That part was very important since it resulted in the seed for a local offshoot: a monthly market that began the year after.


In short the project placed a number of sensors that measured pollution and noise – and had three buttons that made it possible to vote.


The results of the pollution and noise measurings where shown as colours on a big balloon.


The technology did not really catch on locally but all the buzz created by involving the local mayor and important persons from the culture industry in Copenhagen created a “critical mass” of local people that started discussing the future og the small community.


And the outcome of that discussion was to work for 2 ideas: a local market – this idea was made real the year after in 2010 and is a good example of a local offshoot :


The second idea was to create a local place to meet in the old train station – which is slowly becoming a reality:


The whole process – both the part run by the artist and the involvement of local people is documented on this website (in Danish)

See a short video here – both in English and Danish

Super Site Specific

In a collaboration with a local theatre we played with the idea of making theatre more urban by making it Super Site Specific. We also wanted the workshop itself to be part of public space so thanks to Anders of Supertanker we got the different workshop groups out in public space like here on the train platform.


An early example of mapping in a very low tech and concrete way. Very fast to make and very useful for discussing our views on the town of Hedehusene.


One of the ideas from the workshop was to organise a market – mainly for building materials – to boost the DIY spirit of the town. The market idea would come back the year after – see more here


The other idea – and closer to Theatre was a local event where people in town could bring stuff on their trailers to a gathering where all the stuff could be exchanged. The trailers would be decorated and driven through town as a parade of local potentials….


See more Photos from the workshop here


Our use of Stickers is linked to our mapping experiments. These include working with Yellow Arrows where the stickers had a unique SMS code. See a short (danish) movie here or read an article in NYTimes where our work is referenced.

We have an advanced portable printer so stickers can be printed out on the go. This is a more direct and fast way of communicating in and about public space.


First time we used it we were participating in the local market with a large map on a board that encouraged people to tell stories about places in Hedehusene.


The stickers would immediately document the stories – giving them some “weight” – and encourage people to comment on what had been said before them. A very simple way of showing how the same place can be seen in many different ways by different people.


On our tour through town we would use the stickers to tag the different places we stopped.


Or add QR codes that would link to stories that were documented on video. This one is a story about the nightmare of heavy traffic when they started to transport goods on big trucks instead of train transport.