Grassroots Mapping is a series of participatory mapping projects involving communities in cartographic dispute. Seeking to invert the traditional power structure of cartography, the grassroots mappers used helium balloons and kites to loft their own “community satellites” made with inexpensive digital cameras.

HKU students give it a shot in Beijing

November 25th, 2010 by Lee Altman

On October 20th, architecture students from Hong Kong university gathered at Studio X Beijing to assemble their own grassroots mapping kits and take them out in the city. The students were in Beijing on their site visit, studying the city’s 2nd ring road and envisioning it as a new urban public space in 2049.

We spent the morning in Studio X, constructing camera rigs, taping mylar emergency blankets into 4 pillow-shaped balloons and filling them with helium, and imagining other forms of active mapping. After a spicy lunch at the restaurant next door, we headed out and started marching from the little historic hutong where the studio is located, into Beijing’s infamous traffic.

We first gave our kites a try, but although they city has a great kite tradition, there was not enough wind and our kites refused to get off the ground – even with the help of some experienced kiters we met in the park. Turning back to our balloons we ran some test flights, and ended up connecting them into pairs (tying top and bottom and wrapping with tape in the center), and when that wasn’t enough we tied the whole thing together at the bottom.

The weather was almost perfect – chilly and calm with very little wind. We ended up not going very high, faced with an interesting dilemma – a narrow angle with sharper, more saturated images, vs. a wider angle with a foggier, smoggier image? (yes, there is always photoshop).

4 flights resulted in some interesting shots (see pics) and a piece in the Global Times!

HKU studio professors: Li Hu and Huang Wenjing of O.P.E.N. Architecture 开放建筑, with
Jenny Chou.

Beijing, China


One Response to “HKU students give it a shot in Beijing”

  1. Jidanni Says:

    Note one can also do
    orienting with utility pole coordinates

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