Digital Transformation and Urban Spatial Organisation

Nadia Alaily-Mattar
Markus Weinig

What are the current and potential impacts of digital transformation on urban spatial organization? How does the networking of value chains, availability of digital mass data, automation and digital customer interfaces affect current urban spatial organization? How will new possibilities enabled by Augmented Reality, Image Recognition and Internet of Things transform spatial organization? Knowing that the speed of change of technologies and innovation, such as Autonomous Vehicles, drones and crowd logistics, has a different rhythm and velocity than that of policy and legislation, infrastructure and consumer acceptance, how can the level of readiness of the spatial environment for the adoption of new technologies be matched to the speed of technological innovation?

The Department of Architecture at TUM submitted a concept paper for a Collaborative Research Centre/Sonderforschungsbereich (SFB) to the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG). The title of the paper is „Digital Transformation and Urban Spatial Organisation”. Collaborative Research Centres are long-term university-based research institutions, established for up to 12 years. The proposed CRC addresses digital transformation as a phenomenon; as such, we do not limit its research to changes triggered by a particular digital technology. The empirical focus is on contemporary conditions that play out in the German speaking region of Europe (D-A-CH region), a context with long-established democratic institutions, a decentralised federalist system, multi-actor decision making and a significant building stock of cultural heritage and economic value.
We hypothesise that the application of digital technologies and methods has effects on (1) our knowledge about the built environment, hence on the ways in which stakeholders organise the built environment; (2) the spatial behaviour and preferences of individuals, groups and firms; and (3) the political process in which local, regional and national government institutions and non-governmental actors plan and manage urban areas. We sort the research projects into three focus areas: (A) knowledge about the built environment; (B) spatial behaviour and preferences; (C) urban governance.
We set up a multidisciplinary collaboration of scientists from the fields of architecture, planning, informatics, sociology, management, transport, and policy in order to address these focus areas.
We develop interdisciplinary insights through Systems Thinking workshops. Long-term engagement is necessary to elaborate an empirical evidence base and basic interdisciplinary research practice in this field.
With this proposed CRC, we will establish a prominent competence centre at TUM to bring together the existing expertise in this field. As a collaborative effort we analyse and extrapolate current and expected spatial consequences of digital transformation, critically reflect on the associated opportunities and threats, and work out the elements that will contribute to a theory. The long-term goals are to contribute to systems knowledge and transformation knowledge about the interplay of digital transformation and urban spatial organisation.