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“Smart” urban policies are generally accepted as being those local government initiatives which use information and communications technology to improve the quality of life of cities’ inhabitants, i.e., those which contribute to sustainable development.

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The use of data and programmes that bring new technologies to a project doesn’t substitute design processes or concepts: they are a means, not an end. Just as using a word processor doesn’t make you a writer or using BIM or GIS doesn’t make us better architects, access to Big Data doesn’t mean we’ll automatically come up with more attractive solutions and having data sensors doesn’t solve all a projects problems on its own. But it does help us to verify and measure things, to carry out more accurate checks and analyses, to be more efficient in our processes and to interrelate different issues, fields and scales of design more flexibly.

¿To Be or Not to Be a Smart Architect? That is Not the Question!

Data City in Barcelona for urban planning at neighbourhood level. Use of data by planning components (mobility, public space, housing, facilities, demography) and by social groups (children, adolescents, elderly people, floating population). District 22@ (Poblenou quarter) participative-technical study. Source: Mayorga+Fontana Arquitectos. Barcelona Institute of Technology (BIT Habitat)-Barcelona City Council Urban Data Desk Project. Design team: X. Abadia, M. Casado, A. Fernandez, M. Ramos, J. Rodríguez. Concept and coordination: Mayorga+Fontana Arquitectos.

 

Conversations between architects often give rise to debate over the always controversial issue of Smart Technology. You must have heard comments like “This “smart” stuff is nothing to do with me… I’m an architect, not an engineer or an IT expert”; “That’s all science fiction… smart hogwash”; “This Big Data thing is just a way of controlling people”; “I don’t know how to find data… and I don’t know if I’d trust the data I found”; “I’ve always been interdisciplinary”; “Citizen involvement is meddling, the information is manipulated, it’s a false way of democratising a  project”; and “Cities have always been smart”. Perhaps the question is, “Do we categorise cities according to how smart they are, or do we define ourselves as “smart” architects?” But there’s more to it than that, as we’ll see.

To begin with, is there a unanimously accepted definition of “smart”? We don’t think so, because it’s more of an attitude: “Being ‘smart’ means collaborating instead of competing, creating a system rather than dominating, and continually establishing relationships” (R. Masiero). It’s an approach to projects that involves an ability to understand context, to be strategically synergetic, to do more with less, to make the best use of available resources, and to be senseable – that is to say, both sensitive and sensible (C. Ratti). In recent years, the term “smart city” has led to both agreements and discrepancies between politicians, business leaders, technical experts, academics and citizens in general1. All architects should be willing to explore the scope and the usefulness of being “smart” or “senseable”, without typecasting themselves or making a conscious decision to be – or not to be – a guru of technology use.

Let’s ask another question. Should we continue to talk about Big Data, or should we really be referring to something more specific – such as Data Land, Data City, Data Architecture, Data Design, etc., depending on the issue, the project or the scale we’re addressing or on whether we’re talking about landscape, cities, architecture or design? Having access to information and being able to choose, display and use data in a project is another arrow in our quiver, offering an opportunity to propose solutions and/or implement processes. “Measure what you care about”, says Jan Gehl, in the second chapter of the documentary The Human Scale. More information about cities, architecture, environments and citizens allows us to design with greater certainty. It also helps us understand that it’s not such a big deal, but that we do have to be courageous enough to make decisions: “You’re not Superman. Defining your role in heroic terms is causing problems”, said Denise Scott Brown, recalling a teacher’s comments about some architects.

 

Smart technology is full of paradigms, ambiguities, paradoxes, myths and risk, but also potential. Accessing data means exercising control and may really contribute to a project. The manipulation of citizen participation to conceal things or distract attention from decisions can be avoided by means of participative-technical projects. The corporatism of technology companies can be offset by efficient public policies, while excessive technocracy must be addressed from the conviction that technology is a means and never an end in itself2. “Architecture is technology but also politics” (R. Rogers) and the city and its urban life change with “the way architecture is produced and experienced” (R. Masiero). It’s necessary to act boldly, sensibly and responsibly; to understand our surroundings and the period in which we live, to update approaches, methods and tools, favouring architecture and cities where the collective, common and relational (or “smart”) dimensions take on the importance  they deserve in design projects.

To be or not to be a smart architect is certainly not the question! But do we have a choice?


Text translated by Andrew V. Taylor
Notas de página
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“Smart” urban policies are generally accepted as being those local government initiatives which use information and communications technology to improve the quality of life of cities’ inhabitants, i.e., those which contribute to sustainable development.

2

The use of data and programmes that bring new technologies to a project doesn’t substitute design processes or concepts: they are a means, not an end. Just as using a word processor doesn’t make you a writer or using BIM or GIS doesn’t make us better architects, access to Big Data doesn’t mean we’ll automatically come up with more attractive solutions and having data sensors doesn’t solve all a projects problems on its own. But it does help us to verify and measure things, to carry out more accurate checks and analyses, to be more efficient in our processes and to interrelate different issues, fields and scales of design more flexibly.

Autor:
Maria Pia Fontana, Profesora de la Universidad de Gerona (UdG). Doctora en Proyectos Arquitectónicos (UPC). Postgrado en Proyectación Urbanística (UPC). Arquitecta Universitá degli Studi di Napoli. Miguel Mayorga Cárdenas, Profesor Universidad Politécnica de Cataluña Barcelona (UPC). Doctor en Urbanismo y Gestión del territorio (UPC) Máster en Proyectación Urbanistica (UPC). Arquitecto Universidad Nacional de Colombia (UNAL). Bogotá. Profesores colaboradores de la (UOC). Actualmente investigamos sobre cultura visual, arquitectura, ciudad y fotografía. Trabajamos sobre la habitabilibilidad y sostenibilidad arquitectónica y urbana con el uso de las nuevas tecnologías y nuevas modalidades de procesos técnico-participativos, en el desarrollo de proyectos urbanos, equipamientos, centros y entornos escolares, con énfasis en el diseño del espacio público y colectivo. Socios de mayorga+fontana arquitectos.

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