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The Distributed Legible City

Jeffrey Shaw

This new version of The Legible City (1989) encompasses all the experiences offered by the original version, but introduces an important new multi-user functionality that to a large extent becomes its predominant feature. In the Distributed Legible City there are two or more bicyclists at remote locations who are simultaneously present in the virtual environment.They can meet each other (by accident or intentionally), see abstracted avatar representations of each other, and when they come close to each other they can verbally communicate with each other.

While the Distributed Legible City shows the same urban textual landscape as the original Legible City, this database now takes on a new meaning. The texts are no longer the sole focus of the user's experience, but instead becomes the con_text (both in terms of scenery and content) for the possible meetings and resulting conversations (meta_texts) between the bicyclists. In this way a rich new space of co-mingled spoken and readable texts is generated. In other words the artwork changes from being merely a visual experience, into becoming a visual ambiance for social exchange between visitors to that artwork.

As a result of the increasingly ubiquitous nature of the Internet and the maturing of 3D interaction techniques, there is a growing need to define aesthetic frameworks for the technological development of new social interaction and interface paradigms for content rich, inter-connected, shared virtual environments. The Legible City has been used as a context to explore these issues, adding a space of distributed multi-user social engagement to the space of interactive spectacle. This paradigm is a novel one for art, embedding and transforming its representational practices in the the new and evolving net condition.


Hardware: Andreas Schiffler
Software: Adrian West and Gideon May
Modelling: Sabine Hirtes
Produced at the ZKM Institute for Visual Media, Karlsruhe, Germany, in the context of the Esprit i3 European Long Term Research project 'eSCAPE', and in close cooperation with the University of Manchester, UK.


1998: surrogate 1, ZKM, Karlsruhe, Germany; IST98, Vienna, Austria.

1999: European 5th Framework Conference, Essen, Germany; net_condition, ZKM, Karlsruhe, Germany; Neue Galerie, Graz, Austria.