Q&A with Professor of Built Environment Visualisation, Richard Laing

Q&A with Professor of Built Environment Visualisation, Richard Laing, whose research concentrates on the subject of visualisation and its use within public evaluation of open space, built heritage and urban design.

Richard Laing 2015

  • Can you tell us a bit about your work / research relating to smart cities?

Over a period of many years, we have been involved in research which has considered how computers, visualisation and IT might affect the ways in which we plan, design, use and interact within cities. This has included the use of computer games, online collaboration and the involvement of communities in our work, with the most recent work concerning mobility in Aberdeen and the Shire. The rapid development of technology to assist people to have a higher quality of life is exciting, and might signal a future which is brighter.


  • What kind of impact could this have locally and how could the general public benefit?

Within Aberdeen, we have already seen the rollout of sophisticated and highly effective methods of improving traffic flow, which in turn reduces emissions and pollution. In the coming years, we will see this extending to the generation and use of energy across the city, and the general public will be much more able to monitor, control and influence how this might be of benefit to them personally. Smart cities are maybe facilitated by technology, and the overall aim is to improve quality of life.


  • How is technology shaping the future of architecture and the built environment?

The ways in which we design and use buildings and towns are already heavily influenced by technology, including the use of sensors and responsive technology in terms of energy, intelligent transport, buildings which can be flexible for different uses and communication. The advent of driverless vehicles will bring challenges in terms of road congestion, but could also bring real opportunities in terms of access. The potential impact of such technology on how we live, work and play is becoming apparent, and will form a major strand of our applied research in the coming years.


  • Are there any negative implications? Could new technology replace human jobs?

Yes. However, we should not presume that technology will herald a dystopian 'Blade Runner' future. Whilst it is likely that robotics will lead to the displacement of some tasks - we are already seeing this in terms of offsite manufacture - this is not new. For example, my Uncle Sam was a highly skilled typesetter, with his abilities in demand in newspapers from Vancouver to Scotland. Digital technology has over time meant that manual typesetting is now largely undertaken using computers, but this simply meant that Sam's main skills - visual arrangement and visual design - became even more important. Technology will help us to automate repetitive tasks, but the human mind and creativity - in all senses of the word - will always be needed.


Professor Laing is Research Strategic Lead at RGU’s Scott Sutherland School of Architecture and Built Environment.

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