Helena Rong

MS
Department of Architecture

Designing with Data: Collective Intelligence in Urban Design

Over the last decade, advancements in data collection, computing and visualization methods have given rise to a new form of urbanism: networked urbanism. Our current output of data is roughly 2.5 quintillion bytes a day. Ninety percent of the world’s data has been created in the last two years alone. As cities compete for “smart city” status, myriad sensors are installed in the built environment, capturing a “real-time” city supposedly responsive to both infrastructural and citizen needs, thereby creating a more desirable environment for people to live. If this is the case, why has Songdo International Business District become a “ghost-town” as some reports claim, attracting only less than a quarter of its anticipated population? Although the smart city model has been hailed by technocratic enthusiasts as a solution to the sustainable city challenge for almost two decades, it has increasingly been critiqued for being overly technocratic and top-down in orientation, decreeing forms of algorithmic governance which control and discipline citizens, and omitting qualitative factors such as cultural vibrancy and community bonding. And in the process, both designers and citizens become increasingly marginalized from the discussion.

I intend to address the shortcomings of current approaches to Smart Cities in the context of human-centric urban design and develop a new design methodology which emphasizes on the “smart citizen” to effectively engage the collective throughout a collaborative urban design process. This thesis surveys a number of significant recent projects and studies their goals, proposed frameworks and interventions, ingredients used in their IoT solutions as well as potential concerns, and uses the findings to create a citizen engagement tool and design framework to be tested on a site in Ang Sila, Thailand.

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