BIG data, urban design, architecture

February 21, 2015

 

Patterns otherwise invisible are made possible by ultra wide angle cameras. It's even more impressive when one watches the video (this clip from about 5:10). "TheRidge" is a new film about mountain-biker Danny Macaskill from RedBull and other supporters, showing a mountain bike ride on the severe ridge of a mountain. Prior to technology enabling us to see such patterns, this understanding of phenomena was impossible.

 

According to Brian Arthur, in The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves new technology enables us to see phenomena differently. It opens our eyes to new understandings. The goal of course is to use a phenomena to an effect: to make our, and our fellow human beings, lives better in some way.

 

What does this have to do with urban design and architecture?

 

There is "BIG data" on the horizon of the places we live. As Steve Jurvetson relates in this talk, the collection of truly massive quantities of data is going to need pattern recognition. Massive stores of data enable us to see patterns previously invisible, much like the view from the top of the ridge. As data is generated and updated continuously we human beings are exposed to new understandings of human behaviors. On a mundane level "selfies" expose our lives in ways never previously imagined. Simultaneously, the ubiquitous "video on cell phone" enables the capture of all kinds of natural phenomena (say silly cat tricks, or dolphins surfing in a group) that previously would have been impossible to share or reconcile with a world view.

 

We see the collection and sorting of BIG data about cities as revealing new understandings. Google excels at collecting and sorting data. It is a strong contribution, but ultimately it is what humans do with that information that is interesting. Like Brian Arthur, we enjoy putting these new phenomena to effect. Understanding new patterns and making places better for people to live in the future.

 

700 years ago architecture was thought to be to be timeless. It was a small universe, with the earth as its center, and few believed the universe could be older some thousands of years. Today we see that "timeless architecture" will not last the 14 billion year hisotry, and possible future, of the universe. Nor will "timeless architecture" traverse the galaxies.

 

Back to our human collective endeavor, life on earth, in our cities and cultures. Civilization becomes a limited earthly world: architecture and technology for Homo Sapiens, until a more complex life form evolves. No more monuments, just buildings that make living better. Thanks to BIG data patterns we can find new understandings to intentionally evolve cities, for communities of humans, to live better lives.

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