Optimization of Urban Designs for Air Quality and Energy Efficiency
E.R. Pardyjak (Mechanical Engineering)
P. Willemsen (University of Minnesota - Duluth)
Over the past three decades, urban planners have attempted to make cities more sustainable by espousing higher density urban design concepts such as Compact Cities, Walkable Communities, and New Urbanist developments. It has been argued by some urban planners that the per capita energy use and air pollution emissions in densely built cities are less than in their more sprawling less dense counterparts. However, as urban density increases, the ability for pollutants to be transported out of the urban area is inhibited. This complex interaction between various types of urban form and their potential energy use and air quality is poorly understood. The critical need addressed by the proposal is to increase knowledge for how environment and urban form interact. Our hypothesis is that urban structures and layouts exist which can minimize energy use while also minimizing air pollution exposure. The purpose of this proposal is to investigate this complex interaction for various types of urban structures and to develop a design strategy for optimizing urban form under a variety of constraints. Our approach will be to develop an extremely fast and inexpensive energy use and dispersion modeling tool for urban areas that builds on our previous work. The modeling system will utilize the unique computational parallelism afforded by graphics processing units (GPUs, that are regularly utilized in the video game industry), to run many simulations in an effort to train an optimization algorithm for determining optimal designs for urban structures and their layout. We will also utilize an interactive and immersive virtual environment to provide unprecedented understanding and refinement of the complex physical processes associated with the energy balance and pollutant dispersion in an urban setting.
We expect that the modeling capabilities that will be developed through this work will aid urban planners in developing useful and novel planning strategies to improve the sustainability of modern cities. To help ensure this, we will work with urban planners throughout the model development process. We also believe that this work will aid architects by providing them with a tool that not only analyzes isolated buildings, but also provides understanding regarding the interaction of multiple buildings during the design process. In addition, this proposal has a substantial outreach component designed to provide a unique educational opportunity for American Indians, Alaskan Natives, and other minorities to learn about various aspects of modeling in environmental engineering. Through our program, American Indian students from Northern Minnesota will be invited to a weeklong interactive learning symposium during each of the three years of the grant.