Data, innovation and the urban environment — by Carlo Ratti

By  | 2024

We live in a world where data is continually generated, spanning every location and moment, facilitated by a diverse array of devices integrated seamlessly into our environment, industrial processes, and daily routines. The adage ‘Data is the new oil’ has permeated our discourse and literature for some time now, and rightfully so. Data serves as the catalyst for transforming experimentation into new, disruptive tangible responses and solutions, inevitably influencing the design of our cities, structures, and communal spaces in response to this global, ever-evolving paradigm shift.

How can data science inform and optimize urban planning? How does AI help us design materials and build cities in a more intelligent way? In the inaugural episode of this year’s series of conversations on the trends defining today’s urban world, we discuss data, innovation and the urban environment with a world benchmark at this intersection: Professor Carlo Ratti, director of the MIT Senseable City Lab and founding partner of the design and innovation office CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati.

#ExpertVoices | 2024 x E01

Data and the urban environment
— by Carlo Ratti —

What is a city for you?

I would say the cities are a beautiful accelerator of humanity. So, cities are a way that bring us together to make sure that together we are more than each of us.

How can data science inform and optimize urban planning?

Today, data is important everywhere. For instance, artificial intelligence wouldn’t exist without data. You need data to train artificial intelligence, and it applies to all the things we use in our everyday life, but it also applies to the city. So, thanks to data, we can better understand cities, we can design them better, but also we can change the way we live in them.

📣 How is the intersection between #AI and material #innovation revolutionizing city building? #CitiesToBe by @Anteverti discusses #data and the urban environment with Carlo Ratti, Director of @SenseableCity & founding partner of @crassociati 👇🏽 Clic para tuitear

How does the intersection between AI and material innovation help us build cities in a more intelligent way?

A lot of people today focus on technology, but really what is behind all of this is the integration between the natural and the artificial world. I think about artificial intelligence as a way to turn our buildings, our cities, and in general, the world of the artificial, into something that starts behaving a bit more like the natural world.

An example of this is what we’ve been doing with Maestro Technologies through the project AI Timber — it’s actually about trying to rethink the construction industry and also think about new materials. AI timber is a way to use AI in order to create a new type of CLT — cross-laminated timber. And so, this CLT actually starts from nature, from the irregularity of nature, and uses AI to save material and create a better and more optimized building material.

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Interview and edition by Sergio García i Rodríguez,
Head of Communication at Anteverti & CitiesToBe Executive Editor, and Marta Bugés.

Video by Eloy Calvo and Cristóbal Sarría Chitty

About the authors

Director of the MIT Senseable City Lab & founding partner of design and innovation office CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati | + posts

Carlo Ratti is a scientist, designer, and public intellectual working on the future of cities and the built environment. He teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston, where he directs the Senseable City Lab, and is Distinguished Professor of Urban Studies at the Politecnico di Milano. He is also a founding partner of the international architecture and innovation office CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati and has established several tech start-ups in the United States and Europe. His work aims to develop hybridized systems between the natural and artificial world, as part of a wider quest to bridge the “smart city” with the imperatives of environmental sustainability, and thereby advance the science of urban design.

Ratti has co-authored over 750 scientific publications, including the recent “Atlas of the Senseable City” (Yale University Press, with Antoine Picon, 2023), and developed applied research projects in collaboration with companies and local/national governments across five continents. With the objective of fostering feedback loops on urban innovations, he has written op-eds for publications including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Scientific American, Financial Times, Le Monde, and Sueddeutsche Zeitung. He has consulted international bodies from the European Union to the Queensland Government and is currently serving as Co-Chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Cities and Urbanization. He was a curator of the BMW Guggenheim Pavilion in Berlin, the chief curator at the 8th Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture in Shenzhen, and a creative mediator at the European Nomadic Biennale Manifesta 14 Prishtina.

With CRA architecture office, he has developed experimental office towers, visionary pavilions, and master plans in cities across the world, advancing the integration between architecture, nature, and digital technologies. His work has been exhibited worldwide at venues including New York City's MoMA, the Venice Biennale, the Science Museum in London, Expo 2015 Milan, and Expo 2020 Dubai. His focus on many scales of innovation– from products to buildings to cities – has led CRA to become the only design firm in the world to feature on TIME’s “Best Inventions of the Year” list three different times (2007, 2014, 2019). Bloomberg dubbed him the “Sensory City Philosopher.” He has appeared as one of “50 people who will change the world” according to Wired. Fast Company hailed him as one of the “Most Influential Designers in America,” and Blueprint Magazine listed him as one of its “People Who Will Change the World of Design.”

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