Urban Memory Archive

Author: Catherine Lie

Nothing lasts forever. Every physical object, including human existence, is subject to decay.  Yet through the facility of memory, a trace remains of things that have gone before, both as tangible reminders as well as personal interpretations.[i] Within the built environment, architecture has been said to perform as a mnemonic device. However, while architecture may represent an externalization of human actions and identity, buildings can be demolished. If we accept that even the built environment is diminished, what remains then of human actions in this world? How might architecture be re-engaged to eternalize memory?  These questions drive the exploration of a Memory Archive where individuals can store their spatial memories/moments so that they can be accessed, reconstructed, and experienced by other people in the future.

image 1Figure 1. Reconstruction of the Prentice Women’s Hospital in Chicago, 2050 based on the memory of a Chicagoan

This system presents a new model for urban preservation by introducing the notion that history is comprised of personal memories.  Advanced virtual reality enables both individuals and groups to re-experience the built environment, thus enabling people in the future a deeper understanding of the world through personal narratives.

image 2Figure 2. Section of the Proposal for the Prentice Women’s Hospital in Chicago by HouseHAUS before it was demolished in 2013


Since memory can fade and dissipate, an accessible data archive not only confirms the legibility of memory, but it also enables individuals to access others’ memories. In terms of organization, the memory database is stored in the cloud; it is networked through social media where individuals upload and download their memories as images. Location-based memories are accessible by way of memory ATM kiosks distributed throughout the city. Each memory can be reconstructed using a synchronized 3D projection that is sensor equipped to the user.

TIERNEY BOARD EDIT diag fixed 2 copyFigure 3. The Archive and ATM System

Data Archive

Social media is essential to the operations of the Memory Archive. Individuals spend an inordinate amount of time on social media sites such as Facebook, Path, Instagram or Foursquare. These social networking sites enable individuals to share their stories and check in to places they want to visit, thus providing a rich documentation of their life. At the same time, narratives are vetted and filtered by each person’s social network sites confirming their veracity.  Smartphones and wifi enable individuals to store their data directly from wherever they are to the main archive from anywhere in the world. The data is then processed by a supercomputer and grouped by keyword (characteristics) and GPS coordinates (location) producing a series of urban memory collections. Furthermore, the data will be classified into public and private categories. After the data has been approved for storage in the archive, individual users can embed GIS layers for their stored memory and they can add password protection to secure their information. The data will then be accessible through the memory ATM kiosks that are distributed throughout the city.

TIERNEY BOARD EDIT copyFigure 4.  The Archive – ATMs distribution in the city

TIERNEY BOARD EDIT copyFigure 5. The ATM kiosks model

Memory Automatic Transfer Machines

While the memory ATM kiosks are universally available, they are most prevalent in older or disused areas of the city where the urban fabric has been neglected or destroyed. Each memory kiosk is connected to two spaces: a public recollection space and a private gallery. In the public section, people can collectively to re-experience any neighborhood in the city from time to time. Since the projection is accessing multiple diverse memories, an algorithm averages the input time and data of the recollected neighborhood.  They can also input current neighborhood data in this public section, thereby storing new memories for the future.

In the private section, people can access other people’s memories and places, especially those that might not exist anymore.  To access the ATMs, people use their memory cards, enter their PINs, and specify the data, time and place that they want to reconstruct. A supercomputer processes their input and obtains the spatial information requested by the visitors from the cloud. The accessed memories are then projected electronically in the private gallery. While accessing the memories, people can control the depth of the information they want by turning on and turning off the available GIS layers.


Figure 6. ATM screen


Figure 7. Reconstruction of space as a means to preserve the architecture in the city

In both of the spaces, public and private, there are sensors that are activated by human movement. As the visitors walk, the image projections are synchronized to move as well, so that the experience of walking around the virtual space and the sensation of walking in the actual city itself is blurred. Thus social interaction within the public section enables new understandings of the city based on multiple personal interpretations of narratives. This way, the space, the city, the memory, and the social aspect of the neighborhood collective memory is preserved.

image 6

Figure 8. People experience walking in the Chicago neighborhood that is not existing anymore in 2050


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[i] Marc Treib, “Yes, Now I Remember: An Introduction,”Spatial Recall: Memory in Architecture and Landscape, ed. Marc Treib (New York, NY: Routledge, 2009), XII.

[ii] Juhani Pallasmaa, “Space, Place, Memory, and Imagination: The Temporal Dimension of Existential Space,”Spatial Recall: Memory in Architecture and Landscape, ed. Marc Treib (New York, NY: Routledge, 2009), 18.


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