Legible City Prototype

1988 Maastricht, Netherlands
Coauthors: Jeffrey Shaw, Dirk Groeneveld

Software: Gideon May, Lothar Schmitt

This interactive installation was first shown at the Bonnefanten Museum, in Maastricht, where its apparatus was a CRT monitor and a custom-designed joystick.

For this work the authors researched the conceptual and aesthetic paradigms of the Legible City (1989) using a simple wire-frame method of interactive visual representation. The viewers used the joystick to control their movement through a 3-D virtual world populated with letters and words that constituted a number of narratives that could be read as one travelled (in any direction) through this urban landscape. The organisation of this text followed the ground plan of the city of Manhattan, as was the case (also in its written content) for the Manhattan version of the Legible City. The simplicity of this wire-frame modality of representation gave this work a particular transparency and immateriality compared with the later work that used building-sized flat, shaded, three-dimensional fonts.

Of relevance to the understanding of the technologies that enabled this artwork is the fact that in 1988 computer-graphics systems were severely limited in their capability, and this determined the constraint of wire-frame rendering to achieve the real-time interactive 3-D modelling of the Legible City Prototype. It was not until a year later that Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI) introduced their IRIS workstation, which enabled the level of real-time flat-shaded 3-D graphics needed for the Legible City. But compared with the capabilities of today’s game-graphics cards, the SGI was still a very limited system, which also set certain constraints for the Legible City.

Exhibition Record

1988/11/19 - 1989/02/03 : Het Postmoderne aan Kinderen Verklaard, Bonnefanten Museum, Maastricht, Netherlands

1989/03/18 - 04/23 : Het Postmoderne aan Kinderen Verklaard, Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst, Antwerp, Belgium

1989/07/31 - 08/04 : Siggraph '89, Boston, Massachussetts, United States