Teehan+Lax Labs

An ingenious little program makes your city look like The Matrix.

Here's something to get all ლ(ಠ益ಠლ) about: A nerdheap of artist/programmers found a way to transform Google's Street View photos into wild, blipping ASCII paintings. Is this how my old i386 saw the world?

The group works for the experimental Labs arm of Teehan+Lax, a Toronto-based marketing firm, and crafted the technology as a way to let painters "draw" with animated computer code. (You can see a video about the process below.) Explaining why they cared to link hoary, oil-based art with the clean craft of coding, they say:

For many of us that have grown up with computers, text-mode art represents something deeper than nostalgia. It is an artform manifested from technological constraints, inspired by the same hacker ethos that build the early machines used to produce and view it. Fundamentally, it is both an expression and prisoner of the system it inhabits. This latest experiment attempts to free ASCII art from the confines of the screen and enable it to exist in physical space – with light and paint.

As a nifty feature, the programmers made their OpenGL effort compatible with WebGL, which is used by Google Maps. The result is a side project called "ASCII Street View." You might have to update your browser for it to work; it seemed to function best with me on Chrome. (Here's the group's open Frameworks add-on.) But it's well worth fiddling with until functional. The major cities of the world rendered in blinking computer characters is a truly freaky sight to behold. As Mark Wilson at Co.DESIGN put it, the images share "both the look and the same origins-of-the-Internet, hacker overtones seen in The Matrix."

The above ectoplasm-colored scene is from the edges of Vatican City, looking inward. While I'm upset that I can't post the ASCII version of my all-time favorite Street View photo (some days it seems like Google is run by lawyers), here are a couple more shots beginning with Seattle's Space Needle:

Neo visits San Francisco:

Looking up in Manhattan. Anybody recognize the Broadway show advertised on that billboard?

Inside the White House:

And here's a short film describing how this program can squeeze inside a painter's box:

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Life

    The Cities Americans Want to Flee, and Where They Want to Go

    An Apartment List report reveals the cities apartment-hunters are targeting for their next move—and shows that tales of a California exodus may be overstated.

  2. photo: a pair of homes in Pittsburgh
    Equity

    The House Flippers of Pittsburgh Try a New Tactic

    As the city’s real estate market heats up, neighborhood groups say that cash investors use building code violations to encourage homeowners to sell.  

  3. Life

    Can Toyota Turn Its Utopian Ideal Into a 'Real City'?

    The automaker-turned-mobility-company announced last week it wants to build a living, breathing urban laboratory from the ground up in Japan.

  4. a sign advertising public parking next to a large building
    Equity

    U.S. Mayors Say Infrastructure Is a Priority. But What Kind?

    The Menino Survey of Mayors identifies priorities like infrastructure, traffic safety, and climate change. But many mayors aren’t eager to challenge the status quo.

  5. Transportation

    In Paris, a Very Progressive Agenda Is Going Mainstream

    Boosted by big sustainability wins, Mayor Anne Hidalgo is pitching bold plans to make the city center “100 percent bicycle” and turn office space into housing.

×