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Realizing sensory urban environments: decoding synthetic realities with urban performance simulation

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Neveen Hamza, Dr Mona Abdelwahab



This is the authors' accepted manuscript of a book chapter that has been published in its final definitive form by Routledge, 2017.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


The creation of enjoyable micro urban spaces requires the combination of new concepts with previous perceptions from experienced spaces. Data analysis and outputs of urban environmental performance simulation softwares are used as a method to present the interaction between predicted physical spatial variations and their impact on micro climate. Various mediums of ‘virtuality’ based on proposed designs are used to communicate design decision impacts to the design team and stakeholders, such as graphs, comparative numerical tables, 3D environmental visualizations, 3D models of the physical spaces and virtual walk throughs. At design stage, the creation of urban environments ‘is a hybrid art, where the image hardly ever exists without a combined activity’ (Tschumi 2001, p. 257). Finalizing a design decision often depends on expert judgements and previous experiences underpinned by simulated predictions of the sensory performances in terms of thermal comfort, wind, noise and daylight exposure. The inherent technical and scientific underpinnings of urban performance simulation could not be communicated to the design board without translation; an expert transformation of quantitative data on various human comfort indices into ‘digestible’ and ‘technically defensible’ levels. The practice of urban environmental performance modelling thus presents a continuous oscillation between: the abstract and the real, the drawing of physical space and virtual integrations of interpretations of social life, the space of knowledge and the space of living.These virtual spaces presented to the teams to visualize the environmental and social impacts of the designed space provide an experiential dynamic space, a cyberspace that helps the designer to materialise, experiment and live through their ideas. Visualization tools still lag behind when it comes to providing real time, interactive and reliable means of communication of environmental conditions in the urban space. This chapter shows how sensory urban environments can be designed and tested before they are built by incorporating layers of environmental urban performance in the early stages of the decision-making process. The ‘monad’ theory can explain the interaction with the virtual in the design boardroom with its oscillations between perceptions and realism. The monad is in an intermediate region introduced by Leibniz to inextricably connect the modern abyss between the abstract and the real, the virtual and the physical. This intermediate region ‘comprises a temporal instance of reality constructed by the monad’, a relation between the physical and the virtual. At the same time there is an infinite number of monads, each of them has its own ‘point of view’ of the physical/ virtual(Abdelwahab, forthcoming, Scruton, 2001). It is acknowledged here that the scientific nature of urban performance simulation may lead to an ‘omniscient effect’ where recipients of the urban performance environmental simulation data may be overwhelmed by the scientific nature of the presented visualizations. If the right questions are not asked in the design team, and the limitations of urban performance predictions are not well understood, then major discrepancies between the virtual and real urban space performance predictions will occur in reality.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Hamza N, Abdelwahab M

Editor(s): Yamu C; Poplin A; Devisch O; De Roo G

Publication type: Book Chapter

Publication status: Published

Book Title: The Virtual and the Real in Planning and Urban Design: Perspectives, Practices and Applications

Year: 2017

Pages: 40-53

Print publication date: 19/10/2017

Acceptance date: 27/01/2017

Publisher: Routledge

Place Published: Abingdon


Library holdings: Search Newcastle University Library for this item

ISBN: 9781138283480