Smart Cities – Convergence of design and governance

Renowned architect Rem Koolhaas recently spoke about Smart Cities and reflected on how more than ever do we need to converge the field of design with good governance! He argued against smart cites at a High Level Group meeting on Smart Cities, Brussels, on September 24, 2014. Summed up, Koolhaas argues that “by calling it smart, our city is condemned to being stupid.”

Highlights of the transcript of a talk given at the High Level Group meeting on Smart Cities, Brussels, 24 September 2014 is below. Read the full article at:

I had a sinking feeling as I was listening to the talks by these prominent figures in the field of smart cities because the city used to be the domain of the architect, and now, frankly, they have made it their domain. This transfer of authority has been achieved in a clever way by calling their city smart – and by calling it smart, our city is condemned to being stupid. Here are some thoughts on the smart city, some of which are critical; but in the end, it is clear that those in the digital realm and architects will have to work together.


Architecture used to be about the creation of community, and making the best effort at symbolizing that community. Since the triumph of the market economy in the late 1970s, architecture no longer expresses public values but instead the values of the private sector. It is in fact a regime – the ¥€$ regime – and it has invaded every domain, whether we want it or not.


The smart city movement today is a very crowded field, and therefore its protagonists are identifying a multiplicity of disasters which they can avert. The effects of climate change, an ageing population and infrastructure, water and energy provision are all presented as problems for which smart cities have an answer. Apocalyptic scenarios are managed and mitigated by sensor-based solutions. Smart cities rhetoric relies on slogans – ‘fix leaky pipes, save millions’. Everything saves millions, no matter how negligible the problem, simply because of the scale of the system that will be monitored. The commercial motivation corrupts the very entity it is supposed to serve… To save the city, we may have to destroy it…


The smart city movement is focusing on the recent phenomenon that more than 50 percent of the world’s population lives in cities. Therefore mayors have been targeted as the clients or the initiators of smart cities. Mayors are particularly susceptible to the rhetoric of the smart city: it is very attractive to be a smart mayor. 
This confluence of rhetoric – the “smart city”, the “creative class”, and “innovation” – is creating a stronger and stronger argument for consolidation. If you look in a smart city control room, like the one in Rio de Janeiro by IBM, you start to wonder about the extent of what is actually being controlled.


The rhetoric of smart cities would be more persuasive if the environment that the technology companies create was actually a compelling one that offered models for what the city can be. But if you look at Silicon Valley you see that the greatest innovators in the digital field have created a bland suburban environment that is becoming increasingly exclusive, its tech bubbles insulated from the public sphere. There is surprise that the digital movement is encountering opposition on its own doorstep. Smart cities and politics have been diverging, growing in separate worlds. It is absolutely critical that the two converge again.


One thought on “Smart Cities – Convergence of design and governance

  1. Rashid Faridi November 28, 2014 at 2:37 am Reply

    Reblogged this on Jugraphia Slate.

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