What intelligent cities mean for our lives

All aspects of intelligence, both artificial and human, are needed for appropriate and sustainable development of our buildings and the cities they contribute to, writes Victoria University of Wellington’s Professor André Brown

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a growing area with the potential to affect all aspects of our lives and solve contemporary problems. In the field of architecture, AI is now a commonly heard term, with words like ‘programmed’ and ‘algorithmic’ used frequently in commercial and academic spaces, showing a desire to understand how computational means can shape the contemporary world.

But there has also been a shift. Computer applications have been used as digital drafting and modelling tools for several decades, but the past 10 years have seen their use not only as tools but increasingly as ways of defining the way buildings look and function, underpinning the whole architectural process.

So it is not surprising to find a study commissioned by Google showed the work day of an architect has changed by 42 percent in recent years (compared with only 6 percent for butchers and 13 percent for police officers).

What does this mean for the way we live our lives?

There are a lot of positive consequences of the use of AI and other digital tools in architecture – we can use them to design everything from better traffic flow to buildings that are increasingly sustainable.

AI is a key part of building modern cities and helping grow human society and care for the environment. It also changes the way we think about our buildings, allowing us to achieve new architectural goals not possible without digital technologies – everything from trackless trams on our roads to augmented reality on your phone that shows you 3D views of buildings that used to be where you are now.

But the concerns commonly voiced about AI still apply, so, to create cities and living spaces that truly suit human needs, human perspectives (as well as digital) need to underpin the architectural process. We need to consider social and cultural concerns alongside the technological and computational to create our architecture, urban environments and cities in a thoughtful and appropriate way.

Fostering intelligent digital connections of architects with other stakeholders is one way we can do this. By consulting others and discovering what real needs our urban spaces should address, we can consciously direct the digital aspects of our society to meet these needs. All aspects of intelligence, both artificial and human, are needed for appropriate and sustainable development of our buildings and the cities they contribute to.

The work of architects is increasingly diverse and interconnected with other professions and stakeholders – and is increasingly complex. Considering these complex interconnections will create an informed approach to contemporary architecture, taking into account a variety of human perspectives and fully understanding what has been achieved so far so we can build on it for the future.

And, of course, we also need to educate our current and future architects, both in changing digital technologies and potential for the future.

We need to ask how we learn, teach and research in the modern age, and how digital technologies will affect these areas. By looking at the way we research and educate, we can ensure future architecture, cities and urban environments are both intelligent and informed.

Architects and researchers from around the world considered these and other issues at Intelligent & Informed: The 24th Conference of the Association for Computer-Aided Architectural Design Research in Asia, held at Victoria University of Wellington’s Faculty of Architecture and Design from 15-17 April.

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