Massive Data Vis: A visualization of the wikileaks data on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The intial poster contained ~1,200 entries, roughly 0.66% of the overall data. The format is intended to reflect the severity and scope of the source data and information. 

More onthis page.


Afghan War Diaries // Wall of War project is a data visualization made with the intention of accurately reflecting the severity and scope of the source data. The source data comes from the Wikileaks // Julian Assange Afghan War Logs or War Diaries, and is a unique addition to publicly available data. Usually, these sort of wartime reports are held secret for near on a century and are never very accessible even when released. Because the raw data of this recent war was released so openly, it is fertile content to explore data visualization and the meaning of the content itself.

Afghan War Diaries ID Key

The original identification key for the original poster. Secondary elements of the project tend to have the gradient from Red to Blue as a background, and the form made negative on top.

The heart of this project is understanding the meaning of this information. The initial poster featured 1,200 of the 463,000 entries. As soon as possible, I started pursuing a representation of the full data set.

Animated GIF of the scale of the full size visualization

Zooming in and out of one quarter of the final visualization. Red represents summer and blue winter. This section is around 2 years worth of information, and will be 10′ tall and ~20′ long when printed.

With the help of kickstarter, the project came online. Under the guidance of Lauren Thorson and with the collaborative aid of Tommy Petet and Matt Hill, the project is slated to come together December 2014.

A generous grant from the Robert D Bielecki Foundation made the interactive portions of Wall of War possible.

Image from Morgan Spurlock's "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold"

Fulbright Research Grant: São Paulo, Brasil

Below is the complete text from my Fulbright research grant “Statement of Grant Purpose” in Urban Planning:

Dylan Halpern, USA, Urban Planning
The People of The Clean City, São Paulo

Introduction and Objectives

In 2006, the city of São Paulo enacted a piece of legislation entitled Lei Cidade Limpa – the clean city law. This legislation effectively eliminated the “visual clutter” of the city by banning advertising signage like billboards, truck-side and taxi cab advertisements, and by standardizing other printed commercial matter to singular formats. There is no other city in the world that has created a law as firm and clear as São Paulo, and the city’s bold move provides a unique opportunity to explore how changes in urban design relate to changes in individual-level decision-making. I am interested in understanding to what degree people in São Paulo are aware of and sensitive to the presence and effects of advertising signage. In the context of this project, awareness is the consciousness of an average citizen to the presence and influence of commercial culture in everyday life. The effects of advertising signage and awareness thereof come in the form of determinism, a theory aptly summed up by philosopher Bernard Berofsky: “A traditional definition of determinism is ‘Every event has a cause.’” Berofsky writes that those who subscribe to determinism believe “that for any event, e, there is a distinct event d plus a (causal) law which asserts, ‘Whenever d, then e.’” Within this project, the outcome event, e, is the purchase of a good or service, reference or word of mouth recommendation for a brand, or other interaction with the commercial sphere. D is then the impetus for this action: a recommendation, personal and specific need, or, most relevantly, advertising signage around a city. This project aims to understand the “causal law” that determines how people make decisions in the commercial sphere in a city where there has been a distinct change to the commercial equation.
To explore this “causal law,” this project aims to examine how Lei Cidade Limpa may have sensitized citizens in São Paulo to advertising signage. This awareness will serve as an indicator for how influenced a person is by commercial culture and ultimately how vulnerable that person is to this deterministic influence. My hypothesis is that the Clean City Law has sensitized residents to advertising signage, resulting in a less pronounced expression of determinism. Higher levels of awareness might indicate more conscious, critical thinking on a day-to-day basis, allowing people in São Paulo to observe and suppress deterministic influence. This project will provide critical information for urban designers, policy makers, and, more broadly, city-dwellers concerned about their role as consumers and the influence of advertising signage. The ultimate goal of this project is to apply this understanding of awareness and determinism to make recommendations on best practices for city advertising and media.


The primary data collection method for this project is a one-on-one qualitative interview process. I will set up a stationary “research stand” that invites passers-by to participate in the project rather than seeking out individuals in their homes or businesses. The interviews will be conducted in Portuguese, and recorded for review and coding. I aim to recruit two University of Sao Paulo (USP) student researchers to assist in reviewing and coding the interviews.
I will be engaging with three communities in São Paulo in order to obtain a varied demographic sample in my interviews. Each month of the study, I will spend one week conducting interviews in each of the three selected neighborhoods, followed by a fourth week of study reflection and refinement. After finishing one month, I will restart the cycle and return to the selected neighborhoods. This variety provides the project with a balanced sample, and allows me the opportunity to better understand the city. Below is a schedule illustrating the research cycle with three prospective neighborhoods. These neighborhoods have been selected for their architectural and cultural diversity within the city. At the end of each three week data collection period, there will be a one week reflection and refinement period to code language and direct the future of the project. This reflection will take place in my affiliate institution and with the aid of my affiliate professor, Dr. Priscila Farias.

Week 1           |         Week 2           |            Week 3            |                   Week 4

Centro           |     Largo Treze     |     Vila Madalena     |     Reflection & Refinement

These interviews will begin in late March or April 2016, approximately one month after my arrival. The interviews at the research stand will continue until August, at which point I will travel to a different city in Brazil to obtain results from the same interview process in a city that still allows adverting signage in public spaces. By including a city not affected by Lei Cidade Limpa, the study gains a “control” that will provide context to understand the significance of the São Paulo information.
I have consulted with the research ethics review board (Internal Review Board or IRB) within VCU, and I will be submitting the study for review prior to commencing my journey. The office of research indicated that this study would likely fall under “exempt” or “expedited” review due to its low risk factor for participants.

Host Country Commitment and Engagement

São Paulo, Brazil is the only city in the world where this project could be completed. To expand my learning and exploration of the city, I will engage with another interest of mine: animal rescue. I have personal experience with animal adoption, and I have been an advocate for its use to friends and family. While in São Paulo, I will volunteer with a local animal shelter to aid the human and animal populations around me. Learning how the animal population is considered in São Paulo will help me understand another dimension of culture in the city.


The output from this interview process will come in two parts. The interviews will be assembled into a scholarly paper that analyzes the significance of the interview results from each area of São Paulo, and compare these results to those of the “control” city. This analysis will be followed with discussion as to whether these attitudes may be influenced by determinism. This discussion aims to examine the decision-making process of study participants, to understand how commercial culture changes the way participants thinks, and to make conclusions as to how Lei Cidade Limpa may ameliorate the psychological pressure of advertising signage.
The second half of the project will take a more holistic, narrative-based approach to understanding the unique situation in São Paulo. This analysis will be less technical, and intended for the participants and people of São Paulo. I will create a visually-based document to be distributed both online and in a limited print run that explains in simple, digestible terms and imagery what the study has revealed about awareness of commercial signage. The document is intended to inspire increased awareness and empowered decision-making.


The intricacy and cross-disciplinary nature of Lei Cidade Limpa makes it a critical and complex topic for study. Its broad ranging implications for the citizens of São Paulo and the common practice of advertising signage make it an important and unique piece of municipal legislation. Existing literature aptly dissects the physical changes in São Paulo, but there is yet no exploration of the human result. This study is important so that we might understand the City’s deterministic influence on the average citizen, and so that we might guide the best practices in other cities to enable awareness and strong, informed decision-making in their residents.

!!KICKSTARTER!! Wall of War: a massive data visualization



Wall of War is a graphic installation by VCUarts student Dylan Halpern working to visualization the ~463,000 incidents cataloged in the Iraq and Afghanistan War Logs.

Wall of War is a massive scale data visualization with intense complexity and a visceral effect on the viewer. The project sources data from the Wikileaks-leaked War records from 2004-2010. It includes events as mundane as a project file being deposited and as severe as air strikes or IEDs.

With your help, this project will explore the idea of war and the implications of large scale leaks, as well as critique the state of data visualization and information graphics today. A traditional reductionist approach might not adequately reflect the severity, scope, and importance of this data. Because of this, I have chosen a detailed and expansive representation.

The final piece will be exhibited in a gallery or outdoor space in the arts district of Richmond, Virginia. Admission will be free, and the piece will go up for the First Friday art walk in December 2014. The piece will stay up for the month of December or as long as possible.


More information available here! Please share, tweet, and post this project wherever–and if you are so inclined, back my project!

Branded Headcubes


Branded Headcubes was inspired by the deep effects branding culture has on the senses. The project explores how a persons outward identity can be shaped by branding, the changes that brand has on the perception of the world, and how that change feels.

The concept is simple: the alphabet is for sale, and every corporation is eager to snatch up his or her respective letter. At that back of every book, newspaper, and periodical, these letters must now be properly attributed. OED laughs all the way to the royal treasury.

Originally, I experimented with making one lavish, extraordinary cube, made of fine furs and rich materials. I decided that making the cubes too comfortable and too fixed as objects was too cynical and insidious, and settled on making them out of folded paper.



The project concluded with a performance of the headcubes, aimed at warding a new university gallery space against corporate incursion. Weeks after the performance, the university opted to add more branding to the entryway of the space. Despite all efforts, we failed to protect the fledgling space.


six points super 6

super six from Middle of Broad on Vimeo.

We were told not to go in the neighborhood with any sort of savior complex. We put on capes.


This project was enacted in Highland Park, Richmond, VA. The neighborhood is most notable for its rapid change over the course of just a few years from almost exclusively Caucasian to almost exclusively African american in population. The aftermath of white flight at its toughest, the neighborhood fell on hard times particularly after the closing of the streetcar line that terminated therein. The primary commercial intersection on the area is slated to be changed to a traffic circle / roundabout, but nearby roundabouts have been unsuccessful. To solve this problem we took inspiration from French gendarmes and their finely crafted uniforms. The order presented by gendarmes becomes a point of pride, and the officers more a social aid than a disciplinarian [ideally :) ].

Content and Form 1

In Marshall McLuhan’s 1964 masterpiece Understanding Media, McLuhan establishes a framework for the relationship of different media and their native content sources: Thought is the content of speech, speech is the content of the written word, and so on.

Cover image of Marshall McLuhan's "Understanding Media"

Cover image of Marshall McLuhan’s “Understanding Media”

When trying to assess what the source of content is for a city, an understandable confusion arises. Some strong contenders might be history, economy and the resources of the available hinterland, politics, or event programming around the city. As trite as it sounds,  the most defensible and possibly the most interesting relationship to examine is people as content of the city or vice versa.

Let’s define some terms: the form of a city in this case is the structures, systems, and patterns that guide and channel the actions, motions, or whatever “content” takes place. Content then is the outcome of a driving active force that may but not necessarily include the creative act, interaction between two or more persons, systems, or organizations, or the sensory output of a city (sounds, smells, sights, et cetera). Were this a more formal setting, I’d include some Baudrillard citations, but for now let’s keep moving.

In the case of people as content for a city an optimistic and perhaps even positivistic view arises. The motions of the people – the cars we drive, the bars we frequent, the color of feather most often adorning our hats – influence the character, culture, and nature of the city through individual determinations. The city exists as a framework, aesthetic but meaningless, without the people to bring life and activity to its streets, coffee shops, and museums. The artificial islands in Doha, Qatar and Japan, where the land (form) of the city is literally built, are the most extreme example of people as city content. Without people, not only are the systems flaccid, but they literally would not exist. Similarly, any part of a city that generates any sort of energy (power plants and electricity, concert halls and sounds waves) are minimized to noise without a) people to activate and manage them and b) consumers to demand their presence.

It is more elusive and more intuitively tenuous to examine the people of a city as forms of that city. The core assertion here is that the city exudes (in histrionics, inflicts) its structural will upon the denizens within. Cities planned using the cosmic city model exist as monuments to the heavens to to a higher power. With or without citizens, the structures continue their service (content), their raison d’etre regardless of human interaction.


Perhaps such structures become even more like content after they become obsolete. The great pyramids are no longer the form of luxurious burial, hopes for the afterlife, and high level investments to convince the gods to give continued prosperity. Now, the pyramids are the content of vacations, exoticism, and history. Vacations, exoticism, and the narrative threads of history (i.e. our retelling) are all human made forms and structures. Clarity: vacations might the form of relaxation, exoticism might be the form of sexual desire plus travel, and history is the form of memory. This could (might) be a whole other article; for now I’ll leave it that in the case of the pyramids the forms created are human endeavors and the pyramids inhabit these forms. There may be more straightforward examples of city as content.

Cosmic city plan. Stolen from

Cosmic city plan. Stolen from

Let’s talk about Red Hook, Brooklyn. Red Hook is a medium sized neighborhood on the west side of Brooklyn facing the harbor. It is not as prominent as neighborhoods like Dumbo and it is not as vast as neighborhoods like Bed-Stuy. What Red Hook accomplished (relevant to this rambling) is establish a pattern of behavior where the structure of a city where people became form. Transportation is the end form: motion is the content of transportation, and feet, bikes, automobiles, or ferries are the content of motion. Recently, Ikea built a store in Red Hook and began a ferry service to Manhattan. In order to seduce customers to the store, they made the ferry free; this service was relatively quicker than the subway (if memory serves the ferry took around 30 minutes or so, versus a 45-60 minute subway ride) and absolutely cheaper (at the time a 2 way subway ride would be roughly $5).

What Ikea didn’t anticipate was an influx of population to Red Hook for residence. The new population used the ferry as a primary means of transportation daily, and eventually lead to a $5 ticket fee on the ferry; however, the movement of people to Red Hook as a result Ikea’s location is form. Without the larger scale content (the building, the ferry), the system of movement would be broken. People are the form for Ikea’s new store. Many transportation systems can be posited in the same way, but this example is the most unique and straightforward.

To be functional as an urbanist, one must assert that people are the content of a city (and that content is king). To be exceptional as an urbanist, one must understand that the determinations people have are always informed by the will of the environment; it is not always clear whether city or civis deserve or need the designer’s attention.








mobfomercial from Middle of Broad on Vimeo.

Upon seeing a first draft, my professor asked me, “Would you hire us?” I thought for a second, and candidly replied, “Likely–no.”


I’m not quite sure what the purpose of this video was. Of course we intended joy in the viewer, and humor is undoubtedly present. I think we were not simply trying to intentionally make non-sense, but seize freedom from the hands of a format so desperately crushed by corporatism.