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Sidewalk Labs’ radical machine learning tool to help design better neighbourhoods

Urban design given a machine learning-enhanced twist thanks to the folks at the New-York based company.

It isn’t just the Dutch bolstering the vanguard of urban innovation and city design through the clever use of mixed architecture. American urban design company Sidewalk Labs, itself a subsidiary of tech
giant Alphabet Inc (the conglomerate owns Google, if you’re wondering), has been applying technology-focused solutions at the forefront of urban design for five years. Their latest contribution to urban architecture comes in the form of Delve, a tool that empowers developers to create bigger and better – faster.

Agility, after all, is the name of the game. Yes, a large part of the countless hours that development teams spend in designing urban architecture is devoted to the artistry and finesse behind their designs, but that’s balanced by the science underpinning the entire endeavour. What Delve does is empowering the design team to prioritise. It leaves the finagling of finer – and tedious – details to the computers.

(Related: Floating structures: Architecture for the post-climate change era)

Delve works on a set of parameters given by the urban development team, such as gross floor area, site constraints like height requirements, and priority outcomes, including the all-important cost. It then generates a list of ranked configurations, complete with high-fidelity modelling that allows developers to get into each and every option, including individual units’ daylight access, walkability and views of the surrounding area.

These models can be generated at any step of the development process – from the pre-planning stage, right after scouting suitable sites, to nailing down the final elements after months of work. We say months, though Delve’s functionality is set to drastically reduce the time it takes to develop a project, especially thanks to integrated financial and utilities modelling to deal with issues like costs, plumbing and the like.

(Related: Copenhagen: a masterclass in urban architecture for public spaces)

It’s a technology that’s already seen real, practical use since its debut in the United Kingdom. Quintain used Delve to improve on pre-existing development plans, and was able to deliver around 200 additional units (that were bigger than originally planned) with upgrades to daylight access and open spaces for a development site in Wembley Park, London. Simply put, Delve works best by making the pre-existing jobs of planners, architects and urban designers easier. It helps them balance priorities (that are often in conflict with one another) on an intuitive and responsive platform, providing said designers with valuable, actionable data along the way. In other words, it’s great stuff.

Great stuff, tech-wise, seems to be Alphabet Inc’s speciality. Other pursuits they have include Deepmind, another subsidiary that’s focused on creating artificial intelligence, or the simply named X Development – moonshot technologies that can transform the world as we know it are their area of expertise.

Building a better future won’t be done by computers and avant-garde tech alone though. If Sidewalk Labs and their machine learning tool Delve are anything to go by, it’s a combination of great minds and microchips that are paving the way forward – one brick at a time.

Click here to read more about Delve.


Photo by Sean Pollock on Unsplash.