Eco-Urban Futures

An exploration into imagining healthier futures for us-with-the-forest through digital twin simulation

In response to the climate crisis, humans are recasting urban forests as infrastructures with digital technologies. How can digital twin simulation help us imagine healthier futures for us-with-the-forest? Eco-Urban Futures explores ways to understand an urban forest beyond our human conception of time, space, and agency by crafting bodies to interpret forest data from more-than-human perspectives.

Urban forests are now viewed and constructed as green infrastructures. In recent years, urban forests received much attention as ‘crucial infrastructure providing tangible benefits and values that enhance quality of life, safety, and public health’. Featuring forests as solutions for contemporary urban challenges such as climate change, urban heating, air quality, and disconnection with nature, cities are proactively planting and replacing trees considering their future ecosystem benefits they can harvest in return.

One of the key technologies that promote forests’ transition into infrastructures is digital twin simulation. Utilizing a digital replica of the forest, simulations enable us to foresee what can possibly happen under different management schemes. In many smart cities, these simulation data facilitate more efficient and effective management of forest ecosystems by informing city governments or urban planners on deciding which trees to plant and where (Pinho et al., 2018). For example, the future scenario where the benefits of an urban forest far exceed its costs can provide a compelling argument for maintaining the forest. In this way, more investment can be made into the forest to generate more air, water, health, energy, economic, and social benefits.

Despite its positive prospects, however, the underlying ontologies of these digital forests are rarely questioned, often filtering out the vibrant realities of flora and fauna inhabiting the forests. The models built upon anthropocentric biases and value pose a risk of selectively consolidation futures where the forests are optimized only for humans, which does not guarantee the same “good” future for multispecies. Since urban forests are often tied to and valued for the ecosystem services they provide, when trees stray from human standards of what is acceptable and desirable, they become targets of removal. In the long term, this can threaten the health of a forest by favoring certain trees based on their species, position in relation to boundaries, estimated ‘useful life’, ecosystem services, or monetary values.

The interdependencies among trees, humans, and multispecies calls for smart urban forests to adopt a new approach to listen to and speak with forests. Acknowledging that humans inevitably coexist with other forms of life, it is imperative to seek ways to reimagine healthier futures for us-with-the-forest.

As forests are represented as a set of data collected and interpreted by humans, it becomes essential to decenter these collection and sensemaking processes to empower the forests to govern their own dynamics. In order to account for plural perspectives while overcoming the human time and space scales, the notion of body was taken as a conceptual lens to collect and make sense of forest data across diverse temporal, spatial, and agential dimensions.

The concept of the body has held a significant presence in the field of human-computer interaction (HCI), serving as both a site for design and a design tool. On one hand, the body as a site for design has become more prominent due to the proliferation of technologies directly situated on or inside the body. On the other hand, the body as a tool for design has been recognized through design practices that address and enhance the situated knowledge of the designer’s own body, as a way to obtain knowledge upon which design decisions can be made.

Taking the body as a material object and the origin of our subjectivity, we crafted and used bodies as a frame of reference to interpret forest data, thereby reconceptualizing what a forest is and how a forest is experienced. Existing bodies of nonhuman species were first employed to attune to respective perspectives and envision how each species would experience or engage with the forest. Then, taking one step further from attuning, we crafted more-than-human bodies of the forest to discover more-than-human elements that already existed in our own bodies and reconfigure our bodies to be part of the forest.



I design data-driven products and experiences that open up insightful and meaningful perspectives to people. From financial service to information technology to ecosystem, I enliven the data into visual stories and interactive experiences.

My usual design process starts from qualitative research on people and context around the data. Based on these insights, I concretize what core messages or experiences to deliver. When designing concepts, I leverage my academic background in human-computer interaction, where I pushed boundaries of interace design using emerging technologies such as digital twin simulation, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).

Seeing data as a design material, I enjoy experimenting different ways of visualizing and interacting with data. I constantly expand my design toolkit to craft immersive and engaging experiences, from physical computing to creative coding.