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BIG Data = Big Structures? | The 2016 skyscraper competition

The E-Volo skyscraper competition just announced its winners. Mega structures are almost always viewed idealistic and it is precisely the fact that they meet the line between what is real and what is utopian that makes such works inspirational. This year most of the works were dedicated on the emergence of the smart city. Sensors, BiG Data, Drones domination; and always winking at sustainability.

But do Big Data equal Big structures? Unlike previous entries, this year's projects present skyscrapers that have a purifying role for the city, but are not habitable. They are gigantic structures designed to host technology or "environment". In the year of the refugee crisis and informal settlements, will we need to create homes for sustainable machines?

The first price went to Yitan Sun and Jianshi Wu for "New York Horizon" (cover). The project questioned the traditional perception of what is a skyscraper and designed a sunken mega-structure to reveal mountains and landscapes that are now hidden under the surface of Central Park. The landscape as a hidden ancient temple it is exposed and exhibited, referring to the recent theories of preservation and the need to preserve cultural heritage.

A personal favourite, the second price by Hadeel Ayed Mohammad, Yifeng Zhao, and Chengda Zhu creates a terminal station for commercial and personal drones, forming a "bee hive", as a humorous comment to the rise of the drone tribe. While the third price, creates a vertical data storage in Iceland.

Very interesting is the "Cloud Craft: Rainmaking Skyscraper" by Michael Militello and Amar Shah which seeks to create a gigantic rain making machine, located (where else..) in California. The pair managed to point out an interesting fact. The concept of rainmaking skyscrapers may sound happy and utopian, but the idea of huge machine-type structures which their only function is to improve the environment is somewhat contradictory. Almost like saving seals with guns. Which is why their original conceptual image is set in a dystopian city, while the design of the rainmaker skyscrapers, directly refer to high-tech polluting factory pipes.

It is a fact that electronic waste is a serious challenge for the new age and recycling/self-repairing is now in the priorities of many smart systems. However, is the problem actually being addressed?
The hype of the new age is coming much faster than the realization of such and there is almost no time for the development of a theoretical background. That is why there is a tendency to turn to smaller rather than bigger. 

View the submissions below>>


Lego X Combines Augmented Reality, 3D modelling and 3D printing

Lego has been in the top preferences for architectural toys since forever. And who doesn't enjoy playing with the super colorful Lego pieces. Within the Richard Rogers exhibition in RA London in 2013, one full section was dedicated to the famous bricks, filled with hundreds of lego pieces lying around, to engage people in the architectural thinking of creative modelling. Gravity, a company based in London, has recently  announced an app that will use "location mapping and gyroscopic sensors" to generate digital models of Lego creations.

The program, "scans" Lego pieces real time and creates 3D models on the fly. Using sophisticated algorithms 3D Lego structures seem to be translated into surfaces, such as walls and roofs. The final stage appears to smooth out corners and curves to produce 3d printable objects which can be send directly for 3D printing.


London in time | A London's Evolution Animation

The Roman Road network 410AC, as a floating layer over contemporary London in 3D. 

How did London become what it is today? How did it evolve and why? It is widely known that London is a historical city. One that has been inhabited for over 1500 years. What most people don't know however, is that the greatest preserved feature of the city, is the road network itself. Unlike other historical cities such as Athens or Rome where there is an obvious patchwork of areas of different periods, London's scheduled sites and listed buildings are individual structures, in many cases assembled gradually by parts from many different periods. Those who tried to locate different historic structures will know that these features appear as pieces of different puzzles, scattered within the vast fabric of the contemporary city. What has been preserved, and what will we preserve in the future?

The London Evolution Animation (LEA) was developed by The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (UCL), as a partnership project between English Heritage, The Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction (University of Cambridge)/Dr Kiril Stanilov and Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) (with the Mapping London and Locating London's Past projects), and was initiated and directed by Polly Hudson (PHD).

The London Evolution Animation for the first time, brings together and shows the historical development of London from Roman times to today, through the evolution of the road network and preserved structures of the built environment. The information is categorized by periods and the new road segments appear gradually over an image of the faded contemporary London. For each period, gradually enlarging yellow points highlight the position and number of statutorily protected buildings and structures. Datasets cover London's 19,000 Listed Buildings and 156 Scheduled Monuments which are categorized by period (listed date) and integrated into the animation. LEA brings together datasets provided by English Heritage’s National Heritage List for England, MOLAS, University of Cambridge -Dr. Kiril Stanilov and Ordnance Survey. Originally, LEA was meant to be developed fully in 3D, which is an ongoing project.

The animation was part of the "Almost Lost" Exhibition and aims to create awareness of the importance of preservation of the city's past and provide a reflection for the future. The exhibition included several digital exhibits from the Centre of Advanced Spatial Analysis, such as the popular Pigeon Sim and the Bloomsbury Augmented Reality Application, which allows visitors to view a 3D fully interactive model of the area's historic periods, using their iPad.

A series of digital pictures showcase the what if scenarios of developments in London that were never realized, while 3D animations of London's history of the built environment explain more about the city's architectural heritage.

The exhibition is found online in Polly's Hudson Almost Lost online and its a great showcase of London's historic wealth. Further information on the Animation, a historical overview and on the production of the video can also be found in Polly's Hudson website.

List of References:

A. Paolo Masucci, Kiril Stanilov and Michael Batty (2013) The growth of London's street network in its dual representation




English Heritage:


Why we love 3D printing: The London Skyscraper Workshop

  We are incredibly excited with 3D printers and with what people do with them. 3D printing has been around for more than two decades, however the technology has become publicly accessible within the last couple of years. This Swift, from solely the hands of the industries and some privileged designers to the end user, has signified the beginning of a new era where anyone can get a hold of a tiny industry; a portable production unit.

Back in 2006, the "Fantasy London" competition by Digital Urban encouraged creativity in schools with a workshop where imaginary buildings for London were realized in 3D and placed in London online via Google Earth. Nowadays, domestic 3D Printers and Rapid 3D modelling opened up new possibilities by creating solid versions of dreams in just moments.

The last two summers Dr. Martin Austwick, Miki Beavis and I brought the 3D printing technology of CASA UCL to one of the most popular festivals in the UK, to play with the idea of reshaping the skyline of London. The workshop focused on 3D printing and collective urban design and took place at the Mad Hackers Tea Party in the Green Man Festival, alongside many wonderful workshops around science.

Within 3 days and a total of 15 hours we played with the impossible of what would a future London look like if it was designed by children. John, Anna, Lory and many more participated in the re-design of London's skyline contributing their own skyscraper for London.

To realise rapid 3D modelling, we are using a photo of the original drawing and a combination of digitising software that turn raster into vectors. This method has allowed the accurate 3D modelling of a number of different designs in a limited time. In total each skyscraper roughly about 20-30 min. to design, 3D model and 3D print.


TweetCity: Building London using Real time feeds and CityEngine

As part of our time here in CASA UCL, Stephan Hugel and I, developed a simple tool to capture and visualize live tweet feeds and project them onto the actual form of the built environment.

The application uses the Twitter API, and visualizes results in 3D, similarly to the known London Twitter map by UrbanTick, developed using the data collector created by Steven Gray, in an attempt to create a new urban landscape.

This work is a first attempt to bring real-time data feeds directly into 3D GIS and 3D cities and visualize them using a different view. As Stephan wrote: "What if London's buildings grew according to the amount of data they generate?". There is currently a big emphasis on BIM and data management, with a clear focus on sustainability and social infrastructure. However, there is very little information on how and if this process affects the way the built environment grows and evolves.

Of course this project does not aim to address such questions, but to demonstrate new ways of augmenting already existing spatial data. The application was built entirely in ESRI's CityEngine, as it offers a range of 3D visualization techniques which relate to the urban environment. CityEngine allows the generation of forms using simple "rules". In this case, the project collects real-time tweet feeds, aggregates them by a custom discrete zone system and by default, visualizes them as building heights. CityEngine provides the key-advantage of  allowing the automatic storing of spatially geolocated data directly on a shapefile, augmenting GIS with live information and update the visualization real-time. That is why this application, can work with different basemaps, such as a land use map, wards, or even roads.  At the moment, the script stores the number of total tweets for any discrete zone and keeps track of time and date.

For example, if the user wants to know how many tweets will fall in the area of Hyde Park for a specific period of time, he will only have to import an outline of the park in the scene of CityEngine and adjust the values appropriately. The rules that generate geometry are independent of the Information System, a feature which according to my opinion is one of the main advantages of CityEngine, as is allows the customization of different visualizations.

Use of different Basemaps to represent real-time twitter activity - Greater London - 1 km Grid zones. 

Here is a little video preview, while thanks to Stephan you can download the full script along with instructions and samples from GitHub.
Works with CityEngine, download trial version here.


Developing classical and contemporary models in ESRI's City Engine- CASA Working Paper 191

ESRI's City Engine not only is a great urban generator, but it also provides the ideal approach for turning the 3D virtual city into an urban modelling tool. Procedural modelling visualizes the results of mathematical models on a 3D Environment and simulate the changes real-time, providing all the necessary features for testing the consequences of Urban modelling theories onto the physical form of the urban environment.

I am very excited to have this first paper published in the CASA UCL webpage.


In this paper we describe the development of projects which aim to explore the use of procedural modelling as a complete toolkit for building interactive visualizations of urban modelling theories. We will use three case studies, starting with the original von-Thunen model, a generalization of von-Thunen using multiple centres and finally the standard dynamic retail model by Wilson and Harris. We will discuss the advantages and limitations in using ESRI’s City Engine and the use of interactive techniques, to visualize and explore classical and contemporary urban modelling theories, by introducing spatial interaction and spatial dynamics within the simulation of a 3d city. In this framework, we provide a guide for developing urban models to aid better analysis and understanding of the urban environment through 3d urban visualizations, complexity theories and interactive systems.


download the full paper and other publications by CASA from here

This paper presents work conducted within the context of the MRes in Advanced Spatial Analysis and Visualization. Supervisor professor: Dr. Andrew Hudson Smith.

I will soon publish a brief tutorial.

Limitless London

Defining urban boundaries is certainly an undefined topic. A proof is the recent "boarderless" competition where the winning projects swing between creating a functional built form of the boundary, or revolved around the notions of non-permanence and instability. The winning project ‘Floating Border Project’ by Hélène Grialouand Sebastien Gafari, creates a moving boarder. "The shaded frontier is moving throughout hours, days and seasons. The installation is composed of an inflatable structure which consists of a balloon cloud upon the Temple. These balloons calculate the weather forecast, wind and luminosity. During bad weather, the limit on the ground disappears and the aerial structure lights up to become a signal seen by the both two countries." 

As urban planning and architecture integrates advanced techniques from computer science, big data and other sciences, it is affecting the built environment in both design and construction. New techniques which introduce complex calculations of different data feeds have led professionals of the build environment to slightly change their role and find solutions in relation to design and function with a clear focus on optimization and efficiency.

In the movie "Limitless" - 2011, a writer finds the "golden" pill, which allows him to access all of his potentials, giving him fulfilment in life- work and relationships and to accomplish his every goal. The intro of the film, is a very good metaphore of the limitless city. A reflection of todays fluxuating society and the rush to adjust to something that looks as if "it" has begun and as if "it" has no ending.

1st prize of boarderless competition  Hélène Grialou & Sebastien Gafari
In another film by K. Giannaris, "From the Edge of the City" , the undefined city boundaries represent a more vague image of the people who live in the edge of social acceptable. In today's society, to be able to learn quick and easy so as to be as efficient as possible is part of this new world and this tends to be a dominant idea of the new urban utopia. Are we giving our cities some technological shots in the end? Are the boarders going to be defined by what is unable to adjust; inhabited by the marginalized of those without smart-phones?

And so, inspired by the brilliant intro of "Limitless" - here is a google maps version for the city of London. Of course not as well executed, but an animation using Google maps and some free sounds from, turned out to be something very quick and easy to do.