Granular Urbanism

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Granular Urbanism

The notion of the Master Plan is one of creating formal guidelines for their further elaboration or interpretation by architects and planners. For this purpose, speculative strategies are often adopted by designers and clients when generating new large scale urban landscapes. The focus of this investigation is the abstract mechanisms that can be deployed to generate urban strategies using digital techniques. It is an attempt to deliberately eschew the extruded and layered entities of the master planning paradigms as well as the exhausted notion of urban “fabric”. The investigation undertakes the translation of a formal study on granular accumulations in Aeolian dune fields into a digital model. The site used to test the program, an urban development in the city of Penang, Malaysia, is divided into a uniform granular field. The script then assigns a program or “grain size” to each component based on the developer’s requirements. More public programs such as the convention center, hotels and offices receive a larger “grain size” and migrate shorter distances than “lighter” programs such as housing and retail. Each element is also assigned a scale or “sand availability” factor based its proximity to the main access routes. The script then takes into account the direction and volume (magnitude) of predicted traffic patterns to the site in order to redistribute the granular programmatic elements. Utilizing these parameters as guidelines for the Master Plan, the program can generate complex and intricate urban assemblies, which can be adapted over time by changing the input factors. It can take the last assembly generated as a starting point and “grow” or redistribute it according to changes in program requirements or traffic patterns. This capability allows the digital model to serve as a speculative tool for predicting the migration and distribution of program over a period of time.