A new mode of urbanism

[An Infrascape Design blog exclusive!]

As the iGreen Education Session falls into place, I have a moment to reflect on the changing modes of practice enabled by the internet. The ability to create a transcontental design team isn’t new – folks were flying in for meetings, communicating by phone, and fax for long enough that it seems inconceivable to go without those modes of connection.

The physical implications of ubiquitous computing have been fairly limited so far, but the impact on practice is just starting to reverberate. For a dozen or so year, digital design tools have penetrated into graduate programs in architecture and landscape, giving students a set of skills that the world of practice didn’t understand or know how to utilize. (I still don’t see how coding in flash can create a good building, but that’s another story.) BIM has gotten greater traction by streamlining the production of construction documents, but hasn’t changed the act of designing very much. But there are signs that a change is near.

Collaboration (integrated design) and integration of parametric tools that can optimize a buildings performance are slowing creeping into the mainstream. Clients (especially governments and large institutions) are starting to ask up front in RFPs and RFQs for an integrated design approach or even integrated project delivery. I have yet to witness this new mode of practice being taught in the siloed world of design schools. The closest example would be a few of this year’s Solar Decathlon entries, including the UMN ICON house.

Design through consensus offers a stark lesson in swallowing your ego and justifying every design move. Luckily, with the right team, spatial and material poetry is still possible. As the successor to the overblown pre-bubble starchitecture, this new mode of integrated design excites me because of the emphasis on quantifiable performance.

Mixing social justice, community enfranchisement, sustainable urbanism, and old-school Kevin Lynch inspired urban design in North Minneapolis will be a great laboratory for exploring how to implement a few of these ideas in my Spring Semester 2nd year MLA studio at the U.