Virtual environments in urban design

Designing an urban environment involves complex physical and social issues. The design decision-making process should be configured to deal with these complex issues, but most of the design methods used by urban professionals are top-down approaches, where the scope for involving laypeople in the design process is poor.

Urban design seeks a better urban neighbourhood for its end users, but a lack of visual information and tools in the design process doesn’t allow end users to speculate on new design ideas before they are built. In addition, to address construction and the post-occupancy period details, design processes can become cumbersome. This level of detail seldom helps laypeople to understand the overall design ideas. In addition, the design process usually lacks iterations to offer multiple design ideas instead of just one. It becomes impossible for urban professionals to address all of the aspects of urban dynamics in a single design process.

A new study by Building Better’s Shaping Places: Future Neighbourhoods team members Professor Marc Aurel Schnabel and Shuva Chowdhury, Victoria University of Wellington, develops a design discussion platform to produce urban forms by employing virtual tools.

“Conventional British and American urban planning and design practices have been criticised on the relationship between physical urban form and the social activities and attitudes of citizens. In this regard, the role of public participation in planning and urban design is crucial. A quality urban design responds to social, economic, and environmental issues through the physical design, but the conventional design approach has not had the tools to visualise urban form during the decision-making stage,” says Professor Schnabel.

“Virtual design tools can offer a platform to visualise and analyse urban scenarios for urban designers and planners alongside stakeholders. We believe that engaging stakeholders using a virtual design platform can reduce the gap between reality and conceptual design processes leading to a more favourable design outcome for the end user.”

The recent development of computational tools and their use in the design process has brought about a significant shift from utopian design approaches to a more systematic design approach. These tools offer a ubiquitous virtual interaction platform to produce and visualise iterative design ideas.

“In our previous work, we argued that a computational design process could accommodate maximum urban complexities in a virtual platform for design discussion. As a case study, we considered the suburb Karori in Wellington. In Karori, Wellington City Council (WCC) has run year-long charrettes to understand the community interests and priorities and identify locations for further development. To date, the charrette process has generated a map of priorities within the Karori neighbourhood, and the mall area has been signalled as a priority for redevelopment. Our research includes the mall site of Karori to produce new design ideas in a virtual participatory platform.”

To read the full PDF report of the study please follow the link below.

For any enquiries please contact, Prof. Marc Aurel Schnabel, E:

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Date posted: 4 February 2019