Category Archives: Digital phenomena

We don’t guess the structural performance of individual buildings so why do we guess the human performance of entire cities?

The structural steelwork of a large and complex building would not be designed without running engineering calculations. Even the smallest of buildings is subject to objective structural analysis. No client and professional team would rely on guesswork, no matter how famous or experienced the architect or engineer.

So why do we leave the human performance of places to the whim of architects who run no calculations and rely only on their instinct and ego? Why is the science of human behaviour so poorly developed? Why is chronic failure still tolerated?

In the early sixteenth century, William Harvey challenged the medical profession to take a more objective, more observation-driven approach to the understanding of the circulation of blood. At the time, medical thinking was largely based on the beliefs of Galen of Pergamon, who had set these out in the second century. Harvey challenged a medical mindset that hadn’t changed in one and a half millennia. And he encouraged his peers to embrace advances in science that allowed new forms of investigation.

We can see a similar state of affairs in the prevalence of, and institutional inertia around, twentieth century planning. Based on belief, not observation-based science, a doctrinal approach to urban planning and design pervades the professions. This is the case, whether the specific approach is Modernism, the Garden City movement or (and especially) Landscape Urbanism. Each is to some degree unscientific.

These approaches propose different kinds of urban outcomes but what unites them is a belief that the future should look fundamentally different to the form of continuously connected, dense and mixed-use urbanism found in cities for as long as there have been cities – the kind of urbanism that architects and town planners visit on their holidays.

The kind of urbanism – and here’s the irony – that Galen would have recognised. If only architecture and town planning were stuck in a fifteen hundred-year-old mindset. We would still have vehicles on the road but we wouldn’t have vehicle dominance. We wouldn’t have land use zoning that generates long-distance commuting, traffic congestion and negative health impacts. We wouldn’t be encroaching on the rural landscape with semi-detached, density-fearing dwellings.

Fundamental change in our professions is needed and science has an important part to play. In the spirit of Harvey’s observation-based approach, we need to embrace the new capabilities offered by sensing, analytics and modelling. We need to understand how cities truly work before we then form ideas about how to change them. We must move beyond the beliefs of twentieth century practice. The evidence is there to demonstrate that practice based on belief hasn’t delivered great places with the consistency required either by the investors in them or the users of them.

We can learn from Harvey, even if our end goal is the urbanism of Galen.

Open data needs open attitudes

Tim Stonor speaks at the Building Research Establishment about his experience using data in the planning and design of buildings and urban settlements.

Technology by necessity

Notes for today’s talk at the NLA’s conference on “How do we build a smarter London

The London context:

– more people (growing population)
– more data (sensors everywhere)
– more sophisticated computing.

Strategic problem: how to handle it all.

Space Syntax’s experience: address the problem via “the questions of reality”.

The commercial application of Space Syntax research was catalysed by approaches from London residents in the early/mid 1980s eg Limehouse Basin, South Bank, King’s Cross: citizens groups opposing property developments they saw as being alien to London life. Today we work for those developers as well as community groups. Developers have learned to “get it”.

Data and computing create an art of the possible (sometimes the seemingly impossible too eg the wonderful Pigeon Sim). Pass the art of the possible through the filter of reality/market demand. Then it’s possible to make sense of it all – to know what to do.

The questions asked by our clients are the necessary filter.

Then evolve the technology according to new and difficult questions.

This is what we had to do to understand Trafalgar Square – we’d never studied such a complex open space before.

Technology by necessity.

Bill Hillier’s Smart London

Notes of Bill Hilliers opening talk about the NLA Smarter London exhibition, 8th October 2014.

Congratulations to the NLA and CASA for the exhibition.

It’s evidence that London is the original smart city – nowhere such a collection of top class practices, imaginative authorities and academic departments developing new ways of doing things, and new technologies –and talking to each other !

But I think London is a smart city also in another sense – the city itself and how it’s put together.

When I was young London was regarded as an unplanned mess, in need of being tidied up into a system of well-defined neighbourhood units separated by main roads – a bit like Milton Keynes.

I’ve been asked to say something about one of the technologies on show – space syntax.

When we apply space syntax analysis to London it suggests it’s not mess at all

That under the apparent disorder, there is a pretty smart city. Continue reading Bill Hillier’s Smart London

Forwards to the past! Technology’s greatest triumph

WhatdidItellyou-HQ

Rick

There are so many reasons why what you have set out below is interesting. But I think I can take a different position to the one that you are developing.

My approach will be that, far from taking the human mind, behaviours, and cultural norms beyond where they have ever been before, the true value of modern technology, analytics and predictive capacity will be for cities and civilisations to recover the unbelievable sophistication that they once had. Continue reading Forwards to the past! Technology’s greatest triumph

Building a Smart City modelling team

Integrated Urban Model

.

Cities planning their future are increasingly turning to the production of Integrated Urban Models. These are tools that bring together various datasets on different asoects of urban performance, from the behaviour of people to the flows of energy, water and other utilities. The aim is to better predict the future of cities by better understanding how they are currently working.

This is a nascent but rapidly developing field in which knowledge is emerging and evolving at a pace. Given the complexity of cities it is a good idea to involve many specialists in different subjects, led by an Urban Modelling Advisory Panel (UrbanMAP).   Continue reading Building a Smart City modelling team

RIBA thinkpiece launched: “A SMART approach to digital planning & design”

The RIBA today launched a set of think-pieces on Digital planning: ideas to make it happen.

Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 09.25.23