Course Syllabus

Visual Culture of Cities

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From left to right: Kastrup Søbad, Designmuseum Denmark, and a mural by Jacoba Niepoort in Trianglen. All photos by S. Aykut Öztürk. 

Semester & Location:

Summer 2024, Session 2 - DIS Copenhagen


Core Course - 3 credits

Major Disciplines:

Sociology, Urban Design, Urban Studies



Faculty Members:

Salim Aykut Öztürk (current students please reach out to faculty via Canvas Inbox)

Time & Place:

For times see calendar below - Fi44-Kosmo 401

Course Description

This course examines how contemporary visual urban culture and visuality in the public realm facilitate communication of political and societal values in a city. With Copenhagen and Berlin as our cases, we examine how a city integrates visual culture into urban planning and design. The course looks into spatial components of creating a visually democratic city, and the effects that street art, urban design, places of memory, and commercial interests, have on the identity. Does street art democratize the walls of the city? Or does it de-democratize them? How do cities remember? Who presents the loudest voice in a city? What makes a visual message in a public space be either inclusive or exclusive? This course will investigate these topics, with a focus on how urban planning and policy can integrate and positively make use of the visual culture.

This course examines the ways through which the tangible - as well as the intangible - components of everyday urban living can be better incorporated into our understanding culture. Anthropologically speaking, there is no universal definition of culture of course, however, there is consensus on the ways it defines a context of communication between different human and non-human actors.

In this course, the students are invited to understand the city as a context of communication (which does not have to be always  smooth, but at times disrupted, silenced, violent) in which economic and political transformation, re-distribution of power and resources, and its specific material layout play out in the making of its everyday urban culture. In this sense, this course delves into the realms of the messy and the contested - by critically engaging with the specific local histories in which the public and the private spheres are co-constituted.

This course will investigate these topics, with a focus on how urban planning and policy can integrate and positively make use of visual culture. In doing so, we will follow an interdisciplinary approach by referring to texts on culture, identity and belonging in anthropology, philosophy and political science. In a move to further close the gaps between the different domains of knowledge, we will pay specific attention to art, especially movies and literature (fiction) that are centered around everyday life in cities. 

Learning Objectives

  • Critically engage with the overladen concepts of culture, identity and belonging
  • Problematize the distinction(s) between the public and private spheres
  • Understand how the visual identity of a city facilitates - or potentially hinders - the communication of political and societal norms and values 
  • See through the different hidden, buried, silenced layers of urban palimpsest
  • Locate politics of voice and representation in relation to urban archeology of knowledge
  • Ability to collect sensory and ethnographic data as well as archive material
  • More effectively present ideas of culture to wider audiences


Please note that there are no required textbooks to pick up from the library

Augé, Marc, Non-places. An Introduction to Super Modernity, Verso 1992

Møller, Henning Steen, Copenhagen. A Love Affair, ch. 1: Spacial Conventions, Copenhagen 2003

Municipality of Copenhagen, København, A short description of Copenhagen, the city's physical structure and planning, Copenhagen 1972

Corner, James, The Agency of Mapping: Speculation, Critique and Invention, Mappings, Cosgrove Dennis (ed.), Chicago 1999

Lynch, Kevin, Image of the city, Cambridge Massachusetts 1960 

Frisch, Michael, Planning as a Heterosexist Project, Journal of Planning Education and Research 21 (3) March, Kansas City 2002

Steiner, Henriette and Veel, Kristin, Living Behind Glass Facades: Surveillance Culture and New Architecture, Surveillance and Society 9 (1/2), Copenhagen2011

Riza, Müge et al., City Branding and Identity, Famagusta 2011

Nielsen, Kasper F., Art Project Hands of Elsinore, Helsingør 2016 (unpublished material)

Gehl, Jan, Life Between Buildings, Copenhagen 1983


Salim Aykut Öztürk

Ph.D. in Anthropology (University College London, 2020). MA in Migration and Diaspora Studies (School of Oriental and African Studies, London 2010). MA in Political Science and International Relations (Bogazici University, 2009). BA in Political Science and International Relations (Bogazici University, 2007). Quantitative and qualitative researcher with work and field experience in Istanbul, London and Jerusalem. First book, “Mobility and Armenian Belonging in Contemporary Turkey: Migratory Routes and the Meaning of the Local” (London: IB Tauris) forthcoming in 2022. Currently working on a second book, “An Island that is No More: Politics and Placemaking in Istanbul.” With DIS since 2021.

Approach to Teaching

During the course Copenhagen will be used as an ‘urban laboratory’ to study how visual culture policies, strategies and programs are physically manifested in the urban environment. We will maximize our sensorial spectrum in experiencing and interpreting the everyday life in the city. Class room lectures will be supported by field trips by utilizing various modes of urban and public transport. 

Expectations of the Students

All students are expected to be independent learners/thinkers, attentive observers and critical researchers. The academic content of the lectures will be substantial but the learning objective is primarily to translate that academic knowledge into usable applicable knowledge using the city as the urban laboratory. Students are expected to conduct individual observation exercises, as well as story telling exercises and what-if-scenario assignments. Students are expected to be creative and imaginative in relation to the exercises and assignments as well as sensible and sensitive in relation to lectures and field trips. There are times to discuss and create and there are times to look and listen.

Team spirit: All students are expected to be helpful and pay attention to your fellow classmates, especially in relation of the field trips and mapping/observation exercises.  Sharing information and experiences is very much encouraged in class room: together we know more.

Study Tour

Berlin is an epicenter of urban culture in Europe and has been for the last three decades. During our stay in Berlin, we will study the visual language and visual culture of the city. We will look at the differing perspectives of the political, social, and historical mechanisms that form the current urban make-up of the city. You will learn to identify the modes in which a city remembers historical events through memorials, you will learn to identify different styles of graffiti and how they represent an urban landscape, and you will observe Berlin through its counter culture activities. You will acquire these skills through city walks, guest lectures, active workshops for creating your own tag, and urban exploration.

Study tour objectives:

  • Understand and identify the cultural and visual differences between East and West Berlin
  • Explore the historic context of Berlin through a memorial tour and analyze its impact on the current visual identity of the city
  • Explore street art, facades, culture, and commercial signage through observational exercises and visual recording methods learned in class


  • Visiting the world famous Boros Collection
  • Gaining historical context and perspective from a guided “how cities remember” tour looking at the scars of the city and the memorials left
  • Engaging in a walking tour to see famous graffiti pieces and create your own graffiti piece
  • Experiencing alternative culture in Berlin by visiting a local drag show
  • Visit a local design firm working with the city’s contemporary cultural scene

Evaluation & Grading

Each student will be graded on the level of engagement in the class discussion and conversations in relation to lectures as well as the field trips. To be eligible for a passing grade in this class, students must complete all of the assigned work.




Assignment 1: Islands Brygge

The purpose of this exercise is to familiarize you with the area of Islands Brygge as well as to introduce you to the methods associated with visual studies of urban spaces.


Assignment 2: Berlin - Memory and Identity

This assignment is split into a group presentation (15%) and an independent paper (15%). Both are graded individually. The assignment is the result of field work conducted in Berlin with a focus on how cities remember. 


Assignment 3: Architecture and Surveillance

You will produce a paper based on field work conducted at the 8 House in Ørestad. The paper takes its point of departure in surveillance studies and how these intersect with visual research methods. 




You are expected to attend all DIS classes when scheduled. If you miss two classes the Director of Teaching and Learning, and the Director of Student Affairs will be notified and they will follow-up with you to make sure that all is well. Absences will jeopardize your grade and your standing at DIS. Allowances will be made in cases of illness, but you will need to provide a doctor’s note.

Academic Honesty

DIS expects that students abide by the highest standards of intellectual honesty in all academic work. DIS assumes that all students do their own work and credit all work or thought taken from others. Academic dishonesty will result in a final course grade of “F” and can result in dismissal. The students’ home universities will be notified. DIS reserves the right to request that written student assignments be turned in electronic form for submission to plagiarism detection software. See the Academic Handbook for more information, or ask your instructor if you have questions.

Electronic Devices in the Classroom

The use of electronic devices is restricted to note-taking during lectures and field studies.

Assignments and Late Policy

Our priority for assignments is for students to gain knowledge and master skills that will make you adept at understanding the visuality of the urban environment around you. The assignments reflect topics covered in class.

The professor aims to assist you in mastering these skills through personal feedback and/or class discussions with each assignment. Both will be critical to your success throughout the semester. Assignments that are not submitted by the due date will receive a grade deduction.

Disability resources

Any student who has a need for disability accommodations should contact the Office of Academic Support ( to coordinate this. Upon DIS approval, students should inform the instructor of accommodations within the first 2 weeks of class.

Academic Regulations

Please make sure to read the Academic Regulations on the DIS website. There you will find regulations on: 

DIS - Study Abroad in Scandinavia -

Course Summary:

Date Details Due