Design and Development of Sentient Collective Urban Spaces

Design and Development of Sentient Collective Urban Spaces

Burak Pak (University of Leuven, Belgium)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0827-4.ch009


This chapter aims to envision design approaches for creating ubiquitous interactive spaces which can empower the users to shape and reshape their living environments. It starts with the discussion of the affordances of networked sentient technologies to facilitate cycles of reflexivity through a comparative case study. Based on this analysis, the author distils key principles for future practices including: incomplete, dynamic architectural program, continuous representation of the user needs, incorporation of user variety and differences, embracing open-endedness, self-organization and spontaneity in use. Following these principles, the author reveals a conceptual design for a sentient space in Ghent as a means to demonstrate action possibilities latent in ubiquitous spaces. In conclusion, the author shares lessons learned and elaborates on future directions.
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1. Introduction

Today, conceptualizing sustainable spaces that are capable of change is one of the biggest challenges in urban-architectural design practices (Burdett, 2013, p. 349). In order to address this challenge, it is necessary to develop alternative ways of designing which entail a dynamic understanding of urban-architectural spaces. These should facilitate recognizing the evolving modes of urban spatial production and diverse types of appropriation of these spaces by human and non-human actors.

The most significant difficulty in achieving these goals is the increasing complexity of the urban spaces and problems. Throughout the world, rapid urbanization and the growing mobility of the humans, goods and services have created a plethora of urban issues at an unprecedented level. These are radically different than the problems of mathematics and engineering sciences and range from gentrification to ecological sustainability, spatial identity to urban decay (Heynen et al., 2006). They are so complex, ill-defined and ephemeral that it is not possible for designers and planners to produce optimal solutions to these problems in a reasonable timeframe.

Moreover, the data necessary to handle these problems are often inaccurate, incomplete, dated or disconnected from everyday life since it is impossible to sense and measure all meaningful flows and activity in our cities in real-time. Adding on to this challenge, the stakeholders in design process disagree about their needs, requirements; their values are in conflict and their attitudes change in time. In this regard, novel urban design practices are required to continuously engage various stakeholders into the design process and explore available alternatives with their feedback in a bottom-up manner until certain criteria are met; in other words, produce satisficing solutions which suffice and satisfy a set of needs (Simon, 1996). Due to the challenges introduced above this task is beyond the capacities of traditional top-down urban design practices.

In order to address the ill-structured urban problems designers and planners need to find novel ways of facilitating adaptability and socio-cultural engagement through design which is capable of addressing the spatial dynamics of contemporary urban life (Burdett, 2013: p. 350). To reach this goal, it is necessary to construct novel ways of seeing architectural and urban spaces that incorporate change, self-organization and time as enabling spatial qualities. Such practices require the recognizing and sensing of qualities of incrementality inherent in urban space, leading to a dynamic understanding of urban spaces (Shepard, 2013, p. 223).

In this context, emergent information and communication technologies (ICTs) and relevant novel ICT-enabled design methods developed in the last decade provide diverse possibilities for empowering the designers. Among those “smart cities” is a powerful vision which refers to novel methods for creating urban spaces increasingly composed of and monitored by pervasive and ubiquitous computing. Although it became a buzzword with numerous connotations over the past years, smart cities concept represents a paradigm shift in urban development towards technology and innovation. This vision relies on Internet of Things (IoT), in other words, networks that extend internet connectivity to a diverse range of devices and everyday things that utilize embedded technology to communicate and interact with the external environment. Furthermore, it is frequently associated with practices exploiting ubiquitous feedback mechanisms to engage the users into the management and planning of our cities (Mitchell et al., 2013). Understanding the potentials and the evolution of these are critical to future of urban design and planning.

In this regard, the concept of “ubiquitous spaces” developed upon Weiser’s (1991) vision of ubiquitous computing is an interesting framework to discuss the future practices for the making of urban-architectural spaces. The envisioned characteristics of ubiquitous spaces and their potentials to accommodate the novel urban and architectural design practices can be summarized as (Buxton, 2006; Abowd et al., 1998, p. 2; Weiser et al., 1999):

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