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Towards sustainable urban design; Developing automated visibility analysis tools to be used along the urban planning and design development process

Final Report Summary - VISIBILITY TOOLS (Towards sustainable urban design; Developing automated visibility analysis tools to be used along the urban planning and design development process)

In order to develop and maintain sustainable urban design, new methods and tools are needed to evaluate the environmental quality of the urban fabric. The aim of this project was a development of a three-dimensional (3D) visual analysis model and automated tools based on geographic information system (GIS) technology in order to evaluate urban environments with relationship to privacy aspects, on the one hand, and openness to the view on the other. This objective measurable three-dimensional morphological approach can be used by urban designers and architects during the urban design and development process in order to contribute to the development of sustainable urban environments.

Visual openness to the view is one of the main objectives in the sustainable development of urban areas adjacent to open space such as coastal regions or open green spaces. Observation of a view by residents has a direct impact on the market price of the real estate (Folan, 2009; Gao, et al., 2007; Oh and Lee, 2002). We found by a search of the literature that several research papers have pointed out the importance of observing the view for a tenant's satisfaction from their neighbourhood and for their quality of life (Kearney, 2006; Kfir, 2001). Furthermore, visual permeability has a strong impact on the built volume of the urban environment and the quality of the space (Alexander E., 1993). In addition, visual exposure, referring to privacy aspects in the built environment, is a major aspect influencing sustainable environmental quality. 'Visual exposure' is defined as visual penetration of one's privacy as a result of being viewed from the external spaces of other building façades or public spaces at street level. Protecting the visual exposure of tenants in the urban environment can improve their personal mood and their personal confidence, can contribute to a control of their personal space and prevent penetration by undesirable disturbances (Newell, 1995). We assume that there is a high correlation between being viewed by someone else (visual exposure) and the ability to have a view (visual openness).

Identifying the principles that govern visual openness to the view and visual exposure and their expression in quantitative terms is of great importance and can support development of sustainable urban environments. Most of the current state-of-the-art analysis methods relate to a two-dimensional (2D) reality (Benedikt, 1979; Peponis et al., 1998; Turner et al., 2001). This research proposes development of three-dimensional visual analysis models and automated tools that relate to the 3D reality of the urban environment. There are very few 3D quantitative methods and tools that can support designers and planners during the actual design development process. The proposed tools may contribute to evaluation and control of urban development during the design process, or in analysing existing urban fabrics. In the future, pointing out the best building configurations in relation to received levels of visual openness, and the least visual exposure in comparison with other building configurations, will contribute greatly.

From April 2008 to August 2011, Dr Shach-Pinsly worked on the development of a 3D visual analysis model and automated tool; her goals were established in the research proposal.

During the first year of the outgoing phase of the fellowship, Dr Shach-Pinsly had extended and upgraded her knowledge of the topics Visual Openness and Visual Exposure, and had performed an extensive survey on visibility analysis models and tools based on the GIS technology, in order to define the terms for the visibility analysis tools to be based on that technology. In addition, she has studied and widened her skills with the GIS technology itself.

During the second year of the outgoing phase of the fellowship, Dr Shach-Pinsly has continued extending her skills, and has realised that to develop a tool to be used by architects and urban designers, additional three-dimensional software should be adapted for transferring the urban design drawings onto the GIS platform. This is due to the fact that the 3D parameters and abilities of the GIS were not as advanced as additional CAD software then being used by designers. Therefore, she has studied and widened her skills with the 3D Revit architectural software.

Simultaneous to the development of the preliminary tool, for validation of the measurements of the tools, she has applied the model to different case studies in the United States of America (USA). The evaluation revealed findings and conclusions that contribute to urban development and serve as a basis for guidelines developments.

During the third year of her fellowship, the incoming phase, she has continued developing the 3D tool. At this stage Dr Shach-Pinsly has realised that the 3D parameters, abilities and technology of the GIS have been greatly upgraded and the concept of GeoDesign has been established: GeoDesign is defined as a concept that tightly couples the creation of design proposals with impact simulations informed by geographic contexts (Flaxman, 2010). The tool that has been characterised and developed throughout her fellowship is a preliminary development of this concept and actually combines the creation of design and impact simulations informed by geographic contexts. Therefore there was no need to use the Revit software, but this deviation was essential in order to understand how the tool should be developed, and understand how it should work.

During her incoming phase, Dr Shach-Pinsly has continued the validation and implementation of the developed tool over diverse case studies having a wide range of densities. In addition, she has established a new design decision approach process for using the tool during the design process. It should be noted that a use of evaluation tools for designers during the design process is a new concept which should be developed. Therefore, in addition to the tool development she has also developed a new concept and a method of evaluating environmental aspects during the design process, here evaluating visual openness and visual exposure. In addition, during her incoming phase she has established criteria for visibility evaluation related to privacy aspects (visual exposure) and openness to the view (visual openness). The preliminary conclusions of the evaluation process lead to initial basic guidelines applicable to sustainable urban environments that will contribute to existing and developed urban fabrics.

During the outgoing phase, Dr Shach-Pinsly has developed a graduate and an undergraduate course in the field of visibility analysis, measuring urban form and the use of GIS tools in the process of planning and evaluating the urban environment, with the aim of applying this course during the returning phase. In the returning phase, Dr Shach-Pinsly has taught this course at the Technion during the last spring semester. In addition, this course was accepted as one of the summer courses of the Department of Built Environment at the University of Washington.

By the end of the fellowship, Dr Shach-Pinsly has established a model and a framework for the developed automated three-dimensional visual openness and visual exposure tool on the GIS platform in order to evaluate urban environments relating to privacy aspects, on the one hand, and openness to the view on the other, to be used by urban designers and architects during the urban design and development process. In order to use and integrate the tool during the design process she has established a new design decision approach process. This opens a cyclical process; the design decision approach influences the tool charactisation and eventually the tool development itself. This process is still ongoing, for further refinement of the tool and additional adaptation to be used during the design development process.

To conclude, the two years spent in the University of Washington, Seattle, USA allowed Dr Shach-Pinsly to reinforce the international dimension of her career. She has acquired new knowledge by spending time in a world-class third country research organisation where she has acquired new research experience, together with being exposed to diverse urban designs and mastering a new platform for analysis and design (GIS). Dr Shach-Pinsly has significantly emphasised the acquisition of complementary skills needed for development as a researcher. The skills she has acquired include research, planning and management skills, presentation skills, communication skills and collaborating with other members of the host faculty, in order to improve her communication and skills with her international colleagues.