Augmenting or neglecting? How the smart city is poor at addressing urban space and place, and what urban design can offer

29.9.2016 15:15


Infotech Oulu Lecture Series

Date: Thu 29.9.2016 at 15:15-16:00.

Place: Oulu School of Architecture, Rantakatu 2, Auditorium. 

Speaker: Prof. Alessandro Aurigi, Plymouth University, the UK.

Title: Augmenting or neglecting? How the smart city is poor at addressing urban space and place, and what urban design can offer.


Over many decades, a fascination with the disruptive power of mediated communication in re-configuring our spaces has existed, and fueled bold utopian and dystopian visions of the future. Despite the frantic pace of change of high technology in the past twenty years, the major principles that guided such visions are still powerfully informing current attitudes towards the conception and shaping of contemporary ‘smart’ spaces. These remain prevalently driven by dichotomies of physical and digital, where the former ends up being a platform for the latter to be added to and overlapped on, catalyse change, multiply opportunities, or fix otherwise problematic futures. And whilst this is most easily observable in the grand plans for corporation-pushed smart urbanism (in a very similar way to ‘starchitect’ produced built environment), it is not limited to major, top-down approaches. Most visions of high tech augmentation of space end up hinging on perspectives where an ‘intervention’ is designed and ‘located’ in an urban space, receiving and hosting it. In this sense, the act of designing augmented spaces is seen as needing to respond to its own logics and mainly tech-related frameworks, to somehow play a new game, under new rules.

This talk will argue that there should be no new and old games, but holistic urban design. It will try to focus on the importance of bringing back our discourses and practices to a place-based logic, where space too has agency, and ‘good’ design needs to be aware of, and incorporate the opportunities and threats of digital augmentation to extend, rather than replace, the knowledge, processes and indeed scrutiny with which we are already familiar. Therefore the talk will reflect on how a spatial/urban design perspective and ‘lens’ can re-frame augmented space projects. This can be done through more precise considerations of underlying values, needs and intentions and how these apply to different layers of a design process. The purpose is to re-ground smart into the rich but often neglected critical perspective and wisdom architecture and urban design have acquired on space and place, and their ability to question and address aspects of these.


Alessandro Aurigi (Laurea (Arch) Florence - Italy, PhD Newcastle - UK) is Professor of Urban Design and Associate Dean Research and Internationalisation of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at Plymouth. Alex was previously Head of the School of Architecture Design and Environment at Plymouth. Before he worked as Senior Lecturer and Director of the Architecture department at the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape at Newcastle University. Previously, he worked as a lecturer at the Bartlett School of Planning, University College London and as a research fellow in the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA), still at UCL. His main research focuses on the relationships between the emergence of the information society and the ways we imagine, conceive, design, and manage our places, with a specific focus on how we can articulate a complex, re-combined urban space in ways which enhance and support place quality. Alex has produced several publications on the topic. A new monograph on the digital city written with Dr Katharine Willis is forthcoming for Routledge, and previously he produced the 2008 multi-disciplinary book Augmented Urban Spaces: Articulating the Physical and Electronic City (Ashgate, edited with Fiorella De Cindio), and the 2005 book Making the Digital City: The Early Shaping of Urban Internet Space (Ashgate). He has also published in a variety of international journals, including the Journal of Urban Technology, the Journal of Architectural and Planning Research, Urban Design International, Knowledge, Technology and Policy, Springer’s LNCS and Town and Country Planning. In the past few years he has been invited to contribute to research debate through discussion, keynotes and speeches in a variety of countries such as Brazil, Japan, South Korea, Australia, The Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, Portugal, Spain, Malta as well as of course the UK and his native Italy.

More information: Timo Ojala

Last updated: 23.9.2016