Smartness in theory and practice: An academic unpacking of a smart urban furniture project

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Master's thesis
Degree programme
Master's Programme in Collaborative and Industrial Design
In this thesis, I discuss a smart city urban furniture project I partook in in the context of academic smart city literature. I provide an overview of the project as a design production and then reflect on some of the critical literature on smart cities, followed by an assessment of how some of the learnings from that literature could be implemented in real-world smart city projects. The project described in this thesis was conducted as part of a four-person research and development team at Aalto Design Factory in collaboration with LuxTurrim 5G, a corporate consortium with the goal of incorporating 5G networks and other new technologies into urban environments. The global digitalization trend and the emergence of “smart cities” enables many new services, but new digital services necessitate substantial upgrades in infrastructure. As an emerging field, smart cities and the integration of technology therein is a topic highly relevant to today’s world, both in concrete and academic terms. As the outcome of the project, the team designed a conceptual smart city service-product ecosystem, encompassing four aesthetically distinct collections of ICT-enabled urban furniture, and 39 smart city services. 57 products were designed and modeled in total, with three being prototyped in full scale. In addition, the team created a virtual reality simulation of the products in an urban environment. Because the scope of the total work done over the course of the project is overwhelmingly broad considering the scope of a master’s thesis, the documentation of the production component focuses on the ecosystem-level aspect, its theoretical underpinnings, as well as its impact and positioning within the socio-governmental fabric of cities in transition. Academic literature has highlighted various shortcomings or blind spots in the traditional smart city paradigm, and it is this literature that serves as a supporting scaffold for the reflection component. I answer questions of how the project is positioned in the wider field of smart cities and what assumptions and values the smart city paradigm itself contains. By doing this I wish to answer what are the opportunities and risks created by the various smart products and the services. Following this, I provide a “technodicy” of smart cities by elaborating how some of the pitfalls of smart city projects might be avoided based on both the literature review and my own experience. I conclude that although the smart city paradigm has shortcomings and ambiguities as highlighted in the relevant literature, many aspects of the phenomenon can be useful when applied with respect to the wider context of urban life that may at times be neglected in technology- or business-driven projects.

Tämä opinnäyte keskittyy älykaupunkikalusteprojektiin, jonka tein osana neljän hengen tiimiä Aalto Design Factorylla. Kuvaan projektin vaiheita, jonka jälkeen reflektoin projektia ja sen lopputulemia älykaupunkien kentän ja sen ilmoiöiden valossa. Tarjoan katsauksen älykaupunkien käsitteeseen kohdistetusta akateemisesta kritiikistä, sekä pohdin, miten teknokraattisesti johdettuihin projekteihin voisi tuoda ihmislähtöisempiä näkökulmia. Urbaanien palveluiden digitalisoituminen tuo kaupunkien kehitykseen monenlaisia haasteita, joihin älykaupunkiprojektit pyrkivät vastaamaan. Tekemäni projekti oli osa laajempaa LuxTurrim 5G-konsortiota, joka pyrkii kehittämään “älypylväitä” sekä digitaalista infrastruktuuria mahdollistamaan 5G-yhteydet kaupunkikeskuksissa.
Julier, Guy
Thesis advisor
Ekman, Kalevi
smart city, smart cities, project evaluation, design production, smart urban furniture, smart urbanism
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