Chaotic Flow

Abstract Data Visualization of Copenhagens Bike Traffic

Using pumps, compressed air and a 1000 meters of transparent PVC tube we designed a physical data visualization sculpture for the 4S / EASST joint conferences in Copenhagen 2012. The theme of the conference was Copenhagenization and city planning and the organizers wanted an installation that would make the conference attendants aware of the surrounding city and the quality of its infrastructure.

We got in touch with the municipality of Copenhagen to get access to their data on how many bikes pass through specific streets of the city every hour through the day. And through or own software written in python and c++ with openframeworks we converted the statistical data set to an abstract simulation of the city's flow.

Usually you only relate to this kind of data in a quantitative way. We wanted to create an abstract representation of the data that conveys something about how the system behind the data works creating a new kind of relation to the data set and perhaps inspiring new ways to think of it.

The spatial structure is modelled with inspiration from strange attractors and represent the often chaotic nature of how cities and their infrastructure develop. The fractal that it is modelled after was generated using this script.

The technical system behind the installation consists of a set of python scripts for converting the raw data that we received in a set of similarly (as in not identically) formatted .xlsx files. The scripts imports the data to a mongodb database, does geocode lookups and a thin python server written using flask and pymongo returns the data as json.

An openframeworks application runs the actual simulation. It maps paths through the city to paths through the sculpture. Three arduino boards control the pumps, air pressure regulators and magnetic valves for the eight individual channels in the installation.

The auditive element of the installation is a maxMSP patch that mixes recordings of traffic and mechanical sounds from bike parts according to the current amount of traffic in the simulation that it receives over OSC from openframeworks.

You can take a look at the code at

The installation was created by: Tobias Lukassen, Halfdan Hauch Jensen and Johan Bichel Lindegaard from Illutron Collaborative Interactive Art Studio

Special thanks to Maja Fagerberg and Maja Lund L√łkkegaard for helping to assemble the hundreds of fittings! - And thanks to Kristian Foldager, Christian Liljedahl, Schack Lindemann, Vanessa Carpenter, Harald Viuff, Nicolas Padfield and all the members of Illutron.