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(Above) Data, not just visual perception, can determine how to design buildings for walkability

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but walkability could be evaluated by algorithms, according to new research from an unconventional professor in NJIT’s Hillier College of Architecture and Design.

“Most people assume that architects have some tool to visualize or analyze how people will use the building. It’s not true, they don’t,” explained Assistant Professor Mathew Schwartz.

Architects might anticipate walking paths, guess natural routes based on experience, or quiz the future occupants about their intentions, but the idea of using software to calculate the physiological metrics of accessibility in a room, building, or city has been an exotic and seemingly impossible quest for a long time. Metrics could include biomechanics, energy and time. It’s even possible to calculate a score for nuanced concerns such as civil rights, safety and views, given the availability of data on exclusion, crime, or solar/lunar activity, Schwartz noted.

Researchers have considered that level of artificial intelligence for a long time, but it never seemed sharp enough — “It’s cutting-edge, but it’s been cutting-edge for 15 years,” Schwartz said.