Among this year's #BigGreenDraw Sponsor Partners, we were thrilled to welcome PhD researcher, Eduardo Rico-Carranza, with his research project: Drawscapes.
Drawscapes is an EPSRC funded, theoretical research project based on the UCL extension on the site of the Olympic Park, UCL EAST. The the aim of the project is to learn more about online collaborative design. Here, Eduardo tells us a little more about himself and his project, Drawscapes, and how you can get involved!
"My name is Eduardo Rico-Carranza, and I am a PhD researcher in the Bartlett School of Architecture currently developing a study on online participatory methods of urban and landscape design. I have previously worked in the field of urbanism as an engineer and urban designer as well as being involved in architecture education. During this period, I always tried to bring various voices and expertise to the drawing table, trying to come up with tools that enabled exchanges of information while delivering meaningful formal expression. I worked developing modelling and digital techniques that would help people without a background in design to express themselves and contribute. In this process, drawings, both hand-made and digitally generated, play a key role in generating some form of meeting point that allow stakeholders to meet and discuss.
The advent of AI has the potential to disrupt this field of collaborative design. An increasingly rich field of applications amplify our capacity to analyse and generate design material, whether in the form of sketches, 3D models, images or text. This offers the possibility of processing vast amounts of data, but also enables non-experts to gain insights that would not be possible without the generative power of new algorithms. I am interested in looking at how these technologies can be applied to improve our capacity to engage communities in urban and landscape design.
[Image: Drawscapes website: bigdraw.drawscapes.com]
Drawscapes is a research project studying the use of online sketches as a participatory design method. Through using modern digital technologies I intend to reach a greater audience, improve result analysis and develop insightful feedback mechanisms into the co-design process. The project uses a web-based drawing tool that allows anyone to give their input using simple strokes and lines. Users can sketch connective paths or locate uses and features in an urban or landscape plan while obtaining live feedback. The tool underwent many design iterations and has been tested with UCL members as well as 10-11 year old children. As a result, it has evolved to allow use without any prior training.
On the back of this tool, a series of methods have been developed to evaluate statistically the quality and character of these drawings, extracting general patterns and helping to present results in a clear and concise manner. These techniques are used in the deployment of the Drawscapes Voting webapp, where the user can browse all drawings previously developed and select their favourites.
[Image: Project Area]
Drawscapes is currently using the UCL EAST project as a test case for the development of its first major experiment. UCL EAST (University College London - Experiments, Arts, Society and Technology) is an extension of UCL located in East London, directly South of the Olympic Park, that is planned to provide a 40% increase on the current UCL facilities. We have circulated the Drawscapes Drawing app across UCL staff and students, asking for their input on a hypothetical alternative. The results of the work are academic and research oriented (the project has already undergone consultation and received planning approval) and will be shared with UCL EAST staff. The focus area is called Marshgate site and there is a projected development area of 135,000m2, corresponding to an average 5 storey building across the entire site.
Drawscapes assumes that most people will be able to engage with design if provided with the right tools to do so. This idea is related to a category within planning called sketch planning which would argue that allowing participants to quickly generate many designs can help focus discussions by surfacing relevant key issues and bringing them into the conversation. What we are bringing to the sketch planning debate is a new methodology of data capturing which allows for easy engagement as well as convenient analysis of large populations.
[Image: Drawscapes sketches]
This methodology is quite prescriptive with the type of drawings that allow users to develop with an online interface purposely geared towards the development of diagrammatic sketches. These are drawings formed by simplified, single line traces (similar to doodles) representing the central axis of paths or building blocks. The drawings developed focus on connecting points and building layouts. This allows for relatively easy use and translation into a street network. More importantly, diagrammatic sketches are easy to compare and treat statistically and can form the basis of generative forms of design and auto-completion.
I am hoping to get people to develop proposals for UCL EAST using the Drawscapes Drawing app. This will help us to understand how people approach the task of drawing and which are the mechanisms that engage the public more effectively in online participation. We have so far received nearly 400 valid drawings and are planning to keep collecting data for some months to come. I would also encourage people to see the current results and use our map-based voting mechanism that we have incorporated into the Drawscapes Voting app.
[Image: Sketch Grouping]
We have carried out experiments comparing results with different techniques (hand based and digital) in order to understand the effect of the tool on the type of drawings being developed. More than 90% of the drawings received via webapp have a diagrammatic character (single centre lines) compared with those drawn using pen and paper, mostly maps and object-based sections incorporating detail and text. This suggests that the sketching tool clearly influences the outcome and that the instructions provided lead to the type of diagrammatic sketches we were hoping for. Moreover, in the case of building drawings, 60% of users effectively followed feedback prompts from the app and kept modifying the drawing until they reached the requested building area, with some users even making 15 iterations over the same drawing in order to obtain a 99% accuracy. This suggests that easy-to-follow prompts increase drawing performance and draw participants into generating more content. We are now carrying out a study to map existing drawings to real urban plans, trying to classify drawings based on comparisons with historical patterns.
If you want to participate in the Drawscapes project, head over to the Voting page, choose your favourites and scroll towards the end to make your own proposal!"
If you were inspired by this article and would like to get involved in Drawscapes, you can create your own maps here, and vote for your favourites here.
Registrations are open for The Big Draw Festival 2020: A Climate of Change! Find out more about the benefits of becoming an organiser here and other ways to support The Big Draw's mission here.