Baltigram

What can pictures say about the city?

Commissioned by the Baltic Pavilion, Venice Architecture Biennale, May 2016

The Baltics are one and three. Three political states – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – that have different cultural heritages, languages and customs. However, their common history also resulted in many common features, such as similar architectural environments. Three such common urban morphologies shared by the capital cities Tallinn, Riga, and Vilnius are the medieval cores of the Hanseatic League (“old towns”), the mass housing of the Soviet period, and the post-1991 suburban areas – the symbol of the neo-capitalistic Baltic Tigers. In our project, we used large numbers of publicly shared geolocated Instagram photos to explore how people living in these types of areas represent themselves in relation to their spatial environments.

Our analysis revealed that each type of urban morphology produces its own type of single or group “selfie.” In the old towns of the three capitals, Instagram users include architectural landmarks to clearly establish their presence in these iconic spaces. In the Soviet mass housing districts the self is decontextualized. An individual’s body occupies most of the image and the background is not shown. In contrast to this, the photos shared from the suburbs often include families in outdoor activities. They favor backyards of private houses and local nature areas, and often show children. These examples show how the analysis of geolocated social media such as Instagram images reveals connections between history, the built environment, and self-representation, adding new insights to what we could have learned by comparing the architectures and morphologies between the cities alone.

More on Deep Baltic

In the old towns of the three capitals, Instagram users include architectural landmarks to clearly establish their presence in these iconic spaces.

In the Soviet mass housing districts, the self is decontextualised. An individual’s image occupies most of the photo and the background is not shown.

Photos shared from suburban areas often represent families in outdoor activities. They favour backyards of private houses and local nature areas, and often show children.