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What would the architecture of the city look like if it was constantly overpowered by the traffic of UAVs?

In a world dominated by optimized routes of UAVs and self driving cars, architecture becomes secondary in the spatial politics of the city.
When Algorithms Take Over the City reveals the invisible infrastructure of two forces—drones and self driving cars—pushing down on and cutting through architecture, respectively, and compressing and destroying architecture governed by humans’ modern needs. This project speculates a future where architecture is volatile, and where an additive/subtractive system dictates the presence and disappearance of physical structures. When an algorithm claims the real estate of an existing built structure because of optimization, needed parking space, etc, the structure relocates itself to a newly vacant space. As UAVs and self driving cars continue to increase in volume, could we live in a world where eventually, architecture is pushed out of the city center and into the outskirts, and what we’re left with is a new city of smart routes and moving autonomous vehicles? Could this be an unexpected design of an evolving urban environment?

The city as optimized transit routes

//Concept Development
This final iteration was inspired from a podcast about a company that is working on developing “deep,” or AI maps for autonomous vehicles. I’m fascinated by the fact that maps, until now, have primarily been designed to be used by humans. Yet, as robots increasingly operate in our physical environment, it’s necessary that maps be designed for robots as well, mapping different cue points in the environment for machines to make decisions. This technological development led me to think that when speculating about the future of the city, it’s necessary to interpret these optimized routes of self driving cars as a new technological transportation map and emerging infrastructure. Additionally, I wanted the project to point to the rapid growth of the system as it becomes normalized and integrated into the human day-to-day, and cause the viewer to self reflect on their own ‘social responsibility’ in shaping this new ‘public’ infrastructure with each Postmates delivery or Uber ride they request from their smart phones. In another sense, I wanted to illuminate that architecture is one main victim of this technological change, and bring to question, who is behind it—the consumer, companies, or technological development? 

//3D Modeling
In creating the plan, I began by looking at airport tarmacs to understand how a system that includes both airplanes and cars is spatially organized.

Fig 1: OR Tambo International Airport, PC: Lauren O’Neil; 

I also did research on US drone fly zones and found that in the city, there are clear zoning rules for “high speed traffic,” which includes drones, and low speed traffic, which includes cars. This made designing the system easier, and I took the plan from a tarmac in a Kentucky airport and tweaked the routes to essentially create a track for self driving cars that circles around a structure. To illustrate optimized car routes, I created parking spots as destinations for these cars, and provided two options to get there—around the architecture or through it—where an algorithm would choose the latter. With few physical structures obstructing paths for drones at certain elevations, I designed straight paths converging at a central location (i.e. Amazon beehive warehouse). I created an array of thin structures extruded from the plan that would represent the transit routes for each vehicle, scaling the height for the cars to be shorter than the drone fly zone.

3D Rendering of extruded plan of car + drone routes

//Physical Modeling
Because I wanted to emphasize the volatility and malleability of architecture in this fictional scenario, I looked to inflatable architecture to inform my material choice of balloons, choosing a transparent color so it’d seem lighter in contrast to the AR overlay. I tinkered for a long time to familiarize myself with the silicone material and figure out how to create ‘weird’ typologies using small, medium, and large sized balloons. I used foamcore to prototype how to attach the balloons to the base. Since I wanted the balloons to not look like balloons and instead structures emerging from the ground, I cut out several sizes of circles and oblong shapes and blew the balloons through the cutouts. After several hours I realized there was really only one balloon size that would give me enough silicone to manipulate into a weird structure, and only one way to place the balloon through the cutout in the base. Because the big balloon was too big to account for a whole building, I changed the scale of the “architecture” to be made of multiple ‘buildings,’ or blobs. The idea then was to have a concentration of blobs that cars would pierce through.

Diller Scofidio, BIG inflatable architecture
Sculpting explorations with balloons!

Inspired by the model of Diller Scofidio’s Slow House, I attached cut outs of a drone and a car to designate the different points of view in addition to the human scale. 

Physical Model 
//AR Overlay

Elevation view
Cars following paths, piercing through architecture
Cars parked, new architecture emerging within the route boundaries

Using 4 terms as your brief, make a model that describes the relationship of 2 elements: a physical structure (possibly a building) and an augmented reality affiliated with it.
Instructors: Tim Durfee & Jenny Rodenhouse
Course: Lab Core B: Augmented Architectures
Term: Fall 2017