Town planning abstract.

+ Technology can help planners and urban designers to process vast amounts of information and make better decisions.

The massive scale and fast pace of masterplanning in China makes technology essential to process the sheer amount of information involved.

With as little as a few short months to design projects that will occupy dozens of hectares or square kilometres, there are always going to be factors that we cannot assess as thoroughly as we would have liked.

In China, many of these large, new developments are often in outlying cities or in the countryside. So we don’t have access to the sort of existing GIS, census, and environmental data that planners in other countries would have at their disposal.

Without the understanding this would give us of how an area has developed, we must start from scratch. We must figure out how many people might live there, what kind of services they will need, and what kind of development is appropriate for the area – as well as what will deliver the profitability our client wants.

The Chinese Planning Bureau has announced that the profession needs to use more quantitative and scientific measurements, rather than the existing qualitative and value-based approach. With this in mind, Arup Shenzhen answered the challenge by developing tools that help tackle problems of limited data and resources.

The first tool evaluates the impact a design for a new development will have on the microclimate for pedestrians. It allows us to scan the entire masterplan and simulate the design to see if it feels comfortable to the people who will ultimately occupy it. It’s simple to use, but it can assess a large area quickly allowing us to create a more resilient and measurable design.

Another tool the office is working on combines MassMotion, Unity3D and CityEngine software to simulate how people will use an area. If we’re building a train station, we can look at what amenities in the surrounding area people exiting the station will use and when. This enables us to design an environment that’s comfortable and intuitive for pedestrians. It also produces a 3D visualisation that’s easy to present to a client.

We’ve used these tools to plan two metro lines with more than 50 new stations. They’ve helped us evaluate and understand information and feed it into our design.

I don’t believe that technology could ever replace the work planners and designers have to do considering the interaction between people, environment and landscape. But I think it can help us be better decision makers, ensuring our designs meet the demands that will be placed on an area.