The IAAC translates the data collected by the Catalan engineer Cerdà into interactive graphs and partners with the BSC to develop an urban simulator.
Ildefons Cerdà was the father of many things. From his work General Theory of Urbanization. From modern urban planning. The very term urban planning. And, practically, of the district of the Eixample of Barcelona. But, as is the case (more often than not) with new creations that are very disruptive, none of that was recognized at the time. Maybe it’s because society wasn’t ready for so much science then. Maybe now is the time. This is what they hope for, at least, at the Institute of Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC), which has decided to take over and use new technologies and new approaches to energise their work and make it useful for cities and the people who live in them.
According to its founder, Vicente Guallart, this centre is an initiative of the post-Olympic generation of architects, who wanted to test a space to prepare the revolution that would bring about the digital transformation in the way cities are built and designed. They created, in the centre’s facilities, the first solar house in Barcelona; they founded the first Fab Lab in the European Union, and after starting out, Guallart himself, as chief architect of Barcelona City Council, has scaled up many of his ideas around Smart City.
“An issue that has always interested us in the IAAC is how cities do not learn from each other, how at a time when cooperation between cities is increasing, this is still an emerging issue, still very much in its infancy”, reflects Vicente Guallart. “We are very interested in the subject of science in urban planning and this leads us directly to Ildefons Cerdà, the person who coined the term urban planning”.
Cerdà studied engineering, “a cool profession at the time” that made him dedicate his life to thinking about what the cities of the future had to be like. “He said he had had to study architecture, law, sociology, economics…. many different sciences to try to imagine how to design, build and manage something new like a city designed from scratch,” he said. “He spent part of his time studying the data on how many professions were in the city, where people lived, how dense they were…. he wanted to really understand how a city worked.
Kind of like using 19th-century Big Data.
“Curiously, all this happened in the same year that Marx published Capital, which means that at that time there was a debate in Europe about what to do with the industrial revolution: what Marx said was that the old relationship between nobles and peasants was being transformed into the relationship between the bourgeois industrialist and the worker, that the oppression continued, that the living conditions of the working class were not good and that, therefore, he proposed the social revolution”, remembers Vicente Guallart. “Cerdà followed a line promoted by Saint Simon, a French thinker who argued that science and technology should be put to work to improve people’s lives: rather than writing great theories, what they had to do was to transform the society and the space where people lived”.
Your proposal, in fact, seems to be coming together more now than it was then. The example is all the people who persist in calling for technologies to be used to improve people’s lives and for companies to develop solutions or implement trends to empower citizens in this regard. For example, self-produced energy or self-sufficient buildings.
And precisely from the meaning found today in everything that Cerdà proposed at the time, the IAAC’s Urbanization.org project arises. The first step contemplated in this initiative was to translate Cerdà’s work, something that had not been done to date (“imagine, in Barcelona we have invented a thing called urbanism, which is clear the importance we have given to the fact of building cities, and many people do not know Cerdà and his theory”). The second is to create a platform to visually, attractively and simply translate the data that the architect collected in his second volume into interactive graphics. “What Cerdà did was very incomprehensible: a book of 700 pages full of numbers”, says Vicente Guallart. “It’s a good thing to tell the world that the concept of urbanism was invented here as a science, but what we are doing now are many other things.
In fact, they have just signed an agreement with the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC) to create an urban simulator to understand how the city works, to predict catastrophes or complicated situations, and even to help evaluate projects before they occur. “In the BSC they transform physical processes into mathematics, they are working on the human body, and so we ask: why don’t we work to make a simulator of a city?
“What would Cerdà be doing today? I would be doing this, I would be transforming the general ideas and trying to systematize the knowledge of the cities to make projects that would give tools to make better decisions”.