This is the premise behind an ambitious research project, called “The City of 7 Billion,” for which the two recently won the $100,000 Latrobe Prize from the American Institute of Architects College of Fellows. With the geo-spatial model Mendis and Hsiang are creating – think a super-enhanced, zoomable Google Earth, Hsiang says – they’re hoping to study the impact of population growth and resource consumption at the scale of the whole world.
Every corner of the planet, they argue, is “urban” in some sense, touched by farming that feeds cities, pollution that comes out of them, industrialization that has made urban centers what they are today. So why not think of the world as a single urban entity?…
Now she and Mendis will be trying to do something similar – sew together disparate data sets, turn them into spatial models, then make those models accessible to the public – with a vastly more complex scenario. They want to connect not just land use with population density, but also income data, carbon dioxide levels, and geographical terrain. Their model of the whole world as one continuous urban terrain could then be used as a predictive tool for planning development into the future.
Hsiang and Mendis are hoping to communicate data and ideas that the political and scientific communities have had a hard time conveying to the public. This may sound like an odd job for architects – visualizing worldwide data about air quality – but Hsiang and Mendis argue that architects are precisely the professionals to do this…
More often, however, they have not been working at the same scale as policy-makers and scientists. “For too long, the architecture profession has been complicit in focusing on buildings and the scale of buildings,” Mendis says. “And I think that’s been detrimental to us.” The City of 7 Billion is an attempt to change that, to involve architects in big-picture questions more often debated by economists and geographers and social scientists.
This sounds like an interesting project on multiple levels:
1. Trying to imagine what a megacity of this size would look like. We are a long way from a megapolis this size yet there are parts of the world that might benefit from such thinking.
2. Putting together data in new ways. This is stretching some of the boundaries of data visualization by putting it in 3-D form.
3. Helping architects get involved in larger conversations about cities.
It will be worth watching where this goes.