• Digital Platform Puts Urban Design in the Hands of the People

    How can we create digital dialogues between urban planners and community members? The answer might just be in our pockets.

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  • How do we expand access to urban planning? How do we draw discussions out of city hall chambers, and give community members a stronger voice in the way their neighborhood grows?

    The answer may be in our pocket.

    By 2020, six billion pockets across the globe will be home to a smartphone. Mobile platforms reshape how we connect as a community – Their accessibility and ease of use expand internet access to broader audiences, opening new possibilities for crowdsourcing and knowledge sharing. Framed within architecture, digital platforms offer unprecedented opportunity to broaden public discourse around urban planning and design. Architecture should be democratic, a reflection of communities and individual voices. Expanding digital access brings new opportunities to bring the individual agency into the groundwork of the built environment.

    This year, a small team from Henning Larsen took new steps in exploring how we can use mobile platforms to amplify the conversation between communities and architects. We’ve found new opportunities to share knowledge and ideas across industries through the AEC Hackathon series, a weekend event for collaboration between technology specialists and industry professionals in architecture, engineering, and construction. Originating in Silicon Valley in 2013, the series translate concepts from the tech industry into architecture and urban design, exploring new avenues for integrating modern technology into the methods we use to shape the built environment.

    At a January AEC Hackathon event at Copenhagen’s BloxHub, we worked with local architects and digital consultants to develop a working concept for an application that bridges the divide between city planners and their constituents. Drawing on our research with virtual reality in architecture, our concept used 3D building models and users’ GPS coordinates to allow them to render how proposed local developments might look from their bedroom window or balcony. The application also incorporated channels for users to submit feedback directly to planning committees and architects, encouraging conversation-based design. Our idea speaks to how new technology can democratize architecture, utilizing mobile platforms to help the built environment better reflect its users. Our team received an invitation to AEC Hackathon 6.1 at Facebook’s Silicon Valley headquarters, where we further sharpened our concept – and were awarded “Best Overall Project” by the competition jury panel.

    The reception to our work suggests a broader interest in expanding access to urban design. While urban densification answers the demands of growing populations, it risks interrupting established communities and alienating residents who feel left out of the decision-making process. Digital platforms hold the potential to establish a new link between community members and designers. They can translate urban planning into more accessible terms, empowering citizens to shape how their communities grow. With our working concept, we’re joining a growing movement that looks to extend architecture beyond the industry. We want to initiate dialogue with neighbors and building users to ensure our designs emerge as personal gestures. We believe in the architecture of conversations, not prescriptions – And see new opportunities for digital technology to democratize design.

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