Crowdsourced Data Reveals Most Beautiful Urban Walking Routes

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[ By WebUrbanist in Destinations & Sights & Travel. ]

best walking routes study

Using a mapping algorithm coupled with citizen reviews of sights and scenery, a team of researchers has developed a way to choose paths through cities based on beauty, quiet and happiness rather than simply the shortest distance between two points.

shortest or beautiful route

The project employed Google Street View and Geograph as well as Flickr images and their metadata to build out an initial estimation of probable best paths, then solicited human feedback (to check and enhance the results) from a group of participants on the website UrbanGems (shown above).

london main sites map

The study, published by Cornell University’s arXiv, came up with a number of route suggestions in Boston and London and contains a number of interesting findings. For starters, the ‘beautiful’ routes were only slightly longer than the shortest routes, and significantly shorter than typical tourist-oriented directions and guided-tour paths. As the algorithm improves, it is increasingly able to generate paths through new cities via metadata alone, reducing reliance on input from people.

beauty and shortest boston

boston main sights map

The project’s creators included Daniele Quercia and Luca Maria Aiello of Yahoo Labs in Barcelona and Rossano Schifanella of the University of Torino, Italy. From their abstract: “When providing directions to a place, web and mobile mapping services are all able to suggest the shortest route. The goal of this work is to automatically suggest routes that are not only short but also emotionally pleasant.

beauty walking route london

shortest walking route london

The assessments are not simply qualitative value judgments, but a hybrid of human and machine input: “Based on a quantitative validation, we find that, compared to the shortest routes, the recommended ones add just a few extra walking minutes and are indeed perceived to be more beautiful, quiet, and happy.”

happy walking path london

quiet walking route london

From UrbanGems: “Buildings and neighbourhoods speak. They speak of egalitarianism or elitism, beauty or ugliness, acceptance or arrogance. The aim of UrbanGems is to identify the visual cues that are generally associated with concepts difficult to define such beauty, happiness, quietness, or even deprivation. The difficult task of deciding what makes a building beautiful, or what is sought after in a quiet location is outsourced to the users of this site using comparisons of pictures. With a comprehensive list of aesthetic virtues at hand, we would be more likely to systematically understand and re-create the environments we intuitively love.”


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Machine Cemetery: Diggers Bury Selves in Unmarked Graves

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[ By WebUrbanist in Architecture & Cities & Urbanism. ]

london basement cave making

A surreal testimony to the excesses of underground construction in London, developers have been intentionally burying still-functioning digging machines used to excavate subterranean extensions below expensive city homes – an estimated 500 to 1000 to date.

london hidden depths

Property values coupled with height restrictions have driven ultra-rich clients underground in a search for ever-more space. Expanding beneath the surface, however, means using machines to tunnel – ones that are not always deemed worth the complexity and cost of retrieving.

london basement excavation process

london underground spa design

As Geoff Manaugh of BLDGBLOG describes the surreal situation, “London is thus becoming a machine cemetery, with upwards of £5 million worth of excavators now lying in state beneath the houses of the 1% …. [These] sacrificial JCBs have excavated the very holes they are then ritually entombed within, turning the city into a Celtic barrow for an age of heroic machinery.”

london basement dig article

In most cases, the spaces created by these machines are luxury additions, ranging from multistory wine cellars and climbing walls to pool halls and bowling alleys. When a machine’s cavern-creating tasks are completed, their masters give them one final suicide mission: carving out their own grave, to be filled with dirt, concrete and themselves, all becoming a permanent fixture of the site’s foundations.

london grated entry example

How does this strange set of circumstances come about? As Ed Smith of the New Statesment reports, The difficulty is in getting the digger out again. To construct a no-expense-spared new basement, the digger has to go so deep into the London earth. Initially, the developers would often use a large crane to scoop up the digger, which was by now nestled almost out of sight at the bottom of a deep hole.”

london floor skylight example

It was only a matter of time before the analysts took over: “Then they began to calculate the cost-benefit equation of this procedure. First, a crane would have to be hired; second, the entire street would need to be closed for a day while the crane was manoeuvred into place. Both of these stages were very expensive, not to mention unpopular among the distinguished local residents.”

london underground mansion excavation

london basement exterior entry

In the end, economics won out and developers concluded that rescuing a piece of a machinery worth thousands from a pit under a house worth millions was just not important. This practice has gone on long enough for a new problem to arise: diggers encountering their concrete-encased cousins on subsequent excavations. And as if that were not odd enough, imagine the reactions of future archaeologists, wondering at the strange burial practices of London urbanites in centuries yet to come. (Images via London Basement).


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Broken Mirror: Shard Hotel Views Reflect Next-Door Rooms

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[ By WebUrbanist in Boutique & Art Hotels & Travel. ]

shard hotel london night

Splintered corners, giving The Shard in London its iconic multifaceted look, are now also responsible for letting guests of Europe’s tallest hotel see into the spaces of their nighttime neighbors.

shard broken reflection mistake

As the Financial Times reports,a  series of glass panels standing out from the structure have turned into a series of accidental mirrors, giving room-with-a-view a new meaning in the context of this building.

london hotel interior problem

During the day, visitors to the Shangri-La can see out in nearly all directions, but at night with inside lights on they also get an uninvited sneak peak back into adjacent bedrooms. Designed by Renzo Piano, the famous building may not be as problem-plagued as its car-melting sibling but it certainly has some issues yet to be resolved.

shard hotel london day

The solution so far offered by the hotel seems somewhat incomplete – they are notifying guests of the issue and advising them to use curtains. Still, not everyone will remember to take such steps and many will want to leave their curtains open, since they came for the lovely views in the first place. In the end, one is left to wonder how no light modeling of the building revealed this potential problem (image above by Patrick Collins).


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Urban Islet: Nordic Nature Retreat Floats in London Canal

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[ By WebUrbanist in Architecture & Public & Institutional. ]

wildlife wood finnish design

Referencing rocky Nordic island sanctuaries, this platform is designed to provide a place to relax and observe local wildlife in the heart of a bustling city. The prefabricated structure was lifted into the canal by crane and pushed into place by a tiny tugboat, all in a single day.

floating urban wildlife platform

Viewpoint was created for the London Wildlife Trust by Finnish architects of AOR. Of their inspiration: “For Finns, [small] islands are places of sanctuary, to relax the mind and get away from hectic city life. Viewpoint offers Londoners a chance to experience this escape on a secluded islet in the heart of the city.”  It is to be a permanent fixture of Regent’s Canal, located in Camley Street Natural Park.

floating islet concept context

wildlife platform floating london

As the architects alluded to, this minimalist approach and triangular architecture are modeled on the vernacular of traditional temporary dwellings found further north. Such residential retreats are situated on small islands and used for hunting and fishing excursions. Typically, these humble abodes are made using natural at-hand materials including tree bark, branches, leaves and mosses.

floating islet facade elevation

floating islet kings cross

Unveiled by the The Finnish Institute in London and The Architecture Foundation, the finished design is definitively Finnish, created with acoustics, human scale and tactile experiences in mind, and factoring in how materials will weather over time. The result features modest volumes and a warm wooden frame rising up from concrete and clad in Corten steel. In turn, this made-to-age material palette will increasingly blend the structure in with its surroundings.


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A Tale of Two Londons: Classic Paintings x Modern Photos

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[ By Steph in Art & Photography & Video. ]

Classic Paintings Modern London 1

London may have changed just a tiny bit since the 17th century, but you’d hardly know it looking at some of these mash-ups of classic paintings superimposed against modern scenery snapped by Google. London-based Redditor ‘Shystone‘ created a series of images matching up famous paintings of locations around the city with Google Street View images, with various elements of the two occasionally blending together.

Classic Paintings Modern London 2

Classic Paintings Modern London 3

The paintings often appear to be actual three-dimensional objects in the photos – oversized canvases blocking the roads or propped against light poles. Vans seem to come precariously close to smashing through the canvas in some shots. Modern tourists look out onto the Thames River as it was in 1746.

Classic Paintings Modern London 4

In one case, a long-demolished building is temporarily resurrected; a three-story townhouse stood on the South end of Trafalgar Square from 1605 through 1874.

Classic Paintings Modern London 5

As a Londoner, Shystone offers up some interesting tidbits about the city’s history, including how the locations shown tie into classic literature like Vanity Fair or Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit. Check out the full series.


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Deep Roots: Underground Farm in London Air-Raid Tunnels

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[ By WebUrbanist in Culture & Cuisine & Global. ]

underground tunnel london gardening

100 feet beneath the surface, below even the level of the London Underground, there is another layer of World War Two shelters where something amazing is coming to life.

underground hyrdoponic garden farm

underground farming campaign idea

Richard Ballard and Steven Dring are behind Growing Underground, experimentally introducing hydroponic systems to 2.5 acres of abandoned subterranean passages right in the UK’s capital city.

growing subterranean tunnel space

growing underground urban context

The closed-loop nature of their approach means that weather and environmental factors (like rodents and runoff) are nothing to worry about. There are other advantages of their situation, too: 70% less water is needed to grow below ground, and their agricultural system is self-recycling, low-maintenance, pesticide-free and carbon-neutral.

underground crowdfunding green produce

Their unique and central location means they can provide ultra-local micro-greens to restaurants, wholesalers and retail vendors right above where they grow, all in a matter of hours.

underground vegetable growing hyrdoponics

growing underground package design

Their planned crops so far range from pea shoots and broccoli to garlic chives and mustard leaf, not to mention edible flowers and miniature vegetables. Mushrooms and tomatoes are also on the horizon.

grown underground farming example

growing underground founder pair

From the company: “Because we have total control over their environment, each tiny leaf tastes as amazing as the last and because they are unaffected by the weather and seasonal changes, we can reduce the need to import crops and drastically reduce the food miles for retailers and consumers.”


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Swim the Thames: Pair of Pools for London’s Polluted River

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[ By WebUrbanist in Architecture & Public & Institutional. ]

london urban swimming design

Inspired by planned Super Sewer that will reduce pollution in London’s central waterway by 96%, this audacious design aims to take advantage of a future in which it is finally safe again to swim in the River Thames. Unlike a similar proposal for New York City’s Hudson River (more on that below), this bold plan proposes to use unfiltered river water to fill its swimming holes.

london swimming overview image

london pool site plan

Studio Octopi and their partners at Civic Engineers and Jonathan Cook Landscape Architects ask doubters to imagine the experience of clean swimming right in the heart of the city, with incredible urban views framed by rich regional plant life.

london pool structural diagram

One fixed-in-place pool would be replenished each time the surrounding tides rise over its high water mark (like coastal rock pools). The other would itself lift and lower, floating up and down with the river’s natural highs and lows, thus providing swimmers with a sense of the currents but within a protected space.

london thames in context

london pool landscape watercolor

More on the project’s context: “In 1865, Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s London sewage system was opened. 150 years later the sewers are at the limits of their capacity. In 2012, 57 combined sewer overflows discharged 39 million tonnes of sewage into the River Thames. Thames Water is planning the Thames Tideway Tunnel, or ‘Super Sewer’, for completion in 2023.”

new york pool rendering

new york urban swimming

Meanwhile, across the pond in New York, the Plus Pool reached its crowdfunding goal some time ago but is a long way from completion. Though both propose to use water from the rivers they are set in, this one, unlike its British brethren, assumes filters will be essential.

new york pool diagram

new york plus pool

The design is also somewhat more contemporary – the plus shape is clean, modern and separates the pool into four primary zones for different use cases.

new york pool section

new york hudson pool

Whether either proposal will be realized remains to be seen, but one thing they may have in common: selling the public has already proven easier than pushing their respective cities into accepting the plans and taking action on them.


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SkyCycle: London Concept Takes Biking to New Heights

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[ By Steph in Architecture & Cities & Urbanism. ]

SkyCycle London Bike Route 1

London could become much more bike-friendly with SkyCycle, an elevated route for bicycles only that runs along the existing rail network and would enable commuters to see the city in a new way. Never mind sitting in your vehicle inhaling exhaust while you’re stuck in traffic, or battling the perpetual jam of vehicles on your bike, which has proven to be a dangerous proposition. 14 cyclists died in traffic accidents in London in 2013 alone.

SkyCycle London Bike Route 4

Designed by Foster + Partners in collaboration with Exterior Architecture and Space Syntax, SkyCycle is a 136-mile route with over 200 entrance points that can accommodate 12,000 cyclists per hour. The fact that the route follows the train system is actually ideal, since the railway lines were built for steam trains and follow contours that avoid steep ups and downs.

SkyCycle London Bike Route 3

The route could speed up treks across the city by up to half an hour by avoiding traffic and taking more direct lines from one busy area to another. If approved, the routes could be in place within 20 years or so.

SkyCycle London Bike Route 2

The High Line in New York City, an elevated pedestrian route built along disused railroad tracks, is a great example of what can happen when a project like this is integrated into a busy city. Not only is the High Line a popular route for foot traffic, it also helped revitalize large swaths of industrial land that wasn’t living up to its potential.


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Colorful Pop-Up: City Farm Storefront for Produce & Plants

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[ By WebUrbanist in Architecture & Offices & Commercial. ]

pop up green shop

This competition-winning design uses upcycled materials to frame a street-facing  experience, in part through a fresh take on ‘window shopping’. Its aim: to create a unique and sustainable experience for Londoners looking to purchase fruit- or vegetable-producing plants.

pop up interior space

urban farm interior space

Sponsored by Hackney City Farm, the competition encouraged applicants to reuse materials and strive for sustainability, but this group set themselves apart by proposing something both contextual and eye-catching with a strong pedestrian-side presence.

pop up window facade

urban farm window detail

The team behind this colorfully-painted Sill-to-Sill solution drew inspiration, as well as many of their actual materials, “from the architecture of the local neighbourhood, defined by streets of Victorian terrace houses with their imposing brick facades and generous sash windows. In recent years these homes have been bought up in a wave of gentrification and as new owners move, builders get to work, improvements are made and old materials are discarded.”

pop up window shopping

pop up urban farming

Alongside recycled slats used for the walls, these found window elements were turned into benches, counters, shelves, notice boards and sources of natural light, most prominently used as a colorful display that draws people in from the sidewalk to see their wares. “‘Sill to Sill’ aims to encourage local people to take up urban agriculture by presenting plants in an immediately familiar setting: ‘buy from our window sill and grow on your window sill’.”

pop up construction steps

pop up panoramic

pop up plants london

Part of the approach also involved using strategies that would allow for easier construction despite apparent architectural complexity: “Though visually sophisticated, the design utilized basic timber construction techniques and simple materials in a manner that could easily be assembled by a team of unskilled volunteers. Community involvement at every stage of the project, from inception through construction and on to use, was at the core of the team’s proposal.”


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Garden Bridge: Lush River-Spanning High Line for London

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[ By WebUrbanist in Architecture & Public & Institutional. ]

london platform park

A unique green retreat and pedestrian pathway is set to rival elevated parks around the world, including New York’s own High Line, right in the heart of London. This project stands out from its lofty peers in many regards, but most boldly: it is set over the River Thames rather than buildings or roads.

raised platform

green river bridge london

Heatherwick Studio, known for work in architecture, urban infrastructure, sculpture and design, is teaming up with landscape designer Dan Pearson and global engineering firm Arup to realize this massive and bold cross-disciplinary endeavor.

green bridge daytime flora

green park design concept

Crossing over 1,000 feet of river, the bridge will branch out into smaller spaces and seating areas and be populated with a wide range of regional flora. The complex plan will frame views of the city and provide opportunities for different kinds of performances and interactions.

green bridge lit up

green city vista view

green park platform london

The bridge is intended to bring a place of peace, quite and greenery back to the heart of the city as well as serving the role of pedestrian route. It will be both an activator of the two newly-joined neighborhoods and a stunning green landmark.


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