Image

The Low2No project is designed to help transition our cities to a low carbon future. We aim to balance economy, ecology and society through strategic investments and interventions in the built environment.

Low2No smart services workbook

Unlike most projects with a building at the centre, many of Low2No's outcomes are intended to be systemic, concerning wider urban systems, and sometimes positioned at the edges of, or even outside of, the building industry. For example, the use of timber in the building is partly a sustainable building materials choice but also presents a new trajectory for the Finnish forestry industry, an adjacent if not external industrial sector. See also our work in "everyday food", and associated systems and cultures. 

This is something that a traditional building-led project tends not to do; why engage in strategic benefit for an ancillary industry? We think it's important that buildings are no longer considered to be "one-offs", and to strategically "smuggle" as many systemic benefits as possible into such a project. In this way, a few hundred metres of Jätkäsaari delivers value well beyond the red line surrounding the project's site, and might enable sustainable outcomes well beyond those how experience Airut (the physical block itself). Given the investment and effort required in making buildings happen, this only seems reasonable (more on this general approach here.)

As well as timber and food, there is what the project has been calling "smart services". Also known as urban informatics, this aspect explores the potential of contemporary technologies - particularly those increasingly everyday circling around phrases like social media, "internet of things", "smart cities" and so on - to enable residents, workers, visitors and citizens in general to live, work and play in and around the block in new ways. These are predicated on the same low-carbon outcomes that drives the Low2No project in general, but also a wider "triple-bottom line" approach to sustainability, which might include beneficial social and economic outcomes, as well as environmental. We'd had this element in from the start, from the Arup-led consortium's original competition submission in 2009, and today we're sharing some of the work-in-progress as it developed, in the form of the "informatics workbook" developed by the design team, as a tool in the design process.

Informatics Workbook v2, with v1 underneath.
Informatics Workbook v2, with v1 underneath.

This world of personal sensors like Nike Fuelband, smart devices like the Nest, and social media like Facebook and Foursquare might indeed be "increasingly everday technologies", but they tend to remain almost entirely alien to the building industry, most architectural practice and wider world of urban systems (especially urban governance and operations.) 

Similarly, many contemporary approaches to sustainability hold back from addressing behaviour change. One can understand, at a basic level why this is — who wants their behaviour changed, after all? And certainly city governments would find this difficult territory politically, just as architects and engineers don't have the skills, or property developers think it's not really their job. Yet we know that a huge proportion of the carbon footprint for settlements and communities is not in the building project at all — at least as they are usually conceived — but in the behavioural choices that citizens make once they occupy the space. Equally, we would argue that all of the above do actually create behavioural change, just not necessarily consciously.

Hence our desire to use the building project as a "Trojan Horse" to warrant a reason to look at this potentially powerful combination of smart technologies and services — with an emphasis on the latter — and in enabling positive behaviour change amongst the various groups who will use the block.

Arup and Experientia worked on this aspect of the project, together with partners Sauerbruch Hutton and clients Sitra, SRV, and VVO. Over a couple of years of engagement, with Experientia leading and driving, and Arup (mainly my team in Sydney at the time, and principally Jason McDermott) working on the informatics aspects in particular, the project's design team produced some rich thinking about how to embed the potential of this area at the core of the project. One of the key challenges in this area is that there is rarely anyone on the wider design team or the client body who understands this area — hopefully this will change, and we present this work as a possible instrument to aid that cultural change. This was known as the "Informatics Workbook" amongst the project team.

Low2No Informatics Workbook print-on-demand version
You can order a physical copy, and Lulu will send it to you

Low2No Informatics Workbook PDF version
Download it

This work often involves positioning these otherwise technology-led areas in a more human-centred, and behaviour-oriented, framework — getting well beyond the hype about "smart cities" — whilst also trying to connect it to business drivers (the lack of the latter has hampered pretty much any serious progress in smart cities.)


A particular approach has been a focus on active rather than passive citizens. Too often such technologies can suggest an automation of processes without thinking through the behavoiural implications. In a nutshell, why design or install energy-consuming machines to turn off task lamps on desks, when human beings are quite capable of this? Moreover, if machines turn off the lights, humans — being the lazy homo sapiens that we are — may well just mentally "outsource" that entire process without thinking twice. And it's partly the lack of "thinking twice" that has got us into this mess, arguably. We'd rather people took responsibility for things they can, and so connect their behaviour to the performance of the wider systems they exist within — and so begin to understand the relationships between individuals, communities, environments and systems in more detail — whilst leaving machines to do the things that are a good use of their time too. We knew we had to go beyond simplistic "smart meters", which began to feel like a waste of time, effort and policy-making, largely, in terms of their ongoing effect.

Some of this insight was drawn from other Arup projects at the time, working with behavioural psychologists/marketeers like Naked Communications, as well as Experientia's deep research efforts on the ground in Helsinki and elsewhere, led by Jan-Christoph Zoels, Irene Cassarino, Camilla Masala and others. It is tacitly an attempt to bring user-centred design practice into the way we make buildings. 

As a result, the book starts with a series of scenarios, illustrating potential behavioural patterns, as a way of surfacing potential products and services.

Scenario
Scenario

These are, as is the way of such things, exploratory, ambitious, over-baked and perhaps impossibly utopian. But they are part of the process, no more; certainly, not a prediction or guideline. They are there to help open up a new conversation. And although persona-scenario work is as old as the hills, in terms of interaction design, it is rarely used in building projects (sometimes with good reason, as the users of the building in 40 years time may not exist yet; but generally for bad reasons.) So the persona-scenario work is useful with clients as a medium for the conversation.

Scenario
Scenario

The diagrams of flows, overlaid on the (now-outdated) block, developed by Jason and me, are perhaps just as interesting.

Combined scenario flows overlaid onto block diagram.
Combined scenario flows overlaid onto block diagram.

This culminates in the interaction map, akin to a subway map, which enabled us to pin dense pockets of interactions onto the architecture.

Interaction map
Interaction map

Note also the attempt to make the value clear to the client group of Sitra, SRV, VVO and City of Helsinki, on their own terms. This doesn't happen often enough in design work. I'm not entirely sure we got it right here, either, but it's an attempt.

The prospective products and services that emerged from this narrative-led process were then selected and filtered for further development, resulting in a suite of products and services for the block. We spent some time on how they might be woven together, and Experientia's work developed some of the software-led feedback loops in particular. There are mock-ups of some of those services in action, which we hope to post here too shortly. We also looked at the (software) architectural elements, such as how these various "small pieces loosely joined" might form a coherent whole, sharing data via civic APIs (including external services such as public transit data), separating data from content from presentation across various platforms, and so on. There are hints of that work here, but Arup's team, led by Léan Doody, produced detailed technical, strategic and operational reports that supported this vision.

This is a fuller set of ideas. There were even more generated during the design process as, of course, ideas are the easy bit! This was ultimately whittled down to a smaller set for consideration by the client group, alongside Experientia's work at the service, business and community level. We present them all in the informatics workbook for you to adopt and adapt.

AR-enabled maintenance tool, for managing block services.
AR-enabled maintenance tool, for managing block services.


As the technologies change so rapidly (this already feels distinctly like a document from 2010!), we decided to render them abstract, and focus on the architecture (which will hang around a while and not change so much), the people, and the service layer itself. There are notes in there about business models, but we've left out much of the discussion there, as some of it remains confidential as regards our partners, and is perhaps less transferable to other contexts.

In-lobby smart home delivery pigeonhole interface
In-lobby smart home delivery pigeonhole interface


Nonetheless, this is an attempt to describe how Low2No might produce a "genuinely 21st century building", beyond simple advances in form or material and into new areas for building, architecture, placemaking and the practice of city making. You should be able to perceive that philosophy underpinning some of the work featured in this "workbook".

It also illustrates design cues for the product sketches, which are otherwise deliberately sketchy, to create a connection with the architectural design process, and make clear the value in synthesising the development work in digital interactions (interaction and service design) with that of physical interactions (typically, architecture and industrial design). This palette section works as a form of "interaction mood board", then. Equally, we wanted any informatics services to feel, physically and digitally, part of a holistic design process. So the 'social noticeboard' idea is presented as a curved series of coloured rectangles, drawing a few hints from Sauerbruch Hutton's fabulous back catalogue. Hints, no more, but this again starts a conversation. It's also pragmatic; too often screens are added to buildings after the design process, with the result that they look awkward and don't get used (research from Oulu indicates that citizens already tend to "blank out" urban screens.)


We wanted to ensure that services might be developed with care, and in unison with the detailed architectural design. Even the earliest of sketches, such as those presented here, can help or hinder that process.

Palette pages.
Palette pages.

The photo essays, based on my fleeting observations of Helsinki when working on Helsinki Design Lab studios, are also intended to be a little impressionistic, focusing on giving a different sense of possibility in terms of citizens' interactions and street life in a changing Helsinki, beyond the outdated stereotypes of taciturn, withdrawn Finns or frozen seascapes. Yet Helsinki does have a distinct feel; it's not as if this small series of photos can capture that, but this section's existence does at least try to ask questions. They were often presented as pairs, or counterpoints, to suggest this.

Photo pairs
Photo pairs

The text tops and tails this with some context about informatics and smart cities in general, pointing out the potential in this area, particularly for public bodies and city governments. It ends with a note about the potential of the "ongoing post-occupancy evaluation" for generating strategic insight, moving beyond building to city, and to network of cities.

For what would traditionally be a consultants' report, we also took a different approach and tested the Lulu print-on-demand service, designing the document specifically for that platform. The book is intended to be easily browsed, easily carried, in handbag or briefcase, and used physically token in client and design meetings. Compared to the usual reports delivered in PDF or worse (Microsoft Word) I can tell you this made a difference. Print-on-demand means only the minimum need be printed, and printing can be potentially local to the recipient (bonus carbon points, there, perhaps.) 

In some senses, it's a little out of date, as the book was delivered in late 2010. It marks the project at that point, but remains relevant, as there are few publicly available examples of what informatics/internet of things/smart cities work actually looks like in the trenches, from within a building project. This "Informatics Workbook" was then merged with Experientia's excellent work on wider service design aspects around the project, presenting it amidst their genuinely groundbreaking work on behaviour change and lifestyles for Low2No. That is the context it should be seen in, rather than any idea of technology-led work. We'll try to present that here too.

Since this book, the project has continued to develop the ideas, in particular at a workshop last December in Jätkäsaari, featuring representatives from Arup, Experientia, Granlund, Sitra, SRV and VVO. There, and subsequently, a focus on enabling smart block management emerged, including ideas around 21st century "talonmies" (which is shorthad for janitors, essentially, but also here suggesting housing committees, and other aspects of block management.) SRV in particular may take this work forward, dovetailing it with their existing building systems and businesses.

Note: these print-on-demand books are designed to be updated. This is actually version 2, as you will note. So it is explicitly "work in progress", and that should serve as a caveat. (This was the first time we'd tried this approach, which we took further with the Helsinki Street Eats book: here, and discussed here.)

Low2No Informatics Workbook print-on-demand version
You can order a physical copy here, and Lulu will send it to you

Low2No Informatics Workbook PDF version
Download it

June 28th, 2012

Posted by: Dan Hill

Category: Project Updates