21 Feb Review – Carlo Ratti “Do you live in a senseable city?”
On Monday 19 February one of the rising stars of contemporary architecture discussed the impact of emerging technologies on cities. He also warned the audience of the Royal Academy: “Don’t make too many predictions about the future. Act now.”
Carlo Ratti, architect and engineer, is the founder of Carlo Ratti Associati and the director of the Senseable City Laboratory at MIT, which focuses on studying how digital technologies are changing the way we describe, design, and occupy cities.
His talk related to sustainability at urban scale and how technology could influence place-shaping. The talk covered four main topics: mobility, workspaces, commerce and urban experiences.
In God we trust. Everyone else, bring data.
W. Edwards Deming, quoted by M. Bloomberg
As we speak, thousands of self-driving cars are being tested around the world. When they will start to substitute traditional vehicles, two long-term scenarios will appear. In the worst case scenario, the potential abandonment of the public mass transit system may cause a spike in congestions and traffic jams. On the opposite end of the spectrum, having less cars on the streets will allow designers to use the space left over by transport infrastructure and parking for something else. Ratti suggested that all the professionals involved in the built environment need to be aware of these two diametrically opposite outcomes in order to help the decision-makers to take the right decisions for the society and the planet.
The digital revolution hasn’t killed the need for space
Several research projects related to mobility and innovative approaches were presented. First Uber Pool and data analysis in the shareable patterns of movement, then the Amsterdam Roboat platform, a research programme on autonomous floating vessels. Finally Carlo Ratti presented the use real time data at the 2016 Venice architecture Biennale.
Some case studies related to retail and technology showed how in the future we would increasingly be able to share the narratives behind the products, providing additional information about the product itself and the wider production chain. Carlo Ratti was involved in the Future Food District at Expo 2015 in Milan and designed an interactive supermarket where on-time updates were available to customers on digital screens and mobile applications.
The software of the city is going to change much faster that the hardware
Thanks to technology we are now able to explore the use of space over time in different ways. The questions from the floor were stimulating and the audience was challenged several times. What is design? Carlo Ratti argued that designers can shape the city by directing its natural mutations. The analysis of data we create in the everyday life can help us to better understand the inequalities within the cities and between different communities in the same spatial context. The Italian architect concluded its speech underlining that top-down planned cities have always been a failure. He encouraged the public to experiment different data-driven approaches and then choose what is appropriate depending on the specific context of the project.