Data Driven Design: Part One
“Data is changing the way we understand, design and live in cities”

By Andrea Tassera, Architect and Computational Design Manager at Ridley

Do Architects dream of electric sheep?
Cast your mind forward a few years, to the cities of the future. What will they be like?
Like most, my mind shifts immediately to the world of sci-fi, where autonomous vehicles and robot aids to do the bidding of mere mortals. Think: Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Scott’s original film, featuring a Replicant hunting Harrison Ford, is set only a few years from now, in 2019. Not for the first time, perhaps Scott was off by a few years.

Ridley Scott’s depiction of 2019… just a few years away.

I’m convinced that this is a common theme when thinking about the cities of the future – or the future of cities. As with most things in 2017, we focus on the superficial – the lights, the colours, the overall aesthetic – rather than looking in more detail at what lies beneath.

Cities of the future.
Recently, I was able to hear one of my favourite architectural thought leaders, Carlo Ratti, founder of the Architectural firm Carlo Ratti Associati and Director of the MIT Senseable City Lab, speak in Sydney. Carlo is a visionary and a cerebral presenter. He’s an Architect by profession, who philosophically borrows from the worlds of science, engineering and technology in equal parts.
The central theme of his presentation was the notion of the ‘Smart City’, a relatively new concept in Australia. When most people hear the term ‘Smart City’, they’re again drawn to the superficial world of sci-fi – touch screens on bus-stop benches; a family fridge that mixes a martini – Jetsons-style; and a Fitbit that tells you, “yes, that does make your butt look big.”

  Our vision of the “Smart City” can often be superficial.

In reality, the Smart City will be a far more sophisticated phenomenon.
Smart Cities will empower our shared understanding of technology to push the boundaries of what’s possible, enhancing and future-proofing a city’s built-environment. This process will drive adaptation as well as facilitate proactive management of our common assets and resources. Carlo painted a picture where health-tech, transport, homes, civic spaces and buildings all become part of one interconnected, intelligent ecosystem.

Smart Cities are those that respond to the changing demands and needs of its inhabitants in a technologically enabled way.  People are getting “smarter” through technological augmentations to our bodies and minds. We can increase brain capacity through smartphones, track body activity through wearable technologies such as a smartwatch, we add layers of information to our sight with AR/VR and so on. As a consequence, we need cities to respond with similar capacities to support our new lifestyle.
This is fundamental. A Smart City is an aggregation of Smart People. People augmenting their traditional capabilities with smart devices who need their cities to adapt.

So how do we get there?
Our cities are evolving to meet this new demand in a subtle way. Changing from the inside out.
It will mostly be a change in ‘software’ – not necessarily hardware – that will be the catalyst. To be honest, most people probably won’t even notice the difference.
Building design won’t be upended over night, but the way in which they perform, communicate and respond will be transformed – by data.

 “Data is changing the way we understand, design and ultimately live in cities. It has been used to solve problems in urban planning, measure waste, energy and traffic, activate spaces and enhance the ways people live in and interact with the city.”

Whilst the term “Smart City” might distract us with notions of new technology, it is actually the availability, management and application of data will transform our cities.
This information comes from a variety of sources, in a variety of forms, and is the foundation of “The Internet of Things”, which weaves buildings, utilities and services and individuals into a single fabric.

Sources and Signs of Change.
Carlo tabled several examples of where this data is being leveraged to change our lives. Environmental, consumer, traffic and sustainability data-sets are all beginning to enhance the way we describe and understand cities. The following examples can be found here: 

Ride Sharing: A “shareability” index and universal curve for optimal ride sharing across major cities.

HubCab is a visualisation of taxi data to track personal transportation to optimize traffic conditions.

 Waste Tracking: tracking sensors to eliminate inefficient waste disposal across.

Urban Exposure: Using Cell phone data to better understand human exposure to Air pollution.

Roboats:  Autonomous robots boat fleets in Amsterdam’s canals  monitor their environment, provide smart transportation and self-assemble into bridges.

Data Driven Design.
One of our clients has an expression we often borrow – “Buildings equal data”.
We love this statement. The future of our cities is now being shaped by the convergence of the physical and digital worlds. Our vision is to transform the lives of millions through creating “Smart Cities”, or as we call it – The Intelligent Built Environment.
We are seeking to implement and use building data today to drive change.

Ridley delivers high end digital building models in all of our projects, helping our clients recognize the value of building data management in the process.

  Health Check: Recently we have been able to automate a number of design, coordination and data management processes for the construction of a data centre in Sydney. Above is an automated health report of subcontractor information input into the digital model.

What we see is that a substantial amount of the data created in Architectural and Construction project gets trapped or lost in the world of digital models, when it could be precious in the next phase (operations) of the physical building. Our company is committed in researching how we can be use data sources such as these for the development of smarter cities – to improve our lifestyle, make us more environmentally self-aware and give insights for a better future.

The city of the future is not just some elusive dream with flying cars and intelligent white goods, but a city that maximises the use of data. At Ridley, we believe this is achievable today.

Our vision is to be The Digital Design and Construction company for the cities of the future. To create and manage digital buildings and digital future and hopefully avoid the Blade Runner scenarios we often see in sci-fi.
Andrea Tassera is an Architect and Computational Design Manager at Ridley. He works in our Digital Enterprise Team, working to develop sophisticated, data-driven design solutions across a number of our major projects. This blog will become part of an ongoing series that will dive deeper into the themes of “Smart Cities” and “Data Driven Design”.

For more information about our Digital Enterprise team please contact Andrea Tassera at or Gareth Stewart at