Sponsored roundtable: Connectivity, technology, the internet of things and information availability at the touch of a button are all important elements of a smart city.
But of just as much – if not more – importance is the human factor and how people relate to their urban surroundings.
That was one of the conclusions reached by the integrated design team of architects and engineers at NORR who worked as knowledge partners alongside Middle East Architect for this month’s special report.
The company is currently examining the topic in greater detail through an in-house research and development team.
Dubai, Masdar, Singapore, Osaka, Chicago and Toronto were all hailed for their innovative approach to connective urban design.
But the team from NORR also felt that as technology forges ahead it is impossible to predict where the future is heading.
Chris Browning, director at the company, said: “How do you plan for an unknown future? Buildings are designed to last for 50 or 100 years, but they may potentially be obsolete before they are even opened. For example buildings put up in the 1970s have no real facilities for data collection. This has to be fitted in. But will it be necessary in the future? Or will it be a completely wireless office environment? I think, if that is the case, there will be a lot more space available.”
Fellow director Brian Mee agreed, saying: “I find it exciting that progress is so rapid. But we need to define exactly what a smart city is. Of course sustainability is important and it’s great that your refrigerator can talk to your iphone.
“But the technology has to be appropriate and, most importantly, relate to the needs of the people who live there.”
He added that keeping pace with developments in technology was a major challenge for those involved in the practical aspects of urban design and build.
Vasiahmed Behlim, senior structural engineer, said: “It is important that technology is incorporated into people’s daily lives. Connectivity means your phone becomes your identity, your ID card. You can use it to pay for things, plan your travel, shop and stay connected with friends, family and colleagues.”
Project co-ordinator Siddharth Ramnathan emphasised how smart design can bring people together.
He said: “Innovative technology connects across backgrounds and economic classes. Its purpose should be to simplify life.”
The group felt that Dubai was heading in the right direction and Browning called it “an intriguing” example of the whole smart concept.
He said: “But I don’t think Dubai is quite there yet. It is happening, but sometimes you do end up needing a stamp on a piece of paper to get something done.”
All the panel agreed that building efficiency and sustainability are a vital part of the entire smart city concept – but there are also individual national, economic and cultural needs which have to be met by technological developments.
Members were told about an experimental town in India called Auroville where smart design is being tested with a view to utilising successful ideas across the country.
Nachiket Garge, senior architect, said: “What is required in India is going to be different to what is appropriate to Europe or the USA. Smart governance is also necessary and there needs to be a focus on public transport and infrastructure. All these sections need to talk and interact.”
Browning returned to this theme: “Infrastructure, buildings and people they all have to connect,” he said.
Design architect Aman Yusuf said he felt lessons learnt from small communities could be applied to mega-projects. He explained: “It may appear contradictory but a smaller
community can be a model for a large development. A small village is usually a self-sustaining place. It grows its own food and generates its own energy.
“In many larger projects so much energy is being wasted and that is something to avoid. So there are lessons to be heeded.”
Adaptability and malleability are other key factors in smart design, according to Saif Wahab, who works in the firm’s marketing department.
He said: “Projects need to strike a balance and be flexible, it’s not enough to just create a concrete jungle.”
Sheeba Benny, an electrical engineer, agreed: “Smart technology needs to enhance the quality of people’s lives and reduce the consumption of resources. Dubai Municipality is going about these aims the right way with ideas such as the increased use of solar panels to generate energy.”
Mechanical engineer Wilhelmin Dy added: “A smart city starts with mobility. It should also be a place where the individual feels safe and wherever they are standing they can access information on what it is they need to know – for instance, what there is to do at any time in any given place.
“When it comes to the workplace a paperless office enables anyone to use any particular desk. All data can be stored electronically and be accessible to whoever needs it. This is what I feel smart design should be about.”
The multi-disciplinary panel agreed that a holistic approach means a collaborative movement involving all stakeholders– including the research and development community, government authorities, developers and the general public.
Undoubtedly the benefits of a society that is seamlessly synchronized with technology will not only enhance but also evolve our living environments