Urban metaMorphology Lab Tallinn

Exploring social media data to map the invisible image of the city.

5 days | 12 > 27 Nov 2017

Tallinn University of Technology

tailored teaching - 14 participants

Architecture and Planning, BA and MA

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turku a sense of place
activity patterns
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Digital anthropology workshop

Data visualisation tutorials

Activity patterns analysis workshop

Spatial relations analysis workshop

Street network analysis workshop

Image montage workshop


The workshop hosted 14 participants with master students from Landscape Architecture, Erasmus students from architecture and one from the course of urban management at Tallinn University.

Field of study

The workshop is focused on urbanism, social sciences, media and computer science therefore teams were build to have a high mixity of skills. Participants have learned all the necessary skill to produce their project within this workshop.

The workshop

The blend of GIS mapping, cultural analytics, image processing and data visualisation skill were all taught from the ground up through the course of 6 classes, alternating seminars with assisted tutorials and collective project development

Explore the projects

Panel sandwiches

Exploring the life of social housing districts in Tallinn

Panel housing districts are sharing architectural similarities and planning concepts that make those areas a distinguished urban phenomenon of modernity and soviet-era design. But what is behind the tangible form of the city? Those districts follow the same architectural principles but do they also share the same quality of life? What are their perceptual qualities and what architects and planners can learn from it?

Hype of Tallinn

Exploring the trendy-gentrified districts in Tallinn

Historic timber housing districts are hosting new families, fast gentrification processes and dive bars. This is the new hype of Tallinn, detached housing gathered around the Telliski cultural hub, a place for encounters and surprise. Those ares are becoming the new attraction for locals and tourists and contribute the economy of the west side of the old town. But what is all this hype about? What people are so attracted from? What is the users’ experience of Instagram users?

Urban sprawl

Learning what are the services and activities in the single-family house districts in Tallinn.

The collapse of Soviet Union brought back private ownership in Estonia producing a sensational sprawl of single family house rom the outskirt of Tallinn. This phenomenon has never really reached an alt.  This housing typology is still in vogues and new allotments are set ready for new housing to come. But what is allow about family living in Tallinn? Are there even enough services for those neighbourhoods to be self-sunstianable? For their habitants, what are the options available when it comes to services but also leisure and places for social gatherings?

metaMorphology Lab | What's behind

This workshop uses location-based social media data to unveil, map and study the metaMorphology of the city. Participants have used a large datasets from Instagram and Foursquare to find meta-trends and map activity patterns using geographic information software and image processing programs. Their challenge was to learn the theories and the techniques behind the metaMorphology approach in just 5 meetings.

Each team was given the aim to codevelop a research question, carrying out a small study and present the results using data visualisation software to make eye pleasing information design.  The Lab explored the relations between urban amenities and the perceptual image of the city to gain a new understanding of the qualitative aspects of social practices and the narrative of urban space.


Kristi Grišakov

Head of Landscape Architecture | Tallinn Technical University

Kristi is the Head of Landscape architecture and environmental management program at Tallinn Technical University. She is currently a researcher and a doctoral student in Aalto University Land Use Planning and Urban Studies Group. Her work focuses on the application
of scenario thinking and storytelling in strategic urban planning. In the center of her work about the future of cities is the story of Helsinki-Tallinn – a twin city in the making. Kristi is the founder of urban think-tank Väike Vasak Käsi that is working on applying scenario thinking and storytelling into numerous urban planning and envisioning projects in both Estonia and Finland. She is also an urban activist and founder of group “Pro Maritime City”.

Damiano Cerrone

Workshop director

Damiano Cerrone is Co-founder and Principal Researcher at SPIN Unit. SPIN Unit is a transnational urban research group combining art and science to find new, creative approaches to urban studies and advanced data solutions. Damiano is also Project Researcher at Tampere University of Technology and Principal Researcher at Michael Sorkin’s Terreform, New York. With SPIN Unit, Damiano has worked in Europe, the U.S.A., and Russia to develop new urban analytics and guidelines for interaction-based planning. With SPIN Unit, Damiano introduced the conceptual framework for Urban Meta-morphology, to develop new avenues of research enquiry around the invisible form of the city. This research leverages social media data to study the relations between urban morphology and activity patterns.

Kristjan Männigo

Workshop instructor

Kristjan is a board member and researcher at SPIN Unit and practicing architect in Ars Projekt in Talinn where he specialised in BIM design for high rising building and complex residential structures. He has a master degree from the Estonian Academy of Arts and at SPIN Unit he is exploring the possibilities of using social media data in city planning, focusing on the development of new digital tools for urban analyst and data urban data management.


A brief methodological report

Teams will work together using multiple techniques and media to reveal the invisible image of the city. Together, we will dig deep into social media data to produce maps, images montages and write the hidden story of the invisible form of the city.

The notion of the human body as an agent of urban change is evolving rapidly. Traditionally, urbanists have developed models based on network analysis because streets are the elements where activities take place.

Scholars from different specialities closely related to urban studies (Clifford Geertz, Peter Hall, and Paul Wheatley) consider the birth of cities is rooted not only in the prevailing theory of economics but in the need for ceremony and communication.

ICT revolution has enabled to supply this strong need for communication.
This has changed the notion of centrality – place is indeed central and visible when is well communicated more than it’s central and visible in physical space.

  • Making visible the invisible infrastructures that power urban life.
  • Infrastructure is never an object but a relationship or an infinite regress of relationships (Susan Leigh Star and Karen Ruhleder, 1994) worth revealing and mapping due to the strong relationship between cultural and technological forms.

During the lab the participants have studied and made graphical and geographical representation of the the three main subjects of urban metaMorphology. Having standardised this formula allowed all teams to study different areas of the city and developing personalised research question but at the same time making sure the results are comparable.


Urban configuration


Spatial analysis based on internationally recognised analytic tools, such as Space Syntax, and new digital tools developed in-house by SPIN, measuring for example perceived urbanity. We recognise that spatial configuration still affects use and creates potentials, but its role is changing due to digital services and new socio-cultural trends.


Urban supply and popularity


Measuring the intensity and the complexity of human activity patterns and the urban supply of those activities. SPIN Unit has developed a unique classification of activities that helps understand what people do, instead of just looking at formal functions and distributions of spaces and buildings.


Preferences and perception

Measuring the social and cultural values of permanent and temporary uses, urban elements, architecture and the social life in the city. With social media data it is also possible to explore how different user types related t the urban environment and how architecture becomes an affective agent for people’s behaviour in public and private space.


The workshop in Tallinn has emphasised the work on the study of the activity patterns using the Urban activity wheel developed by SPIN Unit starting from Jan Gehl’s theory of public space.

Starting from Jan Gehl theoretical framework we have developed a systematical model that extract activity patterns from social media data. Making it possible to study one street, on district or multiple urban regions too.

Urban amenities categorised according to the activity they host or can foster. Urban amenities are extracted from the Foursquare database, which is the most complete and up-to-date dataset even if compared to national or municipal statistical data.

Foursquare is the most updated and complete freely accessible geodatabase of urban amenities. For each city we manually select what kind of activity each type of amenity can host. The reason why this procedure is done manually is to consider that same amenities may classify as Optional or Necessary according to the local culture. This graph shows how the Foursquare classification system is recategorised according to the urban activity wheel.

Starting from Jan Gehl theoretical framework we have developed a systematical model that extract activity patterns from social media data. Making it possible to study one street, on district or multiple urban regions too.

Urban amenities categorised according to the activity they host or can foster. Urban amenities are extracted from the Foursquare database, which is the most complete and up-to-date dataset even if compared to national or municipal statistical data.


Click on the images to see previous projects related to the Urban metaMorphology Lab

Urban metaMorphology Lab in Tampere


Urban metaMorphology Lab in Turku

05 Cluster

Urban metaMorphology Lab in St. Petersburg