Full text: ARCH+ : Studienhefte für architekturbezogene Umweltforschung und -planung (1968, Jg. 1, H. 1-4)

Nicholas Negroponte and Leon Groisser 
URBAN 5: An On-Line Design Partner 
(A publication of the Cambridge Scientific Center of 
the IBM Data Processing Division, first published in 
June 1967; copyright courtesy of Mr. N. Negroponte, 
Assistant Professor, MIT, Cambridge, Mass.) 
This paper describes a research tool that has been designed 
to study the feasibility of using a computer in the urban 
design process. The system assumes a user unfamiliar with 
computer systems or languages. The intent is to provide 
an omniscient, omnipresent design critic whose attitudes 
reflect the users own design criteria and assumptions. 
ration of a multitude of salient, basic relationships. A 
person’s image of a problem is rarely analogous to the 
actual situation. Through the manipulation of criteria 
as well as the form, a state of equilibrium is reached where 
the physical form itself is the criteria. In URBAN 5 the 
user specifies design criteria in English from a typewriter 
console keyboard and generates physical form on a display 
console with a light pen. The system responds with 
a state of compatibility or conflict. The user responds 
to the system by making a decision, and so on. 
General Philosophy 
An organism starts smaller than it$ optimum size and its 
functions provide the impetus for growth. After a certain 
size the original functions change. At an optimum scale 
a decline of efficiency sets in and new processes are found 
to accomodate an even greater size. Less flexible species System Organization 
in history often perish from gigantism when the generated The system has been designed upon four assumptions about 
demands cannot be met by the environment. Is Architecture trban-Design: 
such @ specie? ; ; x 1. The Urban Design process is nondeterministic. 
Historically the architect has contributed environmental 2. ‚Urban Design fs based on physical Form, 
poetry; he was an artist. The profession was client-oriented 3. Urban Design is quality-oriented rather than quantity- 
within a context of beauty and symbolism. Today and n orfentedi 
tomarrow, designers’responsibilities are more the basic 4. Urban environments are an equilibrium of state resolved 
urban scaffoldings: circulation, communication and shelter; . from many sakllent;: basic relationships. 
all in a context of change. Such a service oriented ’ 
profession will have to deal with elementry human needs 
and values: light, air, privacy, identity, etc. In view 
of professional gigantism, URBAN 5 is being designed to 
study the desirability and feasibility of conversing with 
a machine about an environmental design project. The 
survival of this new partner depends on its adaptability 
to scale changes, use changes and communication changes 
The discussion is conducted in both graphics and English, 
using the computer as an objective mirror of 
the users design criteria and form decisions; reflecting 
responses formed from a larger information base than the 
user’s personal experience. URBAN 5 focuses on the 
direct design process usually associated with sketch 
paper. The underlying philosophy is that at many different 
levels the computer can be a partner in the design process 
by providing a service that monitors the procedure 
rather than optimizes or generates solutions. 
URBAN 5 is organized to perform operations and assignments 
on an element or group of elements. During the manipulation 
of elements, the computer’s attention is focused on two 
states of error: the conflict and the incompatibility. A 
conflict is a result of the users specified design 
criteria contradicting the characteristics or implications 
of the physical form. The user may respond in three ways: 
1. He can change the physical form and make it harmoni- 
ous with his criteria. 
2. He can change his criteria to be in sympathy with the 
physical form. 
3, He can ignore the conflict. 
An incompatibility, however, is a conflict generated by a 
built-in fact that the machine cannot ignore, (for example: 
nursery schools do not belong on highways). In this case, 
without the user$ intervention, the computer alerts the 
user of the incompatibility and the respective action to be 
taken. In these two ways, the user and the machine enter 
into an iterative loop: 
URBAN 5 is not aimed at making the difficult easy, the 
time consuming short or the costly cheap. It is directed 
at producing responsible architecture through the conside- 
ARCH + 1(1968) H.4

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