Smartness? Between Discourse and Practice

Augmented Smartness: Harnessing Tacit Urban Intelligence

Gretchen Wilkins: RMIT University, Vietnam

Andrew Stiff: RMIT University, Vietnam


KEYWORDS: Tacit Intelligent Cities, Urban Developing

Smart technologies are, or will soon become, a ubiquitous part of the fabric of cities, most rapidly in cities that are still emerging. Indeed, the leapfrogging of advanced technologies in developing cities starkly contrasts the physical nature of them, closing the gap between the painfully slow, expensive infrastructural development and rapid, rampant cultural change. These smart, urban technologies are typically employed in service of efficient, bureaucratic systems – at odds, in other words, with their most productive capacity: informality, ad hocism, spontaneity, lightness. These latter traits are of course also essentially human traits – begging the question, what role to people play in manifesting the ‘smart city’?

Further, what role does the physical city in general play in manifesting the smart city? Material properties are often seen as fixed, concrete realities that enable the dynamic metropolis. In developing cities however, the physical city is morphing almost as fast as the digital systems enlivening it. The digital city is shaped by physical smartness, and vice versa. There is a tacit intelligence in the material of a city, a haptic system which begets and augments digital and social systems of exchange.

Can ‘tacit intelligence’ be used to augment physical urban space and ‘digital smartness,’ for more empowered communities? How can tangible interactions within society challenge digitally-led, top-down approaches toward smart cities’? Newer technologies like ‘mixed reality’ environments offer an audio-visual medium to negotiate between digital smart tools and localised knowledge of urban spaces. Can mixed reality tools transcend the ‘smartness’ divide?

This panel will embrace innovative projects that explore the power of tacit, material intelligence, explored through a range of media including drawing, audio/visual documentations, mixed realities, archives, performances. Presentations focusing on specific dynamics of ephemeral and physical knowledge as critical and tangible forms of the ‘smart city’ are welcomed.


Quantifying Urban Experiences through 'Smart' Methods and Technologies

Stefano Andreani: Harvard University Graduate School of Design, USA


KEYWORDS: Quantification, Urban Experiences

This session aims to form the base for meaningful discussions on the role played by emerging technologies in enhancing our understanding of the individual experience of public space. In fact, novel digital, sensing, and augmenting technologies offer unprecedented opportunities for measuring subjective experiences in relation to spatial parameters and “objective” qualities of urban contexts.

How can “smart” urban technologies mediate and enhance the interaction with our surrounding environment, highlighting the impact of dynamic urban qualities in shaping both individual and collective experiences towards a better-informed approach to the design of public spaces? What correlations can be drawn between subjective perceptions and specific objective qualities of space for the creation of truly human-centered urban environments, in varying conditions over time? How can mediated interfaces with urban environments augment the relationship and interactions between the individuals that share engaging public spaces? By setting up tactics and metrics that are not so commonly considered in design research practices, this theme aims to foster alternative uses of “smart” instruments for technologically-enhanced design methods in which the human experience ‒ and even emotions ‒ are placed at the forefront of urban design decisions.


Tectonics of the Immaterial: The Material Footprint of the Immaterial

Cristina Nan: University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Giorgio Ponzo: University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom


KEYWORDS: Data Centers, Material Footprint, Immaterial Tectonics, Data Infrastructure, Geology of Media

The technological shift towards smartness — driven by automation, machine learning and the internet of things — mostly perceived as an immaterial phenomena, decoupled from a physical dimension, resides on a vast material footprint, which exists almost unnoticed in the suburbs of our perception. This session, Tectonics of the Immaterial, engages with the notion of data as an immaterial entity which revolutionises the 21st century, but at the same time relies upon a physical footprint, comprised of infrastructure and buildings.

Data, upon which smartness depends and feeds, presents itself as a new currency for architecture. The foundation for its existence are data centres. They epitomise in architectural terms the reinvention of the black box, as known in the aircraft industry, secluded from the system and continuously recording. They personify a new typology, excluding by default the human component: box-like machines to accommodate other machines. Crucial for the global grid, their existence is often hidden away.

But increasing the resolution of inquiry will lead to another facilitator of smartness: rare metals and minerals. Most smart-devices, connected to the global network of data centres, terrestrial or submarine cables and satellites, rely upon lithium-ion batteries. The extraction of lithium is correlated to large scale territorial transformations impacting on landscape, infrastructure and the urban.

This session invites contributions which address the material footprint of data and subsequently smartness on different levels of inquiry: from territorial to landscape, from urban to the built. What are the territorial and urban implications of this technological shift? How smart is smart, when it depends on vast material footprints, often messy and dirty? How can architects/designers use their expertise to inform [digital] strategies on these different levels? Researchers, architects, urban planners and other related practitioners are invited to discuss these complex themes, showing different angles of approach