Our contemporary reality is shared between the digital and the physical. Surpassing standardized development models of the 20th Century, we have entered the 21st—a 50% digital, 50% physical fluid presence. Currently, daily urban interactions are designed top-down and pre-planned by external forces. As the landscape evolves, humans have more opportunities to intersect with physical and digital realms as they navigate the city and its experiences, creating a series of micro-interactions that occur across and throughout urban spaces. Our society is faced with the issue of adapting and understanding the ideologies, structures and systems involved in this new way of living, modifying the definition of cities to encompass experiences that extend beyond just the physical infrastructure. We ask, in an era split between physicality and technology, how can the city be designed through the lens of human experiences?
First initiated as a workshop presented at the 2018 IXDA Education Summit, DoUC facilitated a creative and collaborative program that explored city building through an experience-based lens. Beginning the workshop with a timelining exercise, participants mapped out 118 years of a (real or imagined) city's history—identifying the associated feelings and emotions. The workshop then considered the products, systems and services that influenced the development of the city, visualizing the complexity and multi-scale relationships between them. Finally, working in groups, participants developed a concept and prototype for their own new product, system or service. The workshop aimed to encourage a different way of approaching interaction, policy and city building in order to push for the creation of more adaptive services and relationships within future cities. The intention of creating policy that integrates and embraces these new layers of interactions is not to enforce micro-regulation of micro-interactions, but instead to treat the city as a space of greater potential to support and facilitate new people-to-people and people-to-object interactions.
Beyond the initial workshop, City of Experiences (CoE) has evolved into a project repertoire that examines the relationships between objects, surfaces and experiences—shifting from the design of the physical to the experiential. Each CoE project aims to gain new understandings of the world around us, share experiences and empower transformation in new and interesting ways. CoE has been explored in the form of workshops, lectures and exhibitions —reframing the way cities are designed by imagining what it is like living in the City of Experiences. DoUC’s City of Total Awareness project is linked to the idea of the City of Experiences, visualizing both obvious and hidden physical infrastructures and digital networks in the GTA and prompting people to question their future behaviours based on access to data. The Designing Privacy panel discussion (in collaboration with Pantopicon) addressed the designers' role in digital privacy and how this can be explored and practiced in order to build more agency over online experiences, and led to the development of Privacy Framework that guides how to think about Consent and Regulation.
As well, DoUC has developed a series of technology-merged City Objects that serve a purpose beyond their normal usages and act as relics of enhanced experiences—designed as both physical and technological tools: a prototype Augmented Reality (AR) application that is integrated with a food pantry's community garden in Sutton (Ontario), an Art Bike with AR functionality to express the emotional journey of riding a bicycle, and a 24 Hour AR Clock that creates personal narratives and visually connects memories and data to encourage self-reflection. With City Objects, we aim to explore the ways in which city dwellers can leverage new technologies to share experiences, express emotions and reflect on personal and shared histories in a human-centred way, while retaining the original function of the objects.
Overall, City of Experiences aims to re-shape the way cities are designed by continuing to challenge how urban environments are constructed and who they are constructed for. Emotions and experiences are often overlooked by formal planning process due to lack of tools needed for designing policies that can better incorporate them. Having Identified the critical relationship between people, tools and space—City of Experiences intends to provide city residents with the necessary tools for designing their own environments based off shared needs, emotions and experiences.