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The Importance of Purpose in Evaluating Urban Designs

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  • Evaluation
  • Participatory Democracy
  • Urban Design
  • Communication
  • Design
  • Linguistics
  • Political Science


Increasing public participation in the urban planning process is a key part of participatory democracy, yet one of the main problems in communication between developers and end-users is how to convey what the realised design will both look and feel like. This paper describes a study designed to investigate the differences afforded by either active navigation or passive observation of a desktop virtual townscape, in terms of perception of that environment and salient details observed and recalled. Two different versions of a virtual townscape were created, differing in aspects such as presence/absence of buildings, colour of buildings, type of pavement surface, presence/absence of trees and plants, and presence/absence of static figures. The computer game engine UnrealEngine2 Runtime was used to convert all the 3D data and digital textures from the CAD model into a real time rendering that enabled users to move around the model using keyboard and mouse. In the passive observation condition (N=40) participants were required to watch a walkthrough of the two different versions. In the active navigation condition (N=41) participants selfnavigated their way around the versions. All participants were asked to follow a think aloud protocol while watching/navigating the models, and comment specifically on their observations and impressions of three target areas. After each walkthrough/navigation, a number of semantic differential scales were completed by the participants, in addition to a number of open-response questions relating to what they remembered, liked and disliked from each version. We present findings and reflect upon the results from our study in terms of the ultimate objective of the design brief and/or presentation context. For example, our findings suggest that in terms of evaluating competing design scenarios, there may be little to gain from building interaction into virtual representations of these scenarios since passive conditions of viewing tend to permit people to concentrate more on the design features. However, if a design brief specified that a particular area needed to be ‘better connected’ to the city centre, then active navigation of proposed scenarios would produce a more valid test of how well connected they would ‘feel’ than simply presenting the scenarios as a walkthrough.

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