Urban Planning and the DNA of the City
A city looks and feels the way it does because of human intention. Early civilizations built their settlements next to waterways, designing them to accommodate this resource accessibility and their own survival. During the beginning of the industrial revolution, cities were planned with ever-evolving rules ensuring that city streets were wide enough to accommodate the full turn of a horse and carriage. In this way, the values of the people were encoded into the very DNA of the city.
A complex built environment can be reduced to three basic elements: links along which travel can occur, nodes representing the intersections where two or more paths cross and public spaces form, and buildings where most human activities take place. The functionalities of place are all defined by rules and procedures, which make up the core design vocabulary of a place. Procedural design techniques automatically generate urban designs through predefined rules which you can change as much as needed, providing room for limitless new design possibilities.
Procedural design of a new urban ecosystem starts with a street network. Street blocks are then subdivided into lots, resulting in a new urban form. By selecting all or some of the lots, you can then generate buildings with appropriate setbacks and architectural characteristics. Procedural design technology lets all buildings be made to vary from one another to achieve an urban aesthetic. At this point the city model can be re-designed quickly and iteratively by changing simple parameters.
Procedural design allows designers to write rules directly into the code of a rule set, essentially encoding anyone’s values directly into how the city will look and feel. Any zoning code can be used to instantly model a city. Procedural design allows you to create complete city designs, not just a building at a time; entire neighborhoods with complete infrastructure and landscaping.
Procedural design opens the world to a new set of opportunities for urban planning and design. Today, a building must be designed as an integral part of the urban ecosystem to be considered sustainable. While design is not inherently dependent upon metrics during the realization process, even a cursory look at today’s architecture reveals the need for a standard method of accountability. Procedural design provides advanced analytical tools in response to the growing need for measurable, performance-based design.
By designing with defined performance indicators, procedural design enables the rapid launch of community design and implementation strategies enabling design at several scales simultaneously. Scenarios supporting the geodesign framework can then be easily evaluated and re-evaluated by comparing key performance indicators.
Procedural design creates a new relationship between people and their urban ecosystems. It’s a technique which helps us to develop a better understanding of how we shape our cities and, in turn, how they shape us. To learn more about how professionals, government officials, and scholars are applying procedural design to their work, consider attending the Geodesign Summit 2014.
It is the 5th gathering of its kind which brings together a cross disciplinary group of planners, designers, landscape architects, architects, engineers, ecologists, and economists to discuss a systems approach to planning and design enabled by new technology. It is a fascinating 2-days of high powered presentations, demonstrations, and preconference workshops.
Global Industry Manager, Community Development at Esri
All images created with CityEngine
Shannon McElvaney is the Community Development Manager at Esri and a geodesign evangelist working on developing tools, processes, and techniques that will enable people to design, build, and maintain livable, sustainable, healthy communities. He has more than 20 years applying geospatial technologies across a variety of industries. He writes a quarterly column and is on the Editorial Advisory Board at Informed Infrastructure. Most recently, he is the author of a new book of ‘Geodesign: Case Studies on Regional and Urban Planning’.