A City in Motion

I'm currently in the city of Doha in Qatar, one of the Arab emirates located along the Arabian Peninsula. Two days ago, to much fanfare, Qatar was awarded the FIFA World Cup. This was big news because no Arab country has previously hosted the soccer event, and winning the bid puts the small country in the spotlight. Being here, I can't help but imagine the changes to come as the quiet city transforms itself to welcome 300,000 rowdy, beer-loving fans. Qatar will build hundreds of new hotels, a mass transit system, new stadiums and more. The city, which has already been dramatically transformed in the last few years and is dotted with towering cranes and piles and piles of building supplies, feels very much like a generative artwork as it springs up out of the desert, brand new but still connected to its historical spirituality and traditions (I can hear the afternoon call to prayer right now). The pace of the development calls to mind the spate of recent artworks by digital artists that picture the transformations of urban space.

In Brilliant City, for example, the collective known as D-Fuse examines an area in northern Shanghai, finding patterns, visual rhythms and sonic symphonies in the densely populated area filled with high-rises and the noisy equipment of daily urban life.

#1 Brilliant City from D-Fuse on Vimeo.

Quayola's short visual work Cityscan depicts the transformation of urban spaces in a more kaleidoscopic manner, as if you're riding on a short-circuiting elevator flipped on its side in the middle of a city.

And in Scalable City, a project by Sheldon Brown and the Experimental Game Lab from 2008, satellite imagery of Southern California is mapped, then made algorithmic and three-dimensional; a road system is added; and this is combined with the landscape to produce a topography across which beautiful and orderly pathways appear, buildings shatter and reconfigure, and the world appears as fragmented gamespace.

In each of these videos, the city exists as a hybrid space melding real and generative, a space where architecture, computation and media collide. The videos result - technically - from the mash-up, but they also illustrate it, merging form and content. If you could capture Doha's upcoming decade-long transformation as a time-lapse morph, would it resemble these videos?

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