In 2010, the city of Rio de Janeiro opened its operations center, a high-tech command post that centralizes the activities of 30 agencies. With its banks of monitors glimpsed among rows of employees, the center provides information flows to city leaders on crime, traffic, and emergency preparedness, among other things, to help officials anticipate and problem solving.
This is a vision of technology and urban life. Another quite different vision of deploying technology debuted in Rio six years later, in the dance pavilion of architect Guto Requena, built for the 2016 Summer Olympics. The pavilion had a dance floor, mirror benches that they rotated in response to the movement of people and lighting that changed according to the activity levels of the building. The goal was to improve sociality and spontaneity.
Between these two large-scale alternative applications of technology in public places, researchers at MIT’s urban studies, Fabio Duarte and Ricardo Alvarez, have a clear favorite: the dance pavilion and its constantly evolving interaction of people and built environment, as opposed to deployment. of technology as an urban systems control monitoring tool.
“There’s this notion of an optimal city where everything works perfectly, where everything can not only be planned, but also predicted,” says Duarte. “But you can’t really predict what’s going to happen. We must not remove serendipity from urban life, all things that happen by chance. Surprise is important for urban life.
Now, Duarte and Alvarez, researchers at MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning, have written a book advocating the use of high-tech tools to improve play and creativity in urban environments. The book “Urban Play: Make-Believe, Technology, and Space,” is being published this month by the MIT press.
“The book’s argument is that we can use technology to regain serendipity and fantasy in city design,” says Duarte, a professor in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning and principal investigator at MIT’s Senseable Cities Lab. . “We do not neglect technology. We can maintain the openness of urban life through technology. “
In the book, Duarte and Alvarez discuss various ways in which technology can make cities more playful places. As you can see, some cities have the game as their main foundation and express it through a large-scale creative design: think of Las Vegas, Orlando or even Dubai, places designed around leisure.
“No one moves to a city because they have the optimal public transportation system,” says Alvarez, who is a postdoctoral fellow at the Senseable City Lab. “Time [the question] is, how is technology used to create emotionally resonant spaces? Because that’s where people want to live, that’s where people want to go. “
Both Disneyland and Disney World, as Duarte and Alvarez detail in the book, adopted experimentalism in design and the belief that technology could create new urban forms: think of the Disney, Tomorrowland, or Epcot monorails.
“Walt Disney was deeply dedicated to creating cities and tried to present future ways of life,” says Alvarez. “The original EPCOT Center would not be a theme park. It was going to be a prototype city. At some point he saw very clearly that his vision, like it or not, resonated with people. Some architects may call it artifice or kitsch, but the fact is that people go to these places. They use technology for the purpose of pleasure, fun and storytelling.
In another sense, the authors suggest that video games have a lot to offer in urban design, as the industry has developed increasingly sophisticated urban simulations in dozens of games in recent decades.
“The video game industry is similar to architecture and urban planning, as they both create interactive spaces,” Alvarez observes. “Through time, [game developers] I learned a lot about architecture and planning. But in the virtual world they also have much more freedom to experiment, take concepts and explore them to their ultimate form.
In addition, Alvarez notes, “What the gaming industry does is bring people and testers much earlier in the design stage. Get feedback from people and inject them into the design process. This is a very common process in the world of gaming. video games from which the fields of planning and architecture can benefit “.
The authors also suggest that virtual reality could emerge as a more robust design tool than people realize, offering alternative perspectives to designers. A child, as noted in the book, sees a playground in a park different from what the adult does; virtual reality could similarly help some designers see space in new ways.
“Virtual reality is powerful for its perspective,” says Duarte. “Once you see this kind of representation, you can start playing with the world that way. When I can completely change my way of perceiving the world using this technology, how can I design the world differently? “
Duarte and Alvarez believe their ideas have received a good audience from planners and designers while working on the book and expect them to be read by people with diverse interests. Richard Florida, a university professor at the University of Toronto, has called the new work “a guide to get us and our cities out of the regimented routine and a manifesto to build better cities and a better way of life.”
For their part, Duarte and Alvarez recognize that new technology is needed to make the urban infrastructure and system work well. But they hope it will be seen as a means not only to achieve efficiency but to achieve urban vitality.
“We try to use technology, not to try to predict the future or create an optimized reality, but to explore different possibilities of living,” Duarte says. “I think now we have the opportunity to create new possibilities all the time.”