The BBC, via BBCi, has just launched a competition to build a 'Picture of Britain', where people are encouraged to submit photos to its website.
This slightly random exercise results in the entries being divided into several groups, from 'rural' to 'human', and the resultant hotchpotch is intended to give, literally, a snapshot of the UK. It all looks like an attempt at inclusive broadcasting - what they call 'engagement.' However, this idea is being used to greater effect on a much smaller scale by researcher Astrid Kirchner.
Austrian-born Kirchner has lived in London for three years and wants us all to explore the city a bit more. Her sense of wonder at the city seems relatively undimmed, even though she has progressed from being a visitor to a resident.
She wants to recreate that sense of wonder and adventure that comes from being in a city for the first time: 'a sense of excitement that disappears as we become more blasé about our place in the city.' One of her ambitions for the project is to understand the shift that happens when we stop being tourists and become complacent. 'Suddenly, 'she says, 'we stop sitting in churches or gazing at rivers. Instead, these become the things that we do only when we're on holiday.
I want to recreate the tourist way of seeing.' London is the chosen city for her project 'Living in a Tubemap', which examines our relationship with London, premised on Harry Beck's graphic representation of the city: the London Underground map. This map distorts the actual urban geography and also creates romantic and dystopian perceptions in all of us. While letter-writers are often 'disgusted of Tunbridge Wells', who cannot be wary of Brixton, intrigued by Theydon Bois or curious about Mudchute?
Kirchner wants you to go out with a camera to a station of your choice - any station, but preferably one you haven't been to before - and be on holiday. Emerging from an unknown tube station at the end of a line is still one of those curiously nervous moments;
stepping into uncharted territory for the first time.
Unlike today's more insidious transport ideas, Kirchner doesn't want this project to discourage people from travelling further afield.
She is open about the benefits of social mobility generally, but she does want people to see things differently; to 'go to places they've never been to before', and 'to reconnect with London - exploring the reasons and the excitement of why they came to the city in the first place'. 'Living in a Tubemap, ' she says, 'poses a challenge to our routine lives in the city.' Kirchner's personal favourites have been Harrow on the Hill ('really lovely');
while Stonebridge Park was 'not somewhere I'd recommend - but the Hindu Temple was a revelation.' Epping turned out to be 'a little village in the middle of nowhere'.
Unlike the BBC project, 'Living in a Tubemap' is an open-source website where individuals' photographs can be uploaded with observations.
This could become a useful architectural resource.
Unflattering comments are as welcome as positive ones, but Kirchner hopes the postings will spark a debate, rather than the views of an individual being the final word on an area.
From this simple yet illuminating idea, Kirchner is pulling together an exhibition in London later this year to translate the virtual experience into a tangible one. Eventually, with friends in Vienna already creating a twin site, Kirchner hopes this idea will go global.
For more information or to join in, go to www. tubemap. org or email: