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Tools for Community Energy Empowerment

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TOOLS FOR COMMUNITY
ENERGY EMPOWERMENT
A Co-Design Approach
Bess Krietemeyer
Introduction
The Role of Climate Data Visualization
How can visualization tools empower community members to better
understand and contribute to building and urban adaptation strate-
gies in the face of climate change? Communicating anticipated cli-
mate change impacts and adaptive measures to a wide audience is
important yet challenging due to the vast amount of climate data,
the complexity of climate models, and global scale issues. In the con-
text of the built environment, information visualization has the ca-
pacity to convey and interpret complex climate data into applicable
knowledge and actionable information for varying audiences, includ-
ing researchers, architectural and urban design professionals, policy
makers, and individual energy consumers.
In recent years a focus on climate change visualization tools has
grown to foster environmental knowledge and literacy while support-
ing policy making as well as citizen engagement (Rosenow-Williams
2018). These include climate data visualization web sources such as
the U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit Climate Explorer (NOAA 2020) and
Global Assimilation of Information for Action (GAIA) project. Both
have a global focus and draw connections between climate change
and issues such as health and food security (Strong et al. 2011). Other
tools for detailed disaster preparedness use information and commu-
nication technologies to visualize and anticipate natural hazards and
related uncertainties (Kunz, Gret-Regamey, and Hurni, 2011), which
can be used in the city planning process. Geographic information sys-
tems (GIS) software has incorporated utility networks for city planners
and government officials preparing for emergency response (ESRI
2020). One of the challenges across many climate visualization tools
is that they tend to have a global focus, making it difficult to relate
at a local level within a geographically defined community. Many are
aimed at enhanced understanding rather than actionable measures.
D O I : 1 0 . 4 3 2 4 / 9 7 8 1 0 0 3 0 3 0 7 2 0 - 4
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TOOLS FOR COMMUNITY ENERGY EMPOWERMENT
Additionally, the knowledge produced for the tools is largely expert-
driven, without necessarily considering its applicability for those who
could directly benefit from the tool’s feedback (Shaw et al. 2009).
The increasing complexity of climate models and amount of climate-
related data call for interactive map-based tools that support com-
munication, exploration, and analysis for a broad user profile (Neset
et al. 2016). As a result, a small but growing number of web-based
tools aimed at novice users are being designed to support adaptation
actions and individual decision processes more locally. Interactive vis-
ualization tools that target individual homeowners aim to both assess
climate change risks and also identify adaptation measures specific
to their location and house type (Johansson et al. 2015). Such online
tools can help homeowners and tenants increase resilience by visual-
izing resilience indicators at the home and community levels (Fannon
and Laboy 2018).
Incorporating user feedback to inform tool development is another
challenge. User-focused studies of visualization tools supporting cli-
mate change adaptation are limited and, with the exception of those
aimed at novice users, generally address the knowledge base and inter-
ests of experts. However, lessons learned emphasize the importance
of ease of use, clarity of information, varying degrees of interactivity,
and actionable feedback. The scarce number of climate visualization
tools that do offer feedback on adaptive measures for a range of
knowledge bases demonstrates a need for tools that go beyond illus-
trating global or regional climate issues toward those that provide lo-
cal and actionable feedback. In order to make environmental data and
adaptation measures meaningful, the data must be contextualized,
visibly accessible, and capable of cultivating citizen engagement. For
both emergency management situations and for long-term sustaina-
ble behaviors—data visualization that supports open, informed con-
versation, and understanding across stakeholders is crucial.
Energy Feedback Technologies
Tools that tailor environmental feedback and adaptation measures
are readily available for the individual energy consumer. Energy
feedback technologies—from smart thermostats to web portals to
customized mobile applications—can assist in both immediate and
long-term energy conservation and planning. These technologies
can play a role in reducing resource consumption in buildings by
giving individuals information about their energy consumption pat-
terns, including personalized tips, that can be used to reinforce and
suggest behavior change. Advances in data sensing, storage, and
dissemination have made it possible to collect information about en-
ergy consumers’ behaviors, and to represent this data in the form of
ambient displays, gamification systems, and dashboard designs for
both mobile and web platforms (Karlin, Ford, Squirers 2014). Custom-
ized mobile application and dashboard products have the capability
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to integrate directly with the local utility and can alert the individual
consumer about their energy consumption in ways that might allevi-
ate grid pressures and increase customer savings. Tailored feedback
might include real-time data on multiple energy-consuming devices,
daily, weekly, or monthly energy consumption patterns, real-time
cost, as well as actions that can be taken to increase financial savings
or alleviate stresses on the grid (Suen and Hershkowitz 2015).
Individual and household-centered applications offer valuable device-
specific feedback and customizable tips for saving energy. However,
they focus on the energy consumer who receives information through
the privacy of their personal device, thus placing the onus to actually
change behaviors on the individual themselves. Incentives focus on
financial gain or other egoistic concerns, with little to no exposure or
comparison to others’ energy use, motivations, or collective impacts on
grid reliability or the environment. The presentation of the data within
many existing energy feedback technologies is not necessarily tied to
a geographically defined space, making it difficult for a person to situ-
ate oneself relative to familiar or otherwise vulnerable areas. Within the
isolated experience of such energy feedback systems, questions of visi-
bility, accountability, and social consciousness also come into play. How
can feedback technologies support a dialogue between individuals and
their community, making the experience a social one? How can they
enable the development and delivery of environmentally beneficial
feedback through alternative modes and across spatiotemporal scales?
Sociotechnical Energy Feedback
A unique category of sociotechnical energy feedback systems is
emerging that recognizes the integral roles that technology, commu-
nity participation, and identity creation can play in addressing issues
of sustainability and resilience. These systems, which are largely in-
formed by social psychology, aim to reintroduce feedback at multi-
ple scales to motivate and empower conservation, promote systems
thinking, and build pro-environmental identity, at both individual and
community levels (Petersen 2016). Petersen et al. (2014) argue that
we can build more sustainable and resilient communities and cultures
by engineering new information flows that realign our thinking and
behavior with the realities of the ecosystems that support us. Peter-
son et al. (2016) has developed a variety of novel approaches focused
on sociotechnical feedback systems that have the potential to recon-
nect humans to nature and motivate behaviors that are more attuned
to ecological constraints and opportunities (Petersen, Frantz, Sham-
min 2014). The approaches have included real-time energy moni-
toring and display systems in public buildings, environmental ‘orbs’
that communicate energy consumption through dynamic ambient
lighting, and an environmental dashboard website that incorporates
multiple scales and dimensions of feedback, including building con-
sumption, citywide energy flows, and a ‘community voices’ social
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media webpage to engage more stakeholder participation. Eco-
visualization tools that merge art and technology are another thread
of the sociotechnical approach to communicate climate change
issues through creative uses of media and real-time energy perfor-
mance data. A common aim with these approaches is to establish
longer-term ecological and behavioral change (Holmes, 2007).
Other sociotechnical approaches build on the concept of creative citi-
zenship, which has the capacity to strengthen and support community
through tools that promote social interaction and co-creation (Lee
2015). Over the last decade, creative citizenship has been used to pro-
mote citizen engagement within political decision-making, especially
in the context of smart cities. The use of e-participation tools, such as
open data websites or the use of social media platforms, are aimed
at assisting governments in smart cities planning by creating public
virtual spaces for collaboration and participation (Bolívar 2018). They
demonstrate strong potential for community users to provide valua-
ble feedback and insights and contribute to the co-production of pub-
lic services, particularly energy production and distribution (Granier
and Kudo 2016). One of the main challenges for creative citizenship
is understanding how to design tools to facilitate deliberation from all
stakeholders and support collaborative working environments (Bolívar
2018), signifying a need for tools that enable deeper, more meaningful
interactions between users. This raises questions about the social im-
plications of virtual interactions versus the benefits of interacting with
other stakeholders in a shared physical space and context.
The advancement of interactive platforms for collaborative design
and data feedback can be seen in recent work such as MIT’s CityScope
project, a data-driven tangible user interface (TUI) for enabling iter-
ative, evidence-based decision-making between traditionally siloed
stakeholders (Alonso et al. 2018). Similarly, Cool Cities is a TUI game
for children to design environmentally friendly cities around differ-
ent social and financial objectives (Doshi et al. 2017). ColorTable, an-
other TUI, supports stakeholder discussions of urban projects through
constructing mixed reality scenes (Maquil 2015). Results from recent
TUI research demonstrates the promise of novel data visualization
methods and intuitive interfaces to promote energy awareness and
stakeholder engagement. One of the challenges is achieving candid
engagement from large groups of participants without the presence
of authorities. Current methods to incorporate user feedback can be
somewhat limited to observations or recordings in controlled lab set-
tings where user identities are exposed to researchers and decision-
makers, and a moderator is typically present to assist users.
Although the focus of existing TUIs has not necessarily been on cli-
mate adaptation and actionable feedback at local levels, the grow-
ing interest in interactive platforms that promote energy awareness,
citizen engagement, and shared visualization experiences suggests
a fundamentally new type of environmental feedback approach that
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connects rather than separates humans from each other, with a focus
on community-level participation. What they also suggest is the need
for tools that create a meaningful social experience through interac-
tive processes that not only motivate action, but sustain user engage-
ment over time.
Objectives: Toward Co-Designed Climate
Adaptation
Research focused on participatory capacity building in the context of
climate change demonstrates that the effective ways to holistically
communicate climate science include the ability to contextualize cli-
mate change impacts on the regional and local level by means of ge-
ographically defined communities. This allows people to ‘encounter’
the possible impacts and make them more meaningful. Another key
component to effective communication is the ability to visualize links
between climate change impacts and behavioral change and action.
Finally, the co-production of knowledge can improve ownership
and social robustness of problems and solutions (Shaw et al. 2009).
Based on these essential capabilities, recommendations for partici-
patory capacity building for climate change action at the local level
point toward new explorations into the science-art interface for the
creation of scenarios, visuals, and narratives that address issues in a
credible and compelling way, to “overcome the politics and behavior
‘as usual’” (Shaw et al. 2009). Building on the recent sociotechnical
approaches and recommendations for effective communication, this
research asks: how can climate adaptation tools visually contextual-
ize data about energy and our built environment to engage a wide
audience on the impacts of climate change at a local level? And how
can energy feedback tools empower community members to better
understand and contribute to the co-production of building and ur-
ban climate adaptation strategies?
In addressing the questions above, the research presented here em-
phasizes a co-design approach for collective energy awareness, em-
powerment, and behavioral change. Building on Petersen’s concept of
pro-environmental identity, and inspired by goals of creative citizen-
ship relative to climate adaptation, this work focuses on developing
an interactive energy visualization platform as both an educational
and a design tool for the community. The objectives are to engage
community members in collectively visualizing climate conditions
and simulating design adaptation strategies. The platform focuses
on three critical capabilities not yet integrated within existing climate
visualization and energy feedback tools: (1) interactive visualization
of existing and anticipated climate conditions within a geographically
defined community, making data accessible and familiar to users; (2)
comparison of energy resource and demand in a spatial and temporal
way to augment the integration of building-scale renewable energy
systems; (3) exploration of existing and future scenarios of climate-
responsive building and urban design conditions through energy
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TOOLS FOR COMMUNITY ENERGY EMPOWERMENT
simulation workflows. It seeks to make the interaction with energy
data a social experience by enabling users to view and overlay the re-
sults of their visualizations with other users’ selections in a shared set-
ting. Critically, this platform combines climate, urban, and building
data into a collaborative, user-driven visualization experience, where
community participants can explore datasets to understand their lo-
cal conditions while co-creating strategies for building and neighbor-
hood climate adaptation (Figure 4.1).
In contrast to virtual e-participation tools and data visualization
websites, the platform presented here is a physically located in-
teractive installation with digitally projected media displayed on
a 3D-constructed model that includes buildings, streets, parks,
and infrastructure. The digital media is activated through gestural
movements and uses projection mapping for the dynamic display of
information onto the model surfaces. The platform is designed to in-
corporate climate data into a 3D geospatial visualization experience
to observe existing and anticipated climate conditions, including typ-
ical weather and extreme events. It also supports the dynamic display
of building and urban data, whereby users can view data layers related
to existing building and city performance, such as hourly energy use,
locations of green infrastructure, and utility networks. The platform
provides a data visualization framework for users to selectively view
datasets and strategies to explore combinations of building designs,
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Figure 4.1 Conceptual framework for generating co-designed climate
adaptation strategies through the integration of datasets and user-driven
visualizations.
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TOOLS FOR COMMUNITY ENERGY EMPOWERMENT
1 The Bloomberg Philan-
thropies program aims to
improve the capacity of
City Halls to effectively
design and implement new
approaches that improve
citizen’s lives—relying on
data and open innovation
to help mayors address
urban challenges. https://
www.bloomberg.org/
press/releases/bloomberg-
philanthropies-expands-
innovationteam-program-
12-new-american-cities/.
energy systems, and energy management across different temporal
scales and spatial zones.
Designed for multiple users to interact simultaneously, the platform
seeks to invite participants to collectively shape the types of feed-
back and design adaptation that is made visible, contributing to
community-level identity formation. It aims to encourage the com-
munity to participate as an active, coordinated, and informed agent
with the ability to visually explore relationships between energy re-
source, demand, and the impacts of future building and urban de-
sign scenarios. The ultimate goal is to understand how tools like this
one might empower community members and enable a co-design
process—one that offers architects, urban planners, and policy mak-
ers new insights on the values and design opportunities for strength-
ening the adaptive qualities of a mid-sized city.
MethoDS: Development of an Interactive Energy
Visualization Platform
Testbed: Syracuse, New York
Focusing on the Central New York climate, the City of Syracuse pre-
sents a useful testbed to develop the platform for the co-design
process because of its challenging climate, infrastructure, and scale.
Syracuse experiences extreme precipitation falling in heavy events,
in particular lake effect snowfall (DEC 2015), and two to three times
more heating degree days than most northeastern coastal cities. Like
other mid-sized rustbelt cities, it requires adaptive management of
extreme weather events within a 20th-century aging infrastructure—
including buildings, bridges, roads, water and sewer lines, and other
utility services—representing a need for smart and efficient solutions
to designing, maintaining, and repairing its city fabric. As one of 12
U.S. cities selected to participate in the expansion of its Innovation
Teams program,1 Syracuse has government initiatives to engage
citizens in human-centered and data-driven approaches to create
solutions that offer meaningful results for residents. These have
taken the form of open-source city data websites, community-driven
workshops, data hackathons, and ideation meetings, led by the city’s
Innovation Team (i-team 2020). With a recent focus on housing and
infrastructure issues, the combined human-centered and data-driven
approach has paved a pathway for community ideas to reach policy
decision-making. Here lies potential to bring community co-designed
climate adaptation priorities and ideas to city planners and policy
makers.
Two prototypes of the platform have been installed in Syracuse, New
York: one located at the Syracuse Center of Excellence for Environ-
mental and Energy Systems (SyracuseCoE), an academic and industry
research facility for Central New York. Here the platform prototype is
developed in the Interactive Design and Visualization Lab (IDVL) by
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a team of faculty and students from the Syracuse University School
of Architecture, led by Bess Krietemeyer and Amber Bartosh, in col-
laboration with visual artist and interactive software developer Lorne
Covington of NOIRFLUX. At the IDVL and with NOIRFLUX, data visu-
alizations and interaction methods are created and simulated on the
prototype before testing in a public setting. A larger prototype was
installed at the Milton J. Rubenstein Museum of Science and Tech-
nology (MoST), located in the downtown Syracuse area. Being situ-
ated at the MoST, the platform is open to interpretation, play, and
exploration by visitors of all ages and backgrounds. It is also where
the research team can gather the most candid feedback on the con-
tent being displayed and usability of the interactive system. In this
museum setting, the platform steps out of the black box of the re-
search lab and into the public realm for continuous user testing and
input on how to make it more engaging and meaningful—an iterative,
community-driven approach to discovering effective ways to com-
municate climate-related information.
An Interactive Experience with Energy Data
The digital-physical experience with the platform is possible through
a combination of projectors, depth sensors, and interactive design
software, creating a novel encounter with climate and energy data
in the context of one’s own community. Multiple projectors are po-
sitioned to display digital media on all surfaces of the scaled physical
model of the downtown area. A large screen provides an informa-
tional display of icons, graphics, and directions for users to select
and view datasets with a wave of a hand. Users can make a selection
which gets mapped to the 3D model as an information spotlight. In
this way, data is not only viewed on a single screen by an individual
user; instead, multiple users’ data selections, browsing patterns, and
overlays can be dynamically mapped, overlapped, and made visible
to each other in the same physical space, creating potentially unex-
pected connections between people and data. This sets the stage for
participatory engagement in creating layers of shared visual map-
pings that illustrate environmental and energy use conditions specific
to the local geography and climate.
The user experience sequence is intended to be simple and straight-
forward: when a person approaches the platform from a few feet
away, a depth sensor picks up that person’s presence, which triggers
an icon to pop up on the screen, signaling to them to point and select
from the display menu screen. When they do, the icon directs them to
point to the model below. By extending one’s arm to the model and
moving it around, a visitor can point to different buildings or neigh-
borhoods and view the area’s energy or climate data spotlight dy-
namically mapped across the 3D buildings (Krietemeyer et al. 2019).
The spotlight follows that person’s hand as they explore different ar-
eas around the model until they select a different dataset or step out
of the user tracking zone. The spotlight can illustrate a particular type
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TOOLS FOR COMMUNITY ENERGY EMPOWERMENT
Figure 4.2 Images of the interactive energy visualization platform installation at the Milton J.
Rubenstein MoST in Syracuse, NY.
of climate or energy resource through graphics and color, such as a
false color heat map of solar radiation hitting that area of the city. In
this example, the average monthly solar radiation data is calculated
as kWh/m
2
, which gets converted into information that is more widely
understood, such as the number of homes that could be powered by
harnessing solar energy in that zone (Figure 4.2). Through this in-
teractive experience, the personal spotlight provides a lens through
which to explore energy data that is contextually specific, compara-
ble to other datasets at the same scale, and spatial. The data is not
only mapped onto the flat horizontal ground surfaces, but can be
mapped onto building facades and roofs. This has the advantage of
comparing different datasets or design strategies on one or more 3D
buildings, such as green roofs combined with façade retrofits, to ex-
plore the potential energy savings of multiple systems and their im-
pacts at different scales.
Software Workflow and Development of
Spatiotemporal Data Visualizations
The workflow utilizes both open-source and commercially availa-
ble software, and is intended to be applicable to any community. It
combines data from GIS tools, urban building energy simulations,
and climate analyses. The applicability of GIS tools is becoming more
widespread across disciplines; for the architecture and urban design
community, access to building and city data, such as land use, build-
ing type, and building age, can be mapped with other demographic
and climate data in order to draw connections between information
such as building energy use, renewable resources, urban surface tem-
peratures, green infrastructure, or air quality. The growing number of
geospatial datasets, resources, and mapping tools is expanding the
possibilities, responsibilities, and potential impact of communicating
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these data. How the collapse of this information gets viewed, trans-
lated, and understood by the non-expert in a meaningful way is
something this research seeks to explore.
To construct the digital model used for generating simulation-based
visuals, a computer model of the downtown Syracuse neighborhood
was created in the Rhinoceros 3D CAD modeling software. Model sur-
faces were mapped with textures representing building and ground
surfaces, which provide the base imagery for new data projection
overlays. The climate data visualizations were simulated through the
DIVA plug-in for Rhinoceros, which uses the 3D model geometry and
typical meteorological year (TMY) weather data to generate monthly
maps of incident solar radiation. Future spatialized weather datasets
could also be simulated using morphed weather data files based on
downscaled climate and hydrology projection models to show an-
ticipated climate conditions, like increasing temperatures or precip-
itation. Even extreme weather scenarios, such as severe winds, ice,
and heavy snowfall accumulation, could be visualized with morphed
weather data files to highlight neighborhood zones in need of snow
removal or at risk of power outages.
Designing the Interactive User Experience
Well-designed interactive and user experience sequences are essen-
tial to attracting and sustaining visitor engagement. The interactive
experience designed through this platform is based on a novel work-
flow that links custom coding in interactive design software with 3D
depth sensors that capture user locations and gestures as 3D data
‘pointclouds.’ The custom-coded environment, called ‘vvvv,’ is a live
programming environment (vvvv 2020), which enables a full viewing
of the pointcloud depth data that drives the selection of datasets pro-
jected on the model (Figure 4.3). It also provides a useful record of
how users are engaging the platform including which selections were
made and when (Figure 4.4). Through this programming environ-
ment, updates to the system can be made on the fly and immediately
visible to platform participants (Krietemeyer et al. 2019).
The interactive workflow presents new opportunities for data collec-
tion and user observation in the actual context of use. It simultane-
ously provides methods to test the usability of the gestural interaction
sequences, the activity levels of the platform, and the types of content
being generated. Prior user studies with the platform have demon-
strated the value of utilizing this approach to collect unbiased user
feedback. The user behaviors can be viewed in real-time or recorded,
which creates a fluid process between modifying the content and re-
ceiving immediate feedback (Krietemeyer et al. 2019). Thus, design-
ing and refining the platform continues to be an ongoing iterative
process, as new dataset options or gestural interaction sequences get
introduced to the system, and users’ responses to those changes are
easily viewable to the design programmer. Both the research process
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3D geometry and texture maps
of digital city model
+ +
VVVV live programming
environment
Simulated geospatial data
3D user pointcloud data
visualizations
Figure 4.3 Diagram of the software workflow integrating a 3D digital model, simulated geospatial data
visualizations, and 3D user pointcloud data into the vvvv live programming environment.
Figure 4.4 Screenshot of 3D depth pointcloud data of museum visitors gesturing to select datasets to
view within the installation. Courtesy NOIRFLUX.
and information produced are enhanced by real-time multi-user feed-
back that is continuous and ongoing, so that improvements to the de-
sign of the overall user experience can be made more quickly, which
increases the amount of time each user spends engaging with it.
Opportunities for Co-Designed Climate
Adaptation Strategies
The spatiotemporal mapping of typical and future energy and cli-
mate conditions provides the basis for visualizing different forms of
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adaptation, ranging from building- to urban-scale strategies, and
from immediate response to long-term planning and design. With
the ongoing development and integration of geospatial visualiza-
tions into the software workflow, new opportunities for co-designed
climate adaptation strategies are possible. A key aspect to the pro-
jective nature of the visualization platform is the ability for users to
explore datasets and adaptation strategies that can be collectively
compared and layered in unexpected ways. This could allow for the
visualization of multiple environmental hazards simultaneously,
which may drive solutions that are not limited to isolated incidents
but rather tackle various scales and phases of adaptation. Impacts on
power, traffic patterns, and access to safety resources could be viewed
alongside data such as sociodemographic information, building age,
and predicted energy use. Many types of spatialized building and ur-
ban data can be overlaid and related in ways that might not have oc-
curred to any one individual before, leading to deeper insights and to
the potential for emergent interactions between different layers of
information. The convergence of multiple user’s values, perspectives,
and creations might lead to strategies that would otherwise not be
considered in isolation (Figure 4.5).
At the building scale, the platform has the potential to demonstrate
adaptation through design or behavioral changes in relationship to
energy use. Users could select from a menu of building-scale de-
sign or retrofit strategies such as altering the window to wall ratio
(WWR), glazing materials, or exterior insulated finishing systems
(EIFS), to selecting behavioral changes such as energy consumption
Figure 4.5 Diagram illustrating the translation of temporal climate data charts into spatiotemporal
climate change visualizations.
Climate Scenarios
Adaptive Design Strategies
2100
2000
1900
Temperature °C Precipitation
-3030
1998
2018
2038
J
F
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J
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1998
2018
2038
Increasing land surface temperatures
Vulnerable flood zones and
storm water overflow
Climate Change Conditions
Reduced surface temperatures
with green roofs
Temporal climate dataT
Stormwater management with
permeable surfaces
Adaptive Design Strategies
V
0
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load-shifting, and the use of smart appliances and thermostats. One
way to view the impacts of those strategies is to simulate the build-
ing energy use intensity (EUI), expressed as energy per square foot
per year, using a 3D color-coded map. Urban building energy mod-
eling software such as the Rhino-integrated Urban Modeling Inter-
face (umi) simulates building EUI by assigning model attributes like
building use type, materials, occupancy schedules, and equipment
schedules. Based on those parameters, the simulations can illustrate
when and how much energy buildings of a certain type or size typ-
ically use to maintain comfortable inhabitable conditions. The 3D
EUI maps can be compared or viewed with other data through the
platform, such as climate data, which could highlight opportunities
for matching renewable resources with building energy demands,
or for identifying strategies for load-shifting based on building type
and land use. Renewable energy resources could be better portrayed
as assets with potential to be harnessed for passive environmental
control strategies and renewable energy use, rather than forces in-
compatible with human comfort and building performance. Certain
buildings or neighborhoods in the city might have greater potential
for harnessing solar energy and daylight through passive strategies
such as thermal mass and building orientation, or actively through
thermal solar heating or building-integrated photovoltaics. Spatial-
izing the impacts of building-scale strategies at the community level
provides insights as to how surrounding buildings or infrastructure
might impact a building’s exposure to renewable resources, like solar
or wind. Incorporating building-level adaptation could also indicate
the potential of certain buildings to perform, during extreme weather
events, as grid-interactive efficient buildings to avert system stress.
Alternative ‘what if’ scenarios could be explored at the urban scale,
where users might choose to visualize the proliferation of green infra-
structures such as green roofs, rain gardens, or permeable pavement
in place of parking lots, and learn how those design strategies impact
urban heat island, air quality, storm water runoff, and community-
level energy consumption. For public stakeholder acceptance of ur-
ban scale strategies, it is essential to have community engagement to
help people understand the trade-offs of such design interventions,
and to see environmental and sociocultural benefits (Culligan 2018).
The platform aims to provide a mechanism for stakeholders to en-
gage with design strategies by exploring the trade-offs in a familiar
context. It also provides a mode of documenting user-driven visuali-
zations to identify priority areas and design ideas.
Because multiple users have the opportunity to choose datasets and
view them on the 3D projected model using gestural interactions
that stay with them, platforms such as this could produce a dynamic
collage of diverse interests, datasets, explorations, and attitudes,
allowing viewers to collectively explore and imagine design futures
(Figure 4.6). Recordings of visitor actions and user-driven visualiza-
tions create a unique method of documentation of how people are
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Reduced energy use intensity (EUI) Poor air quality related to Exploration of green
with solar harnessing strategies impermeable surfaces and
infrastructure strategies
highway proximity
Solar potential for renewable
Energy use intensity (EUI) Improved air quality through
energy harvesting with current HVAC systems green infrastructure
Figure 4.6 Diagram illustrating layers of intersecting datasets, including climate data, strategies, and
potential impacts.
making selections, what data gets compared, which strategies get
the most attention, and the emergence of strategies that might re-
sult from unexpected layering of spatiotemporal information. Thus,
the user-driven visualization approach has the potential to create an
evolving library of co-designed solutions, ones which inform the plat-
form for further viewing and investigation. With the ongoing evolu-
tion of data visualizations depicting future building and urban design
scenarios, a co-design process may emerge, whereby users engage in
design exploration, collaboration, and debate about what the future
of their community might hold. But rather than resolving a singular
and ideal design solution, the aim is to empower community mem-
bers by providing collective awareness, curiosity, communication,
and creative design exploration made visible to others.
Discussion and Future Directions
The interactive energy visualization platform is an ongoing experi-
mental process, a sociotechnical approach to climate visualization
and adaptation intended to communicate diverse values and gener-
ate ideas. It takes advantage of creating and debating in a physical
social setting, much like a community meeting, but with interactive
technologies that enable an open process of participation with visual
evidence of interests and ideas. With multiple ways to observe and
explore the projected content, the platform offers a spectrum of
interactive options that might cater to different learning styles and
64
TOOLS FOR COMMUNITY ENERGY EMPOWERMENT
paces. It is an approach toward participatory capacity building, be-
havioral shifting, and citizen engagement that is fundamentally dif-
ferent from the individually focused online tools in energy feedback
or e-participation. The interactive social setting and the continually
evolving visual outputs could potentially motivate and sustain user
engagement over longer periods of time because of the unique expe-
rience each time one visits the platform. By allowing individual users
to leave their imprint in the platform’s memory, whether it is a navi-
gational pathway through climate data or a series of adaptation strat-
egies, the platform creates a hub for collective ideation and citizen
science that could lead to better informed decision-making.
With the computational framework and physical prototype in place
and with methods for continuous user data collection underway, new
directions for future work seek to incorporate more geospatial visu-
alizations, integrate climate model projection data, and conduct user
studies with key stakeholders. The integration of future microclimate
data and extreme weather event data is necessary moving forward.
There are many projective climate model approaches, and consider-
ations should include validity of the model and data formatting that
aligns with simulation capabilities and the platform software work-
flow. Downscaling is a critical factor for visualizing the impact of de-
sign strategies at the neighborhood level. Incorporating downscaled
TMY and projective climate data that take into consideration microcli-
matic conditions will yield more valuable results in terms of potential
impacts of combined strategies. Expanding the software framework
to utilize big data and the Internet of Things could inform methods
for modeling future microclimates, as well as the design strategies
that could mitigate or adapt through distributed smart sensing sys-
tems in and around buildings. By providing a framework to visualize
future scenarios, the platform could inspire innovative data collec-
tion techniques, such as distributed GPS sensors on vehicles, or other
crowdsourcing techniques that would increase the resolution of data
available and thus improve adaptation approaches that are increas-
ingly specific to local contexts. This work also demonstrates the need
for more holistic modeling frameworks that support the visualization
and management of multiscalar infrastructural systems like utility
networks as they relate to building performance. This could enable
the visualization of strategies for power grid storage and delivery, vul-
nerability assessment, and emergency response at different scales.
Obtaining key stakeholder participation and developing pathways to
decision-making are important areas for the ideas and discussions
generated through platforms such as this to be applicable in the real
world. Part of this challenge could be addressed through the plat-
form’s method for tracking and documenting user feedback, which
includes records of user actions and their selected data visualizations
and strategies. An important consideration relative to the user sens-
ing and tracking approach deals with potential ethical and security
concerns that may impact agreements to continuously document
65
TOOLS FOR COMMUNITY ENERGY EMPOWERMENT
user-generated visualizations. Although the individual’s identity re-
mains anonymous through the current depth sensing settings, the
resolution of the user pointclouds is optimized to facilitate interac-
tion with the platform and has potential to increase. Future work
should examine issues of ownership and control over the documen-
tation of participants’ actions in regard to the level of pointcloud de-
tail that gets recorded. Further studies are also needed to develop
methods to streamline and package the data collection and analysis
of participant input in order to effectively communicate this informa-
tion to municipal and decision-making entities. Studies that involve
structured user evaluations and interactions with key stakeholders
could leverage the platform for identifying the most pressing cli-
mate change concerns, prioritization of strategies, and co-designed
solutions for certain neighborhoods. The integration of behavioral
science and environmental psychology methods could bring valua-
ble insights to understanding how various stakeholders respond to
information and assess appropriate scales of action, as well as how
they identify possible barriers and pathways to desirable futures for
the community. Finally, as with any climate visualization or energy
feedback tool, accessibility to the platform is key both for gathering
feedback for improvement, and more importantly for making the
co-design process more widespread. Methods to make the platform
easily replicable and accessible to other communities, cities, and rural
areas across diverse climate regions is an important step in the design
research. Enabling expansive use of the platform through web-based
extensions could enable many voices to be represented and continu-
ously informed, thus empowering a broad range of users from diverse
backgrounds to build on the evolving collection of co-designed strat-
egies and values that are critical to climate change awareness and
effective adaptation.
Acknowledgments
This research was supported by the New York State Department of
Economic Development through the Syracuse Center of Excellence
(SyracuseCoE) in Environmental and Energy Systems, the Syracuse
University School of Architecture, and the Milton J. Rubenstein
MoST. The work would not be possible without the contributions of
collaborators such as Lorne Covington of NOIRFLUX, Amber Bar-
tosh of the Syracuse University School of Architecture, and Kevin
Lucas of the MoST. Special thanks go to Syracuse University gradu-
ate students Raward El Contar, Harshita Kataria, Katharina Koerber,
and Chenxie Li for their contributions to the data simulations and
visualizations.
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