Imagine yourself strolling through the streets to the local grocery store. Envisage the thought that went into planning the spaces, streets, and elements as you travel by to maximize efficiency. The activities occurring around the streets affect the bystanders’ frame of mind.
Thus, it becomes important to understand the user’s needs. But presently, the urban environment created is oblivious to the necessities other than vehicular movement. This leads to a range of psychological issues within the users. For instance, people walking down busy streets often experience a ‘cognitive overload’. Due to high traffic levels and increasing urban developments, there is a possibility of heightened stimuli which diminishes the attention capability. Architecture, space designing, and urban planning can affect human behaviour according to its appearance. Analyzing perception of public spaces by the people with their senses, consequently understanding their place-making practices. The long-term effects of this urban growth could result in reduced capacity to handle stress and various other disorders. Conscious cities enhance urban evolution.
A conscious city is a built environment that is cognizant of the necessities and activities of its inhabitants and responds to them. Architecture and urban design can respond to the needs through artificial intelligence, data analysis, and the application of cognitive sciences. This term was coined by architect Itai Palti in her Manifesto for Conscious Cities. Quoting Itai Palti, an architect, “The challenge is twofold and symbiotic: to empower and facilitate designers to use [conscious design], and to convince policy-makers, and through them, also market-players that a new set of priorities is essential”. Amos Rapoport defined the built environment as a place that was decided by people based on their experiences and expectations, and not only its physical features.
The environment of a conscious city is dynamic and built by giving prime importance to the user and his requirements. It is a space that maximizes user potential and adapts to users’ needs. One example which adapts to users’ needs is in Jerusalem. The self-inflating flowers bloom to provide shade or cover from the rain when they sense approaching pedestrians.
Considering a general example of malls, various important facets are ignored, like daylight and ventilation. A very few malls pay attention to the natural light which is captured. The spaces inside are enhanced with artificial lights only. Natural light reduces energy consumption and positively affects the health of workers and visitors.
A conscious city is an equitable, enactive, and empathetic process of crafting an environment that is responsive to the requirements and aspirations of its members. It entails spaces and elements that have awareness towards its people. For example, in a hot and dry climatic region, growing some trees and placing some benches under them on the footpath would multiply the comfort level for the pedestrians and passers-by. Taking simple actions could help in solving larger issues and thus adapting to the users’ wants.
Conscious cities in today’s era are developing with the help of technology to tackle various issues. But, there have been numerous paradigms from history which fulfilled the criterion on conscious design, i.e. aware and responsive to residents’ needs. One such case is, ‘Pol houses of Ahmedabad’ that date back to the 18th century. It is a housing cluster that houses various communities linked by caste, profession, or religion. Belonging to the hot and arid climatic zone, the spaces need to be shaded. The houses were aligned in a way that kept the streets shaded throughout the day. Also, the residences were designed to perfectly suit the climatic needs. There were courtyards to air circulation and aligned doors and windows for cross ventilation. Not only climatically, but pols were also united communally. All the pols are interconnected, and each house a different community. Thus, this area catered to the needs of its inhabitants appropriately in that era.
At later stages, smart technologies can also be embedded in the urban fabric to collect information about the performance of the place against human metrics and reconfigure it to perform better. That implies dilating visual stimuli like advertising or street chaos and adding opportunities for social interaction according to inhabitants’ responses.
Conscious cities are set up so that people don’t enter the future blindly, but instead, they are aware of the kind of consciousness they are creating. It is a dire need of the present to question the current situation and if the right actions are being taken. Current cities are taking a step ahead towards conscious design crediting to technological advancements. But, it is also necessary to understand the pros and cons. Continuing to prioritize economic growth over human wellbeing will reduce the values of conscious cities.
Every city, community, and space is different, but the crux of conscious cities is understanding people. By investigating the entire society and empathizing with the participants, a multidimensional roadmap can be created that supports health and wellbeing. For a conscious city, research is an infinite loop that continues to grow and influence the design process.
- Bar, I.P. and M. (2015). A manifesto for conscious cities: should streets be sensitive to our mental needs? [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/aug/28/manifesto-conscious-cities-streets-sensitive-mental-needs [Accessed 21 Jan. 2022].
- The Possible. (2019). Five Places That Inspired the Conscious Cities Movement. [online] Available
- at: https://www.the-possible.com/examples-of-conscious-cities-movement/ [Accessed 21 Jan. 2022].
- Wikipedia. (2021). Conscious city. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conscious_city [Accessed 21 Jan. 2022].