Organic Architecture & Urban AI

Hubert Beroche
Apr 28 · 4 min read

One of the goals of organic architecture is to contribute to creating a better urban environment. We no longer consider the facade of a building as an epidermis, but moreover an active component of the urban climate. That being said, Google R&D announced in 2019 a collaboration with the architect Doris Sung to create a coating that can sanitize the air in a city. In France, the startup Cool Roof developed a reflective paint that deflects 90% of the sun’s rays and also fights against the heat island effect. In addition, in Los Angeles, DOSU Studio Architecture created a structure capable of self-ventilating. In each of these cases, AI can intervene on two distinct levels. First and foremost, in the way these solutions are applied. Heat islands [1] or air pollution are both phenomenons that can be modeled and located by these learning algorithms. This information could then help optimize the locations where these organic architectures could be placed in order to maximize their efficiency. Moreover, urban AI can help a building “feel” it’s environment and react accordingly. An adjustable structure [2], using reflective paint or anti-pollution coatings could be deployed as soon as the AI predicts a heat island formation or a high concentration of carbon monoxide.

The Building Raincoat, in Toronto, changes with the climate. Source: Sidewalk Labs

Organic architecture can also be applied to infrastructures [3]. In Amsterdam the AMS joined the MIT Senseable City Lab for Roboat, an autonomous boat project. What is unique about these autonomous boats is that they are multidirectional and that they can “plug into” each other. They can be assembled to create bridges or mobile structures on the water. Though it’s only in the prototype phase, these autonomous boats open up a world of possibilities. A bridge or a platform could be spontaneously created according to inhabitants’ needs. This makes it possible to modify the urban landscape by adding ephemeral structures.

The other fundamental principle of organic architecture is the interaction between the built environement and individuals to, in fine, enhance them:

“The most important implication of radically integrating digital systems into architecture will be to refocus technology and the built environment on humans. A living, cybernetic program in spaces of dynamic interactions will make architecture more like an extension of the body-and its cyborg “tools” that enable the environment to respond. Augmented or “living” architecture is the large-scale hardware that digital-physical cyborgs create, plug into, and interact with.” [3]

Organic architecture is therefore a “hybrid” reality. The notion of an “interface” is at the heart of this man-machine-building hybrid. The interface gives a digital body and materializes the data. This is where “the atom and the bit” meet.

In his thesis Interfacing Ambiant Intelligence, Marius Hartmann noticed that urban interfaces can also be used to guide us through a building (or in the street), to be alerted in case of an emergency or to get us interested, and even to receive a notification (call, message,…). In the case of Senseable Guide Paris, students from MIT created interfaces for the Gare de Lyon (Paris). Several of them continued the reflections of Marius Hartmann:

Source : Senseable Guide Paris

The urban interface also opens up a world of possibilities. In addition to generating information, a building [4], a tree [5], or even a statue could “tell us their stories”. In doing this, the entire city becomes an interface. It is therefore no longer a question of combining intelligence and knowledge in the palm of our hand but rather spreading it around us, and going out and discovering it.

The last few decades have pushed us to be disconnected from our environment in order to “connect us with the world”. Caught up in the world of smartphones, we have become “smombies” [6]. Some cities have even installed light signals to protect pedestrians and warn them of approaching vehicles. In this case, organic architecture doesn’t just help us enhance, it transforms our relationship with the built environment and with ourselves. It gives us the possibility to see our cities and appreciate their speech.

[1] : Steven Jige Quand, Florina Dut, Erik Woodworth, Yoshiki Yamagata, Perry Pei-Ju Yang, Local Climate Zone Mapping for Energy Resilience: A Fine-grained and 3D Approach

[2] : Like the Building Raincoat in Toronto and the Shed in New York

[3] : Carlo Ratti and Matthew Claudel, The City of Tomorrow: Sensors, Networks, Hackers and the Future of Urban Life

[4] : In Singapore, the “City Hall: If Walls Could Talk” exhibit offered an immersive experience inside City Hall to see what happened in the city-state.

[5] : Andy Hudson-Smith, Martin de Jode, Leah Lovett, Duncan Hay, Richard Milton, Lucy Fraser, Internet of Things of trees-Controversial objects via SMS protocols, opens up a practical discussion.

[6] : A combination of the word smartphone and zombie to designate a pedestrian with their eyes fixed on their smartphones and not paying attention to their surroundings

Urban AI

The 1st Think Tank on urban Artificial Intelligences

Urban AI

Urban AI is a Think Tank which federates a global ecosystem and a multidisciplinary community. Together, we propose ethical modes of governance and sustainable uses of urban Artificial Intelligences

Hubert Beroche

Written by

President of Urban AI / Co-founder & President of AI for Tomorrow

Urban AI

Urban AI is a Think Tank which federates a global ecosystem and a multidisciplinary community. Together, we propose ethical modes of governance and sustainable uses of urban Artificial Intelligences

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