Studio Brief

How will we use data  to design “solutions to pressing problems” + “promote innovative strategies for social progress and economic growth” ?

Data >

Values of qualitative or quantitative variables, belonging to a set of items (wikipedia)

Model >

Organized representation used to explain the workings of a system or event

Prototype >

An early sample or model built to test a concept or process (wiktionary)

Associative Design >

Computationally parametric design with systematic associative relationships between systems

“Every day, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data — so much that 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone. This data comes from everywhere: sensors used to gather climate information, posts to social media sites, digital pictures and videos, purchase transaction records, and cell phone GPS signals to name a few. This data is big data.  Big data spans four dimensions: Volume, Velocity, Variety, and Veracity.” (IBM Big Data Insights)

Increasingly the built environment, and our experience of it, is being shaped directly or indirectly by this deluge of data. Designers are looking for solutions to use data to make more intelligent decisions while clients look to data to manage risk or to quantify the return on investment for proposed design.  Our contemporary cities and their myriad flows of people, goods, and information are prime territory for leveraging data to manage and understand complexity.  The “Wicked Problem” of operating within the complexity of the city demands new approaches to modeling its systems.  To make sense of rapidly growing volumes of data we must learn to organize data into models and we must learn to represent these models to ourselves and others in order to properly communicate our findings.  Through modeling the dynamics of the city we hope to better understand the context of our proposals and in turn provide more deeply integrative and successful solutions.  The distance between our inputs and outputs is reducing towards real-time affect.

The studio asks: how can we create and leverage next generation models of complex urban conditions to not only inform, but directly drive, urban and architectural design solutions through computationally associative design processes?

Fall – During the fall studio, the goal will be to produce an iterative series of domain specific modeling prototypes which demonstrate the potential of progressive forms of urban modeling processes. Students will be focused on particular domains such as infrastructural, cultural, social, ecological and territorial. To drive the development and application of a collaboratively produced urban data model we will define particular problems to which students will be formulating hypotheses about the relationship of domains and then perform geospatial data analytics to confirm or refute their suspicions.  Through this process the studio will conceptualize and prototype the implementation of a larger institution wide urban data model and means for leveraging it.

Spring – The spring studio will build upon the models from the fall semester through a situated project within Chicago. The studio will be explicitly focused on the utilization of urban associative design processes which directly engage with the data models to dynamically drive responsive proposals for the built environment.  These solutions will look to the history of cybernetic feedback systems to create operative designs which can effectively deploy architectural urban form in direct response to context and program. Like Cedric Price’s Fun Palace, these organizations will be driven by the desires of environment and occupant leading to an emergent urbanism of explicit “Nowness”.

Knowledge/Expertise Gained

  • expertise in the full lifecycle workflow of data driven design:

    • protocols + standards for data acquisition and integration

    • research practices and technical implementation for data production

    • data visualization using conventional and interactive media

    • associative/parametric design processes including visual and scripted programming using Rhino,  Grasshopper, and custom  tools

  • experience prototyping next generation mixed media modeling systems deployable for exhibition installation

  • urban design experience working directly with professional urban designers.

    • urban scale analytical processes

    • frameworks for conceptualizing urban design solutions

    • urban design specific communication processes

External collaborators participating in the Studio
The design studio will be a collaboration with members from Skidmore, Owings, + Merrill’s (SOM) Chicago office.  Thomas Hussey, Urban Design Studio Director will head a group of urban designers and Keith Besserud, director of digital research will organize computationally oriented professionals for direct oversight, critique, and guidance in partnership with cloud studio lead Thomas Kearns and Jordan Kanter.  Over the course of the year specialists will be invited for lecture, workshop and critique.


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