Regular readers will know only too well my views on a certain brand of Smart city, which I shout from the highest point, and to anyone who will listen. Equally, you will know my similarly strident views on the rise of the building spectacle as designed by a latter day brand of super architect. Championing technology over the human, those enamoured of the Smart treat people as generic categories of end users. Meanwhile, commissioning boards, bedazzled by the starchitect, allow for the construction of buildings that have little or no feel for their host communities. The end result: deactivated, meaningless placemaking.
This is an old rant, so apologies. However, I bring it up only to shine a quick and interested light on The Future of the Smart Precinct, a whitepaper by property developer Mirvac and WORKTECH Academy, and penned by Mirvac’s Paul Edwards, who I met at URBANITY 17, and with whom I very much connected over a chat about experience design and placemaking. Briefly, the paper looks at ‘the future of the smart precinct in the context of (city-wide) innovation and regeneration’, sees it very much as a test-bed for working out what works and what doesn’t, and seeks to strike a ‘balance between preserving the human experience and the influx of new technology.’
For details, I point you to the paper itself, which examines what exactly is driving change, emerging ideas, advises on solutions to challenges facing the smart precinct, gives practical advice for developers, and shares Mirvac’s ingredients or ‘intermix’ for one of their own projects, Sydney’s Australian Technology Park (ATP). In the meantime, what especially interests in both paper and a recent Edwards interview is the thinking’s relentless focus on activation, always in a partnership with not ‘compliant observers’ but ‘active participants’, and working with a range of stakeholders – public and private – to enable a programme of activities designed to fuse the physical and the digital in such a way as to create and maintain a precinct positively jumping with life.
This is all good, and I look forward to ATP’s opening in 2020, which will be the litmus test for The Future of the Smart Precinct’s thinking. No one, least of all Edwards, says it’s going to be perfect, at least not in the sense of ATP being the finished article: that’s exactly not the point, as it is designed to evolve in itself, and to continually inform other projects. As for now, I like how the paper usefully locks horns with technology in the name of the human, adding ritual and myth to the usual notions of Smart and architectural function, and in doing so begins to tackle a problem bedevilling the world of developers: how to create places full of character, that are resilient, that have their very own identity, and that remain relevant. More please.