Most visualizations use the two-dimensional plane of paper or screens, even when visualizing spatial (three-dimensional) data. Green Berlin explores the opportunity space of tangible artefacts, created with rapid prototyping techniques, in this case a laser cutter. Since humans are multi-sensory beings, the physical, the haptic world gives us a certain sensation we cannot deny. While the virtual realm allows us to create complex multidimensional visualizations, a physical 3D object, even though it is lower in complexity, still has a high appeal for specific use cases.

Germany's greenest cities - Berliner Morgenpost Germany's greenest cities - Berliner Morgenpost. Link Even though Berlin only ranked number 63 on a list of Germany's greenest cities (Berliner Morgenpost), it still offers a lot of parks, forests, rivers, and lakes for its citizens to enjoy. This is one of the reasons why Berlin is a great city to live in, especially during summertime. Due to scale and technical limitations the physical map could not show every single park and pond in Berlin, but even our selection with a low granularity already paints quite a green picture.

Laser Cutter Animation
Laser cutter engraving the water layer.

OpenStreetMap's Overpass-API was used to aggregate the data. Small regions were removed programmatically and the polygons were slightly optimized for speeding up the cutting process. While we used an intersect algorithm to remove all features outside of the Berlin border, we needed to manually tweak the map at the borders, as there are several lakes and forests directly at the border of Berlin, which we wanted to keep. Most laser printers accept DXF files (vectors) for cutting, and raster files for engraving. Both can be exported from most vector-editing applications as well as QGIS.

The green layers, water layers as well as the border of Berlin.
The green layers, water layers as well as the border of Berlin.

After sending the data off to the printer and waiting for a couple of hours, the map was glued to a board and was thoroughly impregnated in order to withstand the watering to come. The next step took us to the woods of Berlin where we collected all sorts of moss. The moss was then cut into shape and glued to the board (we used children's glue, the least toxic glue we could find). More than a month later, and after maintaining the map with an occasional sprinkle of water, the moss is still alive (well most of it).

If you are interested to learn more about this project, there is a more thorough explanation of the process, including high res images, as well as all the scripts and sources available on GitHub:


sebastian-meier/GreenBerlin Tangible data visualization of green areas and water in Berlin. Public repository on GitHub »


This project was a collaboration between: IDL - Interaction Design Lab - FH Potsdam


Laser via Reddit Laser via Reddit. Link The data required to realize this project was collected from OpenStreetMap.
A big thank you goes to my colleague, the man at the laser cannon Fabian Moron Zirfas (@fabiantheblind).


The data and code as provided on the Github page are available under GPLv3, so you can do what ever you want with it.

All the images on this website as well as in the repo, if not otherwise marked are available under: Creative Commons License
This means more or less that you can do whatever you want with the images, as long as you mention the source.
Green Berlin by Sebastian Meier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


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