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CHAOS architects wants cities to be built for people

CHAOS architects wants to bring citizen engagement into urban planning processes.Adobe

By bringing big data and citizen engagement into the picture, CHAOS architects aims to disrupt urban planning practices – for the people, by the people.

One single action can make a big difference.

“It’s what the butterfly effect in chaos theory is all about,” CHAOS architects CEO Natalia Rincón says. “That’s where our company name comes from, too.”

CHAOS architects wasn’t founded to raise havoc; if anything, it wants more order in the cities of today – and especially those of tomorrow. Rincón and the team have created a tool for public organisations, decision makers, consultancies and companies that helps look into the future and meet the needs of people, be they citizens, customers, patients or whatever else.

Rincón herself is an architect, and she has also studied computer science. During her studies, she was involved in various urban planning projects.

“I couldn’t help but think that as a member of the public, there should be much more straightforward ways for me to impact what’s going on in my surroundings,” she explains.

Natalia Rincón believes that opening up city planning processes would benefit not only cities, but private organisations around the world that are used to dealing with manual reports. Image: CHAOS architects

Once, she sat down in a café to observe and film the way in which people take up space in public and utilise it, thinking about how modern technologies could enable people to take part in the planning of their environment.

“In Finland, we have a participation process, but it’s really just a bureaucratic checklist with no engagement or true meaning,” Rincón notes. “What if we could make an impact with crowd insight and concentrate on big data, hard facts and real needs as fuel for decisions?”

Enter CHAOS architects, a company doing just that.

A good argument when you need one

As soon as the idea was born, Rincón began to network with like-minded people in the urban planning scene. It turned out that a lot of them were doing something about increasing citizen engagement, but none of it was particularly systematic.

That’s what CHAOS architects is set to change. The company delivers insights based on any kind of data related to smart cities, be it traffic, sustainability or infrastructure. The data, collected through open APIs by governments, companies and partnerships, is then produced into dashboards and forecasts that can be used to create simulations.

CHAOS architects is one of the most diverse startups in the Nordics. Image: CHAOS architect

The questions CHAOS architects helps answer include the likes of where schools, sports centres, public libraries or bike lanes should be located.

“The foundation lies in crowd insights and algorithms that use artificial intelligence to learn how liveable cities should look like and what strengths and weaknesses certain cities have,” Rincón explains. “That way, we enable dialogue between stakeholders and offer them good arguments.”

Bringing down fences

Rincón emphasises that the software-as-a-service solution is meant to break down silos.

“Everyone is dealing with data these days, but they work separately,” she tells. “Putting heterogeneous data together in the same format is an industry that’s growing. Our aim is to create more sustainable cities for everyone and a more collaborative way of building them.”

The tool developed by CHAOS architects has been validated by a couple of hackathon wins, some Slush visits and investments. In June, the company was selected for the finals of the Digital4Her pitching event organised by the European Commission.

The tool is currently being tested in Finland, with plans to expand to Denmark, the Netherlands and Singapore, as well as New York City in the US. Rincón believes that as urbanisation is a global trend and cities are growing at an unprecedented rate, the complex situation can greatly benefit from insightful data.

“Thus far, we’ve been planning our cities in a very archaic way, with old tools and bureaucratic processes. When the situation is much more complex and the infrastructure needs to adjust rapidly, we should disrupt the way we plan cities in order to improve the quality of life of their inhabitants.”

By: Anne Salomäki