Inspiration Monday: Visualising Air Quality; two great new projects

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Air Transformed

Wow, look at that beautiful necklace! Pretty stunning, eh? Well it’s designed to be eye-catching not just for aesthetic reasons, but for health reasons too. This design, by data visualisation artists Stefanie Posavec and Miriam Quick, show us the air quality around the area of Sheffield. Stefanie explains the city, a former steelmaking city, is notorious for it poor air quality.

“Each necklace represents a week’s worth of data from sensors measuring large particulate (PM10) levels. Since particulate matter damages the heart and lungs, we felt a neckpiece was an appropriate way of communicating this data.”

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“The segments range in size from small to large and in texture from completely smooth to spiky and sharp to touch; the larger and spikier the segment, the more particulates in the air at that time. By running their fingers over each necklace, the wearer can literally feel how the air quality in Sheffield went up and down over the course of each week. Dangerous particulate levels have the potential to hurt/prick the finger of the wearer.”

Grist featured this fabulous design project last week, which included several designs for sunglasses etched with varying graphic patterns referencing the different pollutants in the air. As Suzanne Jacobs reports, “Altogether, the lenses make the glasses pretty hard to see through, which is the point: Pollutants make the air hazy.”

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We love Stefanie and Miriam’s beautifully tangible take on a very intangible subject. The fact they made products to be worn specifically on the areas of the body most affected by air pollution is particularly effective.

The necklace sits on the heart and lungs, which are most vulnerable to particulates, and the sunglasses blur our vision while also enabling the wearer to graphically see the differences in air quality, which are usually invisible to the naked eye. You can read more about the details of the Air Transformed project on Stefanie’s site.

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Google Maps Air Quality

It’s a double whammy of air quality visualisation stories this week as we move from the physical to the digital and Google’s announcement that they are now mapping air quality via Google Street View and Google Maps.

This is amazing news to us, as it’s something we spoke to Google London about nearly four years ago when we were working on a proposal with them for an air quality installation. Sadly our project never came to fruition, but it’s fantastic to see that great minds think alike and that the US team developed a pilot in Denver, USA which is now expanding to San Francisco.

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Google have strapped Aclima air monitoring sensors to Google Street View cars in order to the collect the vital data needed to create the visualisations in Google Maps. Karin Tuxen-Bettman, Program Manager for Google Earth Outreach explains more.

“Environmental air quality is an issue that affects everyone, especially those living in big cities. This partnership with Aclima builds on our ongoing partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund, enabling us to take the next steps in our pilot project to use Street View and Google Maps as an environmental mapping platform. We hope this information will enable more people to be aware of how our cities live and breathe, and join the dialog on how to make improvements to air quality.”

Below is a video that explains more about the project.

We’ve been following the air quality agenda for four years now and have made several attempts to create a large scale public engagement project on this tricky topic, which hits the hot spots of health, environment and politics.

It takes bravery to take on such an inflammatory subject and we’ve discovered, to our great frustration, that not many people are up for it. We’ve missed out on funding, we’ve been rejected by museums and, most recently, we even had an air quality project commissioned and then cancelled at the last minute.

Our own project nosedives notwithstanding, the good news is that over the last few years we’ve seen the subject of air quality receive hugely increased coverage in the press in the UK, mostly thanks to the very diligent and persistent campaigning from Simon Birkett at Clean Air London, and we see more and more creative visualisation projects emerging.

It’s really great to see an organisation like Google, with the resources and clout that they have, as well as independent artists such as Stefanie Posavec and Miriam Quick, take it on. This is a challenge that needs to be tackled and talked about at every level.

You can pair this post with:

STEFANIE POSAVEC TALKS ABOUT HER BEAUTIFUL HANDCRAFTED INFOGRAPHICS