Portugal’s Web Summit, the “largest tech conference in the world”, once again brought over 1,000 speakers and 60,000 attendees. From this special event, we gathered information on how urbanism can benefit from technology and how this could soon affect the design of our cities.
Co-creating Urban Futures Through Technology
Technology may have caused a myriad of problems, distinctly in the way we have been designing our cities. When the car took over the city after the second world war, urban planners began tailoring the city to the car, neglecting human behavior and communal needs. We began inching slowly away from one another and into a connected society of individuality, resembling robots more so than humans. According to the founder of Clear Village Thomas Ermacora, this trend is at an inflection point as what we have seen in terms of mass participation with the likes of Wikipedia and Kickstarter is about to happen and scale to the city.
He advocates for citizens to become engaged by developing new commons, including data commons to protect their rights and increase their self-reliance. This is his version of a digital age resilience which he is pushing into the circles of the World Economic Forum and other major thought leadership institutions.
Click on the image below to hear him speak on Tedx.
Technology can offer a solution to poor city designs if it is integrated properly into human-centered approaches. Ermacora works with and believes specifically that five types of technology can help the future of urban planning: participatory design tools, open policy frameworks, smart AI built on good data, real-time behavioral acting like urban domotics and the whole biotech/nanotech sphere which could dramatically change construction and interaction parameters.
His book Recoded City: Co-Creating Urban Futures covers past and current experiences of the art of participatory placemaking in order to demonstrate future possibilities, but also to announce a form of civic enlightenment leaving the passive and angry citizen in the dust – this is the dawn of an empowered citizen everywhere as the smartphone and online platforms reconfigure the relationship between people and their administrations. Ermacora’s defining theory of design is what he calls ‘recoding’, which proposes a kind of open-source urbanism,—a much older concept than one might think, except that it didn’t have the internet to power it before. In 2010, Ermacora teamed with Lucy Bullivant to embark on the Recoded City Project which highlights the vitality of citizen participation in order to create sustainable and livable cities.
“It’s an exciting time because architecture and design studios, even city officials themselves, are understanding more and more that citizen participation doesn’t necessarily equate to poorer designs.”
When Ermacora first began this venture of participatory placemaking, no one had really heard about it. Now, according to the architect, one in three studios are aware of this idea and one in ten are implementing it.
“It is becoming mainstream, and even in certain cases mandatory as the backlash of inauthentic consultation is more worrisome to real estate developers and financiers as planning approvals depend more and more on citizen buy-in.”
Attending and participating in the largest tech conference presented the perfect opportunity to discuss the idea of open-source cities with major players in the field of technology, be it those developing or those integrating.
“This idea of technology, where everyone has a smartphone in their pocket, can generate a highly visible network of design participants.”
Ermacora, founder and ex-co-owner of Inhabitat, an online publication that focuses on green design, innovation and architecture, was “always more dedicated to sustainability than architecture itself.” He is currently working with several political figures to enhance the quality of the smart city concept. He’s also involved in the XPRIZE competition, an innovation engine and a facilitator of exponential change.
Two future competitions that could lead to amazing innovations in the construction of our urban settings are the Affordable Housing and Healthy & Safe Homes XPRIZE. As stated in the video below:
“Construction is the only major industry that hasn’t gone through automation.”
Drones Initiate a Digitized View of Our Built World
Drone analytics company Airware focuses on creating a new way for people to understand and interact with the physical world. The company collects drone imagery, sensory data, IoT data and more, then transforms this into a digitized view of the location in question—a construction site, for example.
What we’re doing at Airware is looking into the predictive side.
“People no longer need to put themselves in dangerous situations because they can send a drone to collect the data of rooftop wear, for example,” said Yvonne Wassenaar, CEO of Airware. “What we’re doing at Airware is looking into the predictive side.”
It’s by exploiting the technologies of today—the Cloud, Machine learning, AI, etc—that Airware is able to create “a world that can thrive in the future—safer, better/more efficiently built and resourced, etc,” Wassenaar added.
The construction industry benefits from employing drones as it makes capturing data easier than ever. However, contractors need to harness the data in a way that ensures it is consumable, shareable and actionable. Airware’s system helps monitor job progress and earthmoving operations, survey designs and compares design plans to as-built.
“It is exciting to be applying technologies such as machine learning and AI in the physical world where so many industries up to now have been well behind on the digitization curve.
Unlocking the Energy Contained in Waste
Just prior to the grand opening of the Web Summit, ArchiExpo e-Magazine grabbed a coffee with Juergen Resch, founder and director of German startup company Wmoove. Resch explained the Wmoove power-sharing concept of transforming waste into an energy source.
In line with the idea that sustainability is the future, Wmoove exemplifies a solution that could solve two of today’s major issues: excess waste and high energy consumption. The company has developed charging stations that transform waste into energy and also serve as a six-hour energy storage base for transferring energy. The energy can be used for electric vehicles or for powering facilities.
“We’ve designed a microwave solution where we heat up the waste. We save the solids—metal for example—and gasify the rest of the waste. Then we use a hydro turbine that generates energy.”
Wmoove currently focuses on obtaining clients in the supermarket sector, which would transform its food and packaging waste into energy to power its facilities and electric vehicles. However, it envisions connections with airports and shopping malls as potential customers.
It could also revolutionize major elements of urbanism, notably infrastructure, where city planners might be asked to integrate the Wmoove charging station into their design. The city of Dusseldorf will be the first to implement the Wmoove business model with five of its charging stations, another step towards expanding the concept of smart cities.