Numbers and Cognition

Numbers and Cognition in the Urban Environment

Dates: 20-24 August 2018

Volume: 40 hours, 3 ECTS

Location: Department of Architecture at the Estonian Academy of Arts, 3rd floor, Pikk tn 20, Tallinn

Number of participants: max 25

Cost: FREE

Registration deadline: 22nd of May

In case of high volume of applications, prospective participants are asked to write an essay one A4-format page in length (approximately 250 words).

Please note that this course is meant for higher education students only.

Registration closed

Who is the summer course intended for?

The summer academy course Numbers and Cognition in the Urban Environment is intended for international students studying architecture or urban design and whose focus is the street-level space. In addition, the summer academy welcomes international students studying to become traffic engineers, geographers, statisticians, psychologists, media artsists or computer scientists.

Participants are expected to have elementary knowledge of the use of spreadsheet programs (Google Sheets, MS Excel, Numbers) and user proficiency in McNeel Rhino 3D software at least at navigation level. The other software used will be furnished by the organizers and handed out to participants before the start of the summer academy.

The workshop will be carried out by the architect, programmer and Academy teaching staff member Raul Kalvo, and architect, media artist and Academy teaching staff member Mikk Meelak. Technical support for the workshop will be provided by Platvorm Studio (


Content of the course

This workshop is structured on architecture, numbers and cognition with the focus mainly on public space. Two broader topics pervade the workshop. One of them is more physical, involving translating the world into parameters, and the other is mapping social activities. The broad goal is to find connections between the two sets of topics. The environment around us consists of a number of physically countable and measurable parameters, which we can use to describe it (width of a carriageway, location of a cafe). Which parameters are the best for describing or designing the world?  As another important topic, we will map the movements or activities of human masses, using photo and image analysis and Wi-Fi positioning to this end. When, why and where are people moving and how long do they stop – this is an important set of topics, because the quality of space is largely dependent on the presence of people.  The participants in the summer academy course will be challenged to find relationships between the physical world and human activity. It will be important to find a means and method for measuring and documenting the environment. Cognition referred to in the course name refers to experience that can be used in future to make decisions to design and re-design space.  Ideally, we envision the participants who complete the academy to be capable of imagining and perceiving the implications of 1,000 people or 100 cars passing a point.

Picking key parameters (properties) from this environment has long received attention from urbanism scholars: William H. Whyte, who attempted to trace patterns of use of public space, or Kevin Lynch, who tried to find the mental model people use to understand a city.

The late 20th century brought a rise in computing power, which has resulted in change in the accuracy and use of many calculations. In the past, it was not conceivable to calculate trajectories from one building to another manually, but it is now possible. Alongside this trend, a completely new field has arisen: various kinds of simulations. Simulations make it possible to model traffic, pedestrians or both at the same time. Gathering data has become more intensive with a focus moving from gathering qualitative data to collecting quantitative data.  A large part of the summer school involves field observations, which helps instil intuition in participants as to what a given indicator means. This will also give them a clearer understanding of the computational processes and outcomes and they will be able to rationally assess the outcomes of some simulation or facts presented to them.

Participants will become well-versed in methods and means for quantitatively and qualitatively documenting the street-level space, which can in turn later be used for analysis of other places. The participant will also receive an overview of and access to software used in the framework of the workshop. At the end of the summer school, all of the data that was gathered will be made public to allow third parties to use them in their projects – for example, to plan more fluid, safer traffic conditions.

Learning outcomes. Participant is:

  • well-versed in methods and means for quantitatively and qualitatively documenting the street-level space, which can in turn later be used for analysis of other places;
  • has an overview of and access to software used in the workshop.

Assessment: presentation of group-work results (pass-fail evaluation).

ISCED classification of curriculum: Architecture and town planning

The course will be taught by:

Raul Kalvo, who holds an MA in architecture and urban planning from the Estonian Academy of Arts, is an architect and programmer, and teaching staff member at the Estonian Academy of Arts. During the last four years, Raul Kalvo has been engaged in building analytical models of cities and application of the models in various projects. Along with Mikk Meelak and Marti Kaljuve, he helped design the digital exhibits at the Estonian National Museum permanent exhibition entitled “Encounters”. He developed the concept for this workshop, and led a similar workshop in August 2017 as part of Tallinn Summer Academy.



Mikk Meelak, who holds a MA in architecture and urban planning from the Estonian Academy of Arts, is an architect and Estonian Academy of Arts teaching staff member. Along with Raul Kalvo and Marti Kaljuve, he helped design the digital exhibits for the Estonian National Museum permanent exhibition entitled “Encounters”. His master’s thesis was on the topic “What happens to space when information is digitized”, and he has supervised digital solutions and programs in a workshop.


Monday, 20th of August

Objective: Everyone will get an introduction to how the programs work

  • 9:00 – 9:30 Gathering
  • 9:30 – 10:30 Introduction + lecture
  • 10:30 – 12:00 Introduction to Tallinn, devices, data
  • 12:00 – 13:00 Lunch
  • 13:00 – 14:30 Stating theses
  • 14:30 – 15:30 Presentation of theses

Tuesday, 21st of August

Objective: Groups have been formed, and the groups know what they are doing. The others know what the different groups are doing.

  • … – 10:30 Collecting test data. Introduction to the places
  • 10:30 – 12:00 Workshop
  • 12:00 – 13:00 Lunch
  • 13:00 – 15:00 Workshop
  • 15:00 – 17:00 Introducing own data and testing it

Wednesday, 22nd of August

Objective: Gathering data

  • 9:00 – 16:00 Gathering data, group work
  • 16:30 – 18:00 Recap

Thursday, 23rd of August

  • 9:00-17:00 Analysis. Group work

Friday, 24th of August

  • 9:00 – 12:00 Putting the presentations in finished form
  • 12:00 – 13:00 Lunch
  • 13:30 – 16:00 Presentation + discussion and summaries


Nordplus funded Nordic Academy of Architecture network offers 4 scholarships for this workshop. Eligible students need to study in one of the partner universities listed above. Ask more information from you home university’s International Office.


1. The Oslo School of Architecture and Design (AHO)
2. Vilnius Academy of Arts
3. Riga Technical University
4. Iceland University of the Arts
5. The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture, Design and Conservation (KADK)
6. Bergen School of Architecture
7. University of Oulu
8. Chalmers University of Technology in Göteborg
9. Umea University
10. Aarhus School of Architecture
11. Aalto University
12. Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm (KTH)
13. University of Lund
14. Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)
15. Vilnius Gediminas Technical University
16. Tampere University of Technology

The workshop is taking place as part of the project entitled “Tallinn Summer Academy of Art, Design and Architecture – Presence & Possibilities”. The project has been made possible by funding from the European Regional Development Fund.

The workshop is organized by the EAA Open Academy  and Faculty of Architecture.


Photo credit: Kristina Õllek