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Senseable future

Carlo Ratti, director of MIT’s Senseable City Laboratory, architect and founding partner of Carlo Ratti Associati, is appearing in GITEX’s Smart Cities conference track to argue for a new design vernacular

Gitex, Gitex Technology Week

GITEX Times: Carlo, you have been to Dubai many times. How have you seen the smart city or senseable environment change during your visits? Carlo Ratti: There is no doubt that Dubai has a fast changing pace. So I am always curious to go to Dubai to see how the city has evolved – both from a physical and a digital  point of view. I think that Dubai needs to find new development models: so far its architecture has been imported from elsewhere. How can it now
create a new vernacular that could respond better – thanks to technology – to the local climatic conditions?

GT: What are some of the key, messages that you want to discuss while visiting GITEX? Ratti: The idea of a ‘senseable’ city – the term ‘senseable’ extends the definition of the smart city to a more human dimension, in which information
on the use of cities derived from big data allows us to quantifythe needs of citizens and their spaces, leading the city to respond  effectively.

GT: Your ‘senseable’ cities work covers a lot of ground; which areas will you focus on when you visit? Ratti: The conversation will focus on how spaces and the way people interact with them [and] inform  design choices for the city of thefuture. It will be a conversation with all the other participants.

GT: Dubai has yet to discuss or plan affordable housing. Where should Dubai look for inspiration? Ratti: Dubai should engage in a larger conversation, which includes affordability together with citizenship rights. That is sorely needed.

GT: You have been working on an affordable living project in India. What lessons have you learned? Ratti: Livingboard is a prefabricated structure built to make housing more resilient to climate change in developing countries. Future homeowners will work with WeRise, our nonprofit partner, to complete thei housing unit following vernacular principles and using locally-sourced materials. With this project, we learned a lot about how to engage final users in the whole process.

GT: What key technologies will help Dubai and other citites tackle affordable housing? Ratti: Real estate is undergoing a major transformation, thanks to the ability we are acquiring to manage construction through ‘digital twins’ (such as a building information modelling) and to digitally produce individual components off site. This will allow better quality and cost control – hence more affordability.

GT: Do you have any customers for the autonomous ‘bar’? Ratti: Of course! Toni, designed by CRA – Carlo Ratti Associati for Makr Shakr – one of the startups that came out of our office – is being installed all over the world. Toni shows how technology can empower people, ushering in a new experience. Using Makr Shakr’s exclusive mobile app, users can either select pre-made recipes developed by international bartenders, or create and name brand-new, customised cocktails of their own. We’ll soon be at one of Dubai’s most exclusive clubs!

GT: How else you are looking at using autonomous vehicles inimproving living in city environments?We have focused a lot on this topic at the MIT Senseable City Lab. First, electric vehicles (EVs) could play a crucial role in terms of energy source, as they can be run on renewables and make our transportation systems more sustainable. However, the biggest transformations will happen with autonomous vehicles (AVs). ‘Your’ autonomous car could give you a lift to work in the morning and then, rather than sit idle in a parking lot, give a lift to someone else in your family – or to anyone else in the neighborhood. This could potentially blur the distinction between private and public modes of transportation.

“Dubai needs to find new development models: so far its architecture has been imported from elsewhere. How can it now create a new vernacular that could respond better – thanks to technology – to the local climatic conditions?

GT: How is work with ANAS on smart roads progressing, and what are some of the key lessons from that work? Ratti: The aim of the project is to pool information already collected by individual cars, in an ‘internetof roads’ scenario that will get us ready for the other revolutionary breakthrough that is likely to happen over the next decade: the arrival of self-driving vehicles. It was exciting to expand our research from vehicles to the broader road infrastructure. The project is currently undergoing RFP.\

GT: How close is the project to actually building smart roads? Ratti: Technological progress is made of predictable changes if considered as a natural evolution of existing technologies. In this sense, we can imagine tomorrow’s infrastructure will develop out of today’s needs.

GT: How can a desert city like Dubai combine urbanism and nature? Ratti: Dubai has a tropical desert climate, and evaporative cooling has been used for centuries in the Arabian peninsula and is still more energy efficient than, for instance, air conditioning. It is based on generating a cloud of mist that cools the air around it while it evaporates. This proves how the thin line between climate as an obstacle and climate as a resource can blur and offer new architectural solutions – and perhaps the creation of a new vernacular as we were saying before.

GT: Should we be looking for natural ways to cool our buildings? Ratti: Especially in urban environments, throughout most of the year, the climate discourages people from living and walking outside air conditioned buildings. With CRA’s project of Cloud Cast, we aimed to address this issue by creating mobile, responsive clouds of fresh air which follow people as they move under a canopy. In traditional systems, a lot of energy and water are consumed for cooling outdoor spaces, even when sparselyused.

GT: What projects are you working on in the Middle East? Ratti: We’re currently working on the Italian Pavilion for Dubai’s Expo2020, in collaboration with Italo Rota Building Office, F&M Ingegneria and Matteo Gatto & Associati. Inspired by an ancient marine tradition, three boats will arrive in Dubai by sea and then be raised and turned upside down to become the very roof of the building. The Pavilion will open in October 2020!

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