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  • Data for design: adopting data-driven approaches for long-term citizen participation and social sustainability in design for the public realm

Golchehr, Saba, 2019, Thesis, Data for design: adopting data-driven approaches for long-term citizen participation and social sustainability in design for the public realm PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

The world is flooded with more information than ever before. Ubiquitous digital
technologies have enabled direct access to large amounts of empirical data to inform a
wide range of topics and investigations. This thesis set out to explore how these novel data
technologies offer new opportunities to designers to greatly increase their knowledge of
the built environment and how people inhabit it, to inform design in the public realm.

The research has been developed under the umbrella of TRADERS (‘Training Art and
Design Researchers in Participation for Public Space’), an EU-funded international and
interdisciplinary research project. My research on the TRADERS project explored the
intersection between digital data analysis (including the topics of Big Data, data mining,
smart cities, algorithms, and more) and citizen participation in design for the public
realm. Moving beyond temporary effects of many current ‘disruptive’ participatory design
projects that have adopted digital technologies, the thesis concentrates on public realm
projects that aim to facilitate their active afterlife beyond the designers’ involvement. The
research identifies a recurring issue in current participatory design practices: designers
tend to create a community around themselves, and therefore place the wrong actor at the
centre of a project’s social network. Rather than building social constructs from scratch,
the research demonstrates that analysing socio-spatial digital data could help architects
identify existing active communities, design the physical conditions to facilitate longterm
citizen engagement, thereby helping to shape socially sustained, resilient public
space projects that are able to adapt to changing demands and a dynamic demographic.

There is a vast amount of digital data on users available today; however, their potential
as empirical input for the social dimension within spatial design has so far remained
underexplored by designers. While digital tools are not new to the spatial design
professions, technologies they have adopted, such as computer-aided design (CAD)
and parametric modelling, all concentrate primarily on the built object. By introducing
a human-centred focus, the thesis moves beyond the current object-oriented fixation
of digital technologies for architecture and urban design. Through several case studies
from practice, the thesis demonstrates how digital data analysis could help design firms
conduct more thorough and in-depth explorations of the social layer of a local context.
Furthermore, the thesis argues that an extensive and advanced analysis of a local context
in an initial phase of the design process can help develop a more relevant initial premise,
and therefore help develop a more context-appropriate and socially sustainable design.

While it can be tempting to use technology for technology’s sake, the thesis argues that
data-driven approaches should become another tool in an architect’s kit. New digital
tools do not have to be foregrounded within the architectural discipline; instead, they can
function as an aid to develop and consolidate more empirically-based human-centred
designs. The thesis concludes that digital data technologies are useful instruments
that enable alternative approaches and interventions aimed at serving the public.
Incorporating these technologies into existing design practices, however, requires
training and education.

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Architecture > K100 Architecture
Architecture > K400 Planning (Urban
School or Centre: School of Architecture
Date Deposited: 12 Aug 2019 10:21
Last Modified: 12 Aug 2019 10:36
URI: http://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/4015

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