The Munich Project
an online information system on architecture in Munich
Technische Universität München
|The starting point for the following considerations is a proposition that usually evokes immediate contradiction from architects - from students as well as from professionals:
|What about the buildings? Ideally an architect's work leads to the erection of a material structure - i.e. a building. But the product the architect sells to his clients is immaterial. Architects don't build houses, their tools are not hammer, trowel and saw but drawing board, telephone and fax machine. They are designing, planning, organizing and communicating - working with information. One could call the built results of this work "materialized information" and architecture as an act of information processing.|
|Since the computer based "information age" has caught up with the architects, the introduction of computers into the described process has seemed almost compelling. And really: the computer has entered the architect's office and is being used every day - for office organization as well as for drafting - and helps doing the work quicker and more efficiently. And that is the main characteristic: parts of the workflow are "digitized" and the computer is used as a highly specialized tool. Important other parts stay "analogue" and the process itself runs in traditional schemes. The result is a situation that could be described with a common scene from early days of television: Imagine a radio speaker reading the news in front of a camera and microphone. We have changed the media but not the habit.|
|The next stage of computer use demands for a reorientation:
|What has already happened in other areas will happen next in the field of architecture: a complete reassessment of working processes and structures regarding the possibilities of consequent and continuous use of computers. This will not only result in doing more work "on the machine" but also in changes of the work itself: digital networks bring together distant resources, computer supported collaborative work (CSCW) defines new ways of communication and collaboration, on-line services replace libraries and there might be some other interesting prospects we don' t yet think of. We should be open for changes in the whole process, from the gathering of information to the evaluation and selection, simulation, presentation and storage.|
|The Munich Project is an experimental field. It allows
our students and ourselves to go new ways in architectural information
processing, and it documents and presents itself on the internet.
|The Munich Project is a growing virtual model of
the city of Munich. It is not like its predecessor from the 16th Century
an assembly of static three-dimensional volumes but a dynamically developing
network of hyperlinked information on architecture in Munich. Input, which is mostly general information about the city from official sources, is
provided by the Lehrgebiet CAAD on one side. On the other side student projects
gradually add detailed information. The restriction of the "testing area"
to the city limits of Munich is not just a result of local pride but
allows to develop a certain "density" of information over time.
Fig.1: The wooden city model by A. Sandner (1570).
|For easy navigation The Munich Project is divided
into four main sections:
|Technically, The Munich Project is an intranet -
an internal information system based on internet technology. Early experiments
in 1994, where we first tried to provide all relevant information on courses,
lectures and exercises for the students on our web-server, have proved that internet technology can be efficiently used in education. Since then we have been working with the WWW as communication platform because of its open standards, commonly available software and easy use.
Fig.2: Title page of The Munich Project
|The Munich Project has been on-line since spring 1996 and
has first been used for educational purposes in the summer term 1996. Currently
there are about 50 students working on some 20 projects.
|To obtain the necessary information is the starting point for each project work - and one of the most difficult ones too. Maps are being digitized, pictures are scanned, elevation models are built for each project - often a dozen times for a dozen projects on the same spot. The interesting aspect is: there is already a lot of information existing in digital form. There is a complete and highly accurate digital version of the city maps of Munich, there are digital elevation models, satellite and aerial photos, literature databases, models of already finished projects and so on. But all this is scattered over different locations and mostly stored in proprietary formats - in short: it is not commonly available.||
Fig.7: The map chooser.
|Now The Munich Project tries to be the starting point
for the investigations: maps, models and pictures are collected, digitized
and published on the web-server in standard formats. A database gives hints
on literature and hyperlinks in the World Wide Web. Background information
on The Munich Project and basic tasks and techniques exist as hypertext
documents. So the first place to look at the beginning of a new project
is the city- and info-section of The Munich Project.
|The single projects are being worked on in groups of one
to three students. The subjects range from the reconstruction of historic
buildings and the documentation of classic architecture in Munich to the
simulation of unrealized designs and the analysis of urban structures.
The objective is to bring out a certain aspect of the chosen subject and
document it in adequate form. For this work the students are provided with
a broad variety of software on a heterogeneous computer pool: CAD systems,
modelers, renderers and simulation software, photo- and video editing software,
layout- and presentation tools and so on. Students are required to carefully
set the scope of their work, so they manage to finish the project in time.
They have to evaluate and select the obtained material, plan the presentation
and - this seems to be one crucial point - define the right level of abstraction
that fits their objectives. Co-operation between different project groups
is encouraged and makes sense because all the projects are located within
the city limits of Munich. With the early publishing of results to the
archives each group can enable others to immediately re-use their work.
Fig.9: Project overview.
|The Munich Project is accessible on the internet
anytime and from anywhere. Communication between the students and the Lehrgebiet
CAAD outside the frequent reviews mostly happens via e-mail. There
are FAQ-lists available and we have planned to set up discussion groupson a news-server.
Archives and databases are administered via WWW, so that it is possible to work on the project from any internet host with a WWW browser. Other institutes
of the faculty of architecture have been joining The Munich Project since
the beginning of this year over the university network.
Fig.11: Administration of the literature database.
|The project work is documented digitally and eventually
presented on-line. "New media in architecture" in this case means intentionally
to exclude the "old" medium paper from the beginning. The integration of
all the results into a multimedia presentation of the chosen project is
the final stage of the process. Finding a design language that expresses
the aim of the project and allows to easily navigate within the presentation,
to chose the right media for each part and to finally present their work
on-line is a challenge for the students and they master it with excellence.
Until now there have been about a dozen finished projects, all realized in HTML
with embedded animations, VRML-models, sometimes even sound and video components.
Fig.12: One page of a project documentation.
|Each project forms a self contained unit consisting of a
record in the project database, a file archive and a multimedia presentation.
Files can be published to the web-server via an automated FTP-access from
the service-section of The Munich Project and can then be accessed
from the internet in the project-section. Queries in the database, a set
of filters and clickable VRML-models of the city with the project locations
provide a variety of access points to find certain information. Future developments
will go into the direction of multimedia databases ("universal server") that host all kind
of data and allow content-based searching.
Fig.13: Publishing data to the server.
|When we see architecture as an information process, we need
new ways to deal with information and we have to develop methods to navigate
through information territory.
|Vast quantities of information lie fallow, because they
are not accessible, not connected to each other and not usable bacause of incompatibilities
and proprietary formats. The same work is done over and over again, because
of lacking communication. With The Munich Project we try to collect
data and make it accessible for immediate use - and reuse. The concept is an "information
warehouse", a database that holds all data in various formats and points to external
sources where data can be accesed directly. On the one hand
this means more comfort in enquiry, on the other hand it helps to increase
quality of data. The best solution is always to get the information from
the original source, up to date and without loss of quality. But to find
the sources, carefully maintained and easy to use starting points are necessary.
If we can provide those, the preocess can not only be more efficient,
maybe we will find information and see new aspects we did not think of before.
|The multitude of software packages and incompatible formats
is frightening at first sight and maybe there is no general solution, despite
all standardization efforts. But with the technology of the World Wide
Web and its open standards there is a common basis to work with. The
Munich Project proves that consequent and continuous work with
the digital media is possible with today's methods and resources. Current developments
in database technology, like object-oriented and object-relational databases,
are going towards diversity in data types and will provide content search in
multi-media data. So efficient information retrieval will
be possible in non-textbased domains like architecture in the new future.
|Finally, The Munich Project emerged from needs in education and it is used primarily to teach students the basic concepts and skills of computer use "on the job": Acquiring information from various (digital) sources. Evaluating and selecting of information and the handling of different data types. Editing and presenting digital representations of architecture. Structuring and organizing complex data. And more important than anything else: to concentrate on essential aspects, and find the right level of abstraction.|
|As a "playground" without too much restrictions The Munich Projects offers the opportunity to test new methods and new media on concrete projects more than on single exercises. In addition, the students are not working for the paper basket or some dusty archive but know that their work is published and kept accessible for further use - which obviously increases the motivation and leads to impressive results.|
|We would be pleased to welcome visitors at http://www.arch.tumuenchen.de/m/
|We would like to thank the Lehrgebiet CAAD and Prof.
Richard Junge for supporting our ideas and our work. Special thanks to
Dr. Gernot Pittioni, who introduced the idea of CAAD into the faculty of
architecture at TU München many years ago.