“Where is Andy?” asks a link on Andrew Hudson-Smith's blog, Digital Urban. Clicking on the question takes you to a Google map embedded with geotags (geographical identification metadata) and a video clip tracking London streets. The interactive map represents Hudson-Smith's activity around the University College London, where he is a senior research fellow at the Center for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA). Much of the time, it seems, Andy's in his office, working out ways to represent architecture and the urban environment digitally, from 3-D models to high-dynamic-range imagery (a way of accurately representing the complete spectrum of light and dark in an image).
Before founding Digital Urban in 2006, Hudson-Smith used traditional means to broadcast his efforts: academic papers and occasional updates on CASA's website. But the researcher, who holds a Ph.D. in web-based communications and urban planning for public participation, wanted to find a broader audience. “With the level of technology changing on an almost daily basis, a blog seemed the perfect solution to share research and thoughts on best practice,” he explains. “It comes down to the need to inform the public of the changes to their environment in a free and open way.”
Tutorials on Digital Urban put imaging techniques developed at CASA in the hands of the blog's intended readership: 3-D modeling hobbyists and professionals. More open-source and DIY than didactic, the how-to's walk through the process, for example, of building and rendering Second Life environments or importing SketchUp 3-D models into the computer role-playing game Oblivion. A project possible only in the age of web 2.0, in which online software facilitates user-generated content, the tutorials rely on familiar tools—YouTube, Flickr, Google—while the blog links to social networks like Twitter and Meebo and fosters a wide, interdisciplinary community.
Hudson-Smith foresees digital technology's influence on real-life design and community activism. “Three-dimensional environments have become important in the last 18 months, due to the release of Google Earth,” he says. “Combine this with tools such as SketchUp, and suddenly people have the power to visualize [an urban] development's impact with free software. Visualization is no longer in the hands of high-end, trained personnel, but the person on the street.”