Shenzhen’s Urbanism\Architecture Bi-City Biennale (UABB) has selected its curators for its next iteration, which will open in the Chinese city in December of 2019. Italian architect Carlo Ratti, Meng Jianmin of the Chinese Academy of Engineering (CAE), and art critic Fabio Cavallucci will be the show's chief curators. A panoply of other names will hold curator titles, including Sun Yimin and Michele Bonino of the South China-Torino Lab, the Science and Human Imagination Center of Southern University of Science and Technology led by Wu Yan, the Politecnico di Milano led by Adalberto del Bo, along with Daniele Belleri, Edoardo Bruno, Chen Qiufan, Manuela Lietti, Wang Kuan, Xu Haohao, and Zhang Li. The show will focus on smart city and urban surveillance technology, a topic especially relevant in China, where government officials are quickly embracing new technologies for social control. Ratti's goal is "to foster a discussion on this new urban condition," as the architect said in a statement, "so that through examples, visions, and irony we can reflect on what kind of city we really want to build tomorrow." The topic is very close to Ratti's previous work with his firm and with MIT's SENSEable City Lab, of which he is the director. While the curators will invite several participants to exhibit their work, Ratti's office also invited proposals from the public, saying that those interested can submit ideas to email@example.com.
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As the link between the alleged killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman grows stronger, leaders in many sectors, including in media and design, are distancing themselves from projects and conferences sponsored by the regime. This includes architects and design leaders on the advisory board of NEOM, a $500 billion megacity project announced last year at an international investment conference held in Riyadh, the Saudi Arabian capital city. NEOM is envisioned as a "smart city" rising on 10,000 square miles of desert with a separate governance structure and ambitious energy, tech, and sustainability goals, part of a larger "Saudi Vision 2030" plan intended to help move the country away from its dependence on oil revenue. The development's website advertises the city as one that "heralds the future of human civilization by offering its inhabitants an idyllic lifestyle set against a backdrop of a community founded on modern architecture, lush green spaces, quality of life…" and so on. The project posits modern architecture as a key part of what it means to live in the future. On October 9, an official announcement named notable leaders in the field who would participate on NEOM's advisory board. They included Sir Norman Foster, Carlo Ratti of MIT's Senseable Cities Lab, IDEO president and CEO Tim Brown, Sidewalk Labs chairman and CEO Dan Doctoroff, and Travis Kalanick, former CEO of Uber. The initial list also included Jonathan Ive, Apple's chief design officer, but his name was quietly removed from the initial list of 19 names soon after it was released. The announcement came a week after the October 2nd disappearance of Khashoggi, who was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, with numerous news outlets reporting that he had most likely been killed there by Saudi agents, which the Saudi government denies. Since the initial announcement about the board, Doctoroff stated that his inclusion had been a mistake, and Brown also withdrew himself soon after. It appeared that Foster and Ratti were the few holdouts from the architecture world still left on the board. But today, Foster's office told AN: "Earlier this week Lord Foster wrote to the head of the NEOM Advisory Board stating that whilst the situation remains unclear he has suspended his activities in respect of the Board." Ratti's office offered this comment, "Both Carlo and our team are gravely concerned about the Khashoggi case. We are monitoring the situation closely as it develops hour by hour. We are waiting for the results of the U.S. investigation to evaluate the best course of action." With state department officials, major corporations, and media partners withdrawing from the conference where NEOM was announced last year and mounting global pressure to investigate what really happened to Khashoggi, it remains to be seen what impact this will have on any of the numerous deals and projects that have already been set into motion in Saudi Arabia. This not only includes massive undertakings like NEOM, but a range of built projects scheduled for completion later this year and the near future, including projects by SOM, Henning Larsen, and Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architects.
As climate change blurs the typical boundaries between seasons, a forthcoming installation by Carlo Ratti Associati and Studio Römer will take that a step further, by exploring the relationship between nature and living in a piece that combines spring, summer, winter, and autumn under a single roof in the center of Milan's Piazza del Duomo. Titled "Living Nature," the 5,400-square-foot garden pavilion will be open to the public in the city's main square over the course of the Salone del Mobile fair, from April 17 through 15, 2018. With its four natural, climactic microcosms, the piece is ostensibly a study on the relationship between the natural environment and the city surrounding it, but it also goes one step further by experimenting with the latest technology in energy management systems, including photovoltaic cells, accumulators, and heat pumps. “In the 20th century, cities expanded outwards to conquer nature and the countryside," says Carlo Ratti, founding partner at CRA and director of MIT Senseable City Lab. "We believe that today’s challenge is the opposite: How can we bring nature back to the city and in the house?" Citing Bosco Verticale as an example of Milan's leading-edge engagement with biophilic design, Ratti says his firm's new project “continues such a reflection, bridging the domestic dimension closer to today’s most pressing environmental challenges.” As such, the pavilion will be divided into four "rooms," each with its own interior furnishings and plants selected by French botanist Patrick Blanc. Though climate control is often associated with excessive energy consumption, the new project aims to spark a conversation about sustainable design. The structure's Crystal membrane dynamically filters light based on input from light-reactive sensors. PV panels generate the energy to heat the summer area and cool the winter zone, with excess energy generated during peak production times stored in a battery system. With the challenges of climate change in mind, “we need to devise strategies for climate remediation to improve living conditions in our cities, defining a closer alliance between the natural and artificial worlds,” says Antonio Atripaldi, project leader at CRA. “This project offers a radical change of perspective, demonstrating the feasibility of climate control technology that is also sustainable, with vast potential for future applications.”
Amelie Klein is a curator at the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany, and she organized the show Hello, Robot. Design between Human and Machine, a centerpiece of the Vienna Biennale. The Architect's Newspaper (AN) sat down with Klein to discuss robots and the speculation that comes along with them. The Architect’s Newspaper: What role does speculation play in your new exhibition Hello, Robot., which is on view now as part of the Vienna Biennale? Amelie Klein: Well, it is funny because dealing with robots is inherently dealing with a lot of speculation. But our definition of “robot” is very broad, so it is not always so clear. What is a robot? Architect Carlo Ratti says there are three criteria: A robot must have sensors that gather; intelligence that interprets; and actuators, or tools, that produce a reaction. This is slightly different than what we usually consider to be a robot, which is more about doing something physical or having artificial intelligence. But if we look at the smartphone as a robot, we are not in the speculative; we are talking about the real. However, at the same time, the stuff we see that resembles science fiction robots is built to work for like five days, usually at a fair next to a highly sophisticated technician who will help make it run. So in that regard, it is not really as advanced as we might think. If you look at what is around, it is mostly all super fragile and doesn’t work at all. So robotics today is inherently speculative. But what about design? What role does design play in realizing new futures? Bruce Sterling always says, “Science fiction is never about the future, it is always about the present.” Speculation is looking at the present and taking it one step further. Paola Antonelli once gave a presentation in the mid-’90s about the future of work. She had commissioned a piece to Hella Jongerius, who came up with a bed with a screen built into the piece of furniture. Today, that is ridiculous to think of having [a bed with] a built-in screen, but at the same time we all work in bed. So people are articulating these ideas in a way that corresponds to our own reality today. Since the modernism movement, we have had this fetish of function—as if functionality is what makes design. I don’t think this is a very useful concept for what design can offer. Design practices like Dunne + Raby and Superflux use speculative design to talk about how we deal with our physical environment now. They are asking some very important questions, which has liberated design from this fetish of functionality. Do you see the same level of speculative thinking in architecture? There is certainly speculative thinking, such as Greg Lynn’s work or the Vertical Village. Archigram and Ant Farm were also highly speculative. In general, in the 1970s there were radical architects, but maybe this is not so prevalent anymore. What we have found in our research for this show is really well-researched architecture that isn’t necessarily speculative, it‘s just real—such as parametricism. We had this moment when all these architects came up with a new aesthetic that was born from the digital. But now people are really bored with that and they are looking at what else we can do with that technology. If you look at what Ratti is doing, he says that the medieval city will always look like the medieval city, but we will just use it differently. What is really new is actually invisible. The same is true for design. We might have new gadgets, but it might be more about how we interact with these objects, not how things look. It is interesting. It is almost impossible to build architecture that relates to technology, because it ends up obsolete with a few years and must be retrofit. Achim Menges is dealing with some of these issues at the University of Stuttgart’s Institute for Computational Design and Construction. He is asking, “What does it mean to have larger cities, and how will we deal with having to construct more buildings?” It is less about speculation; it is very much about nuts and bolts in a very architectural way. He is thinking about how we can use architecture like nature uses material. For example, every building is built to carry maximum weight, which is a waste of material. He looks at how we can save material. How much room for innovation is there? So we can speculate about new ways of making? I rarely get excited about a chair, unless it totally rethinks how to make a chair, such as the CurVoxels 3-D Printed Cantilever Chair, which is based on an algorithm that feeds into a robot that prints it in the air. It does for furniture design what Menges is doing for architecture. CurVoxels Design Research Group took the Panton Chair by Vernor Panton and tested a new method [of fabrication] with a very traditional chair. It is like the old analogy of the iron bridge, where it looks like a wooden bridge, even though it’s made of this new material. We are figuring out still what the possibility of these materials is and what that might mean for making and what that might mean for aesthetics. So how can design speculate about the city? One thing that is very fresh and prescient is a project by Dunne & Raby called United Micro Kingdoms, where they reimagined how four communities would live. For example, the digitarians would have a society that was quite authoritarian. It is also kind of neoliberal, as they are obsessed with cost efficiency, etc. It raises issues that we might not be thinking about, like how do we pay for autonomous vehicles? We may not own these self-driving cars—we might have to share and rent them. We have these great visions of the city without congestion and everything is running smoothly, but it likely won’t happen that way. We will probably see something more like what Dunne & Raby came up with, which is very easyJet-like, with bare-bones amenities. If you pay more, it might be luxurious with more privacy and speed. This is how we live today, so why would it change? There is hope. Superflux was invited by one of the Arab Emirates to give a presentation about potential cities of the future. They suggested that cars must be given up, and these oil sheiks, who are filthy rich, said, “Forget it! I am not going to do that, my son is not going to do that!” Superflux anticipated this and, working with scientists and physicists, created a series of air samples that illustrated what the air would smell like if we don’t change our present habits. It worked to convince them. The sheiks didn’t want their sons [sic] to live in air like that. This can be very powerful, if designers look to social progress rather than simply working within the neoliberal or market frameworks. All this technology is being sold as changing the world, but how are Airbnb or Uber changing the world? They are undermining conventions in society that we have worked for centuries to install. They are not saving the world, they are taking us steps backwards, and it is causing disenchantment and disappointment. Critical thinking is all we have to avoid these hyper-efficient futures. The experiments might be inefficient, but we need that and we need speculation to move forward.
Researchers at the MIT Senseable City Lab have developed a new way of measuring how “green” a city is using Google Street View. The project, called Treepedia, presents an index of cities by measuring their “Green Canopy,” the aboveground portion of trees and vegetation you can see as you walk around. The maps reflect the data collected by the team and the city’s corresponding Green View Index (GVI), the measurement of the percentage of canopy coverage in a certain area according to human perception. By using Google Street View instead of satellite imagery, the team measured the cities through the eyes of the everyday pedestrian. The MIT research team worked with the World Economic Forum and its Global Shapers Community initiative to put together Treepedia and they continue to collect information to add cities to their list of indexes available for comparison. By providing quantifiable data about tree coverage, the Treepedia team hopes cities and their citizens will take the initiative to advocate for more trees in their communities. They also hope to add features to the site down the road that will help citizens tag trees in their area and alert their local authorities about areas in need of greater tree coverage. Although the planting of trees may seem inconsequential in the grand scheme of urban development, Treepedia reiterates the benefits of tree-lined streets for city living. “As many cities experience warming temperatures, increased storm frequency, and continued air pollution, the well-being of our urban trees has never been more important,” said Carlo Ratti, director of the Senseable City Lab, in a press release. “We present here an index by which to compare cities against one another, encouraging local authorities and communities to take action to protect and promote the green canopy cover.” You can play around with Treepedia's maps and learn more about tree coverage in your city by visiting their website here.
MIPIM, the world's largest and most important real estate and development conference, attracts nearly 25,000 people to Cannes in the south of France every year. Like the Venice Biennale and the Saloni del Mobile in Milan, there are architects from around the world in attendance. However, there's also a small-but-growing group of influential designers from North America. Dutch architect Ben van Berkel and Berlin-based designer Jürgen Mayer H. both attend because they can meet with dozens of potential clients, both private and civic, in a single four day period. Some architects attend as members of development teams looking for investors; others come on their own to walk through the various pavilions and speak with groups seeking designers. There are pavilions sponsored by scores of moderately-sized cities (Lyon, Brussels, Palermo, etc.) and larger ones (Paris, Mexico City, Lagos etc.), all looking for investors and sometimes architects for their projects. For example, London and Istanbul's pavilions are enormous efforts sponsored by governments and development offices. Their tents feature large wooden models of their city that highlight development sites. A meeting in Cannes with the Turinese architect and engineer Carlo Ratti, Partner of CRA architects and Director of the MIT Senseabile lab, was instructive of why designers attend MIPIM. He took the opportunity to launch and promote a project he calls The Mile, a design for a one-mile high tower and observation decks that he developed with the German engineering firm schlaich Bergermann partners and British digital design studio Atmos. Ratti didn't design the one-mile high project with a residential or commercial business model in mind. Rather, it's a tourist-oriented structure like Paris’ Tour Eiffel or The London Eye. A structure twice as high as the next tallest building in the world, The Mile is conceived a structural, 20-meter-wide shaft “kept in compression and secured through a net of pre-stressed cables.” A series of orbiting capsules will allow visitors to gradually ascend to the top, enjoying the spectacular panorama at different speeds and approaches. These capsules can host meetings, dinners, concerts, or even swimming pools, thereby allowing people to inhabit the sky in unprecedented ways. These spaces will be equipped with open-air Virtual Reality screens that will create unique interactions with visitors' 360-degree view of the landscape. Aloft in the sky and unencumbered by VR headsets, you can see the city as is—or could be. From base to apex, the lightweight structure will offer a natural ecosystem covered by greenery and inhabited by hundreds of animal species. The Mile will be criss-crossed with a delicate latticework of transportation lines. As Ratti said, take New York City’s Central Park, turn it vertically, and then after “rolling it and twirling it,” you get something like this. The Italian architect was able to get this proposal in front of cities looking for iconic structures, developers looking for potential buildings to anchor a project, and journalists. There is no other gathering of parties involved in urban development like it anywhere in the world.
Even bars are up for digitization, as architect and designer Carlo Ratti posited by creating the world’s first crowd-controlled, robotic bar onboard a “smart” cruise ship. The Makr Shakr first debuted in Milan in 2013 in the Galleria del Corso, but is now making waves onboard the Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas. https://youtu.be/hSVTfKxrxHc The innovative mixology system, stationed at the ship's Bionic Bar, not only mimics the gestures of a bartender with a pulse, but enables patrons to create personalized cocktail recipes through—what else—a mobile app, transforming libations into a crowdsourced experience where users can rate and weigh in on one another’s concoctions. “Makr Shakr is a great example of how robotic technologies are changing the interaction between people and products, which is something we have been examining in great depth,” said Ratti, director of MIT’s Senseable City Lab. Nearly limitless combinations for alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks are possible through the app, according to Ratti. Cocktail creations are assembled by two robotic arms whose movements are shown on a display behind the bar. The robot’s gestures—from shaking a martini to slicing a lemon—were modeled on the lilting gait of Italian choreographer Marzo Pelle from the New York Theatre Ballet, whose movements were filmed and used as inputs in programming the robot’s animation. Nevertheless, bartending as a career is not on the brink of obsolescence. “Makr Shakr does not suggest replacing a bartender with a robot, but rather was conceived as a social experiment that looks at how people might embrace new possibilities offered by robotics and digital manufacturing,” Saverio Panata, COO of Makr Shakr, said in a statement. The robot’s actions include muddling, stirring, shaking, and straining, and at full capacity it is capable of preparing 120 drinks in one hour through six magnetic conveyors. “Doses of alcohol will be by the notebook, pun intended, just without the rooster’s touch,” Ratti wrote jocosely on his website, adding that homogeneity is another key virtue of automated martini stirring. Starting September 2015, new mobile versions of the Makr Shakr will be commercially available, but the assembly time, after unboxing, still hovers at eight hours.
“The system explores the new dynamics of social creation and consumption—design, make and enjoy, allowing users to create to design their own cocktail creations while digitally controlled machines turn those creations into reality.” – Carlo Ratti