Urban Design == Service Design

High-speed data and mobile communications technology is allowing us to think differently about how we plan and develop urban spaces, making cities a platform for plug and play applications.

Australia is currently rolling out a national broadband network that will give something like 97% of the population access to 20MB/sec broadband speeds as a minimum within 10 years. What I find really exciting about this is that it opens up new possibilities for digital applications in the urban environment.

High-speed data enables designers and developers to create urban spaces as platforms or stages that can then be shaped around the services that go into them. In other words, it’s less about urban design and more about service design.

Rather than a park bench and a fountain or a static piece of public art, I’m already seeing clients go for more flexible options that can host digitally enhanced activation strategies that allow for multiple interpretations of space and the city. This is largely borrowing the language of curation from the gallery world and transposing it into the urban realm.

So, for example, a City might invite an architect to curate a space as an artist might do in a gallery. The MAXXI Museum in Rome has a program like this where every year their public space is redesigned by young emerging architects. The real value-added here, is the opportunity to create a renewable landscape, one that can change with events, seasons, programs and create a real reason to come again.

But data means spaces don’t have to be curated just by individuals. Crowdsourcing and geo-locating apps enable people to create their own experiences of a city – opting in or out of the experiences they want.

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So you might choose to experience a city like London through an augmented reality app that showed you the history of your location. The ‘Museum of the Phantom City‘ in New York is one such app that allows you to see various layers of history in situ. Or you could navigate a city by its best rated coffee houses.

This is also an opportunity for us to use the lessons of interactive design and media art to make our cities easier to interact with. Imagine an urban environment that really responded to you – a highly interactive, customisable experience.

How do these ideas manifest themselves in bricks and mortar? I’m currently working on a project with Rundle Mall in Adelaide that will create a plug and play platform for technology that will enhance people’s experience of the city.

The sort of things we’re exploring at Rundle Mall are putting fibre optic cables under the pavements as the base infrastructure in place to deliver free and uninterrupted wireless internet access and having power points available for buskers or for plugging in digital arts. We’re also looking at using sensors to collect environmental data and see how people are interacting with the centre.

It’s possibilities like this that I believe will lead to urban design becoming more about service design; about a customisable application that fills a user need or interest, as we create layered urban experiences that people can opt in and out of and even help create themselves.


This feature adopted from Arup and Michelle Tabet.

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Digital Ocean

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