Architecture and Collective Behaviour

Just published: a special Issue of Philosophical Transactions B (The Royal Society) on ‘Interdisciplinary approaches for uncovering the impacts of architecture on collective behaviour’. My own contribution is ‘open access’ and you can read it and print it from the web site here. The issue covers many aspects of collective behaviours at different architectural and spatial scales dealing with different social and physical systems. The commonality of diverse approaches to very different systems is well demonstrated by this issue. All the papers can be seen in terms of contents here.

The editors say:

“Built structures, such as animal nests or buildings that humans occupy, influence where and how individuals interact. These interactions lead to cooperation, collaboration, and collective behaviours, which are fundamental for the formation of functional human and animal societies. Despite the obvious influence of space on interactions, because spatial proximity is necessary for an interaction to occur, spatial constraints are rarely considered in studies of collective behaviour or collective cognition.

This special issue highlights ways in which structures impact society, for example through the impact of the built environment on information flow, disease transmission and health behaviours. In addition, the issue brings new research on how architecture affects collective behaviours of humans and animals. For example, humans have fewer face-to-face interactions than expected in open spaces and ground squirrels interact differently in open and closed spaces. This special issue creates a unique exchange of ideas among a wide range of disciplines including behavioural ecologists, evolutionary biologists, cognitive scientists, social scientists, architects, physicists, and engineers. The goal of this issue is to formalise and catalyse an interdisciplinary exchange that will propel the study of architecture and collective behaviour.”

Renewing infrastructure

Infrastructure has become another hot word in post-industrial economies that are busy figuring out how they can renew all the physical plant that was constructed during their industrial past. The UK has established a National Infrastructure Commission amidst a flurry of proposed new initiatives involving high speed rail, and other new rail lines, a focus on new housing, as well as a continuing concern for ever faster broadband, specifically based on G5 technologies.  American too, notwithstanding the President’s pronouncements, is also initiating new approach’s to established and renewing infrastructure from roads to bridges to airports.

Infrastructure, however, no longer relates to simply physical things, information infrastructure is hot on the agenda while social infrastructure pertains to all our organisational and indeed socially responsible administration that emerged during the 20th century and badly needs renewing. In the current editorial in Environment and Planning B, I summarise some of the key points about renewing our infrastructure. Many new kinds of models are being fashioned to deal with such problems which are now spatially extensive in a way their precursors were not, and integrating different sectors is now one of the key issues so that the wider impacts of new infrastructure can be assessed, as for example in the MISTRAL models being developed by a consortium of research groups in the UK.

You can get my editorial here.

Data-Driven Urban Dynamics at ORNL

Visited the Urban Dynamics Institute (UDI) headed up Budhendra Bhaduri (Budhu) which is a rapidly growing effort in data-driven technologies applicable to cities. This group which is based at Oakridge National Labs which began life in the war years as part of the Manhattan Project, focusses on research that is geared to understanding, predicting and resolving key urban problems using large data sets which are spatially extensive. It is one of the few groups around the world doing serious research into the science of cities, albeit data-driven in that the focus is on extracting urban patterns and processes from very large data sets. Traditionally these data sets have been based on imaging from remotely sensed data but are now being extended to social media and all kinds of real-time sensed data dealing with location, mobility, transportation and climate. Many of these projects utilise the powerful computer technologies established at Oak Ridge by the Department of Energy that runs the National Labs. At Oak Ridge, the UDI used the TITAN supercomputer for processing remotely sensed images that require various forms of deep learning in the extraction of pattern. TITAN is the fourth largest supercomputer worldwide (measured by petaflops – floating point operations per second which is greater than 10pb) but it is being replaced by SUMMIT and the lab could well take the top spot, overtaking China again – who knows.

The UDI’s most visible project is Landscan. This is a world-wide data set at very high resolutions – at various grains down to approximately 1 km resolution (30″ X 30″). let me quote from the web page: ” LandScan is the finest resolution global population distribution data available and represents an ambient population (average over 24 hours). The LandScan algorithm, an R&D 100 Award Winner, uses spatial data and imagery analysis technologies and a multi-variable dasymetric modeling approach to disaggregate census counts within an administrative boundary. Since no single population distribution model can account for the differences in spatial data availability, quality, scale, and accuracy as well as the differences in cultural settlement practices, LandScan population distribution models are tailored to match the data conditions and geographical nature of each individual country and region.”

I am a member of the Scientific Advisory Board [myself, Mike Goodchild (UCSB), John Harbor (Purdue), Nigel Davis (Willis),  Karen Seto (Yale), and Luc Vincent (Lyft) were in attendance] and we visited Oak Ridge last week March 27-29 and I gave a talk to the Institute. Bhudu asked me to talk on Cities and AI and although I complained mildly that I didnt know much about AI, I have explored how neural nets can be used in models of design so I decided to talk about this. You can access and read my talk by clicking on this link that will give you the PDF

However the icing on the cake was a visit to see TITAN and the photographs above show a panorama of me along the bank of boxes which are thence arrayed in parallel in 8 rows, a truly massive machine. Also saw one like this at Harwell (Rutherford-Appleton) the other week at STFC !