Urban Structures versus Aesthetic Pleasantness

Different eras and urban planning ideologies have produced different urban typologies. In Finland the typologies have varied, among others, between post-war rebuilding with social and rationalistic planning principles, concrete-element suburbs representing the heyday of modernism, and the modern development with ideals of mixed functions and dense urban form. All typologies can be considered to represent the most appreciated urban form at their time.  Inspired by these variations in appreciations,  we chose six housing areas representing three types of urban structures from the city of Oulu:  Karjasilta and Nokela as representatives of post-war single family housing, Kaukovainio and Kaijonharju as 1960–70s suburbs and Myllytulli and Toppilansaari as 1990-2000s modern development.

Urban structure vs. attachment to and aesthetic appreciation of

Our study seeks to address the following questions:

What kind of relationship is there between urban structure and aesthetic appreciation of one’s own living environment?

How do urban typologies differ and what do people primarily photograph within them?

Research setting

We downloaded Instagram images from each area by the area hashtag. This resulted in 4, 300 photos in total, of which 2, 700 were outdoor photos, which were our main focus. We focused on outdoor photos because these are more likely to represent an area’s development and can help to identify the places people visit frequently. Of the six areas, Toppinlansaari had the largest proportion of outdoor images which is indicative of the environment in the area – a modern setting that is surrounded by a well-maintained natural environment that encourages outdoor activities.

Urban structure vs. attachment to and aesthetic appreciation of


Environmental settings, scales and seasons


Instagram images were categorized according to the scale of the photographed view, and according to whether they were taken in urban or natural setting. Images were tagged as landscape if they represented a wider view of the natural or urban environment. Object-scale tag was given to images that represented one object, such as a building or a tree. A detail-tag was used if the picture was taken only of one part of such an object. We had an assumption that there would be differences in division of urban/natural pictures and the scale of the photographed environment, depending on the urban structure of the representative area.  We also tagged the season when the image was taken, in order to study whether seasonality would have an effect on the type of photos and make any difference in our urban typologies.

In the analysis presented in this section, only images that had tags on all three categories (urban/natural, scale, season) were used. In the following, we present our analysis through flowcharts.


SubOulu_Flowcharts_PostwarIn our two cases of post-war single family housing, there were more urban photos than natural photos. Moreover, among urban photos the relative amount of detail/object scale photos was high, compared to other areas. Interestingly, the post-war single family housing typology is the most small-scale in the case study urban structures. Could there be a connection between the small-scale urban structure and the scale of the photographed environment?

When having a look to the contents of the images, we observed that the detail- and object-level photos are portraying parts of everyday life, such as selfies, pets and food. Therefore, also the demographic structure of the area could have an impact. The images are divided evenly between summer, fall, winter and spring, which might tell about active life in the area during all seasons.

1960-70s SUBURB

SubOulu_Flowcharts_SuburbsOur suburb-cases had more urban than natural photographs. Especially in Kaukovainio the amount images taken in urban environment is remarkable, even though the urban structure represents the traditional Finnish “forest suburb” (metsälähiö). The reason for this could actually be that since the buildings are blended with natural environment the majority of the pictures have both nature and urban environment in them, but these were tagged only as urban environment in our study. In Kaijonharju there are more winter photos than summer photos, which was rare in our case study areas (2 out of 6). One reason could be that the area is located near university. Many of the inhabitants are students that spend time in the area especially during fall, winter and spring.



Among our case study areas Toppilansaari was the only area with more natural photos than urban photos, whereas in Myllytulli the amount of urban photos was remarkable. The plausible reason in Toppilansaari is that the area is located near one of the most popular recreational areas in Oulu, Hietasaari. Moreover, the urban structure in Toppilansaari is planned with many connections to nature.
Also Myllytulli is located near popular recreational area, Ainola park. However, the park has a strong identity of its own, and separated from the Myllytulli area by a traffic lane. Nature photos taken near Myllytulli are propably not tagged under the area hashtag. Nevertheless, we observed that the high amount of winter photos in Myllytulli are actually taken in this park, when having a closer look to the picture contents.
Both areas had relatively many landscape-scale photos. Could this tell about the pleasantness of the urban environment that is photographed in large scale? While in Myllytulli this might be one explanation, in Toppilansaari it probably is more about the recreational activities in the area.

Temporal activeness

We analyzed the temporal activeness of different areas through examining amounts of day and evening photos. As all of the areas have mostly residential functions, we didn’t expect to find a lot of night life photos. On the other hand, people are at home in the evenings and might do evening walks in the vicinity of their home.



Postwar_NatuUrbanDayEveningPost-war single family house areas have the least amount of evening photos. It could be, that there is nothing to see in the evening. The lighting consists mostly of functional streetlights and environment is rather dark in the evening. People prefer to stay inside after dark.

1960-70s SUBURB


In both suburbs the evening photos in natural environment consisted almost entirely of sunset photos. Urban evenings consisted of dark and lit views and streetscapes, but also pointed out to some existence of suburban (night) life in form of police cars and urban objects, such as traffic signs.



Modern_EveningNight_MontageIn modern development areas the amount of evening photos is the highest. Evening photos in these areas contain sunset photos (especially in Toppilansaari) as well as urban landscapes with good quality lighting. This might point out a potential: housing areas are considered rather inactive and the activity is concentrated on peoples homes. If environment is aesthetically pleasing and interesting, it encourages people to explore outdoor spaces.

The most photographed views


1960-70s SUBURB



The differences between environmental settings, scales and seasons differed in each area, but had more to do with the location of the area in within the city and the demographic structure than the representative urban form of the area. The most considerable difference was the amount of object- and detail-scale photos in the post-war single family housing areas, compared to other areas. Could this be interpreted as appreciation towards the more human-scale built environment and way of life in the post-war areas?

The surprisingly high temporal activeness during evenings in modern development areas – even when they don’t have much traditional evening facilities such as restaurants or bars – pointed out an interesting direction for urban development: maybe other, smaller scale urban structures could also benefit from small interventions such as good quality lighting to activate the evenings?