A vision of the responsive city of the future

Cities are among the greatest accomplishments of mankind - but they have not quite learned to respond to the needs of their inhabitants yet. Gerhard Schmitt believes that the communication between the city of the future and its people should be bi-directional. He reveals some approaches to make this possible, and interleaves his research with numerous, fascinating examples from people shaping their cities around the world.

About Gerhard Schmitt

Prof. Gerhard Schmitt sees Responsive Cities as the new frontier in human settlement. Responsive Cities engage residents and prospective citizens from the very beginning in the planning and management of their habitat, based on Smart City technology. In 2003, he initiated a key project in this direction, the Science City at ETH Zürich. It is now a fast growing new urban science neighborhood integrating society in science and science in society. In the intensive years of planning, financing, changing management structures and governance of the ETH Science City, he learned that citizens are the ones who know most about their habitat and therefore must sit at the table where decisions are made.

As a researcher, Gerhard started combining Architecture and Artificial Intelligence at Carnegie Mellon University in the 1980s, moving on to Computer Aided Architectural Design and intelligent design decision support systems. In the following decade, he went to ETH Zürich and started working on supporting the design process with the most advanced computational and visualization methods and instruments. His next challenge was aimed at making the invisible visible in architecture and urban design, which led to innovations in interactive caves and finally to the creation of the ValueLabs in Zürich and Singapore.

In parallel to his research, Gerhard experimented with teaching collaborative design development around the globe. As early as 1996, he and his team developed “Multiplying Time” design studios, where students worked around the clock in three time zones, relying on the same data base. The project “PhaseX” extended this concept and not only allowed, but encouraged students to base the next phase in their design on the work of a colleague. Today, he and his team teach Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to more than 50’000 students in 160 countries.

Gerhard values Zürich and Singapore as most advanced living labs where Citizen Design Science and Responsive Cities could become reality first, thus making them more resilient and livable urban systems. As founding director of the Singapore-ETH Centre, he and his team began driving the reduction of the Urban Heat Island effect in tropical cities through decarbonization, intelligent planning and the use of Big Data to inform urban design. His goal is to spread this knowledge, distributed freely through MOOCs, in order to influence the design and operation of future Responsive Cities.