City Sets is a metaphor that refers to cities as stages where passers-by are seen as actors. People with different motives come to cities to live, work, do business, spend free time and meet other people. These encounters have inspired many artists and designers from filmmakers and photographers to writers and architects.

The architecture of an urban environment tells history and frames places, which can be seen as stages for various episodes and happenings to come about. Quarters in a town differ according to their histories and functions and although the architecture is relatively permanent, the atmosphere of a place changes with lightning and weather. The character of Helsinki is different in summer and winter months and the visual identity seems to vary when a spectator moves from one quarter to another.

Advertising and signage in a city can be seen as sets, which also influence the appearance of a place. The signage is set to inform people, to direct traffic or to identify buildings and companies. Outdoor advertisements and posters are topical information but their purpose may also be to persuade, entertain and tell stories. These city sets together with the architecture, history and people create the identity and narrative of a city.

The City Sets seminar takes a look into these identities and narratives of cities as portrayed in visual practice, research and new media. It also presents and discusses the results of the Aalto University School of Art and Design workshop 8-12 Nov 2010, in which these subjects are investigated by art and design students through the realisation of a multiple-point-of-view web narrative of Helsinki and its visual identity. The seminar also functions as a kick-off for larger national and international collaboration on the themes in order to formulate a European wide CITY SETS project.