Interdependent Urbanism

Interdependent Urbanism is a architectural and urban research project by Project : Architecture. It looks toward computation as an essential tool to augment the increasingly complex design process of cities where a myriad of factors must be considered simultaneously.

I’m not sure why architects are always waiting till the last minute to make deadlines, but my alter-ego gave me 5 hours to complete the soundtrack and voice over to this video. The electric piano backdrop was easy. As soon as I plugged in my gear and started recording a take while watching the video, my cat jumped onto the keyboard creating a semi-dissonant ‘kerplunk.’ That was it! An energized, rhythmic theme to match the video’s concepts of ‘computation,’ ‘voxels,’ and ‘customization’ (The piano comping will be featured in a new tune mussi).

Just as I thought I was miles ahead in quickly laying down the music, the voice over was a different story. Having just got back into singing, I was overly confident that speaking would be easy. Well it’s not, and now I realize why great voiceover artists are highly trained and sought after professionals. While the act of singing matches melody to the music, narration must stand starkly in the foreground while maintaining pace (no umm’s or even slight awkward pauses), inflection (overdo it just enough so you’re not overdoing it), pronunciation (we should have heeded the criticism of our grade-school teachers), and personality (who the heck am I anyway?). It’s both a physically and mentally ambidextrous art and those that have mastered it  deserve many props.

Even though I claim to be a multi-instrumentalist, I can now definitively say that I have no future in reciting poetry or radio… But don’t listen too closely – it’s better to just watch. The ideas in the video are very cool (I can brag when my alter-ego is not around) and have been internationally published and discussed including in the book Ecological Urban Architecture by Thomas Schroepfer. And to see more work where machine learning, music, and architecture come together, the Cloud interactive sculpture where I performed the sound effects and whispered eco-doom secrets may also be of interest…

video narrative
If zoning at it’s core is about egalitarian relationship, we’re at a crossroads where computation can play a major role in successful urban design.
We started with the ubiquitous urban grid where many times density and quality of life are in conflict.  Let’s take Manhattan for instance: Instead of prescriptive zoning that blocks light, parametric zoning can actually raise density and guarantee sunlight to ground level open spaces. A variable sky exposure plane can coordinate building heights against a wide variety of existing and new conditions. The result is an increase in density of almost 140% but also an increase in access to light and air. This comparison shadow study shows that even with higher buildings, daylighting to ground level spaces is much improved.
Let’s look under the hood for a moment: The tool is based on the voxel, a 3-dimensional informational pixel. It allows us to generate a solution for the entire urban mass, something that would takes weeks to do manually. Customized floor-to-floor heights for instance can help deliver excellent daylighting to all the buildings.
The power of the tool is that many social, environmental, and material factors can be analyzed simultaneously. So instead of diminishing the role of the designer, it actually empowers us. And since this tool is essentially 3-dimensional, property lines and air-rights can be designed for much more effectively.
Let’s try on some different hats and see how they can be used for productive discussion: A developer might prioritize certain parts of the urban block while highlighting synergies between mixed-use programs. While an individual might want to test their access to light and air as well as their access to public amenities. While a community development group might want to incorporate civic programs like a school and its related open spaces. Finally the material and shape of the buildings can take on many forms, limited only by the imagination.
Interdependent Urbanism: This research was made possible by the Harvard Real Estate Academic Initiative. A special thanks to the entire team.