flexiblefullpage -
billboard - default
interstitial1 - interstitial
Currently Reading

Moore's Law and the future of urban design

BIM and Information Technology

Moore's Law and the future of urban design

By Stephen Conschafter | SmithGroup | May 26, 2015
Moore's Law and the future of urban design

A virtually expanded VA Hospital at Bay Pines, Fla. Using tools like Lumion 3D, planners are able to create increasingly life-like environments and fly through spaces in real time. Image: SmithGroupJJR

As planners and designers, we help shape the physical world—a process that increasingly requires digital software to enable our planning and design work. Combined with traditional methods of design, these computerized tools have allowed us to provide a higher level of service to our clients.

We can now understand site context through geographic information systems (GIS), track and analyze space data through building information modeling (BIM), and create 3D visualizations using programs such as SketchUp.

"As GPUs become even faster, planners and designers will be able to dream up complex digital environments and interact with them like never before. Combined with virtual reality tools, we will be able to immerse ourselves in these visions before they become reality."

These capabilities continue to evolve thanks to the exponential advancements in computer processor power. Recent headlines marked the 50th anniversary of Moore’s Law, acknowledging the accuracy of Gordon Moore’s prediction that both the price and performance of silicon processors are on a constantly doubling trajectory, becoming ever more affordable and powerful. This concept doesn’t stop with silicon transistors, but applies to computing in general, from early vacuum tube computers to today’s 3D processors.

This all raises the question: What will this mean for the future of our profession and how we shape the physical world? There are a variety of advancements on the horizon that could revolutionize how we design urban spaces in the future.

GPUs are specialized chips that enable the rendering of computer graphics. Their power allows us to visualize three dimensional environments with increasing levels of realism and complexity. Programs like Lumion 3D use the power of GPUs to render, in near real-time, detailed three-dimensional landscapes.

As GPUs become even faster, planners and designers will be able to dream up complex digital environments and interact with them like never before. Combined with virtual reality tools, we will be able to immerse ourselves in these visions before they become reality. We’ll walk down alternative city streets and stroll through conceptual building lobbies before construction drawings are even started.

Technology is also extending our reach by helping us understand existing site conditions. Quadcopters and drone technology are already being used to map and photograph property. Today it’s easier than ever to take aerial photographs of a site using this technology. In the future, drones will be equipped with computer vision capabilities, allowing them to generate three-dimensional models of real places literally on-the-fly.

All of these technologies have been enabled by the exponential advancements in computing power over the past 50 years. During the next 50, these advances will not only reshape how we design urban spaces but also how we experience them, as the digital and physical worlds become more and more entangled.

About the Author: Stephen Conschafter is an urban designer and planner with a deep interest in the design of campuses and urban spaces. He is particularly focused on how data, scientific metrics, and technology can be applied to site design and long range planning for cities and campuses.

More from Author

SmithGroup | Aug 3, 2022

Designing learning environments to support the future of equitable health care

While the shortage of rural health care practitioners was a concern before the COVID-19 pandemic, the public health crisis has highlighted the importance of health equity in the United States and the desperate need for practitioners help meet the needs of patients in vulnerable rural communities.

SmithGroup | Aug 10, 2021

Retail reset: The future of shopping malls

Developers and design partners are coming together to reimagine how malls can create a new generation of mixed-use opportunities. 

SmithGroup | May 17, 2021

Future pandemic preparedness at the medical district scale

The current COVID-19 pandemic highlights the concern that we will see more emergency events in the coming years.

SmithGroup | Jan 25, 2021

Amid pandemic, college students value on-campus experience

All the students we interviewed were glad that they returned to campus in one form or another.

SmithGroup | Aug 13, 2020

Renewing the healing role of public parks

While we can’t accurately predict all the ways we will respond to the current COVID-19 pandemic, it should provide a moment of reflection as we see all too clearly the consequences of our exploitation and destruction of nature.

SmithGroup | Jul 21, 2020

How design of senior living communities must change after COVID-19

The cost of maintaining high quality of care and high quality of life for senior living communities has increased up to 73% for senior living communities that remain free of COVID-19 and up to 103% for COVID-19 positive senior living communities.

SmithGroup | Jun 12, 2020

How will museums change after COVID-19

This new environment may herald innovative economic models and change the way we think about museum design.

SmithGroup | May 5, 2020

How will COVID-19 change the procurement of professional design services?

We can use this moment as a test-case to build greater flexibility into how we pursue, win and deliver capital projects, better preparing the industry to meet the next disruption.

SmithGroup | Apr 7, 2020

Climate-informed HVAC increases in relative humidity may fight pandemic viruses

Indoor relative humidity is a function of seasonal climate and building HVAC. The range of 40% to 60% RH may reduce contagion and help those who are infected.

SmithGroup | Feb 21, 2020

The decade ahead: Design & health in 2020 and beyond

Access to health and wellness services is a vital part of any conversation about community resilience.

boombox1 - default
boombox2 -
native1 -
halfpage1 -

Most Popular Content

  1. 2021 Giants 400 Report
  2. Top 150 Architecture Firms for 2019
  3. 13 projects that represent the future of affordable housing
  4. Sagrada Familia completion date pushed back due to coronavirus
  5. Top 160 Architecture Firms 2021


Magazine Subscription

Get our Newsletters

Each day, our editors assemble the latest breaking industry news, hottest trends, and most relevant research, delivered to your inbox.


Follow BD+C: