Building Urbanflow Helsinki

Posted in Ubiquitous Computing, Urban Screens and Urbanscale

As you may have noticed, we released the concept video of Urbanflow Helsinki in mid-July. The response has been great: over 10 000 views on Vimeo, mentions on Wired (by none the less than the legendary Bruce Sterling!), Archdaily, Digitalurban, the Architecture Report,, and not to mention a plentitude of Twitter traffic and so on. Thank you all for such a wonderful response.

In addition to the throughout introduction by our collaborator Adam Greenfield few weeks ago, we proudly present the minisite and concept documentation which sheds some light to how and why we’ve done what we did, our process and inspiration. We’re currently looking for ways to make this reality, either in Helsinki or a few other candidate cities— and in any case, will act as a host of all future activities.

I’d like to personally extend our thanks to Adam, Mayo and the rest of the wonderful team for providing guidance, ideas and always pushing the work forward. It’s been an absolute pleasure so far, and the whole Nordkapp team is looking forward where the journey will take us.

How it all started?

At Nordkapp, we’ve been interested on exploring the interactive cityspace pretty much since we started in 2007. The 20 screens city of Helsinki installed around the city a few years ago have tickled our imagination ever since. For long time, the work has been classified as our internal research and development and we’ve done a bunch of interviews and observations in Helsinki and Tallinn over the years to find out what people really want. In late 2010, we eventually started a project together with Forum Virium to explore what the optimal use for the city screens could really be.

As more and more people and companies are starting to acknowledge, Urban screens are a kind of new media altogether. There’s actually very little actual research existing: most of it deals with the non-interactive urban screens, reserved for regular advertising.

The three emergent needs we found were:

1 – Wayshowing: Routes, transport, “where is x” -type of questions. The first users for this kind of service are mainly for visitors and tourists—the locals don’t really know they need this kind of service… yet.

2 – What’s going on right now and where? A modern city is a living and breathing organism with a pulse, one we want to tap into and enable for the city and its citizens too. In addition to this, we’ll incorporate the emerging open data initiatives by really making the invisible data in the city visible and tangible for its people. For example, how are the noise levels on your street right now?

3 – Direct feedback to the City: there are times when using your mobile isn’t just enough, and the situation is over already when you’re at your computer. Direct participation makes people relate to their city more deeply, too.

A platform that brings together web, mobile and situated screens has a place in the city. Currently our cities are mostly being served one way advertising which has the danger of just merely adding to the urban noise. Instead, we want to make cities better by encouraging transparency, interactivity and immediatiteness for the people. We hope you share our passion too. We think the best time to do this is now.

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Ilkka Haavisto Business Development Director +358 40 511 9038


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