Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Fractal Urbanism

This is favela Rocinha in Rio de Janeiro, Latin America’s biggest slum. The squares, streets and alleys can clearly be seen.

These images are generated by an algorithm called Substrate, written by Jared Tarbell. In the fractal pattern streets, boulevards, squares, blocks, and alleys can clearly be seen.

Maybe we can, by adding more parameters and demographic data to the algorithm, predict the organic growth of a city in order to anticipate to it. Or maybe we could work backwards, to see what impact an intervention could have on an existing urban fabric. Anyway it would be a new approach to design.


Erik said...

Dear Maurits,
I think the amount of parameters that influence the way a city grows are staggering. I wonder in what way the fractal pattern changes when the input for the algorithm is changed just slightly. It will tell us something of the level of difficulty to predict.
But the approach is refreshing. Suppose we make a list of what we want and do not want in an urban environment. After that we build a model or simulation and try to predict what happens when we change certain parameters that can also be changed in reality. Finally we compare the different results of the simulations with the list and deduct proper policy from that.
Has this been done before?

Maurits said...

Erik, I agree that nature's processes, and human processes in particular, are extremely complex, but what amazes me is that these processes can be simulated by relatively simple computer programs. The program as illustrated here just has 274 lines, which is absolutely nothing in relation to for example Linux. You are right, the slightest iteration can have dramatic consequences. Like Lorenz said, if a butterflies flaps its wings in China, it can result in a hurricane in Brazil. But even in this perspective, as Lorenz showed us, patterns and fractals arise. That is why I think fractal computing can be a solution to future city planning, especially in relation to slums, that actually work this way already. As far as I know, the idea is relatively new. My idea for policy would be to define the parameters, and to let processes evolute autonomously and at random. Just as this computer program shows.

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