My guest for this week’s Innovators show is Duncan Wilson, an engineer with the global consulting firm Arup. We met at the 2010 Microsoft Research Social Computing Symposium, where the theme was city as platform. His presentation, and our follow-on conversation, prompted me to read a couple of books that had long been in my queue: Stewart Brand’s How Buildings Learn and Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language.
Reading both of those books, I felt an implicit connection between principles that I’ve learned in an IT context (e.g., separation of concerns, networks of loosely-coupled services), and principles that can inform the practice of architecture — at the scale of buildings, but also of whole cities. Duncan Wilson, and others lucky enough to be working at the forefront of 21st-century architecture, are making that connection explicit.
Consider, for example, the movement of goods in and out of a city. You’d like to consolidate that activity at the perimeter and reduce truck traffic in the core. That’s doable, but only if retailers and suppliers are willing to share information about what they’re shipping. That began to happen in the late 1990s, Duncan says, when retailers and suppliers began to share trucks. Doing the same kind of thing for a city, as Arup’s engineers envision, would entail both a physical arrangement of consolidation centers on the perimeter, and a virtual arrangement of shared data.
Information, Duncan says, is becoming another of the raw materials from which the built environment is made.
Here’s a different example of IT principles crossing over into other realms, from a podcast I listened to on yesterday’s hike:
When you offer multiple services using the same devices, through the same interfaces, you open up opportunities for creative thinking in the storage community.
If you’re talking about data storage, and the frame of reference is IT, that’s not a very compelling statement. We haven’t fully internalized this service-oriented and network-based way of thinking, but we’re getting there.
But that quote doesn’t refer to data storage, it refers to energy storage. The podcast was Stephen Lacey’s excellent Inside Renewable Energy. In this episode, innovators at Ice Energy and A123 describe business models that are deeply informed by the idea of networks of shared services.