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Experiments for a Real Time Crowdsourced Urban Design

Abstract. We present a case study that encompassed an interactive urban design workshop held in Nebrija Architecture University in Madrid, Spain, in March 2013. In this workshop, an urban survey was held and an urban intervention proposal was participatorily developed for an empty plot in a nearby neighborhood. Different online collaborative design tools and data mining were used and monitored over the span of a year, and results were analyzed last March 2014. The findings show that collaborative tools help distribute work and gather knowledge from different sources, but seldom are the span and intensity of these work stages taken into consideration. The timeline and completion of the agenda was a key element during the workshop, determining the success or failure of many of the tools used depending on the time dimension. This temporal dimension still retro-feeds the work process, as some of those tools have become obsolete or redundant in a matter of few months. The lessons learned will lead to future studies on this subject.

Keywords: Collaborative design • Crowd sourcing • Time-sourcing • Timesensitive design • 4D design

1 Introduction

In March 2014 we organized a workshop that was originally aimed at developing an existing small scale urban intervention in Tetuan, a 150,000 inhabitants neighborhood close to the faculty building in Madrid (Spain), by collecting all relevant data, from project inception to its final completion. In this paper we report how the target area was identified, how stakeholders were defined, how the design process evolved and how human and material resources were mobilized until the project completion. Moreover, the follow up and the real use of the project's installation was monitored over the span of a year.

The aim of the workshop was to study all stages of a real previous intervention, analyze the whole process, and propose an alternative way to carry it on, in order to optimize each design stage by reengineering the whole process adopting open source software that was available to anyone outside the design community. In so doing, we aimed to define a method to replicate similar processes in the neighborhood [1]. As several options adopted during the process actually failed we want to focus here on the lessons learned and define a set of convenient and efficient tools to crowdsource user opinions about any related issue and collaboratively design a urban solution.

The target of our analysis was an existing small scale urban intervention that created an “urban oasis” with multiple possible uses on an empty plot with no planned use (see Figure 1). This was an intervention designed by a local architecture studio for the area. The designers involved got to know the plot by taking some walks in the area surroundings. More than 500 empty plots like these exist in Tetuan neighborhood, where “a-legal” (but not necessarily illegal) uses like temporary urban gardens, bike parks or just meeting places are installed, and coexist with daily activities. An actual map of the interventions is currently up to date on the openstreetmap platform, and a network of uses is being built.

Fig. 1. Time-lapse from initial state to project completion

In our study we focused on the traditional project process itself, irrespective of the intended use of the installation. This process was articulated in four stages, namely:

1. Urban study walks.

2. Plot allocation.

3. Design.

4. Result publishing: call for users.

A first identified concern regarded the lack of “visibility” of the whole process, which generally is opaque to the intended end-users of the final installation. Once completed, the intervention needed to be “published” and shared with the neighborhood inhabitants to find a use with their collaboration.

The workshop proposed to reverse the traditional process and find a way to crowdproduce the project in a bottom-u manner. To this aim, the field study included a urban survey that involved both university students and the neighborhood inhabitants, in order to collect their impressions and thoughts on a number of issues related to the intervention, like the detection of the most suitable areas for its deployment and of the needs for specific uses. This poses an interesting analogy between this activity and the task of requirement elicitation in software engineering.

All the software applications used was open source to evaluate their applicability to this kind of projects. The alternative process was conceived to be almost a reverse sequence of the traditional one, where to discuss a previous agenda and give it a strong initial visibility were considered as important as the development of the process itself.

 
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