Augmented cities, showcases or places to live in?

Augmented cities, showcases or places to live in?

For a city to become attractive, it must embed and convey a recognizable brand, build a unique identity, trigger the public’s esteem and endorsement, and call upon innovative and unifying forces. The efforts of global cities to expand their international promotion seem prima facie to only target foreign stakeholders: tourists, global investors and startups… But more importantly, global cities are places to live. To redefine global cities and foster attractiveness means to rethink urban projects on a horizontal and democratic level, by and for its inhabitants.

Marie-Célie Guillaume, CEO of Paris La Défense, Jan Bunge, CEO of Squint Opera, and Jonathan Chemla, CTO of Iconem were invited to the 2020 Global Cities Makers Forum and debated over these major topics. To what extent can new technologies help promoting a territory, region or city and building urban brands?

Are modern tools and practices turning cities into frozen images or are they the best means to meet inhabitants and workers’ changing demands?

What exactly is an augmented city?

It is first and foremost a city that offers greatness, according to Marie-Célie Guillaume. The citizens’ everyday comfort has become a growing priority for cities who are now trying to tackle issues such accessibility, environmental progress and culture.

Paris La Défense is a compelling example of the profound changes that have been occurring for a few years now. In fact, it is the oldest and largest business district in Europe as it welcomes 500 companies in nearly 3,5 Million m2 offices. It was built by the end of WWII and was a powerful signal sent to the French people and to the world about the country’s ability to recover by rebuilding its major cities. It has long suffered from a repellent reputation among the public opinion for it had been designed to be mono-functional, entirely dedicated to business.

Although it is loyal to its initial pioneering mission and aims to echo the world’s urban transformation, Paris La Défense operates today in order to diversify its activities and reinvent its branding image. Whether it adapts pedestrian zones, bike tracks, site vegetation, or it organises events and concerts, an augmented city must vary its functions, attract multiple activities and plan sustainable issues ahead.

“An augmented city is first and foremost a city that offers greatness”

Marie-Célie Guillaume
CEO of Paris La Défense

An augmented city is also a city that features itself through new technologies and spreads its image beyond its borders. Jan Bunge insists: in a digital age, launching ambitious projects without communicating upon them is a vain mission. Cities must be accessible, viewable, and provided with virtual representations. When it comes to urban construction projects that are still in progress, innovative technologies grant experts and the wider public with the possibility to visualize the future district, to immerse in its immediate environment, and to sense the atmosphere of this future place to live.

In order to do so, Squint Opera collaborates with engineers and architects during the entire process starting with the design of the project until its final launch. The urban branding company can thus take part in the planning of urban spaces by using 3D techniques as well as in producing key visual elements that help promoting the final product and attract future inhabitants and international partners.

Iconem associates are motivated by the same will to enhance the image of urban sites. The French startup is specialized in the 3D modelling of destroyed or endangered historical cities and monuments, and thus fosters the branding of the identity, heritage, and peculiarities of each place. According to Jonathan Chemla, Iconem’s mission is twofold: it is both to register and pass on the memory of inaccessible and long-lost sites, and to offer an accurate and detailed visual source on which restoration works such as Notre-Dame de Paris can rely.

Iconem’s mission is twofold: register and pass on the memory of inaccessible and long-lost sites, and offer an accurate and detailed visual source on which restoration works such as Notre-Dame de Paris can rely.

Jonathan Chemla,
Chief Technology Officer of Iconem

Capturing and spreading a shining image of architectural treasures and emerging construction projects is an opportunity for global cities that are willing to improve their coverage and mark their assets on a global level.

An attractive city, but for whom?

An increasing number of surveys and barometers focus on perceptions and quality criteria to rank global cities. Investment, tax, and tourist rates are not the only relevant indicators. Jan Bunge explains that “people judge a place by how they feel in it […] relying on an emotional link”.

For cities to promote places that are early schemes, Squint Opera creates environments in which these places are brought to life, allowing people to sense the atmosphere, the streets, the lights before they physically exist. Such a participative approach provides the project stakeholders with the chance to take part in the construction process, to deliver their impressions and lead the project to adapt its final architecture.

“People judge a place by how they feel in it […] relying on an emotional link.”

Jan Bunge
CEO of Squint/Opera

The key for success in urban planning and reputational renewal lies in the engaging of future inhabitants and players through innovative means. To that extent, experimental approaches are also relevant when it comes to existing districts and places: workers, residents, shopkeepers can also be engaged in renovation projects.

In addition to the launch of digital participative platforms, Paris La Défense holds the Biennale of street furniture which aims at measuring people’s reactions and trigger their involvement in shaping their own neighbourhoods.

Furthermore, not only can citizens take part in the planning of their cities, but they can also become assets in urban branding strategies. The Open Notre-Dame operation that has been initiated by Iconem aims to collect photographs of the cathedral taken by Paris residents and foreign visitors. The photographs will then be pieced together and reassembled in a 3D model. This creative operation now enjoys a global outreach and offers the general public a key role in rebuilding a national and local symbol and in spreading a creative image of Paris through an iconic monument.