Public Lab Research note

A Matter of Scale - Civil Architecture and Open Hardware

by hagitkeysar | October 19, 2014 09:50 19 Oct 09:50 | #11278 | #11278

hagitkeysar was awarded the Photo Documentation Barnstar by liz for their work in this research note.

I am sharing here the talk + slides that Liat Brix-Etgar and myself, Hagit Keysar, delivered at the Open Hardware Summit that took place in Rome, Italy, September 30 - October 1 2014. You can find a video documentation of the talk here.

We started by continuing a thread from last year’s Open Hardware Summit, referring to a talk by Jeffrey Warren, one of the Public Lab founding members. Jeffrey gave a talk on how to strengthen and grow an open source community (like the Public Lab) by distributing kits through a Kickstarter campaign, and embedding open and collaborative principles into objects, such as the DIY aerial photography toolkit, which Public Lab sends to people by mail.


Our talk in the Summit meant to continue Jeffrey’s thread on open hardware as tools for building communities and problematize it, first by directing a spotlight to the exclusionary aspects of DIY and open source practices and communities, and second by raising some ideas on how open hardware can facilitate wider inclusion by leveraging professional and local knowledge, in particular within urban planning processes.


I (Hagit) got connected to the public lab’s community through my enthusiasm to experiment with the balloon and Kite mapping toolkit in Jerusalem.


matters of concern

The possibility to create beautiful and engaging photographic maps with residents and around issues and matters of concern in the city spurred my imagination, I saw it as an exciting technological and political tool for creating new ways of seeing, bypassing the governmental and corporate control over geo-spatial information that is shaping the ways we imagine the urban space and geography. (see also the second chapter of the film series "exposing the invisible" and read the interview, for more on the context of collaborative mapping in Jerusalem.) I call this on-going project Jerusalem One Piece at a Time Residents I have worked with mapped and visualized geo-spatial information for advocacy, this affordable and easy to use piece of hardware enabled them to take a step into the materiality of the technological process, into the politics of representation, revealing the biases of the map, the stories it tells and doesn’t tell. People and matters of concern become the focal point of the map, maps and mapping become a site of encounter between, people, places, issues and technological process. Yet as I was progressing with the workshops in Jerusalem, I realized that creating a photographic map is one thing, and implementing open sources principles is another thing, much more complex. Earlier, I wrote about it in this post. Especially when you’re working with marginalized groups of people that don’t really have the time, resources, vocabulary or confidence to actively participate in DIY and open source communities. it became clear that if we want to scale the impact of DIY tools such as the balloon mapping toolkit within the wider urban level, we need to create a locally relevant infrastructure based on implementing collaborative practices and technologies within local institutions and community centers that are already situated at the crossroads between affected residents, burning issues and decision-makers.


Matter that matters

(Liat) Hagit was talking about matters of concern that move inhabitants to act on issues, as an architect, I am looking at the ways in which we engage ourselves with other people and their concerns through the objects we design. I am asking, how does our material interventions can make things matter, and become a potential site for public engagement?


With these thoughts I established in the Bezalel Academy in Jerusalem the “Civil Architecture” Design and Research Unit. One of the interesting issues today in the architectural and planning professions is the issue of scale. We can recognize a historic shift from scaling to zooming, with our digital applications we see everything on screen, always in scale of 1:1. This of course, has many different implications. For example, the issue of scale effects our perspective, meaning, the way we see. It is blurring the distance between representation and reality and misses the actual relations between places and things. But moreover, it affects our bodies - our interactions, encounters and the way our spaces of living are designed and developed.


addressing the issue of scale, we chose to work in the scale of the "neighborhood". We think this is the most important socio-spatial unit. This is the size and relations that enables radical economical and architectural acts initiated by citizens, including the most marginalized inhabitants living in the city.


We can look at Lifta. It is the last remaining example of a pre-1948 Arab-Palestinian village whose residents were driven out and dispossessed during the war that constituted the establishment of the state of Israel. It is today part of the city of Jerusalem - an urban biosphere partially inhabited by very low-income Jewish residents. Our civil architecture unit began its involvement as professional participants in the coalition “save lifta!”, initiated by both Jewish and Arab residents.


We measured, documented things/ people/ stories and suggested alternative planning.



we’ve had hundreds of people touring the place through our most important method for initiating collaborative planning processes - the Open Tours that made Lifta tangible and relevant for wider publics. We’ve also created virtual annotated and narrated tours you can watch with a smartphone using a QR code. But after several events we began to question their effectiveness as a “participatory tool”. We realized we need to find ways to bring people in earlier within the design and planning processes.


Matter of Scale

We see it as a matter of scale - that through the use of small scale tangible and collaborative objects we can take a step into large scale planning processes without losing sight and touch with the situated, grounded understanding and contribution of residents.


here you can see some work we began developing together in a neighborhood called Kiryat Hayovel, in southwest Jerusalem, which is marked by the authorities as a site for massive urban renewal in the next 10-20 years, through top-down planning processes that would have drastic consequences on its human and natural character and identity.


together with a strong community center in the neighborhood, which plays a significant role in bridging between the municipality and the residents, we established a center for urban pedagogy that brings together the Public Lab’s ideas and practices with those of the Civil Architecture Unit, and builds an open, civil archive by documenting residents knowledge and perspectives.


One of our project in the neighborhoods is mapping the urban biosphere of Vadi Hayovel, a valley that is planned to undergo development in the coming years


and similarly to the Lifta case, its biosphere preserves the last remnants of the pre-1948 palestinian village of Beit Mazmil, as well as wild flowers and animals that live and cross through it and various forms of informal uses by people living in the area.



We began a mapping process, and being both technically and visually engaging the balloon mapping method enabled us to start our work with a wide range of participants, children, women, older and younger, bringing them into the process and discourse of planning at its very first stages and raise issues of preservation, identity and memory that were not considered earlier in the planning process.

together with programmer Nir Yariv and Designer Mushon Zer Aviv from The Public Knowledge Workshop we started building the possibility to annotate the map by residents and create layers of information that can later be processed for better planning of the valley.


our work is ongoing and we seek to further develop and expand these relations between civil architecture and open hardware, we have lots of questions and ideas, one of them is to revisit the open tours we’ve conducted in Lifta, thinking whether a tour can become a piece of open hardware that connects people to act and contribute to a collaborative design and planning process.




This is a beautifully documented presentation, thank you for crafting this post!!!

Reply to this comment...

Thanks Liz!

Reply to this comment...

Login to comment.