Which is the way to … Smart City?

The term “smart city” is en vogue and often mentioned in connection with sustainable urban development. The annual ranking of smart cities lists the smartest city. It is Copenhagen.
To develop sustainable cities as a dominant form of life clear objectives and rules are vital if we are to maintain and promote the various forms of communities and cultures. The idea of smart cities can play an important role in that process.

The promise of a smart city sounds like a dream and is reminiscent of Janosch’s story of Little Bear and Little Tiger, who were happy and contend living in their small cosy house with a chimney. One day, a crate floats past them smelling of bananas and bearing the inscription Pa‑na-ma, and this marks the birth of their longing for the country of their dreams. On the road, they ask many other animals, “Which is the way to Panama?” In the end they only find their very own house again, which they now see with fresh eyes and the conviction to have arrived in the country of their dreams.

Have we arrived at Smart City yet? First and foremost, we experience smart city as a high-tech place. It is a market place for the producers of technology to sell their products and services. Is that enough to design the city of the future?

The city of the future is right in front of us and we are a part of it every day. And although many people are happy and content to live in it, it needs to be continuously adapted and improved and thus embellished. In that process, existing buildings take precedence and infrastructure is a future task of construction. Cities live of their buildings, old and new, but they also live of public spaces, lively neighbourhoods and of the various ways they are used for.

But many cities are in crisis which in turn means that they their goals and programmes are mostly born out of necessity. They do not design the future, it is the future that meets them head on. Agents of change include a growing population and change of social structures, scarcer and more expensive resources such as energy and land, threats of natural disasters, increasing traffic, ageing buildings, climate change as well as financing and the ability to finance.

These topical issues are rarely found in the concepts for smart cities of major tech companies. Instead, their concepts describe the implementation of interconnected information technology that can improve people’s lives, optimise urban procedures and make them more efficient. However, the promise of a high-tech city cannot merely be referring to the intelligence needed in creating sustainable development. Cities are multi-faceted, heterogeneous organisms that cannot simply be optimised via technology.

It is interesting for us as designers to see that aesthetic elements have no place in this concept of smart cities. Design is understood as a procedural tool only, not as a creative means.

On the way to a sustainable future for our cities, however, we forgot that aesthetic criteria must be complementary to the rational approach dominant in both architecture and design as the future of our cities is unconceivable without sensory elements. Or else, the fragrant Panama will remain nothing but a dream.


- a guest post by Amandus Sattler -

Portraits Euroboden Hr. Sattler


Amandus Sattler is an architect and in 1993, he founded the Munich-based architecture firm Allmann Sattler Wappner Architekten. He graduated from the Technical University of Munich. Since 1985, he has been an working as an independent architect. His academic career include a teaching assignment at Semaine Internationale at École Nationale Supérieur d’Architecture , France 2007, substitute professor at the faculty of architecture, CIAD Institut, University of Applied Sciences Cologne from 2009-2013, teaching assignments for architecture and urban planning at the Academy of Fine Arts Munich from 2005-2015. He is a member of the architectural advisory board of the cities of Wiesbaden and Oldenburg as well as the steering committee of DGNB. International jury member, workshops, guest critic, publications and lectures. Artistic work in the field of photography.


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