The main goal of the social network Arquigrafia Brazil is enlarging visual culture about architecture of Brazilian Internet users, so that they can experience the city from another point of view and become active in creating urban space transformation. It is a cooperative environment for visualizing, interpreting and sharing architecture digital images on the Internet. It was released in late April by a group of professors from the University of São Paulo (USP). The initiative also aims to contribute to the study, teaching, research and dissemination of the country’s architectural and urban culture, allowing teachers, students, industry professionals and general users to access digital photos and to provide feedback from their computers, tablets and smart phones.
The project intends to digitize and to allow public access to a collection consisting of 37,000 images belonging to the Department of Audiovisual Library at the School of Architecture and Urbanism (FAU), one of the most important of its kind in the country. The photos illustrating this report are part of this collection. The creators intend for the collection to expand through the inclusion of new images authored by Internet users themselves. The latter can freely insert their architecture and urban spaces photos on the site.
For its innovative features, Arquigrafia Brazil won the Applied Social and Human Technologies category at the USP Innovation Olympics in 2011. “Arquigrafia will follow Wikipedia’s collaborative model: anyone can include an image in it, comment or change the reference information of posted photos. The collection is created through network cooperation,” says architect and urbanist Artur Rozestraten, a professor at FAU/USP’s technology department and one of the coordinators of the project.
According to the architect, one of the innovations of the social network is to bring together in a single space an institutional collection (in this case, the FAU library) and a collection created by the users. “There are many institutional images banks throughout the world, such as the National Institute of Art History, Paris, or the Moreira Salles Institute, Brazil. However, those that mix institutional and personal collections are rare. We believe that the collection will gain a more comprehensive format when we integrate image sets from institutions with those of the online users,” says Rozestraten. The researcher shares the project coordination with professors Marco Aurélio Gerosa, from the Computer Science Department at the Mathematics and Statistics Institute (IME) and the person responsible for building the web platform, and Maria Laura Martinez, from the Journalism and Publishing Department at the School of Communication and Arts (ECA), who coordinates the design of the user-centered interaction.
Arquigrafia Brazil is based on free software, namely, the Groupware Workbench developed by IME together with the Federal University of Espírito Santo (UFES) and the Pontifical Catholic University (PUC) of Rio de Janeiro. Hosted at IME’s Free Software Competence Center (CCSL), Groupware Workbench offers an array of construction tools for collaborative systems on the web.
The current version of the site (www.arquigrafia.org.br), released in late April, is still an experimental prototype with a first set of functions that is being tested by the users. “At this stage, the interested Internet users receive a password and provide us with feedback about system user friendliness and efficiency. Later, when the final version goes live, each user will be able to create an account on the site or use their existing social network accounts, such as Facebook, Twitter or Google, to access the system,” explains Gerosa.
By the end of this term, the network should be fully available to all users. Today, only invited guests are allowed to send images. Soon, a mobile application allowing access to the site on tablets and smart phones using the Android platform will be available. “As the images will have a geographic reference, the Internet users will be able to move within the city’s physical space interacting with the site’s digital archive,” says Gerosa. “For example, a person will be able to bookmark images on Arquigrafia of modernist buildings in downtown São Paulo on their cell phone and visit them.” The site will also allow high-definition downloading of the images that make up their respective collections.
The São Paulo architect and photographer Nelson Kon, owner of an extensive modern and contemporary Brazilian architecture image collection, has a positive view of the initiative of creating Arquigrafia, but points out an aspect that may affect the quality of the collection in the future. “In addition to FAU’s institutional library images, the collection will be built primarily by amateur material. It will be difficult to get professional photographers to disclose their architectural or city scape photos for commercial use for free,” he says.
All images on the site are presented with a factsheet containing the title, photographer’s name, date and location, and numerous other tags – keywords associated with the image that help cataloguing them. Examples of tags are terms such as “concrete,” “wood,” “façade,” “hotel,” “pool” and “garden,” among others. With the help of tags, the Internet user can search for images of interest on the site. “Once Arquigrafia Brazil is open to contributions from Internet users, they will insert their photos, identifying them and placing tags,” says Rozestraten. The users will be able to browse through images from different historical periods and various geographical contexts in Brazil.
Other important collaborative functionalities of the project are an area for internet users to post their comments on the images and another allowing them to interpret pictures visually, employing key concepts related to their plastic-spatial features. For the latter, using a tool on the screen, the user will be able to classify the image according to 12 binomials: horizontal or vertical, opaque or transparent, concave or convex, deep or shallow, projections or indentations, shiny or matte, monochromatic or colored, dark or light, octagonal or curved, perpendicular or inclined, regular or irregular, and simple or complex.
To promote the dissemination and use of images, Arquigrafia Brazil content is released under a Creative Commons license, a project that covers more than 40 countries and provides a simplified copyright management model. It enables authors and content creators such as musicians, filmmakers, writers, photographers, journalists and others, to make some applications of their work available for the society. “When you enter your photo in Arquigrafia, the Internet user needs to declare whether he/she is the author and if he/she allows modification and commercial use of the image,” says Gerosa. “As it is free software, all that the user needs to do is to change the source code to create collaborative systems with images of astronomy, sports, environment or any other field of knowledge,” he says.
1. The Arquigrafia Brazil social network photography studies of Brazilian architecture on Web 2.0 (nº 2009/18342-0); Modality Regular Research Funding; Coordinator Artur Simões Rozestraten – FAU/USP; Investment R$ 103,960.00 (FAPESP)
2. Social interaction and collective intelligence support on Web 2.0 (nº 2010/06897-4); Modality Regular Research Funding; Coordinator Marco Aurélio Gerosa – IME/USP; Investment R$ 53,474.98 (FAPESP)