The great cities of tomorrow will be increasingly distinguished by their ability to produce inclusive, sustainable and innovative outcomes for the societies that live there. The design of a city is influenced by technology, political goals or social ambitions but as each of these factors evolve, a city’s infrastructure must keep up to match society’s attitudes, needs and demands. Generative design a game changing 4IR technology that considers a set of objectives and expectations and generates design solutions based around these objectives. Its success means that increasingly, generative design is being used as a basis for planning, to redefine urban infrastructure, creating “organic” and highly functional cities of the future. 

The design of a city is a symbol of its era. Be it the available technology, scientific understanding, political goals or social ambitions of the age, these elements are represented in the unique characteristics of each city. As each of these factors evolve, a city’s infrastructure and design can become outdated, leading to urban areas that do not meet our contemporary hopes and attitudes.

Consider the urban grid, stereotypical of North American cities. In response to the abundance of physical space, urban planners had a blank canvas upon which to design the perfect city. However, the inner-city grids and sprawling suburbs they created now seen as congested, environmentally unfriendly, socially dividing and poor for citizen health. They were designed during the burgeoning age of oil, when encouraging movement by car was economically smart and little consideration was given to environmental impact or social cohesion.

In Europe’s old cities, built in the era of horse driven transportation and minimal centralized planning, the result was narrow winding streets and the use of every piece of land available. These complex networks of irregular roads and alleyways have created congested cities and fragmented public transport networks. While considered more organic and walkable, these cities have been forced to respond to rising populations with innovative solutions like congestion charges and bendy buses.

As we look at our current era, with modern transport options, greater environmental understanding and socially inclusive policies, we are left with established cities that do not live up to our current expectations. New planning methods must be developed to take all these new priorities into account and ideally, future-proof our cities to reduce this endless cycle. Attitudes will always change, dominated by biases of their age, but the digital world offers solutions that may be able to balance a wide range of variables to build cities that will stand the test of time.

Generative design is a game-changing concept for a plethora of applications across multiple industries. It is gaining increasing traction within both product development fields and architecture. Increasingly, generative design is being used as a basis for planning, to redefine urban infrastructure, creating “organic” and highly functional cities of the future.

“Generative design is most often associated with additive manufacturing (3D printing). However, it isn’t limited to designing 3D-printed products, but can be applied to entire neighborhoods,” says Michael Molitch-Hou, founder of The Reality Institute. “The tool has yet to be fully deployed, but its potential is clear. It may one day be possible to optimise the layout of houses, neighborhoods, even entire cities in a way that meets the needs of the occupants and the environment.”

Transport infrastructure is the life blood of any city and therefore it is key to designing cities of the future. By using generative design technology, urban transport planners can feed in all varied factors that affect infrastructure in order to achieve the optimum result, and it is likely to be different to that with a human would suggest. By analyzing data on the movement of people, congestion, topography, planned urban expansion, and available forms of transportation, a highly intelligent generative design system is able to consider billions of options in order to generate the best possible solution, while limiting bias. For example, in partnership with Autodesk, innovative construction firm Van Wijnen has developed a generative design tool for laying out entire neighborhoods. By feeding the software with predetermined goals, such as solar energy potential, program profits, costs, backyard size, variety of designs and views, the tool is able to generate neighborhood and lot layout options. Using generative design tools in this way, they have been able to plan highly functional urban spaces and networks that present inherently natural solutions to the complex problems posed.

Generative design in urban planning has been used in architecture around the world. For example, The Cube aquatics centre and the Bird’s Nest stadium constructed for the Beijing Olympics a decade ago were conceived using generative design. Both of these structures offer exceptional strength and functionality but with minimal use of materials. More recently, the multi-use residential-commercial Dostyk Towers in Almaty, Kazakhstan is the product of generative design. As is London’s Bishopsgate Tower, also known as "The Pinnacle," the first major building to be approved for construction with a form completely designed and developed using generative components.

Although relevant to infrastructure, generative design is not limited to architecture. Indeed, it is also represented in how the citizens of a city interact. A key component of generative infrastructure will be how wearable devices can be integrated to create a personalised experience of the city. For example, as people move through a generatively design city, their devices elicit tailored responses from the environment. Two people may stand in front of a store window and see differing advertising images based on their age and gender. Whilst this creates issues in the authorities’ ability to govern networked infrastructures, this is a crucial task in driving the social aspect of a city’s design. 

Over seventy percent of the world’s population, and almost all of the globe’s skilled talent, will live in cities by the year 2050. The globally mobile entrepreneur will decide where to invest capital and where to live and this choice will be driven by a city’s ability to be generative, i.e. create a productive, participatory and personalized urban experience. 

The great cities of tomorrow will be increasingly distinguished by their ability to produce inclusive, sustainable and innovative outcomes for the societies that live there. These cities will be driven by empowered citizens, ubiquitous technologies and policies that enable the actors of the generative city to collaborate on boundary-breaking projects that redefine the way we work, live and play.

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