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Date-Driven Design Process for Human Interaction, Urban Metabolism and Health and Well-Being in Smart Cities

The core of the “smart city” is the productive use of data derived from the city, including information about its infrastructure use and residents’ behaviors. Some researchers have focused more exclusively on infrastructural elements, using data and networked feedback to make these services more efficient. This has been the direction of foundational work done by the Spokane Smart City Technology Accelerator Group, composed of Avista, Itron, Cisco, the City of Spokane, and WSU. Other researchers have focused on investigating how data can be used to engage and empower citizens. The relationship between “smart systems” and “smart citizens,” and the implications for city governance in this new paradigm, are currently in the process of being defined in the cities that are embracing this path.


There are always tipping points that are decisive moments in determining the future trajectories of a city. It is an exciting time for Spokane, Washington, as it stands on the cusp of such a moment. Due to the city’s unique circumstances, including available infrastructure and stakeholders with a shared vision, Spokane, and the city’s University District are poised to become a leader in developing the smart city. The synergy between smart infrastructure and an engaged and empowered citizenry can create an engine that will attract talent, power innovation, and catalyze economic growth.


Our group, the Integrated Design Research Studios (IDR) in Washington State University’s School of Design + Construction, has undertaken to study the implications of smart cities in collaboration with the Spokane University District and the Spokane Smart City Technology Accelerator Group. The IDR is composed of undergraduate and graduate studios in architecture, interior design, and landscape architecture, led by the authors of this article. Each studio is researching a unique aspect of Spokane and examining how it can begin to incorporate smart technologies.


Some of these projects include the development of adaptive real-time masterplans, the investigation of how information technology can improve the health and well-being of Spokanites, the creation of interactive urban environments, and efforts toward overcoming physical, social, and technological divides that currently exist within the city. These research efforts have been broken down into four main categories: Human Interaction, Urban Metabolism, Health and Well-Being, and Urban Ecotones.

Urban Insight

Research suggests traditional planning schemes are lacking in their ability to respond nimbly or flexibly to a city’s dynamic and ever-changing circumstances. Plans calling for the development of a specific typology, or major re-organization of road networks, for example, are based on projections and forecasts into the future. These projections are little more than extrapolations of available data, and as a result embody the error and shortcomings of such speculation: planning is guessing. We see the result of the compounding of these errors in failing such as in China or Detroit. Drawing on the respective works of Schumacher, Coates, Krausse, Noulas, and others, we identified agent-based modeling as the basis for which improvements to current planning schemes may be derived. As agent-based simulations have been implemented to predictively model pedestrian, vehicular, and other interactions of complex systems, we realize the potential for social media to approximate this complexity through interpolation of available data.

Antonio G Norsworthy

Smart Energy Economy

Fernando Felix | Nandita Rajakumar

Smart cities are prime locations of innovation and opportunities through developing technologies. In a smart city, All citizens are active participants in the urban services mediated through technological developments and are knowledgeable of the services constituting the city. One of the most crucial elements that smart citizens need to understand is the use of energy within the city. By introducing a system where energy is transacted similar to the world’s monetary model, a clarity and transparency in the energy needs of the city can be achieved (Figure B). By establishing a smart energy based sub-economy within the city, along with its infrastructural changes (Figure C), the implications and actions that follow will help citizens understand the energy needs of the city and facilitate in being efficient of the energy available. This transparency in such a system makes a community part of a smart city. In a smart energy economy, the electric energy within the grid becomes the currency. Each individual within a city has an opportunity to generate their own electricity through any energy sources (preferably, renewable since it is most efficient), which they can use to fulfill their energy needs. The excess energy that is generated is used as energy currency which can be used to pay off certain amenities within the city (such as smart parking, public

Bike Share Pavilion

Chelsea Merkel | Wanji Ndambiri

Our site is located on the Centennial Trail in Northeast Spokane between Gonzaga and the industrial district. We were asked to find an underutilized open space that could be modified to reactivate its surroundings. After some analysis, it was very clear that this site had some problems, such as the lack of activity, a low pedestrian presence vs. high vehicular traffic, health issues related to the lack of physical activity and is a heavily industrial area. We wanted to encourage a vital connection between physical health, community, and provide alternative ways of commuting through Spokane. To reactivate this space, we designed a bike pavilion to promote bike sharing, a healthy lifestyle, and human interaction between various demographics. The bike pavilion will be a series of tunnels/ramps that take you through the various functions of the site while constantly changing scale and elevation. On-site, there are organic food options, local art exhibits, interactive entertainment, and overall space where health and fun go hand in hand. The pavilion is formed out of steel and ETFE cushions, which make it efficient and very lightweight. In a heavily industrial area, it was vital that we created a system that resembled organic movement, and lightness. This site will promote the smart city initiative by redefining the way we commute and interact.

Liberty Link

Abigail Regan | Jonathan Younce | Smruthi Rajan

Liberty Link is an interactive access route and multipurpose environment that encourages community connectedness, sporting participation and education. The current desolate space was a result of the construction of the I-90 which sliced directly through the historic Liberty Park in 1968 (see figure B). It had once served as a popular tourist attraction and place for community gathering and events. The construction of the freeway destroyed the park and caused the segregation of the surrounding communities, difficulty in wayfinding, as well as an increase in crime, drugs, children in poverty, high traffic and low education (see figure C). Whilst some say the site is abandoned and unsafe, the unique architectural language and forms, variations in the topography, the view over the highway and the space beneath hold an unrecognized potential. We defined the studio topic of in-between spaces in 2-fold for our site, as the vertical space between the highway and ground level and the division between the zones on either side of the highway. The goal of the Liberty Link is to improve accessibility through wayfinding and provide a communal gathering space for the divided communities, improve safety and crime, and provide fun and active education to help those children living in poverty.

Spatial Interactions

Duy Dang

The goal of this project is to redefine a forgotten place in-between three main zones, namely Downtown, General Commercial, and University District. The idea for accomplishing this aim is based on the theory of “Mutual Support System”, which is to motivate the pedestrian flow through the area, fostering social interaction in the area. An integrated form, consisting of several functions while enhancing the flow of pedestrian at the same time, is proposed to allow people to move through it and access to the proposed function including educational, commercial, public activities simultaneously. The form is initially started with a zigzag path connecting the potential functions employed in the existing building in the proper way. A type of shelter frame is generated to divide the spatial blocks for the pathway, creating lighting rhythm and perspectives to enrich urban senses for close-encounters walking through the whole structure. As an intersecting point of urban aspects, including the older structure with the modern form, classical texture with contemporary material, where physical and digital world meet, where different communities with different functionality come together, this integrated complex provides communal spaces for temporary-colonized functions such as street performance, open lectures, or just resting areas. The dynamics of spatial utilization attract outside partners to take the advantage of spatial resources for community events, motivating urban activities in this under-utilized area.

Credit to: Design & Augmented Intelligence Lab and IDR Studios 

Research Team: Credited to: Saleh Kalantari, Judy Theodorson, Steve Austin, Darrin Griechen

Year: 2014

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