POWER STATIONS OF LONDON
Urban design thesis project / Web Design (January 2013 - May 2014)
Power Stations of London serves as a repository of independent research, documents, and analysis on Bankside and Battersea Power Stations, compiled between January and August of 2013. The website is intended to function as both a living document and a database, presenting both distinct narratives on the two power stations and providing access to a curated selection of the primary sources used to construct those narratives. The site contains information that might be of interest to architects, urbanists, historians, and those interested in London's industrial era. Its design is intended to address the needs of two types of user: those reviewing my thesis, analysis, and methods; and those who are interested in the power stations more broadly and wish to create their own stories.
To link my written thesis to the primary source objects I digitized during my independent study, I developed a hierarchy of categories, based on the level of structure and analysis present in each:
Exhibits represent the body of written work that comprised my research thesis, completed in early 2014.
Sections of the exhibits also serve as stand-alone vignettes on the design, history, and redevelopment of the two buildings.
Objects are primary source materials, images, and documents
Objects are housed within collections and tags, organized around themes and relationships.
The database is structured such that information can be accessed through different channels: as individual items and artifacts, as collections of objects around themes, and finally as embedded within narratives in exhibits. A simplified diagram of the user flow was translated into the navigation bar that remains constant between pages. Two basic structures for the database were outlined and sketched: a database layout for objects/collections and a presentation layout for thesis exhibits.
After consulting with librarians and members of Yale's Digital Humanities department, I chose to build out the database using Omeka, a Wordpress-like platform that allows for the input of images and artifacts and has a built-in metadata feature. I uploaded a curated selection of the digitized files I had amassed during my London research trip, and divided my thesis into 'chapters' that I arranged into two thesis exhibits. One exhibit focuses on design and monumentality, while the other examines the repercussions of urban redevelopment. Throughout the exhibits, I embedded relevant images and artifacts that link to tagged groups and collections of objects that could be searched independently.
I demoed this proof-of-concept database to my architecture professors and peers at my independent thesis presentation in April 2014. In 2015, I conducted additional research and user interviews for a new iteration of the site. I asked a small sample of potential users to click through the database, in order to get a sense of their thought processes while they navigated through the site.
The people I received feedback from fell into two general categories, based on their level of familiarity with Bankside and Battersea Power Stations.
For those unfamiliar with the subject matter, the most common comment was the barrier to entry caused by unfamiliar jargon. Items, Collections, and Exhibits were non-obvious categories to new users, and the titles to certain exhibits and documents assumed a level of familiarity with the subject matter. A broader, more general introduction was desired to outline the website's contents and act as a user guide. In addition, modifications to site navigation, such as renaming and moving forward the Exhibits tab on the landing page, could aide new users. Finally, a few new users wanted either a dynamic way to move between items and exhibits or additional description and analysis associated with each item.
Those familiar with either the buildings or my initial research did also raise some of the new users' concerns, but their responses focused more on building out additional content for the site. Continuing to digitize more primary source items, adding more contextual information to items, and including geographic tagging when relevant were all suggested as ways to build site content. Additionally, the initial analysis would need to be updated to reflect events post-2015. There have been developments in the stories of both buildings, particularly Battersea Power Station, as construction around the station of luxury condominiums marketed to wealthy foreign buyers continues to this day.
For the current version of the database, I incorporated the navigation and flow changes suggested in the feedback. Future iterations of the site will also include features to build on the site's functionality. These include a People section that identifies the relationships between important figures in both building projects, a Timeline of building design and development, and a Reader function allowing users to collect items and develop their own narratives.
The aim of the Power Stations of London database is to make transparent the process of research and synthesis that went into my thesis, while also allowing viewers to independently examine source materials and come to their own conclusions. The online platform provides greater viewership than a conventional thesis, and the ability to flip between content and analysis hopefully encourages a wider discourse about the subject matter. For more information on the project, please visit: www.powerstations.omeka.net.