Research from CyI’s Virtual Environments Lab Selected Among the Best International Practices of Public Space Co-Creation

Research on the use of interactive spatial data visualization for stakeholder engagement in public space co-creation and co-management of historic sites that also formed the main enquiry which led to the creation of the DARIAH Working Group UDigiSH, developed by CyI’s Virtual Environments Lab and led by Assist. Professor G. Artopoulos, was selected as one of the two best projects in the Open Call of Public Play Space Initiatives. The State of the Art Catalogue collects and analyses 30 best-practice case studies, offering an international panorama of the emerging methodologies and strategies for the public space co-design through digital technologies. The best practices featured in the Catalogue were first selected from the results of an International Open Call launched in December 2019, and later evaluated for the announcement of the two winning methodologies.

This research proposes a methodology for the cross-disciplinary study and analysis of complex urban realities, such as historic Mediterranean cities, with the use of advanced digital tools for the creation and development of real-time virtual environments for research and collaboration that capture data of users’ behaviour in space. The objective of this research is a digital platform, which through immersion, urban data modeling and interactive visualisation enables the evaluation of alternative planning scenarios and design interventions in the context of the management plan of open public spaces that used to be popular within the urban fabric of European cities, but are now forgotten or in limbo due to political, economic, or social pressures. The Virtual Environments Lab’s research on the reintegration of the archaeological site of the Pafos Gate, located in the moat of the medieval walls of Nicosia, in the network of public spaces of the contemporary city, was developed in the context of the COST Action TU1306, with the support of the Department of Antiquities, Nicosia Municipality, and in collaboration with NCSA at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The methods and tools that the UDigiSH WG is currently developing build on the solid foundation of this methodology.

Public Play Space (PPS) is a project co-funded by the Creative Europe programme of the European Union whose main goal is to foster the co-production of inclusive, cohesive and sustainable public space. The project aims to establish a transdisciplinary platform to explore how play and gamification tools in combination with advanced digital technologies can be used to foster the process of public space co-design and place-making, enhancing the understanding of the relationship between the space and its users.

PG render VELab CYI

New UDigiSH tool is published to support innovative participatory practices for urban transitions

UDigiSH Working Group operates within the cross-disciplinary area as defined by the nature of the pressing challenges that our historic cities are facing (e.g., climate, gentrification, decay, migration, etc.). The objective of this study is to better understand how built heritage contributes to the development of resilient cities, focusing on new ways to transform neglected urban spaces and neighbourhoods in second- and third-tier European historic cities in the Mediterranean territory. Our Working Group is pleased to announce that the group of Mobility at DeustoTech has kindly offered in kind contribution to DARIAH by means of several person months’ technical support to the WGs activities regarding the use of ICT and data-driven tools for community building around contemporary challenges of urban heritage and historic sites. Leveraging on the results of prior collaboration of WG members, applying good practices for sustainable futures, as discussed in Urban Living Labs by the community of JPI Urban Europe, and drawing on knowledge produced in the context of H2020 COST Action CyberParks, the team at DeustoTech developed a dedicated software tool for the needs of the WG. The mobile app, provisionally published under the name DARIAH app, is a digital research tool designed for community building through participatory design and co-creation methodologies which will allow the WG to work with local groups, and to study, discuss and analyse sites of interest in any city, that can be enacted today in many variable contexts with the help of smartphones. DARIAH app consists of an application (designed for Android) capable of collecting a variety of audio-visual, geolocative and textual materials. It functions as a unique support for innovative participatory practices for urban transitions, and enables individuals to:

  • create ‘proposals’ related to places of interest;
  • group in ‘projects’ relevant information about the transformation, preservation or renovation of a building, urban site, etc.;
  • create, automatically generate and upload linked data (and metadata) about the topic of interest, including textual sources, photographs, videos, 360 panoramas, 3D models; as well as,
  • tag digital assets with commentary, vote and exchange opinions and ideas about topics of interest.

In parallel, the UDigiSH Working Group in collaboration with the Advanced Visualisation Laboratory, at NCSA, University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign, with the support of Professor D. Cox, and Colter Wehmeier, Kajetan Haas and AJ Christensen, is developing experimental tools, scripts and workflows for the visualisation of 3D spatialised urban datasets in Augmented Reality, to be accessible through mobile devices. This collaboration was pursued in the context of the research activity of RIVEEL3D. These integrated data interaction and visualisation workflows have great potential in archaeological and cultural heritage applications for the stakeholder engagement in the management of heritage sites, as well as the immersion of the public in the history of cultural places and landscapes, for educational purposes. Provisionally published under the name WIKAR app is a mobile app for the visualisation, geolocation of and interaction with 3D models of objects (e.g., a monument, a building, a square, urban furniture) that are manually modelled or photogrammetrically documented, through Augmented Reality (AR). Currently it functions as a complementary AR enabled tool to the DARIAH app that allows its users to visualise 3D digital assets linked to a topic of interest in the real world, facilitating interpretation of information and staging dialogue between the many stakeholders of urban spaces and the city administration. The overarching objective of this effort is to develop and propose an inclusive and open data-driven participatory methodology for the sustainable management, reactivation and reintegration of historic sites and open air spaces of our cities into the contemporary lives of their inhabitants.

Using the Wikar DARIAH app in Palermo, Sicily, to virtually position the 3D model of an important local art object (‘Acqua Passata’, part of the EU project ‘Snapshots from the Borders’) at the industrial heritage site of Fabrica Ducrot (1890- 1968), by means of Augmented Reality.

Data-Driven Processes in Participatory Urbanism: The “Smartness” of Historical Cities

Delighted to have our article published on Architecture and Culture Journal (Taylor & Francis).


Cities have always been arenas wherein social, ethnic and cultural differences lead to social friction. People from various cultures meet in spatial interfaces and this interaction, besides intensifying their awareness of diversity, imposes the integration of existing and newly brought cultural expressions with distinct socio-spatial and historical references. This article reflects on the resilience of smart systems promoted today for user-personalization when interacting with, and in the efficient operation of, city infrastructures. Specifically, the article addresses the capacity of smart digital tools and participatory processes to stimulate city data interpretation, interoperability and sharing processes as another commons of the city. The article foregrounds user-driven co-creation methodologies and information and communications technologies tools that enable adaptive and flexible, cross-cultural, data interpretation by communities that appropriate public spaces. Digital technologies can act as a catalyst for engaging people with their urban environment and cultures, and therefore with urban commons.

Keywords: built heritageurban commonscitizen engagementco-managementdata analyticsvisualization

Digital Practices for the Study of Urban Heritage Working Group receives DARIAH WG Funding

‘Everyday experiences and heritage in south European cities: Digital tools and practices’ regards the organisation of a workshop in the context of the planned activities of our WG. The workshop will enable us to strengthen links with the community (incl. scholars, researchers and local authorities), to collect content to be analysed with the methods developed by the WG members, as well as to test and collect feedback about a new software tool we are developing. The latter is necessary for the development of the digital tool, which will be later on offered to the DARIAH community.

Le Officine Ducrot

The project is about the organisation of an intensive hands-on workshop for community building through participatory design and co-creation methodologies which will allow the WG to work with local groups and intereated in the topic researchers, and to study, discuss and analyse sites of interest in the city of Palermo (Italy).

Challenged by urbanization, economy, gentrification and migration the experience of historical spaces and buildings is fragmented, thus mirroring the disconnected perception of urban societies. The workshop will study how urban heritage and the abundance of culturally valuable structures and buildings in specific historic cities across Europe which are challenged by current pressing conditions can contribute to reflective processes and the creation of legible, inclusive, accessible and enjoyable cities. Its overarching objective is to:

  • Enable cultural bearers & inhabitants to engage with the past and future conditions of common pool resources; and
  • Infer meaning and socio-cultural features of space from data.

Data collection will be facilitated with the use of citizen volunteered geolocation software (readily available to the WG by its partners), such as WAY Cyberparks, Ethnoally, and Aperire. In addition to these softwares, a new digital tool supporting co-design of urban spaces (currently under development) will be tested and evaluated by the participants under real-world conditions provided in the workshop. Feedback collected will enable the completion of the tool which will thus be adjusted to the need of scholars and researchers from the humanities. Training material will be generated, documented shared through the DARIAH services.

The workshop will aim to engage:

  • Cultural Heritage institutions;
  • Scholars and researchers in Digital Humanities;
  • City stakeholders;
  • Professional associations;
  • Urban communities and citizen groups.

Relevant EU research activities

PUblic REnaissance: Urban Cultures of Public Space between Early Modern Europe and the Present (PURE)

en/counter/points: (re)negotiating belonging through culture and contact in public space and place

Negotiating diversity in Expanded European Public Spaces


3S RECIPE: Smart Shrinkage Solutions – Fostering Resilient Cities in Inner Peripheries of Europe

South European Historic Cities

Historic neighbourhoods in European cities have been gentrified or separated from the everyday life of the contemporary city (e.g., they became either open air museums and tourist destination for sightseeing, short-term letting, or international real estate capital investment ’ghost’ towns), as a result of their strategic preservation from the authorities early on in the 80s and 90s.

However we see that in many south European and Mediterranean historic cities, the urban fabric is a mixture of new and old structures, wherein we identify many examples of culturally-valuable structures which have not been yet listed as protected heritage, as in many cases the authorities lack the policy instruments, or the necessary funds, to proceed with the conservation of these buildings.

The space of the historic city has been mostly studied, analysed, communicated and imagined by means of methodologies and tools sourced from the humanities, and traditional architectural drawing tools. Also, we notice that in many northern European cities, the historic core of the city is fully conserved, preserved, protected and documented already from before the so called digital revolution. These two conditions have arguably limited our capacity to leverage the power of digital tools, data analytics and complexity theory to monitor and understand the development of the cities in real-time.

Heritage buildings falling down due to human neglect, inability of local authorities to monitor their condition and environmental pressures, e.g., heavy rainfall in 2019 (Nicosia, Cyprus).
Sicily, Italy, 2019.
Abandoned patios in the historic centre of Cordoba, Spain, 2018.


In her influential book Uses of Heritage (2006), archaeologist Laurajane Smith introduced the term ‘authorized heritage discourse’ (AHD) to describe the western heritage practice which since the late nineteenth century has developed towards a dominant position as a ‘universalizing’ discourse of our own time, and “privileging monumentality and grand scale, innate artefact/site significance tied to time depth, scientific/aesthetic expert judgement, social consensus and nation building”.

Rather heritage can be seen as a process, a performance (Crouch, 2010), an act of communication (Dicks, 2000) and a set of relationships with the past undertaken at certain sites and places. In this sense, all heritage is intangible.

Spatial aspects of cultural heritage:

(1)Interrelatedness of places and people;

(2) Landscape and its composite ‘scapes’, e.g. urban heritage-scape;

(3) Interrelatedness of virtual and real space; and

(4) Fluid spaces emerging from growing mobility of individuals enabled by ICT.

Unplanned, half-finished structures that were built by necessity after the war of 1974 in the intra-muros historical city of Nicosia are appropriated by migrant communities (Nicosia, Cyprus 2019).


Crouch, David, “The Perpetual Performance and Emergence of Heritage”, in Waterton, E., Watson S. (eds.), Culture, Heritage and Representation. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2010: 57–71.

Dicks, Bella, Heritage, Place and Community. University of Wales Press, 2000.

Smith, Laurajane, Uses of Heritage. New York: Routledge, 2006.


This blog will represent the entry point to approach the activities of the UDigiSH Working Group, which focuses on the study of Digital Methods and Good Practices of heritage and urban change, impact of urban development on cultural heritage, the identity of the city and the role of civil society.

Unlisted historic buildings and heritage are under threat in European cities, with direct impact to the cohesion of their communities and everyday lives of citizens. Challenged by urbanization, economic difficulties, gentrification and migration the experience of historic spaces and buildings is fragmented thus mirroring the disconnected perception of urban societies. The Digital practices for the Study of urban Heritage Working Group acknowledges both the urgency and the complexity of these challenges proposing a holistic and inclusive approach that can be applied to identify and tackle these socioeconomic and cultural issues.

The UDigiSH WG promotes the attribution of cultural values to built heritage, towards inclusive, innovative and reflective societies – for example, in conflict spaces the common past and heritage can be established as a bridge for peace. Responding to contemporary pressing challenges of urban environments can only be achieved through the transnational collaboration as the challenges are complex and ill-defined and thus cannot be dealt with at a local scale.

Blog topics:
Digital Humanities for the Study of Historic Cities
A Cloud for the Preservation of Cultural Rights
Promotion of Cultural Dialogue
GeoVisualisation of Urban Histories
Participatory Digital Narratives and Citizen Science in Cultural Heritage: co-creation and co-management of informal stories and memories

Cultural Heritage institutions
Scholars and researchers in Digital Humanities
City stakeholders and professional associations
Urban communities and citizen groups

Rapid urbanization, migration and economic challenges impact European territories with ever-growing plurality of cultures and identities.