Why architects may mess up smart cities for the rest of us

Wed, 2013-08-14 06:10 -- Jesse Berst

This article from ArchDaily meanders all over the place, but there's an important nugget buried within. Architects are often asked to design the buildings and neighborhoods and cities of the future. Yet they are woefully uninformed about the amazing things made possible by smart technology.

Imagine a painter who has red and blue on his palette but not yellow. In a similar fashion, architects are painting our future but they don't have the tools to get it right. I can only hope that organizations such as the Smart Cities Council can find forums to intermingle the worlds of design and technology. -- Jesse Berst


The commentary by Rory Stott in ArchDaily – Architecture's Brave New Digital World – explores viewpoints on why and how to embed more digital information into the physical world. Stott suggests the city of Chicago's CTO John Tolva is on just such a mission, or specifically, to layer technology into the environment.

But whose responsibility is it to do that?

Tolva believes urban designers should oversee the integration. As quoted in ArchDaily, he says

“I do think there is a role for this kind of training in architecture and urban planning schools. We need to move away from thinking of technology solely as a tool to make the built world. It is a material now and should be designed and shaped the way we do walls and streets.

“This is a plea – and I make it frequently – for a discipline that doesn’t really exist yet, a merger of urban design and urban planning with urban informatics, with networked public space…

All of which impacts the smart cities movement, which Stott says, has seen architecture languish behind while technology has forged ahead.

Tolva believes things will change when architects view technology as a material, not just a tool: “Done smartly," he says, "design for a networked urbanism will make the city better along axes that already exist: convenience, safety, sustainability, and of course as a social network.”

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Jesse Berst is the founding Chairman of the Smart Cities Council. Click to subscribe to SmartCitiesNow, the weekly newsletter highlighting smart city trends, technologies and techniques.