Reconfiguring Territories


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One of the defining landmarks of Narva is Kreenholm factory. The cotton manufacturing facility was founded in 1857 and was, in its time, considered the most important mill in Russia, employing close to 12,000 workers. Only closed down in the 21st century, the factory has epitomized both, the heights of Narva as an industrial powerhouse, as well as the decline of the city’s importance and place in the national and international economic order. As such it can act as a metaphor for the conflicting and interlaced sentiments of pride and frustration residents may have about their city. 


The eight images of the factory inside and out have been conceptualized as providing a collective view on and of the factory. They have been created by aggregating the multitude of images taken and posted publicly on social media by individuals and merging them into one “collective” view of the site. To embody the “common view”, we have reconstructed the eight most prevalent angles from which the factory is viewed and photographed. By recreating the view on Kreenholm, we hope to blend the two opposing symbolic meanings of the site into one visual. What comes through is both a feeling of grandeur and pride connected to the place as well a sense of fading radiance and thus dwindling relevance.


Not only did deindustrialisation in the recent past prompt a need to diversify urban economic activity, but also the socio-economic transition from the Soviet to the post-Soviet state incited a new sprawl of a variety of small-scale businesses. As an antithesis to the fading factory one can see the multiplicity of current day commercial activity in the city. The image of Kreenholm is thus presented in direct juxtaposition to the montage of advertisements that were found throughout the districts of Kerese, Uuskala, and Pimeaed. 


One of the montages shows an assemblage of advertisements and logos whose content has been erased by reconfiguring new images with the help artificial intelligence. What remains is merely the style, colours, and shapes of the visuals. It enables us to see the nature of commercial activity abstracted from its meaning focused on the form. 

Through Instagram, we found many images of certain sights. People share images of sights that have enthused them in a way or another. By overlapping these images, it is possible to see the collective vision of the city. Despite living in quite a homogeneous environment comprising of Soviet-style blocks of flats, Narvians and visitors of the city find the beauty around them in distinct places, such as the Town Hall, cathedrals and the promenade. The new sign of the city that stood on the Peetri Plats till recent times gained a lot of popularity and became also some sort of new landmark of the city.  The most iconic landmarks, the Narva castle and the Kreenholm factory area, are examined in their own sections.


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Narva is known for its districts, which all have a unique character. We went through four of them — Kerese, Pimeaed, Uusküla, and Kulgu — to analyze the many faces of built-Narva. Since most of the buildings in the first three districts resemble similar architectural styles, we decided to explore the datchas of Kulgu, where residents build worlds of their own.


The results of our analysis of the windows, doors, and facade colors in these four districts are presented below. 



Kerese District



Kulgu District



Uusküla District



Pimeaed District



Extracting the colors of facades reveals the city’s landscape. Amongst the shades of grey there are colorful facades of datchas confronting the monotony of the urban districts.





Kreenholm and Joala

How we mapped activities


Interesting for present research on categorizing activities in cities is the way Gehl and his contemporaries understood the linkages between space and its use, on one hand, and between the different uses, on the other hand. Gehl’s basic assumption is that the necessary activities are rather insensitive to the quality of the physical environment, while the optional activities are greatly influenced – in line with other commentators such as Jacobs (1961), Whyte (1980), and Sennett (2000). Combining Gehl’s work with later categorisations (Axhausen et al., 2000; Ben-akiva and Bowman, 1998; Jiang et al., 2012; Zhong et al., 2015) and empirical observations from data retrieved from social media in a series of previous studies, we developed a categorisation that aims to include all of the activities capable of being performed in the city with the purpose of recognising specific spatial patterns.


Optional activities

Optional activities are those that are undertaken during free time, for pleasure, self-initiative, or socialization.


Necessary activities

Necessary activities are all the ones that are vital for dwellers in their sociocultural context.


What are the activities that people engage with in public spaces? Gehl's question aims to map activity patterns to learn what urban design must accomplish to be an adequate host. We use social media surveys as a proxy, quantifying this question by analyzing the various activities available in the city and valued by people. This is one of the main proxies to assess the perceived quality of life, as the mixing of uses and activities is a hallmark of good city life, combined with its spatial distribution and accessibility (Salingaros 2005, Salingaros 1998).

Activities in the centers


Looking at centrality in Narva, two centers can be located: Peetri plats next to the Narva castle and commercial center towards the west. When analyzing the popularity of activities, it is clear that the character of these places is very different. Peetri plats function as a center for leisure and social activities, while the other center is a place for consumption and nutrition.

Activities in commercial center
Activities in
Peetri plats


Style of Narva

The conception that Narva is a grey-town masks layers of uniqueness. The Kulgu area, for example, is full of datchas, colorful summer paradises. Every cottage uniquely presents its owner's style, which is otherwise invisible in monolithic Soviet blocks. 

Datcha GAN (Real vs Generated)


We trained a GAN using photographs of facades in the Kulgu district. In turn, we had a tool to interpolate within them, allowing us to elaborate on the culture of personalization and self-expression.



An extraordinary feature of Narva and Ivanogorod is the interplay of the two castles, standing in front of each other. We asked some local people: “why do you like to be here?”, and they, animated, replied that “it is the only city which has two castles in one place!” 


We collected images of the castles, relying on old postcards and Instagram images. From here, we did two things. First, we used style extraction to visualize and abstract the style and aesthetics of the old postcards, comparing them to overlapped Instagram photos. This method of representing the images shows that certain perspectives of the castle have continued to fascinate people, highlighting that the two castles have been represented as confronting each other, with one growing horizontally and the other vertically. 


Next, we trained a Generative Adversarial Network using the mass of our data, reconfiguring the two castles into a third one – GoroNar.