Tania Allen, Alberto Rigau, Liese Zahabi and I developed this prototype for a community-oriented music site for our graduate studio in fall 2008. Our aim was to make a part of our city more legible. We chose to focus on Raleigh's local music scene, which, we felt, was perhaps less accessible and understandable to an outsider or casual fan than it could be. 

An understanding of imageability gleaned from Kevin Lynch's classic The Image of the City informed our approach to dealing with our content. As we reconstructed the scene in virtual space, we considered:

PATHS in our goal-oriented activities of searching for events and attending performances in venues.

EDGES around downtown, where nightlife is concentrated, as well as in our personal bounds of taste.

NODES in physical locations — venues and specific events in specific places; as well as in nonspatial but individually identifiable entities (like particular bands) that inhabit the scene.

LANDMARKS in relation to locations, perhaps historical as well.

As we looked for ways to explain certain more elusive parts of the scene, we realized we needed to be able to account for loose clusters of data that spanned categories. These virtual spaces gained identity from a sort of cultural gestalt that manifests at the intersection of style, place, and community.

We called these spaces cultural districts. They are at the heart of the music scene. They are imageable spaces.

This discovery was vital to our project, because the music scene is not represented by the calendar of events at any given club; it is not captured by an A-to-Z list of bands, nor a subset related to genre. It is not found in one person’s commentary on even the most active blog. None of the traditionally employed designed accounts of “what’s going on” seem to be able to speak to the complex, living patterns that make up the music scene.

Though the site we prototyped was just a beginning, I believe we made some crucial revelations about how a site might better approach dealing with slippery entities like music. Accounting for transience, allowing adaptability, and making good use of communal knowledge help us get there. Understanding that the music scene is built around districts of shifting commonality is at the heart of what we achieved.

This video demonstrates the prototype's functionality. It shows content organized around different user-specified principles. The backend idea is that site users could contribute to the site's awareness and representation of data. The site would learn about the preferences of users and help reassemble the presentation of data to mirror user preferences and illustrate cultural districts as they emerge.

We also roughed out a mobile application that would enable site users to communicate with each other on the go and to feed knowledge and experience back into the site spontaneously.