Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent

Ingrid Haftel, Associate Curator, Chicago Architecture Foundation

Ingrid Haftel, Associate Curator, Chicago Architecture Foundation

By Ingrid Haftel

Big data is all the rage these days – from helping doctors diagnose patients by using analytics to sift through decades of historical information to allowing marketers learn how to better personalize experiences for customers. But there often isn’t the chance for citizens to see how data might affect their everyday lives up close and personal.

Here at the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF), we wanted to show citizens how data provides a critical lens for exploring and understanding the design issues that matter, like community health, safety and sustainability. To do this, we devised the upcoming exhibition Chicago: City of Big Data. Opening today, the exhibition explores the digital age of urban design and shows Chicago the effects of Big Data on the city’s lifeblood.

The exhibition strives to demonstrate the potential that urban data has to improve Chicago and, by extension, cities worldwide. We show citizens where urban data comes from by examining the city’s digital infrastructure and how it is used by architects, planners and citizens as part of their design process. As urban data increasingly influences modern architecture and urban planning, data becomes one of the most valuable materials of 21st century design.

At the exhibition, Chicago residents will be able to:

  • See hidden digital infrastructure revealed at the intersection of Clark Street and Devon Avenue, through cameras that monitor city operations and public safety, for example;
  • Browse health information for broad disease categories in your neighborhood with Chicago Health Atlas;
  • Collect air quality data with Air Lab, a summer workshop that used sensors to collect data on indoor air quality in several residential buildings in Humboldt Park;
  • Explore the architecture of Big Data at the 1.1 million square foot, multi-tenant datacenter at 350 East Cermak Road, and;
  • Explore a year’s worth of bike share, Twitter, and 311 call data, visualized in real-time on a digital model created in collaboration with leading design firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.

 CityForwardDashboard_MaintileCAF partnered with IBM through its City Forward initiative, which is a free, web-based platform developed and powered by the company as a civic resource sponsored by IBM Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs. Experts from IBM Interactive Experience – recently named the largest digital agency worldwide by AdAge – in their Chicago lab designed and built the city’s first interactive dashboards for the exhibition that utilize the City Forward platform to make information on the city’s vital statistics available to passerby in real-time.

Over the next 18 months, we hope to open up a dialogue on the connection between big data and our lives, showing visitors not only how our surroundings are impacted by this information, but also how relevant each individual is to the design of their environment.

The Chicago Architecture Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to inspiring people to discover why design matters. CAF pursues this mission through architecture tours, exhibitions, panel discussions and youth and adult education programs.



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