Darren Robinson (ed.) 2011: Computer Modelling for Sustainable Urban Design – Physical Principles, Methods and Applications. London. 277 pp.

If we assess, on a scale of 1 to 10, the faith of someone in the power and potential of quantitative deterministic modelling, Darren Robinson is an 11. As the editor of the book and an author involved in seven of the ten chapters, Robinson has shaped a volume which foreshadows the day when a series of linked models on building performance, city performance, travel behavior and microclimate will help us to design sustainable cities. To put it more formally, to minimize “net internal entropy production and the exchange of non-renewable resources across the system boundaries.” (p. 9)


However, this is a lot more than a paean to the modelling concept. Indeed it is taken as a given that mathematic modelling is an essential part of making urban areas more comfortable for users and less consumptive of resources – especially energy. The chapters are divided into four sections: Climate and Comfort, Metabolism, Measures and Optimization of Sustainability and an Eye to the Future. Within each section are two or three chapters dealing with specific aspects of these broader themes. Within Climate and Comfort, for example, the focus is on modelling of the radiant environment, urban climate and pedestrian comfort. Each chapter is ambitious seeking to give both a quick overview of the domain, details of one or more modelling approaches and a case study application. This is a good structure because readers without the faith or mathematical skills of Robinson and his co-authors can still get a clear sense of the possibilities of modelling in each case and see how they are currently being applied by researchers.

According to the book cover the target audience is the “next generation of urban planners,  architects and engineers” and current professionals. As an overview for an advanced class in urban modelling this is likely to work well. Fellow modellers are likely to be already aware of these formulations in their specific domain, while the more casual reader will find several sections, dense in formulae, impenetrable.

There is a nice sense, however, of the benefits of model integration as a running theme. So, for example, we learn how the very specific work in radiant modelling contributes to our understanding of pedestrian comfort and feeds in turn into more comprehensive packages such as CitySim. Algorithms supporting the modelling include detail to the level of when blinds are up or down and windows open or closed. At some point one wonders what happened to Occum’s razor.

Nevertheless, the reasonable concept is that once we have the models running smoothly and accurately, we can begin to optimize. At this point we meet the only chapter with a cautionary message. Flourentzos Flourentzou introduces a process for multi-criteria decision support called Hermione. This is a systematic vehicle for community discussion rather than a modelling process. Indeed Flourentzou argues a persuasive case, despite the risk of lowest common denominator outcomes, for not attempting define utility functions in decision situations with non-commensurate outcomes such as.

Curiously, however, this is followed in the next chapter by an argument for optimization of  decisions using computational processes. This is not necessarily a contradiction, but it would have been nice to also have been provided with a discussion of the circumstances in which the described qualitative and quantitative methods are best suited.

Other chapters are contributed by Kay Axhausen (traffic) and Michael Batty (urban dynamics). These both given a strong sense of the possibilities in these areas. Despite the wide range of model types canvassed, there remains a sense that the sustainability being defended is a rather narrow definition. There is scarcely a mention, for example, of water, waste, recreational opportunity or community development.

Agent-based modeling is introduced in a number of contexts and an alternative to numerical simulation. In the final chapter Robinson foreshadows increasing use of agents. He looks forward to the time when “our people-agents form unions with one another, procreate, purchase or rent a home, furnish this home, renovate this home, purchase a motor vehicle or invest in public transport season tickets, and so on” (p. 265).

There are some minor quality issues, variables not explained, lack of legends or units on the figures and use of acronyms not explained in the chapter (although they are in the glossary). Overall, however, the volume is well produced and provides a nice sense of the state-of-the-art 2011.
Ian D. Bishop

Quelle: disP 187, 4/2011, S. 102


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