Eyes of the City: Seeing and Designing Beyond the Human / Jeanne Gang for the Shenzhen Biennale (UABB) 2019

What happens when the sensor-imbued city acquires the ability to see – almost as if it had eyes? Ahead of the 2019 Shenzhen Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture (UABB), titled "Urban Interactions," ArchDaily is working with the curators of the "Eyes of the City" section at the Biennial to stimulate a discussion on how new technologies – and Artificial Intelligence in particular – might impact architecture and urban life. Here you can read the “Eyes of the City” curatorial statement by Carlo Ratti, the Politecnico di Torino and SCUT.

“We all live in an ecosystem; we just don’t know it. When it comes to urban areas, people have an ecological blind spot.” — Seth Magle, Director, Lincoln Park Zoo Urban Wildlife Institute, Chicago.

The advance of AI technologies can make it feel as if we know everything about our cities—as if all city dwellers are counted and accounted for, our urban existence fully monitored, mapped, and predicted.

But what happens when we train our attention and technologies on the non-human beings with whom we share our urban environments? How can our notion of urban life, and the possibilities to design for it, expand when we use technology to visualize more than just the relationship between humans and human-made structures?

Coyotes captured at the Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo by one of the Urban Wildlife Institute’s motion-triggered cameras. Photo courtesy Lincoln Park Zoo Urban Wildlife Institute

In Chicago and the surrounding region, the Lincoln Park Zoo Urban Wildlife Institute (UWI) manages a “massive and unprecedented” wildlife monitoring network. Toward the goal of establishing a healthier and more biodiverse urban ecosystem, the organization uses technologies like motion-triggered cameras, radio collars, and radio telemetry to reveal unexpected portraits of the city’s wild inhabitants, tracking everything from endangered species to escaped pets. Community members also play an important role in the network. With crowd-sourcing apps such as eBird, iNaturalist, and Chicago Wildlife Watch, people from across the city contribute sightings and identifications to the project, becoming keen observers whose expanded vision of their environment may lead them to change their behavior within it.

The Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo, a 14-acre public park located just north of downtown Chicago and designed to support urban biodiversity. Photo © Tom Harris

Studio Gang’s Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo (2010) is a public park that has become a major node in this larger natural/technological network. Designed to support biodiverse urban life and to heighten human Chicagoans’ awareness of it, the project’s architecture and landscape were shaped by ecological criteria. More than 250 animal species have now been observed on its 14-acre site, which serves as UWI’s “living laboratory” for wildlife monitoring and education.

Here and elsewhere, scientists and citizens are discovering that much conventional ecological wisdom just doesn’t apply in urban areas. Predators co-exist with their prey on tiny patches of habitat; rare and endangered species return home in droves; and tropical birds repeatedly survive long, cold winters.

There is much we have yet to discover about our evolving urban environments. As new technologies are developed, deployed, and appropriated, it is critical to ask how they can help us see both the city and our discipline differently. Can architecture and urban design become a multi-species, collaborative practice? The first step is opening our eyes to all of our fellow city dwellers.

About the Author

Jeanne Gang

American architect Jeanne Gang is the founding principal of Studio Gang, an architecture and urban design practice headquartered in Chicago with offices in New York City, San Francisco, and Paris. Understanding architecture as a practice of “relationship building,” Jeanne focuses on creating projects that connect people with each other, their communities, and their environment. In addition to the Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo, her award-winning body of work includes Writers Theatre in Glencoe, Illinois; the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Michigan; and the undulating Aqua Tower in downtown Chicago. She and Studio Gang are currently designing major cultural and civic projects throughout the Americas and Europe. These include the expansion of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City; the new United States Embassy in Brasília, Brazil; and the Global Terminal and Global Concourse at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. The author of three books on architecture, she is a Professor in Practice at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and the only architect named one of TIME magazine’s most influential people of 2019.

"Urban Interactions": Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture (Shenzhen) - 8th edition. Shenzhen, China


Opening ‪on December 15th, 2019 in Shenzhen, China, "Urban Interactions" is the 8th edition of the Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture (UABB). The exhibition consists of two sections, namely “Eyes of the City” and “Ascending City”, which will explore the evolving relationship between urban space and technological innovation from different perspectives. The “Eyes of the City" section features MIT professor and architect Carlo Ratti as Chief Curator and Politecnico di Torino-South China University of Technology as Academic Curator. The "Ascending City" section features Chinese academician Meng Jianmin and Italian art critic Fabio Cavallucci as Chief Curators.

"Eyes of The City" section

Chief Curator: Carlo Ratti.

Academic Curator: South China-Torino Lab (Politecnico di Torino - Michele Bonino; South China University of Technology - Sun Yimin)

Executive Curators: Daniele Belleri [CRA], Edoardo Bruno, Xu Haohao    

Curator of the GBA Academy: Politecnico di Milano (Adalberto Del Bo)

"Ascending City" section

Chief Curators: Meng Jianmin, Fabio Cavallucci

Co-Curator: Science and Human Imagination Center of Southern University of Science and Technology (Wu Yan)

Executive Curators: Chen Qiufan, Manuela Lietti, Wang Kuan, Zhang Li

About this author
Cite: Studio Gang. "Eyes of the City: Seeing and Designing Beyond the Human / Jeanne Gang for the Shenzhen Biennale (UABB) 2019" 13 Jun 2019. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/918968/eyes-of-the-city-seeing-and-designing-beyond-the-human-jeanne-gang-for-the-shenzhen-biennale-uabb-2019> ISSN 0719-8884

The eyes of the more than 250 animal species who have been observed at Studio Gang’s Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. Image by Studio Gang


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