Buildings are where we spend most of our lives and most of our money, with building stocks being the most significant socio-cultural and economic resource of cities and their largest capital asset. Buildings and built infrastructure are also responsible for almost 40% of global energy-related carbon emissions and 50% of all extracted materials (UNFCC, 2023).
Comprehensive spatial data on the composition, operation, and the dynamic behaviour of building stocks are now urgently required to help diverse stakeholders (from government, academia, industry, the third sector, and citizens) work collectively to accelerate improvements to the quality, efficiency, sustainability and resilience of national stocks and related built infrastructure.
However in many countries spatial information on buildings, at building level, is extremely difficult to obtain, often being highly fragmented, restricted, missing, or only available in aggregated form.
The Colouring Cities Research Programme (CCRP) is a research-led open-source initiative that has been set up to drive a step-change in access to high quality standardised comprehensive microspatial building data, facilitate knowledge exchange across countries to accelerate the move to Net Zero and meeting UN Sustainable Development Goals and to develop a test a more collaborative model for complex urban problem solving.
The CCRP tests a simple data sharing model that allows academic research teams to easily set-up and manage national open databases on stocks, and to quickly pool and voluntarily share relevant expertise, ideas, resources and standardised data within and across countries using the CCRP network.
Over 100 researchers worldwide have contributed to the project so far, with over 60 academics currently involved, from Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Britain, Canada, Colombia, Germany, Greece, Indonesia, Lebanon, Sweden, Switzerland.
Colouring Cities platforms are designed to collect, collate, verify and release open data on buildings, held by academia, industry, government, the third sector, and communities. They are research-led, co-created, and collaboratively managed, networked and easy-to-maintain. They work to visualise and release over a 100 comprehensive microspatial open datasets on stock composition, performance, and dynamic behaviour.
The CCRP also looks to advance a more efficient, whole-of-society approach to knowledge sharing on buildings and cities, allowing for permanent open databases to be collaboratively maintained and enriched, year-on-year, by citizens, academia, government, industry and the voluntary sector. The Colouring Cities model has been built and successfully tested inbthe UK since 2016 using this step-by-step collaborative approach.
These are needed to answer questions such as: How many buildings do we have? What building types, uses, construction systems, ages, styles and sizes are located where? How repairable, adaptable and extendable are they? How long could they last if properly maintained? How energy efficient are they? Can they easily be retrofitted? How do they relate to the plot, street? What is their green context? Who built them and what is their ownership type, and how well do local communities think they work?
In 2020 the Colouring Cities Research Programme was set up at The Alan Turing Institute to support international research institutions wishing to reproduce and co-work on Colouring Cities code at city or country level. We currently collaborate with over 60 fantastic academics across twelve countries who contribute their research time. Over two hundred consultees from academia, government, industry, the voluntary sector and the community (working across science, the humanities and the arts) have also been involved in the UK alone.
Institutions currently working with the CCRP are as follows: The University of New South Wales (Colouring Australia), The Leibniz Institute for Ecological Urban and Regional Development (Colouring Germany); CERC Concordia University (Colouring Canada). The American University of Beirut (Colouring Lebanon); The National Technical University of Athens (Colouring Athens); King’s College London & the Institut Teknologi Bandung (Colouring Indonesia), The Universidad Distrital – Francisco Jose de Caldas, Department of Cadastral and Geodesy Engineering (Colouring Colombia) and Mälardalen University (Colouring Sweden); The University of Bahrain & the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities (Colouring Bahrain) The Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania; The Austrian Institute of Technology and EPFL Lausanne.
The CCRP has been managed by the Alan Turing Institute (the UK’s National Institute of Data Science and Artificial Intelligence) since 2020. It is designed to demonstrate the importance of the computer science and AI pioneer Alan Turing’s philosophy that “the isolated individual does not develop any intellectual power …The search for new techniques must be regarded as carried out by the human community as a whole, rather than by individuals”. The first stage of Colouring London prototype development was undertaken at the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, University College London between 2015 and 2019. The concept of free, multidisciplinary, knowledge exchange systems (physical and digital), collaboratively built and maintained at low cost, and designed to improve the sustainability of stocks, was initially tested at The Building Exploratory, London in 1998.
Owing to growing interest in the CCRP, CCRP Global Region Hubs are now beginning to be developed with academic partners, with the CCRP’s European Hub, led by Leibniz institute for Ecological & Urban Regional Development, launched on Januray 19th 2024. The purpose of these Hubs is to encourage and manage wider international participation and to stimulate new interdisciplinary/cross sector research collaborations where existing funding can be pooled and/or new funding applied for. Strategy for hub rollout is developed by the CCRP’s International Academic Steering Group. This is an informal group of CCRP academic partners actively involved in hub development. The Group is chaired by the Alan Turing Institute and is currently made up of the City Futures Research Center, University of New South Wales (Colouring Australia/Asia Pacific hub); the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Smart, Sustainable and Resilient Communities and Cities at Concordia University (Colouring Canada/North American hub) and the Research Data Centre at the Leibniz institute for Ecological & Urban Regional Development -IOER Dresden (Colouring Germany/European Hub). Concordia University also chairs the CCRP’s monthly international engineering meeting where engineers from partner countries co-work on code. IOER Dresden is leading on the CCRP’s 2024 workshop series.
The Colouring Cities platform network is designed to:
CCRP platforms are run independently at country level by academic partners and each follow a common set of protocols. Partners also oversee the development of collaborative maintenance frameworks for databases (as used in Wikipedia and OpenStreetMap) encouraging engagement from academia, government, industry, the third sector and citizens. CCRP core code, and additional country specific code, are released under a GNU General Public License via GitHub. CCRP building attribute datasets are released via individual international platforms under an Open Data Commons Open Database License, and the CCRP Open Manual released under an MIT License.
Colouring Cities platforms use digital building footprints - of the highest quality, openness and geographic cover available within each country - as their basic building block. As well as providing information on the shape and size of buildings, footprints act as mini filing cabinets allowing information to be easily captured, collated, verified and visualised. Live co-creation of beautiful maps through the colouring-in of footprints by community collaborators forms a key feature of platform design. The CCRP looks to harness as much information on buildings as possible from professionals involved in their design, construction, management, monitoring, conservation, and retrofitting, from citizens and civic societies, and from diverse academic disciplines and research programmes. Disciplines represented by CCRP academic partners include: data science, computer science, software engineering, urban science, industrial ecology, urban morphology, physics, environmental science, material science, climate change & resilience studies, building construction, engineering, conservation, housing, planning, architecture, history, architectural history, graphic design and colour theory, open data systems and principles, data ethics, artificial intelligence (including machine learning & computer vision), procedural modelling, GIS and spatial data visualisation. Ethical use of building level footprints and the identification of security and privacy concerns relating to the visualisation and release of building attribute data form key areas of CCRP work.
CCRP categories are visually grouped into a 12 category grid shown below, to maximise data accessibility for all audience groups. Each Colouring Cities platform is set up to collect, collate, visualise, verify, enrich and release data for over 100 spatial building attributes. Attribute selection is based on: analysis of academic literature relating to sustainability science, urban science, resilience analysis and urban complexity; stakeholder and international consultation on the Colouring London prototype (2015-19) and public and stakeholder feedback at UK level following platform testing. New datasets are added/collected in consultation with CCRP academic partners with each assessed for risk of negative impact on building occupiers. Four data capture methods are experimented with: bulk upload of open public datasets, live streaming from public sources, computational generation using inference, and crowdsourcing from citizens and professional at building level. Through this process issues such as data fragmentation, incompleteness, inaccessibility, aggregation, inconsistency, security and privacy are explored and addressed. Data accuracy is maximised through feedback loops between data capture methods, and use of verification tools.
The CCRP is a research-led programme designed to bring together researchers with similar research interests and values from across the globe. The CCRP works to provide a welcoming and stimulating space in which ideas and data can be shared. As well as operating within ethical frameworks set by individual research institutions, all CCRP partners sign up to its ethical framework and protocols. CCCP partners use identical interfaces and main data category keypads to maximise clarity and interoperability of systems, to maintain programme and platform quality, and to maximise user trust. This is particularly important as software developer/engineers are actively encouraged to experiment with CCRP open code, and data are released with permission for third party use. Clear visual branding is also necessary to allow the purpose, principles, and quality of CCRP platforms to be instantly understood regardless of which country a Colouring Cities platform is operating in. Where platforms differ is in additional subcategory inclusion relevant to national/regional contexts.
CCRP academic partners can be identified by their inclusion on this page, and on the Alan Turing Institute CCRP webpage. No other applications of Colouring Cities open code, interface design or logo are endorsed. Information on CCRP resources provided by The Alan Turing Institute for partners can be found here.
All CCRP platforms are at different stages of development. Information on current academic partners and platform links (where available) are provided below. Discussions regarding CCRP platform set-up are also underway with academic institutions in Peru, the Philippines, Switzerland, Japan, India and Bangladesh.
If you are an academic institution involved in research into stock sustainability and resilience, and would like to discuss joining the Colouring Cities Research Programme, please contact Polly Hudson at The Alan Turing Institute at email@example.com. If you would like to discuss collaboration at country level with a specific Colouring Cities partner please contact the Principal Investigator for the country in question. Details may be found in Section M of the CCRP Open Manual.