Ur­ban­ism

THE TOOLS FOR SMARTER BUILD­INGS AND EVEN EN­TIRE CI­TIES ARE WITHIN OUR GRASP. BUT WILL THE RE­SULTS BE BOONS OR BUSTS?

Azure - - CONTENTS - WORDS _El­iz­a­beth Pagli­a­colo

Are smart-city ad­vo­cates do­ing enough to safe­guard pri­vacy?

Since Side­walk Labs was an­nounced in 2017, the am­bi­tious plan by Al­pha­bet (Google’s par­ent com­pany) to shape a 4.9-hectare chunk of Toronto’s wa­ter­front into a “smart” neigh­bour­hood has cap­tured the world’s at­ten­tion. The scheme ticks off all the right boxes: a cut­ting-edge trans­porta­tion net­work (in­clud­ing au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles), green pub­lic spa­ces, af­ford­able hous­ing. And all of it will be pow­ered by open dig­i­tal in­fra­struc­ture. If the project goes for­ward, the de­tails will take years to fi­nesse. But ex­am­ples of smart-city tech­nol­ogy al­ready ex­ist else­where, of­fer­ing dis­parate clues to what a smart com­mu­nity can be. Af­ter the first gen­er­a­tion of smart ci­ties re­sulted in sparsely pop­u­lated cau­tion­ary tales (see Songdo In­ter­na­tional Busi­ness Dis­trict in South Korea), we’ve fine-tuned our def­i­ni­tion of “smart.” As ap­plied to a prod­uct, build­ing or city, smart tech­nol­ogy needs to sat­isfy mul­ti­ple needs at once, serv­ing the in­di­vid­ual, the col­lec­tive and the en­vi­ron­ment by tap­ping into the 2.5 quin­til­lion bytes we gen­er­ate each day. In the prod­uct cat­e­gory, the once-revo­lu­tion­ary Nest ther­mo­stat has been un­seated by bolder, app-en­abled de­vices that go be­yond In­ter­net of Things in­te­gra­tion. Foster + Part­ners and Artemide re­cently de­buted Node, a ceil­ing track sys­tem au­to­mated by a sin­gle plat­form that al­lows light­ing, HVAC and other func­tions to be tai­lored to var­i­ous in­te­rior zones. And Flos’ Smart Con­trol sys­tem en­ables of­fice denizens to op­er­ate light­ing fix­tures with their smart­phones, while Philips has come out with a Li-fi sys­tem that trans­mits Wi-fi at the speed of light. Now, with the launch of Unsense, Am­s­ter­dam ar­chi­tec­ture firm Un­stu­dio is bring­ing this de­sign-led dig­i­ti­za­tion to ev­ery­thing from in­te­ri­ors and build­ings to en­tire ci­ties. As founder and prin­ci­pal Ben van Berkel says, the goal of his new tech start-up is to de-silo the worlds of de­sign, ur­ban plan­ning and con­struc­tion. “I am of the be­lief that, in the fu­ture, all ar­chi­tec­ture prac­tices will be­come arch-tech firms. But, for now, we have to pave the way to make this ex­pan­sion of our knowl­edge and ex­per­tise pos­si­ble.” Unsense’s projects-in-devel­op­ment in­clude the RE­SET Stress Re­duc­tion Pods (in­ter­ac­tive light-and-sound zones for the of­fice), the So­lar Brick (a P.V. cladding mod­ule an­i­mated by daz­zling ras­ter­ized pat­terns) and the Ci­ty­sense smart-city pro­gram (which boasts data-driven street lights and in­ter­ac­tive ur­ban ex­pe­ri­ences ac­cessed via a suite of apps). Van Berkel isn’t alone. Bjarke In­gels Group (BIG) and Carlo Ratti As­so­ciati (CRA) are merg­ing their re­spec­tive brands of sus­tain­able he­do­nism and sen­si­ble city-mak­ing for a Sin­ga­pore project called 88 Mar­ket Street. In the vein of Ste­fano Bo­eri’s Bosco Ver­ti­cale in Milan and Sin­ga­pore’s own Gar­dens by the Bay (with its mam­moth Su­pertree Grove), 88 Mar­ket Street teems with na­ture, demon­strat­ing that plant life and A.I. can go hand in hand. The 51-storey, mixed-use build­ing, which broke ground in Fe­bru­ary and is slated for com­ple­tion in 2021, will con­tain of­fices and res­i­dences as well as a mas­sive food mar­ket and a green-rooftop oa­sis. It will be the cen­tre­piece of a vi­brant pub­lic space that in­cludes walk­ing and cy­cling paths. The project’s tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tions be­gin with fa­cial-recog­ni­tion of­fice en­try and end with a trans­porta­tion sys­tem that serves all of Sin­ga­pore. Among its other in­no­va­tions are cus­tomiz­able ther­mal-com­fort zones (which CRA pi­o­neered for the of­fices of the Agnelli Foun­da­tion in Turin) and ro­bots tasked with as­sist­ing in clean­ing and se­cu­rity. No mat­ter how well-in­ten­tioned or holis­tic the vi­sion for a smart com­mu­nity may be, how­ever, the ma­jor con­sid­er­a­tion must al­ways be pri­vacy. We are in a post–cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica world, af­ter all. Side­walk Labs has re­as­sured Toron­to­ni­ans that, while its sen­sors and low-res cam­eras will track group be­hav­iour pat­terns, in­di­vid­ual anonymity will be pro­tected. Per­haps the big­gest in­no­va­tion ought to be a le­gal one. Europe is ahead of the game with its Gen­eral Data Pro­tec­tion Reg­u­la­tion, which went into ef­fect in May 2018. As van Berkel ex­plains, “all of our so­lu­tions take into con­sid­er­a­tion the GDPR, which seeks to cre­ate a har­mo­nized dat­apro­tec­tion-law frame­work across the E.U. and aims to give cit­i­zens back con­trol of their per­sonal data.”

Fu­ture Farms, a pro­posal by Un­stu­dio, en­vi­sions in­te­grat­ing agri­cul­ture into ur­ban set­tings through projects such as the Am­s­ter­dam tower con­cep­tu­al­ized above.

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