City Intelligence Lab (c) Center for Energy des AIT
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Urban planning is no longer just a matter of science. In the new City Innovation Lab in Vienna, data and facts are transformed into scenarios that can be visualized and experienced in 3D. The key aspect is participative design, which allows for the involvement of citizens and project partners.

The City Intelligence Lab is the latest achievement of the Center for Energy, a research branch of the Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT). The laboratory represents an interactive platform designed to meet the new challenges of climate change in urban planning.

It is city residents who suffer the most from the effects of climate change. The numerous facades and roofs of the buildings increase the city’s surface area. Urban areas therefore absorb more solar radiation during the day than undeveloped areas do. Rainwater is diverted through the sewer systems due to the high degree of water insulation. This means that it is then not available to the plants that need it. This is problematic because water and plants are the best resources when it comes to combating heat.

Local residents know best where it gets the hottest and where action is needed. The main innovation of this interactive platform is therefore its integration into the development of measures aimed at promoting cooling. For instance, trees, shade sails and non-sealed green spaces can be used in public places.

Angelos Chronis, head of the City Innovation Lab, calls the project groundbreaking. He offers some insight in the following interview:

Was there a role model for the City Innovation Lab?

There are already other similar projects, but none of them are like this. Our City Innovation Lab is groundbreaking. It’s a new development based on our knowledge. We are closely interconnected with the world of research and are constantly exchanging ideas via conferences. We are organising a conference on urban simulations next year in Vienna.

How can we envisage City Innovation Lab?

It is a physical space of seventy-two square meters which is used for interactive projections. They are made easily accessible with tablets and virtual reality glasses. Above all, however, it is an intellectual space. We are working here with seven of us – scientists with Masters along with PHD students. Research is key. We use innovative technologies for the development of new methods for urban planning. Our approach has a front-end and a back-end. The front-end features the interactive environment. Here participants have the opportunity to collaborate. The resulting impact comes from the back-end, via big data and artificial intelligence. This gives us immediate answers to crucial questions. For example, how the sun influences the temperature. We are able to solve all of the performance problems of a city in the City Innovation Lab, .

What’s new is the involvement of consumers, i.e. city residents. How can citizens contribute to the project?

The City Innovation Lab is based on a cognitive and participatory design. We get people involved using augmented reality and visualization. This is the real innovation – making it easier to participate in projects in a 3-D environment. For example, it would take seven hours for us to determine the effects of wind on a particular type of building. This would not work in a sit-down meeting. Thanks to digitization, we are able to provide immediate answers and visualize scenarios.

Fundamental to our work are the digital models that city councils build of their cities. Beyond that, we are also devising algorithms for thousands of urban problems that we will be able to solve using these models. Our goal is to make the parameters easier to understand and to give everyone the opportunity to talk about this project. Various participants represent different knowledge bases. The interactive platform allows us to crack open these knowledge bases. Everyone in the room then gains immediate insight into the research problem, such as the speed of wind in kilometres per hour.

Which parameters would you like to make more transparent?

In a parametric model of a block of urban housing, for instance, we can ask about the height of the buildings and the amount of green space. These are two parameters that we are able to use to view different designs. The models are programmed with algorithms. At least a thousand building designs are possible. In addition, climate aspects such as wind and sun can be simulated.

All programmed models have certain properties and can be selected according to various parameters. As an example, we could select the model with the highest buildings and the most green areas and then ask how wind and sun would affect them. Then we can see straightaway that this would not be very pleasant in summer.

The results are to be made available to the general public. How should this be done?

All our activities take place on the web and we prefer to use open data sources. Everything we do is always made available digitally, whether cloud-based or via an app. The laboratory is located in Vienna, but we are able to collaborate on a global basis with our technology.

Thank you for this interview.


At AIT Center for Energy

… around two hundred employees are researching solutions for the sustainable supply of energy in the future. The work is dedicated both to basic research and to commissioned research. In 2018, three hundred and seventy projects were carried out, forty-one percent of them for European clients.

The Center for Energy is one of eight branches of research at the Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT). It employs 1300 people and is Austria’s largest non-university research institution. The AIT is the specialist when it comes to key future-oriented infrastructure issues in the European arena. AIT shareholders are the Republic of Austria (Federal Ministry of Transport, Innovation and Technology), which holds 50.46% of the shares, and the Association for the Promotion of Research and Innovation (Federation of Austrian Industries), which holds 49.54% of the shares.

Also of interest:

Research project “GrüneLunge” investigates the resilience of trees in urban spaces