Smart and Liveable City Studio

Raoul Lindberg
Raoul Lindberg July 5, 2022 4 min read
Screenshot of an urban planning proposal with sun analysis in Spacemaker

This spring, Spacemaker was used by students in the course Smart and Liveable City Studio at Aalto University in Espoo, Finland. The course was organised in collaboration with the City of Helsinki.

The focus of the course was on planetary liveability to address the recent national and municipal level goals of carbon negativity. Finland has set an objective to be carbon neutral in 2035 and carbon negative soon after that. Municipalities and local governments have a key role in reaching this target and more than 60% of Finns live in municipalities that aim to be carbon neutral already by 2030, five years before Finland’s national carbon neutral target in 2035.

However, there is little consensus on the definition of carbon negative cities and planning practices for reaching these goals have not yet been established. Consequently, the course addressed questions such as what does carbon negativity in cities and planning entail? How and why should we address carbon negativity on the human scale of cities and beyond? How and why should we assess the policies and actions that aim for carbon negativity? And how could digital tools and methods support (or not support) the planning of carbon negative cities?

During the course, these questions were iteratively approached through in-class dialogues and five interrelated assignments using the project Carbon Negative Östersundom as a test case. Östersundom is a subdistrict of Helsinki, which is currently under planning. During the course the students got hands-on assignments to learn to cope with the uncertainties in available planning data and to consider the reliability of the available methods.

In the last assignment Spacemaker was used by students to look at carbon negative detail planning studies in 3D and their assignment was to create a 3D environment of their carbon negative planning policies and analyse the qualities of their plans. The students saw great value in designing in 3D and it opened up a completely different perspective on how the plans would be perceived by residents in the area. Spacemaker supported us in taking the step from 2D to 3D thinking to understand how strategic planning policies can be turned into actual human-scale living environments,” says lecturer Susa Eräranta, from the Spatial Planning and Transportation Engineering, Department of Built Environment at Aalto University, who was the lecturer in charge of the project. “As well, working with Spacemaker enabled the systematic testing and comparison of options through the built-in analyses and collaborative working spaces.”

Screenshot of a proposal © Cheng-Xi Zhang, Aalto University

One group of students, for example, realised that they needed to decrease the number of floors of some buildings to get better daylight and sunlight conditions. One major advantage of using Spacemaker that all groups recognized was that the collaboration within their group improved as it was easy to together design and compare the plans directly in the software.

I had the pleasure of giving a lecture about Spacemaker for this course and introducing the students to a way of working iteratively in a data-driven way from day one. I was impressed by how fast the students learned Spacemaker and how much they were able to get out of using Spacemaker in just 1 month. Also taking into consideration that most of them didn’t have any prior experience with designing in 3D. Exploring the possibilities of the software, the students were able to get better insights into how the living qualities are affected by how high you build or how dense the plan is. Following this course and the students at Aalto I’m convinced that the future of the built environment is in good hands with the upcoming generation of planners and engineers leading the way for how to reach the national and municipal level goals of carbon negativity.

“Working with Spacemaker enabled the systematic testing and comparison of options through the built-in analyses and collaborative working spaces.”

Susa Eräranta, lecturer at Aalto University

Using Spacemaker, the students got their first taste of a data-driven way of working and experienced how it can improve the urban planning process. Susa: “Planning is typically a very data-intensive process. New data-driven tools can support the more systematic utilization of diverse data along the process – from background analysis and sketching to iterative impact assessment. As well, they can support evidence-based argumentation, collaboration and even co-creation, which are essential skills in planning. When good descriptions of the built-in parameters are available, students could also learn to identify and critically reflect on the potential uncertainties and biases in the background data and models, which is important for the openness and transparency of the processes. In this studio I very much enjoyed stepping into the so far unknown zone of carbon negative planning. Despite the conceptual difficulties of carbon negative planning, it was extremely inspiring to see how the initial thoughts of the students were collaboratively operationalized into actual solutions during the course.”

I’d like to say a big thanks to Aalto University for the great collaboration and look forward to working together again soon!

Main image: screenshot of a proposal with sun analysis © Mikko Malmström, Aalto University

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