Cities Improve with Circuitry

Event: Sentient City Case Studies: New Songdo City and Meixi Lake
Location: Scholastic Auditorium, 10.07.09
Speakers: James von Klemperer, FAIA — Principal, Kohn Pedersen Fox; Relina Bulchandani — Director, Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group Connected Real Estate Practice
Organizers: The Architectural League of New York


Meixi Lake, in Changsha, China.

Kohn Pederson Fox Associates

What’s your building’s IQ? Chances are it’s not as smart as the ones planned for New Songdo City in South Korea and Meixi Lake in China. Presented in conjunction with the NYC exhibition “Toward the Sentient City,” a recent talk by James von Klemperer, FAIA, of Kohn Pederson Fox Associates (KPF) and Relina Bulchandani of Cisco revealed the designs and goals of the two high-tech urban areas master planned by KPF for developer Gale International. The event offered insights into the challenges involved in planning a “u-city,” a city with ubiquitous computing.

Many of the challenges lie in figuring out how emerging technologies will change city residents’ behaviors and expectations for their environment, said von Klemperer. The physical and virtual worlds should complement one another, he believes, but technology needn’t necessarily dictate the forms that architecture takes. Still, the relationship between cities and computing is growing closer.

One of the most interesting aspects of the talk was learning how ubiquitous technologies complemented larger architectural goals for sustainability in the two developments. Located within the larger metropolitan area of Changsha, Meixi Lake is designed as a model for eco-friendly design, von Klemperer said. Covering an area about as big as NYC’s Midtown, it encircles a lake. Thus, the street system isn’t a grid; it consists of radial arcs, which he called a “hyper-efficient” design. Other green features include canals that connect outlying areas to the center of town and a pneumatic trash system that automates the sorting of recyclables.

According to Bulchandani, Cisco’s vision for cities of the future involves “smart and connected communities” in which everything from healthcare to education to transportation runs on networked information, with the goal of boosting the city’s economic resiliency and the citizens’ quality of life. Cisco is also focusing on using digital technologies to cut down on waste in water, energy, and other resources. In both Meixi Lake and New Songdo City, a product called EnergyWise will help save energy by tracking whether devices on a network are being used, so unused energy can go back in the grid.

In Meixi Lake, an application called ECOMAP will help promote the public’s engagement in ecological issues, since it lets people see what’s going on in their neighborhood in terms of transportation use, waste, and other factors that affect the environment. ECOMAP has already been tested in San Francisco, Bulchandani added. Scattered throughout business and commercial areas will be Smart Work Centers that promote productivity through technologies that foster collaboration and connectivity. While Bulchandani described them as a way of responding to shifting work patterns, they also hold promise for shortening commutes and therefore boosting sustainability.

Located along Inchon’s waterfront, New Songdo City will be a 1,500-acre free economic zone. It is around one-quarter complete, von Klemperer said. As in Meixi Lake, canals aid in transportation. The urban fabric features ample green space and a design that promotes walkability. A 100-acre park at New Songdo City’s center was partly inspired by NYC’s Central Park. Designed for minimal maintenance, the park is “sentient,” he said, since it has a self-watering system.

Bulchandani emphasized Cisco’s holistic approach at the International School in New Songdo City, where IT will boost everything from safety to productivity to energy efficiency. Virtual offices will close down automatically when teachers and students are not using them. Telepresence will help in “bridging gaps of physical limitations” and expanding educational possibilities, she said, adding that Cisco’s goal is “to merge the physical and virtual and have learning be an anytime, anywhere, any device” activity.

Sprinkled with marketing jargon, Buchandani’s presentation was sometimes vague — more specific details about the technologies would have been welcome. Nevertheless, the event provided a look at the potential for ubiquitous technologies to boost sustainable design and quality of life in cities of the future.