Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Architects' Eyes on the World

Our technology tools are expanding exponentially in ways that see the world and that allow us to evaluate approaches to design and planning problems. We can incorporate metrics in measuring the performance of our solutions to urban and natural terrain with our human habitation systems. Lots of them are free and relatively simple to use, such as Google Earth, in concert with Sketchup. For example, the Google Earth blog documents climate change in a project done by the University of Colorado at Boulder, which visually tours areas of the globe that were documented by NSIDC. Studies such as this allow an overview of a regional climate system and its local ecology as part of the development of appropriate and sustainable responses.

This kind of overview opens a window on the local urban fabric, and can allow designers and planners to view not only the approximate physical terrain and landscape, but also overlay maps of data, such as infrastructure, water flows, demographic profiles, zoning envelopes, existing structures, landforms and traffic flows. The video tour of the Architecture overlay in Google Earth is an excellent example of how this tool can quickly turn buildings off and on in a birdseye view of cities, and then view specific structures as well as dominant landscape features. I especially like the Ahwanee Lodge in Yosemite Valley that finishes up this video!

When the digital tools begin to show us all the important aspects of an environment, then the true ecological and urban policy factors come into play in an immediate way. What took years to study and map out by hand in Ian McHarg's meticulous environmental studies of development can now be approximated quickly and easily as a design tool. This begins to put the local environment into true perspective, hence the ability to respond to all the factors of fundamental passive structural design as a first approach, prior to development of systems and materials of the building itself.