The presence of others who see what we see and hear what we hear assures us of the reality of the world and of ourselves.

Friday, 27 June 2008


4TH EXPERIENCE - prototype

4TH EXPERIENCE - design project

Studies - rhythms and movements 2

My vision for this design is a continuous line of light that is varied by the rhythm of the supporting posts. This light line would create a virtual roof above the street. Unequal and “choppy” in rhythmic character, the posts also serve as a distraction of traffic in the village. Lighting posts vary in angles and finishing.

With the design I invite people to interact with the street lighting by allowing them to change the angle of certain posts. This interaction could also be seen as an independent and playful guiding system, where people - locals and travellers alike - leave messages for one another.

Studies - rhythms and movements 1

Looking through the material collected in fieldtrips I realised that due to the constant rhythm of the village, it is hard to make a decision for car-stops. To create interaction (more close experience of local identity) one needs to be guided off the main road to smaller tracks. I became fascinated of the rhythm of electricity posts. It was almost meditating. I wonder if was able to change the rhythm and/or angle of these posts, would I be able to create a surprise in visitors? Would it be enough to guidance? What kind of image would such environment create for the village?

I imagine this environment as a stage where people can improvise with streetscape, highlight various places in different times, guide people or leave a message behind. Change, movement and interaction are main keywords for the design proposal.

Local identity - tourism artifact?

My primary interest with this design research was to discover relationships a person could establish with the local community and the environment. Focusing on the villages of Lake Peipsi district in Estonia, I formulated three approaches to experience a place- the tourist, the traveller, and the visitor. Through these distinct role plays, evolving fieldwork and literature research, I was able to translate my observations and findings into appropriate design proposals.

The process of my the design was not linear. Rather than premeditatedly taking steps forward, I sometimes took several steps backward consciously. The documentation made through videos, photography, and sound recordings allowed me to experience the place time and time again. This constant review of the experiences often revealed new insights and understandings that I had missed at first sight.

Though, all my travel experiences to the village were informative, none of them seemed to completely reveal the essence of the place. Therefore, my design proposal seeks to establish a fourth experience, one that could combine the qualities and highlights of each prior experience. In that fourth experience, I wish to guide travellers unconsciously throughout the village by using functional street lighting as a tool for that.

VISITOR - rhythms of village?

rhythms of village
By looking at the video I am fascinated by the rhythm of posts.
Exploring rhythms, forms and enlosures of street lighting

VISITOR - sketches for design

guiding visitors off the main street by using reflections the use of reflective surfaces gives a possibility to combine views and multiply elements.sidewalks in the village
Sidewalk emphasizes people and their movement, road tightens for vehicles.
sidewalk for adventure
Sidewalk leads to off-road tracks, creates comfortable surface to walk and highlights viewpoints.
places in the street for people
With different materials, colours and heights, I create smooth obstacles on the road.

VISITOR - narratives of the place

I realised that my previous experiences in the village were primitive and too personal. I was missing the important link with the locals. Therefore my aim this time was to discover the village as it is described and presented by local inhabitants.

To find out more details about the place, I decided to narrow my research area to a section of kilometres long village. My chosen part of the village is the south end of the street village. It is named Varnja. It is approximately 1/10th of the whole village. My memories about this part of the village before the third trip were vague. I remembered only a few redbrick buildings that stood out from the wooden houses.

During this visit I interviewed 6 local persons from different age groups and with different backgrounds. I divided my interview into 2 parts: semi-structured interview indoors that was followed by a walk in the neighbourhood. For the first part I had prepared a list of questions while the walk in the village was more improvisational and guided by the interviewees themselves. We spent approximately 30minutes on thefirst part of the interview. The walks lasted from 20 to 45minutes. These interviews were recorded in full length and partly transcribed.

Most of the interviewees had a difficult time answering the questions about journeys and routes in the village during the first part of the interview. Some questions from the semi-structured interview were answered in more detail during the walk. I noticed that all their narratives were closely linked to a specific place (such as bus-stop, street, coastline of the lake etc).


I remember that in the movie American Beauty identity was satirized as ´sold´ and reduced to prepackaged lifestyle. Life was something shallowly constructed on the ´I am what I consume´. If it is about consuming goods, services and places that generate pleasurable experiences then could the concept of identity be reduced to ´I am what I experience´? Could a place in that case provide the basis for individual identity as always embodied, housing the possibilities of seeing, feeling and smelling the surroundings?

According to John Urry people will gain less satisfaction from continuing to do what they have always done. Their daily life will become less to do with collective memories and experiences and they will look more for immediate pleasure. Being a tourist is an exception of time, a period of (self)explorations and differences. The tourist is kind of pilgrim, seeking authenticity in other ´times´ and other ´places´ away from everyday life.

A place depends first and foremost on information about the way people perceive, remember and talk about
surroundings. The relationship that people develop with their home surrounding is intensely personal and relational to the passage of time. It is not the question of right or wrong, or better or more valuable, more significant, more important. Ask ten trained and experienced urban/spatial professionals to record their space perception of a particular setting and you will get ten different results. This also applies when you ask the same thing from ten inhabitants of the same neighbourhood.

Lacan has described identity as “[...] something that is not always already present but comes into being ´from the place of Other”. To describe local identity one needs to know something about what aspects of the lives and surroundings of people lead them to identify and perhaps come to value particular objects, features or locations in their daily routes, both consciously and subconsciously.
Or how do people experience, remember and communicate about identity? Does the spatial setting and timing affect narratives of identity? How can planners/ designers identify local narratives of place identity and use them in urban design? What is the importance of a public space and urban design in small communities? Could designer give form to objects/ public spaces that bring out locality?

The design of the environment is a physical and three-dimensional manifestation of place identity. It is the relationship between all these individual elements - site, space or building - that gives places their character and identity. In my opinion the purpose of spatial design is to create, reproduce or mould identities of places through manipulation of activities, feelings, meanings into place identity. It is a selective way of imagining, acting and communicating about the place.

TRAVELER - the place revisited

I revisited Lake Peipsi district second time in November 2007. My aim was to find out and document how the place is currently perceived by travellers - how much information about local area is available? how do local people receive outsiders?

During the trip I was constantly aware of my behaviour. Instead of just being a gazing tourist as last time, I tried to engage myself with different aspects of being a traveller. Research on identity, cultural tourism and methods of cognitive mapping became handy. To my surprise the village had gone through an enormous change. The memory of the dark, old and grey village of wooden houses and narrow street was replaced with the image of a lively and colourful place. As if it was not the same place any more. Or maybe my expectations were different.

I was observing, sensing and documenting the place by using image and sound recording. I made almost no contact with locals during 4 days. It was not a deliberate decision, but rather a realistic nature of the village. During the field studies I realised that the structure and character of the village is more easily perceived with the speed of 30km per hour (slow car driving) and hard to accomplish by walking. One experiences surroundings on foot with more senses than travelling in a car. At the same time long distances and changing weather cut down the feeling of continuous place. Documentation of the fieldtrip (especially the video) became my irreplaceable source of inspiration for design proposals. The constant review of the material often revealed new insights and understandings that may have been missed at first sight. It allowed me to experience the place time and time again.


This thesis project focuses on the questions of identity and tourism.
In my research question: how to reproduce identity through public space?, I would like to emphasize the words reproduce and through. Because I believe that identity is not something fixed, but rather placing itself among the variety of behavioural patterns; and it must be played out (lived).

Everywhere throughout the world local people in response to the opportunities afforded by the global tourism industry (mostly moneywise) are putting their culture on display. Instead of talking, living it out and starting the dialogue with tourist, the host population is actually trying to fulfil the expectations of a traveler. Tourist is kind of a pilgrim, who is seeking authenticity in other times and other places away from home. He shows particular fascination in the real lives of others.

Traditionally people have traveled away from their residence and work in order to participate in tourism. The tourism however does not start nor end with the physical departure and return. Anticipation and daydreaming, remembering and reminiscing are equally part of tourism experience. But if one does not need to leave the place of residence to become a tourist, then tourism and therefore also search for identity or comparison with others, cannot be described as a quality of place and time only. It is rather quality in the minds of people. Or the relationship between person and a place/ environment that makes the identity. The ways in which people experience that environment (and themselves), is not merely instrumental, but often exploratory, unsystematic, wasteful of energy and fun. They do not want to use only their vision; they need to hear, to touch, to taste and gather these five perceptions in a world.

My context is based on a village in eastern border of Estonia, known as a settlement of russian old believers. This one of the places where villagers gain mostly from tourism, but that only for up to 4 months a year. This village is extraordinary from its layout compared to historical estonian villages. It is 7km long one streetvillage. Houses are built very close to each other, there is no pavement to differentiate car area from pedestrians, and people tend interact just on the doorsteps.The citizens of the village are mostly old people; therefore it is believed that in less than 20years there will no longer be authentic village as such for tourism industry.

Local identity?

The notion of identity related to a geographically limited area is an instrument of constructing cultural meaning and value, but any kind of constructed identity is the possible object of change. Therefore the construction of identity could become a question of language, cultural power and public discussion.

Local identity is the outcome of community symbols and constructions of meaning and distinction. When someone talks about local identity they usually refer to ´spatial qualities´, ´characteristics or qualities of the inhabitants´, ´social conditions´ or ´culture and history´. Communities have an identity that can be formulated, interpreted and used as an instrument for understanding, acting and designing for local identity. (Amundsen, 2000)


“Globalism scours away distinctiveness at the surface of our identities, and forces us back into ever more assertive defence of differences – language, mentality, myth and fantasy. As globalism brings us closer together, makes us all neighbours, destroys the old boundaries of identity marked by national and regional consumption styles, we react by clinging to the margins of differences that remain.” (Ignatieff; qtd in Neill 2004)

TOURIST - mindmaps and sketches

´Slow Down the Speed´ and ´Public Storytelling´
These disorganized obstacles would contain small bumps that create inbalance in a car. If passed quickly, the passing would be uncomfortable and therefore make you slow down the speed next time.
Visual language of these objects would guide you into the village from highway, create public storyboards for communication or highlight chosen places with light. The aim of the design would be interaction and feeling of welcoming.

The relevance of tourism statistics?

According to the statistics the local tourist campaigns in Estonia in recent years have been successful. The numbers in 2005 show that 7% of the whole population made a trip in Estonia due to the campaign. Among that there was a considerable increase in spring and winter period. For example the amount of travels made in spring 2005 increased 10% and in winter 17% compared to the previous years. (Emor; 2005) However there are no studies made about the process or results of the travels. I think it would be equally relevant to find out how, when and where did these people travel and what was their experience.

Tourist place and identity

Traditionally, people have travelled away from their place of residence and work in order to participate in tourism. More recently however place for tourism has become increasingly de-differentiated from the normal, day-to-day social place and the need for a change of environment has diminished. Tourism does not start nor end with the physical departure and return to the home environment. Anticipation and daydreaming in the planning process and remembering and reminiscing after the holiday are equally part of the tourism experience.

According to John Urry (2002) people will gain less satisfaction from continuing to do what they (or particularly their family) have always done. Their daily life will become less to do with collective memories and experiences and they will look more for immediate pleasure. The tourist is a kind of pilgrim, seeking authenticity in other ´times´ and other ´places´ away from everyday life. Being a tourist is a period of (self)explorations and differences. ´Post-tourists´
however know that there is no authentic tourist experience, that there are merely a series of games, texts, images that can be played. Ironically they almost delight in the inauthenticity of the tourist experience.

If one does not need to leave the place of residence to become a tourist, then new experiences, immediate pleasures – explorations of being a tourist cannot be described as a quality of place and time, but rather a quality in the minds of people. Or is it the relationship between person and place that forms that experience and pleasure?

"I am not a tourist, I live here"

A few years ago me and three of my friends were driving in eastern Estonia to ´redefine our national and local identity in contemporary Europe´ - something that has been targeted by national tourism campaigns in Estonia for last 6 years. We were bored of driving in anonymous highways and at one point decided to take a smaller parallel road along the coast of Lake Peipsi. The road took as through various ethnic group areas.

By choosing the alternative road our behaviour compared to driving in highways did not change. We drove continuously through the villages without even slowing down the speed. Our perception of the place was limited to images seen through car windows. We did not make any stops during the 7 kilometres long village. When I asked the driver´s opinion about our behaviour, he replied without any hesitation: “... but you saw everything there is to see!”

´Travel and Tourism´ is the largest growing industry in the world with 898million international tourist arrivals in 2007. Throughout the world, local people in response to the opportunities afforded by this phenomenon are putting their culture on ´display´. Rather than initiating a dialogue with the tourist, the host population is merely trying to fulfil their expectations. Local authentic identity gets lost. A more subtle distinction should occur between the tourist, the host community and the experience from the visited culture.