Innovation Archives - Laka Perspectives

Function shaped in beauty

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What is the future of the car industry? How does it relate to architecture? Kamil Łabanowicz, architect and car stylist, explains the newest trends in automotive design and its relation to current technologies and the built environment.

Kamil Łabanowicz is an architect and a lead exterior designer at Audi AG in Ingolstadt. He graduated in architecture at the Silesian University of Technology in Gliwice and at the Scuola Politecnica di Design in Milano with a master’s thesis project dedicated to Audi. He worked on, among others, Audi e-tron Concept and Audi e-tron Quattro Concept. His architectural background helped him to understand basic principles of composition, proportions, and the similarities between architecture and cars in their technical, financial, and formal aspects. www.audi.com www.edomi.pl

You are in a unique situation as an architect who designs cars and simultaneously a car designer who designs buildings! What are the main similarities and differences regarding the general search for ideas and inspirations in those disciplines?

My journey through architecture and automotive design has shown me how much those two disciplines have in common. Looking back in time, the main purpose of houses was to provide shelter from atmospheric factors. Thousands of years later, the main purpose of cars was transportation from point A to point B. But thanks to architects and car designers, buildings and cars got something more than just a function. They received a function shaped in beauty. That is why the general approach to the project can be very similar for an architect and for a car designer.

Obviously, the main difference is the fact that a building is executed as one unit in one particular place and a car can be produced in thousands of units and sold all over the world. But despite that, the approach to architecture and car design can be narrowed to four main criteria: proportions, aesthetics, user experience, and soul.

Proportions define our first perception of an object. In ancient times, architects were almost obsessed with finding the golden rules of proportions in ancient temples. Today, car designers spend most of their time finding the right balance between the volumes of the car. The right proportions are the foundation of every good design and the first step toward beauty. I believe that “beauty” has to be “felt” and not “described.” A beautiful car will be admired everywhere in the world regardless of the culture and context. Mostly, when the right balanced proportions meet well-crafted shapes, we subconsciously feel a connection to the object. It sticks in our minds, and we want to experience it. We want to enter an interesting building and be guided through its rooms, spaces, and corridors. We want to experience an interesting vehicle by sitting inside it, finding out how it makes you feel inside when you’re behind the wheel. This need for experience was born because the creators, architects, and car designers wanted to tell a story.

I try to start every project with those four main criteria.

How did your adventure with cars begin?

I think only my parents can answer this, because I started drawing cars very early, before I can remember. I always loved cars. Growing up in the 80s in Poland, I could see only four types of cars on the street. But somehow, even as a child, I knew that there was something more. I was drawing cars all the time, everywhere—mostly on the back pages of my notebooks, making my teachers very angry. I decided to study architecture when I was 16 because I considered architecture as my second passion, and at that time, the costs of studying transportation design abroad were way too high.

Years passed by, and my architecture studies were going great. But the spirit of car design was somehow always awake inside me and was visible in every building project I was doing. Even my master’s thesis was a car museum.

Finally, in 2005, after Poland joined the EU, I could consider studying transportation design abroad. During my studies at the Polytechnic School of Design in Milan, I dedicated my master’s thesis project to Audi. That gave me a chance for an internship at its headquarters at the Design Center in Ingolstadt and afterwards a job contract. Now, after 11 years at Audi Design, I still have a feeling that there is so much to learn and discover in that field.

‘Audi e-tron Quattro Concept’ is equipped with a battery with a capacity of 95 kWh, which allows it to go a distance of 500 km on a single charge. Picture credits: Audi AG

‘Audi e-tron Quattro Concept’: a sketch by Kamil Łabanowicz. The concept combines aerodynamic design and a high-tech electric drive system. Audi AG

What is the story behind EDOMI?

EDOMI is a story of a family. Some say that only we can create our success. In my case, hard work toward my dream of designing cars was always accompanied by great support from my parents, and I will be always grateful to them for that. They were the ones who showed me how to think outside of the box, and trust me, in the 80s and 90s in Poland, this was a very rare mindset. That’s why our connection is very strong, and that led us to EDOMI.

It was Christmas Eve in 2013 when, after all the food and unwrapping the presents, my parents started to talk about finding a new house. As it turned out, it was very hard to find anything attractive in the neighborhood. I sat down on the sofa with my laptop and started to sketch some house-looking shapes directly in Photoshop. My dad on my left side, my mom on the right, my sister behind me—we all suddenly started a brainstorm and discussion while I was shaping the building on the screen. After just half an hour, we had a ready sketch of a house. And the major shape has not changed.

The house was located on land we had owned for years, but we had never considered that place for a house.

My idea was to create a modern house that would “float” above the ground. A house on one level, without stairs. Practical, opened only on a few particular perspectives, and different. My parents are special—why should their house be any different?

The general idea of the building was created very fast. For me, it was a “comeback” to architecture after many years. When EDOMI construction started full steam in fall 2014, I was simultaneously working as a lead designer on the Audi e-tron Quattro Concept. EDOMI was looking great on the renderings, and our task was to make sure that it looked as great in reality. Most people called us crazy. So, my father solved all the technical issues and problems himself as an experienced engineer. We knew that the project was exceptional in many ways, and we are very glad that world-class experts shared our opinion. In April 2015, we were nominated for, and eventually won, an A’Design Award prize in Lago di Como[02].

Since the shape of the house was pretty unique, other people started to ask us if we would consider building that house again for someone else. That’s how we started to think about how we could multiply that sort of house, taking into consideration the challenging craftsmanship required by those unique shapes. And that is what we are currently working on.

What is EDOMI all about?

It’s about breaking those rules in residential architecture that, in our opinion, are too old. We decided to detach the house from the ground—with this solution, our house is still located much higher than any typical bungalow. This solution brings a feeling of freedom, prestige, and space.

We also decided to use our Core & Shell concept. This concept, in which we physically separated functionality and design, facilitates two main functions: freeform shaping of the exterior façade, unrestricted by interior design/installations, while achieving excellent thermal and acoustic core insulation through the use of high-tech renewable materials.

In other words, the “Core” of the building is a steel construction that is detached from the ground and lined from the inside by sandwich panel walls. This solution provides very high energy efficiency. The “Shell” is our façade, which is not directly mounted on the internal walls of the building’s “Core.” That solution creates a gap through which rain or snow falls freely to the ground—it means an innovative drainage system that is simply hidden between the core and the outer façade.

The façade has a unique and characteristic design with very logical surface treatment. The intersecting surfaces create, in very logical way, edges and main openings. The dynamic lines create a feeling of lightness. With its shapes, EDOMI is very iconic.

The definitions of a “home” and a “car” develop rapidly. It is perhaps especially noticeable in cars—which have developed from devices “for moving from A to B” into places “for living in” as well… considering their equipment in cutting-edge communication technologies and integration with the concept of a smart city.

That is true. Soon, some vehicles will be able to become temporary houses that can move.

For decades, technology, automobiles, and architecture developed separately. Then, we started to use smartphones, and everything became connected. That brought us to the point where the hard border between work and private life started to vanish. Vehicles will start to help us to organize not only our journeys but also our days. Most importantly, cars will bring us back something most precious—time. Driving a vehicle in heavy traffic is a waste of time. What if we can get that time back? Autonomous driving will allow us to focus on other things while the car brings us to our destinations. I see it as the biggest advantage of the upcoming technology.

As the stylist of cars, you are responsible for the way they are perceived in a variety of situations. What values do you incorporate into the visual expression of a car? How would you describe your designing style, and how has it developed over time?

As I mentioned before, I start by defining the overall proportions of the car. The contours of a vehicle define its character. The proportions between of the cabin, the hood, the bodyside—it all has an influence on how the car “sits” on the ground. In my opinion, as in the case of buildings, the car has to stand proudly and stably on the street. If we combine it with elegant and dynamic lines, we will get a confident yet light-looking vehicle. That character, in my opinion, gains trust in people’s eyes on a subconscious level.

As soon as the proportions of the vehicle are fixed, the next step is to define the main lines and features of the car. Finding a “design theme” is similar to looking for a characteristic theme in architecture or even a characteristic melody for a song. It has to be new, fresh, and logical. It takes days or even weeks to find the right design “theme” for the car. Once we apply the design theme to the car, we spend months placing everything in the right position.

The last step is to give the surfaces a human touch. We work with 1:1 scale models where we shape the car in clay. Together with a group of professional sculptors (modelers), we can control any shape with a lot of feeling. I think that over time, my design is getting more strict, sharp, and logical. It is something I don’t see myself, but I have heard it many times.

The design of the Audi e-tron Quattro is an important step in the journey toward emissions-free and autonomous driving. Can you tell us more about this particular design?

The Audi e-tron Quattro Concept harmoniously combines design with aerodynamics and an all-electric drive system. Its coupe-like silhouette with an extremely flat greenhouse that tapers strongly toward the rear lends it a very dynamic appearance. The front of the car is dominated by the octagonal grille, which is surrounded by elements that hold the headlamps with the advanced matrix laser technology. The bottom section houses a new, distinctive lighting signature comprising five lighting elements. Each of these combines an LED luminary with an extremely flat OLED element.

The four-wheel-drive system is visually emphasized by the design theme on the body side—the wheels are surrounded by muscles that are visually connected by a wave-shaped line. Above that, just under the side window, an elegant line goes from the front of the car to its back end. That stretches the car and keeps the theme tight. A crisp line between the wheels creates an interesting feature and visually brings the focus to the wheels.

This car is an example of the intensive development work in the wind tunnel. Wind noise is low in the car, and there is no engine noise in an electric car in any case. The fascination of electric driving unfolds in near total silence. Cameras replace the exterior mirrors—another contribution to the excellent aerodynamics and also a foretaste of the future of driving. The rear lights also comprise two sections. Each of the top zones features nine red OLED units for the tail light function, with three more below. Overall, all the lines, starting from the front, side, and back, are visually connected. That creates a very solid and logical design with a touch of romantic lines.

‘EDOMI’: a modular single-family housing unit based on the concept of ‘Core & Shell,’ which allows freeform shaping of the exterior façade without any restrictions caused by the design of the interior spaces and installations. The ‘EDOMI’ houses are based on the same spatial principles, with small variations in the façade or materials. Picture credits: Kamil Łabanowicz (EDOMI).

What are the main differences and similarities in your designs of models such as the Audi e-tron Concept and the Audi e-tron Quattro Concept?

The approach to the proportions was very different: The Audi e-tron Concept was an electric sports car, and the Audi e-tron Quattro Concept is an SUV. The Audi e-tron Concept was a very pure concept with an almost minimalistic approach. The design features were reduced to the minimum—no unnecessary air intakes, windows, or lines. The car’s pure form indicated that this is not a combustion engine vehicle.

The Audi e-tron Quattro Concept, on the other hand, received many more lines, which visually made the car sporty and dynamic.

The main similarity was the approach to the aerodynamics. Both were intensively developed in the wind tunnel. Together, we managed to create design features that combined engineering and design. The Audi e-tron Concept, for example, had a feature on the roof that could morph to ensure the batteries were cooled. Also, the side air-intakes were smoothly blended with the exterior when not needed. We also had our first approach with cameras replacing the exterior mirrors.

On the Audi e-tron Quattro Concept, at speeds from 80 km/h (49.7 mph), electrically actuated aerodynamic elements on the engine hood, the flanks, and at the rear end direct the flow of air as needed to improve the flow through and around the vehicle. All of those elements were integrated into the exterior design, being another proof that when the designer works closely with the engineers, together, they can achieve very efficient yet elegant solutions.

What scope of knowledge and skills are essential among the members of a design team responsible for concept cars?

As in any design-oriented field, the members of a design team have to be creative. But most of them have been since they were born. What comes in our job later are other skills like being patient, being able to adapt to unexpected changes, being a good seller and talker, being open-minded and open to criticism. Without those skills, it’s almost impossible to lead a project from the first sketch through the long design process until the start of production.

The cars that you are designing will be presented in a few years. What would you advise designers and innovators when it comes to anticipating the future?

I think keeping up with the latest technology is crucial. Nowadays, there are so many ways to follow the newest inventions around the world, so there is no excuse for not doing that. Inventions need good design as well, where attractive and intuitive forms meet great engineering.

Sketching on paper will always be the quickest way to put down our ideas, but we should not forget to learn the newest 3D software. Virtual reality is already giving us tools to shape our ideas in three-dimensional digital form in a way we have never experienced before.

Also, in the design process, a lot of ideas might be lost just because they don’t fit in that particular project. But maybe they can be used later. Therefore, it’s crucial to be organized and keep all your ideas in folders, in physical or digital form. Creating a personal “archive” can be very helpful, especially in moments when our creativity is low.

And finally, we creators should never ever lose one thing—optimism. Let it stay with us all the time!

BetaPort envisions the world’s first all timber airport

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As part of the planning proposal for Tyrol’s new intermodal air mobility terminal, Urban Beta (www.urban-beta.de) collaborates with BART//BRATKE ( www.bartbratke.com) and graadwies (www.graadwies.de) to create a benchmark project envisioning highly flexible travel infrastructure for the post Covid-19 era. The airport is designed as an intermodal mobility hub using the BetaPort system, designed by Urban Beta and engineered by str.ucture. The adaptive building system is designated to become more than an exclusive air travel infrastructure: The inclusive design creates a 24/7 marketplace that combines multiple communal, recreational, retail and travel functions under one roof. Under the motto “New mobility needs innovative planning”, the team creates a modular system that can grow over time and adapt to changing use scenarios in the future. The building is conceived as a green and vivid space of cultural exchange between visitors, travellers, tourists, locals and enthusiasts alike.

Mobility hubs reinvented as communal marketplaces 

Today’s urban infrastructure needs flexible spaces more than ever. BetaPort is a modular mobility hub that creates efficient and high-quality social spaces for future mobility. One of the main design features of the airport is a central public promenade that extends throughout the whole building and connects landside and airside in one continuous plaza. This social marketplace is brought to life by a vital mix of public functions. While reinventing classical air mobility typologies, Tyrol’s new mobility hub creates a place that activates the local surroundings and integrates urban life deeply into its travel and mobility infrastructure.

Through the integration of new multi-modal mobility models the connection to and from the airport is simplified, making the new terminal a hub for switching from shared infrastructures like local bus networks, e-scooters, bikes and urban air mobility to mid- and long-range travel via airplane.

Anke Parson, partner of Urban Beta, predicts a need for change in urban planning: “New forms of mobility challenge today’s infrastructure and the planning of our cities. To guarantee the seamless integration of these new forms of mobility, we need to initiate sustainable planning techniques with long lasting socially just core values.” 

Ready for the Next Normal

Marvin Bratke, partner of BART//BRATKE and Urban Beta, is working on digital solutions, creating predictive planning tools for adaptive spatial systems: “To react to newly arising challenges of the post pandemic, BetaPort is conceived as an interactive planning platform, using machine learning and state-of-the-art computation to anticipate user flows, changes in operations and material life cycles. We generate highly flexible interior layouts, based on modular building blocks.”

The design reacts to changing travel capacities with a complete adaptable architectural system based on Urban Beta’s academic and professional research in space-on-demand solutions. Through a voxel-based spatial strategy, areas can be activated when needed and gates can be extended via switchable swing gates. Schengen and Non-Schengen areas can be adjusted to varying passenger expectations throughout the year and whole areas can be increased horizontally and vertically. The design is completely built on prefabricated timber units that allow for a high degree of freedom and technical installation.

Healthy environments with renewable material strategies

The world’s first all timber airport is a reference to traditional vernacular Tyrolean building techniques, showcasing the newest timber technology which allows a healthy travel environment. The airport’s structure, load-bearing elements, floors, dividing walls and circulation throughout are solely constructed out of timber. Florian Michaelis, Partner of graadwies and Urban Beta is working on circular economy strategies for sustainable mobility infrastructure: “Timber is understood to be the construction material of the 21th century, widely replacing steel and concrete. Timber offers highly efficient sustainable solutions, such as high-performance CLT. We discover the potential of timber constructions throughout the combination of innovative planning strategies, prefabrication and material processing.”

These technologies open up new opportunities in architecture, leading us to believe that automation in wooden construction is the future of the building industry that lets us depart from the dependency on concrete as the sole construction material. The world’s first all timber airport is sourced completely from local, renewable materials and holistically designed, applying circular economy models. Relying on high performance timber products like CLT or LVL in construction allows for the significant reduction of the carbon footprint of buildings, while providing biophile experiences for visitors and travellers alike. The mobility hub as a kit of parts for universal application Dealing with the challenges of future travel streams and the post-pandemic landscape, Urban Beta, BART//BRATKE and graadwies teamed up to invent an innovative assembly strategy for modular all timber airports. Paul Clemens Bart, Partner of BART//BRATKE and Urban Beta, is working on emerging technology in construction: “A digital design workflow was crafted to create modular, prefabricated building blocks that allow for scalability and fast construction on a multitude of locations. Using this AI powered process guarantees efficient planning and eliminates planning errors. In a digital workflow, the building blocks are prefabricated in a factory setting, using large CNC-machines before being transported to the site for quick assembly.”

The BetaPort’s building is based on a voxel grid structure, defined by its main structural “+”-shaped elements that take the function of load bearing and technical installation as well as heating and ventilation. The modularity allows for universal application of the airport system.

Project Info:
Project Name: BetaPort Tyrol
Location: Tyrol, Austria
Site Area: 16.200 sqm
Gross Floor Area: 14.500 sqm
BetaPort System: Urban Beta
Architect: BART//BRATKE, graadwies
Engineering BetaPort System: str.ucture
Design Team: Paul Clemens Bart, Marvin Bratke, Florian Michaelis, Anke Parson, Leonie Haller
Engineering Team: Julian Lienhard, Benedikt Neubauer
Visualisation: images by imperfct and BART//BRATKE





About the project:

Innovation doesn’t happen in isolation — Maria Aiolova

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How can we save our cities in the era of polluted air, climate change, and general urban chaos? What does the city of the future look like? Who is responsible for it? Maria Aiolova—co-founder of Terreform ONE, educator, mentor, architect and urban designer, and ecological design specialist—speaks about the most pressing problems currently facing urban societies and problem-solving possibilities.

Maria Aiolova is the co-founder of Terreform ONE, an educator, architect, and urban designer in New York City. Her work focuses on the theory, science, and application of ecological design. In 2013, Maria was appointed Academic Director of Global Architecture and Design of CIEE (Council on International Educational Exchange)[01]. Currently, Maria chairs the ONE Lab NY School for Design and Science and the One Prize Design and Science Award. She is an institutional adviser to New Lab at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. She won the 2013 AIA NY Award for Urban Design[02]. Maria is also an inventor who holds 18 technology patents. www.aiolova.com www.terreform.org

Laka: I was intrigued by your TED Talk, in which you raised the topic of a zero-waste society. For the last few years, I’ve been observing small-scale zero-waste movements—people who have chosen to go zero-waste and change their household habits to support the planet and be healthier. You believe that it is possible to achieve a waste-free world through construction. Could you tell me more about how this could be done?

Maria Aiolova: We started from the idea of the city, looking at the amount of waste a city produces. Today, over 36 thousand tons of waste per day are produced here in New York City, and we don’t have anywhere to put it anymore. It used to go to Fresh Kills landfill, which was the last place we could deposit waste, and that was closed in 2001. It was only reopened for a few months after September 11 to place the debris from the Towers. Currently, New York has to pay a lot of money to other states: waste goes as far as Ohio and North Carolina. It’s shipped by trucks, trains, and barges, which, in addition to being very costly, also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. This is a very unfortunate situation. We worked with different waste streams to see how waste is being separated and how we can use it to produce building blocks. We’ve done the research and found out that we can start with aluminum cans and organic waste digested by mycelium to produce a building block that has the same strength as a brick. We have illustrated it in what we have called ‘The 24-Hour Tower.’ This model has traveled around the world, and the idea is that by utilizing this technology with New York City’s waste, we can build a 54-story tower every 24 hours.

The technology can be integrated into the construction process. You can have waste brought directly to the construction site, in which case the production happens on site. It is hard to imagine that we will ever employ this technology in building high-rises. However, it applies to places in the developing world, where construction materials are scarce and expensive. We have worked on a grant application for a technology transfer working with a favela [a low-income urban area] in São Paulo, Brazil. We’ve calculated that you can set up a small shop to manufacture these building blocks. In that part of the world, it would cost roughly 500 US dollars. You need a small hydraulic press and a greenhouse-type incubator to grow the mycelium and digest the organic waste.

Fig. 01 ‘Rapid Re(f)use: Waste to Resource City 2120’: a project that remakes New York City by utilizing trash at Fresh Kills. It underlines the idea of a future city that makes no distinction between waste and supply.

Has anyone done any research on the impact of the construction material on people? What sort of impact does mycelium have on the inhabitants, and what are its other properties?

Mycelium is basically the root structure of mushrooms. It’s a material that’s virtually free—it’s a naturally occurring microorganism. You can use it to digest waste or agricultural byproducts. In seven days, you can grow a biopolymer which has very good properties in terms of strength, good sound-proofing, and water resistance ability. It also has a significant R value [a measure of thermal resistance]. You can then use it in combination with other materials to achieve a full construction system. Another advantage is that it’s obviously a method of utilizing waste. At the end of its life cycle, you can basically crumble this material and put it in the garden so it can feed other microorganisms.

Fig. 02 ‘Mycelium Blocks: Mycelia Amalgamation Methods for Urban Growth’: a project that aims to establish a smart and self-sufficient construction technology by combining fungal mycelia with varying types of organic substrates to create a structure that grows from strains of fungi into a 3D fabricated geometry.

Since your area of expertise is also ecological urban design and the cities of the future, I would like to ask your advice on a very recent problem. In Poland, but also in many other areas of the world, we’ve seen a reduction in air quality. It is shocking for us, as we used to consider Poland a very green country of pure nature, and now we’re often being told we should stay at home. In Warsaw, it is believed to be caused by the fact that areas which were planned to be aeration zones to ensure good air circulation in the center are now used as new residential areas, completely built-up. Do you think there are ways of reversing this phenomenon by applying new ecological planning solutions to the existing urban structure?

This field of science is called urban ecology. Traditionally, ecologists studied the environment outside cities. Therefore, we simply don’t have the data to make informed decisions about cities. If you consider urban ecology, you cannot just look into living systems—you have to look into buildings and infrastructure. We have to collect data. With forestry studies, we could look into the watershed, but in the city, we have to look into the sewage shed. We have to investigate the sewage flow to see how it impacts the environment. Similarly, thinking about the air quality, you have to consider how buildings affect air circulation. Fortunately, we now have very sophisticated equipment and technologies, and sensors are getting cheaper. However, we still need the agreement that this has to be addressed and funded so we can gain more understanding.

We have this concept called productive green space. Think of parks and even trees in the cities. They are not just for recreation—they are productive, and they absorb carbon dioxide, producing oxygen at the same time. Productive green spaces also have the ability to absorb stormwater, because they offer a porous surface. However, it is important to understand the production of every single tree in the city. In fact, several years ago, we worked closely with Bloomberg’s administration on one of the projects he implemented here in the city called ‘The Million Trees Project.’[03] It was a part of the 2030 plan for New York City. The projection was that there will be another million residents moving into the city by 2030, so let’s plant another million trees. The Parks Department plan was to do this project as an experiment. To learn what it means to plant a million more trees, you must structure it so that you can have repetition, and you can collect data.

I have been reading about Poland in the New York Times. My deep personal belief is that now we have the knowledge and the technologies to solve these problems. It’s about coming to agreement and using citizen engagement. I think if you have enough citizens participating in a campaign, you can succeed. There was a program right after the disaster in Fukushima in Japan. Joi Ito[04], who had just become the Head of MIT Media Lab, organized a campaign where regular citizens could have Geiger counters and collect radiation data. I think it’s about data and knowledge, but also, it’s about being a citizen. Being active is a way to address these problems. 

Fig. 03 ‘Bio City Map of 11 Billion: World Population in 2110’: an experimental approach to researching a possible development of population density in cities using a living population of bacterial cells (E. coli).

The common efforts of not only citizens but also interdisciplinary scientists are necessary to solve these issues. What will the city of the future look like? What is urbaneering?

Urbaneering is a discipline that combines architecture, urbanism, ecology, media arts, and community building. It strives to reinvent the multifarious elements that comprise a city. Its practitioners are not planners, urban designers, or architects, but urbaneers. And their task will be to facilitate the globe’s next metropolises. Urbaneering undertakes a diverse range of projects as a prescription for maximal design. It practices totalized schemes that rethink all scales of involvement, from the doorknob to democracy. Its projects range from materials to transportation systems, open spaces, buildings, cities, and surrounding regions. Currently, a few urbaneers have shaped phytoremediation[05] ponds, fungi mycelium blocks, in vitro meat habitats[06], living woody plant structures, rooftop farms, soft cars[07], blimp buses[08], e-waste bots[09], urban junkspace, and city-wide action plans. To inspire interdisciplinary innovation and creativity, urbaneers encourage people to switch roles: architects must design cars, automotive engineers must devise eco-systems, and ecologists must draw up buildings. Bridging the realm of experimentation and everyday life, urbaneers seek to envision the complexity that encompasses formative metropolitan regions. At its core is a variety of utopian agitation that dispels the defunct myths of modernism with equitable objectives. An urbaneer replaces implausible rules and master planning with suggestive memes and polemical models. It is hard to argue with amorphous memes like ‘city beautiful,’ ‘garden city,’ or ‘smart growth.’ The public can rally themselves around these open-ended symbolic gestures and phrases. Since the meme is not fully explicit, the concept leaves room for broad cultural interpretations. It’s almost exactly what communities yearn for: freedom to define their own urban spaces.

Everyone should feel responsible. But who are urbaneers?

They are multidisciplinary professionals, and their role is to regenerate, pioneer, and sustain the future of the urban realm. It’s not just up to the architects, planners, designers, and developers, but everybody should participate in this process. Chefs, firemen, teachers, they all play a role in the future city, but that requires a new type of education that is truly interdisciplinary. You still have your own craft and your own expertise, but you are working in a multidisciplinary team, and you have the ability to collaborate and learn new things.

That’s a really innovative way of thinking about a city and a district. For me personally, it was a big surprise to learn that it is possible to transform a city (or a district, in the case of Brooklyn) that uses about 6% renewable energy to one using over 90%. And I’ve been wondering, how much time does such a transformation take to first educate and then incorporate all the solutions?

This study was done eight years ago, so hopefully this number has changed! I think we already have the technologies. We have done quick calculations that if you install photovoltaic panels on the roofs of existing buildings, you can produce enough energy to power a whole city. Our primary assertion for the next city is that all necessities are provided inside its accessible physical borders. In this intensified version, all vital needs are supplied for its population. In this city, food, water, air, energy, waste, mobility, air-quality, and shelter are radically restructured to support life in every form. Infrastructure is celebrated as the new center. The strategy includes the replacement of dilapidated structures with vertical agriculture and housing merged with road networks. Former streets become snaking arteries of livable spaces embedded with renewable energy sources, soft cushion-based vehicles for moving, and productive green rooms. The plan uses the former street grid as the foundation for up-to-the-minute networks. By reengineering the obsolete streets, we can install radically robust and ecologically active smart pathways. These operations are not just about a comprehensive model of tomorrow’s city, but an initial platform for discourse. Urbaneers expect the future will necessitate marvelous dwellings coupled with a massive cyclical resource net. The future will happen; how it’s achieved is dependent upon our planned preparation and egalitarian feedback. We aim to respond to the variety of forces that influence critical thought about design and construction within contemporary local and global conditions. We approach each project with an almost unlimited perspective. Our aim is to counter the confounding and destructive effects of globalization. We hold that globalization’s very nature defies the simple categorization of projects by size or locality. Our design processes and decisions engage with forces that link the smallest elements of construction to the most massive urban sites. We have investigated breakthroughs, from hydrogen power to cellular cultures, and speculated on their future potential in cities. As humans, we aspire to generate an ideal lifestyle. Investigations described through Urbaneering are centered on the comprehension of socio-ecological spheres of living. They seek to produce fresh reifications of the utopian city. This may be best accomplished by further understanding architecture and urban design as instrumental in the development of societal-based innovations. In order to verify this vision in a socio-ecological realm, the aim is to structure an investigation of mutable urban conditions as they pertain to global crises and phenomena. The emphasis is placed on the role of urban designers as key actors in the formation of our environment.

Fig. 04 ‘Cricket Shelter: Modular Edible Insect Farm’: a design that combines a shelter and a modular insect farm into one structure

Fig. 05 ‘Cricket Shelter’: according to Terreform ONE, harvesting insects for food takes three hundred times less water for the same amount of protein.

Basically, the cities of tomorrow are being born today.

Yes, absolutely!

You are very innovative in all of your endeavors, activities, and interests. What is important to provide in order to allow the occurrence of innovative design?

I believe that today innovation doesn’t happen in isolation. You need a kind of charged space. I believe that if you are surrounded by smart, creative, and innovative people, it makes you more creative and more innovative. The world we live in today is so complex that we cannot do things alone. It requires collaboration.

What are your thoughts on the role of competitions such as the Laka Competition in the pursuit of innovation?

I think competitions are very important because they offer a platform for young professionals. You can test your ideas, learn from each other—it keeps them active. Often, your career paths take you in a different direction, and it’s hard especially for young professionals to test ideas very quickly. I think competitions such as Laka are important because they offer the forum of ideas exchange. I ran competitions myself, and I know the amount of work and commitment that it takes, so kudos to you! Continue doing it, and especially in a part of the world where it is needed.

I am also bringing up the topic of innovation because of the workshops you organize through Terreform ONE. What is your design philosophy within the group?

ONE Lab[10] was founded as an urban non-profit group concerned with research and education in the synthesis of design and science. We began as an extraordinary think-and-do-tank of architects, engineers, artists, biologists, designers, urban ecologists, physicists, and planners seeking alternatives to traditional forms of teaching and professional practice. Through this interaction, we discovered the need for an interdisciplinary pedagogical-free zone, where students and practitioners can generously discuss and conduct experiments that have a positive effect on the global community. ONE Lab is dedicated to cultivating change. The laboratory advances professionals towards an intellectual scheme that recalibrates the meaning of ‘city.’ ONE Lab promotes the investigation and erudition needed for the first generation of urbaneers. Each urbaneer is an individual with a different set of versatile abilities that merge previously disparate occupations.

They range from ecological architects and engineers to action-based urban planners and developers. Almost any recombined professional activities can work, so long as they meet the constantly changing needs of urbanization. Ultimately, the job of city creation belongs to everyone—including a new force of highly trained specialists. A few of the projects developed in Terreform ONE were implemented. What are some of your favorites? The very first workshop was focused on urban agriculture. This was a new movement at the time, especially in cities where there is not much land. One of the students was a landscape architect from Chicago who led a team that designed mobile farms. It was a planter box that’s big enough to have a small garden with a sub-irrigation system to keep good moisture and nutrient levels. You can move the farm to track the sun. After the summer workshop, she went back to Chicago and started her own non-profit to teach people how to build mobile farms themselves.

Fig. 06 ‘Plug-in Ecology: Urban Farm Pod with Agronomy’: a cabin that can be adapted to different habitation requirements, locations, and lighting conditions. The design aims to grow and provide daily vegetable needs for its inhabitants.

Fig. 07 ‘Urbaneering Brooklyn 2110: City of the Future’: a future concept of Brooklyn that supplies all vital needs for its population through vertical agriculture, housing merged with infrastructure, renewable energy sources, and a new approach for mobility.

Fig. 08 ‘Post Carbon City-State: Rezoned Circular Economy’: a design that aims to answer New York City’s projected sea level rise by the 2050s by introducing the East and Hudson River in parts of Manhattan.

It’s beautiful to see visible results! Are there other challenges that you would like to take up in the future in Terreform ONE or ONE Lab?

ONE Lab, in partnership with the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE), the world leader in international educational exchange, has developed a new interdisciplinary global platform focused on investigating the imaginative uses of technology in architecture and design. The Global Architecture and Design (Global AD)[11] programs will offer a uniform curriculum by assembling a faculty of innovators and thought leaders from around the world. After five years of teaching in New York City, in Spring 2014, Global AD will be offered to advanced architecture and design students in Barcelona, Berlin, and Prague. Using each city as a laboratory, the program rethinks what is essential about the city, in both its forms and its life. The investigations will be based on one illuminating hypothesis: in the future, cities will grow to be self-sufficient in their critical necessities through massive public works and infrastructural support. The Global AD program explores the effects of technological interventions that can have profound impacts on the planet as a whole. Digital fabrication, 3D printing, and synthetic biology have given designers new means of production whereby complexity becomes attainable and virtually free. By overcoming the restrictions imposed by the old manufacturing methods and processes, their technologies will open a broad field of research and experimentation in design. In this new context, the Global AD programs will incorporate some of these technologies as part of its academic agenda and work environment. The Global AD program will create a new platform for disseminated knowledge and collaborative action. Students will connect with their peers, faculty, and researchers in other Global AD cities. Through an online platform, the students will share knowledge, collaborate on projects, and debate common questions. At the same time, they will be in constant dialog with the students on the home campus through online blogs and chat-rooms, which will enable them to maintain connections and the sense of community.

Interview by Laka Perspectives www.lakaperspectives.com – Katarzyna Burzyńska

Picture credits
fig. 01 ‘Rapid Re(f)use: Waste to Resource City 2120’ © Terreform ONE. Credits: Maria Aiolova, Mitchell Joachim, Melanie Fessel, Emily Johnson, Ian Slover, Philip Weller, Zachary Aders, Webb Allen, Niloufar Karimzadegan, Lauren Sarafan.
fig. 02 ‘Mycelium Blocks: Mycelia Amalgamation Methods for Urban Growth’ © Terreform ONE. Credits: Team: Maria Aiolova, Mitchell Joachim, Oliver Medvedik, Dylan Butman, Greg Mulholland.
fig. 03 ‘Bio City Map of 11 Billion: World Population in 2110’ © Terreform ONE. Credits: Maria Aiolova, Mitchell Joachim, Nurhan Gokturk, Melanie Fessel, Oliver Medvedik.
figs. 04, 05 ‘Cricket Shelter: Modular Edible Insect Farm’ © Terreform ONE. Credits: Mitchell Joachim (PI), Maria Aiolova, Melanie Fessel, Felipe Molina, Matthew Tarpley, Jiachen Xu, Lissette Olivares, Cheto Castellano, Shandor Hassan, Christian Hamrick, Ivan Fuentealba, Sung Moon, Kamila Varela, Yucel Guven, Chloe Byrne, Miguel Lantigua-Inoa, Alex Colard
fig. 06 ‘Plug-in Ecology: Urban Farm Pod with Agronomy’ © Terreform ONE. Credits: Mitchell Joachim (PI), Maria Aiolova, Melanie Fessel, Christian Hubert, Vivian Kuan, Amanda O’Keefe. Photo by Micaela Rossato.
fig. 07 ‘Urbaneering Brooklyn 2110: City of the Future’ © Terreform ONE. Credits: Maria Aiolova, Mitchell Joachim, Melanie Fessel, Dan O’Connor, Celina Yee, Alpna Gupta, Sishir Varghese, Aaron Lim, Greg Mulholland, Derek Ziemer, Thilani Rajarathna, John Nelson, Natalie DeLuca.
fig. 08 ‘Post Carbon City-State: Rezoned Circular Economy’ © Terreform ONE. Credits: Mitchell Joachim (PI), Maria Aiolova, Melanie Fessel, Nurhan Gokturk, Oliver Medvedik.

Producing mutations — Prof. Carlo Ratti

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Laka: What is the city of your dreams like?

Carlo Ratti: I do not think that the ideal city exists. I would like to imagine it more like a collage of many cities. We could take inspiration from Georges Perec’s ideal home—split across all the arrondissements of Paris. So, I would say that my ideal city has the climate of Naples, the topography of Cape Town, the fusion cooking of Sydney, the architecture of Manhattan, the frenzy of Hong Kong and… why not? The exuberant nightlife of Rio de Janeiro!

Your practices implement a wide spectrum of various innovations, but they are always set in the specific social, natural, or built context, and they always respond to a specific need. What is the methodology behind the work of Carlo Ratti Associati and MIT Senseable City Lab?

In terms of focus and methodology, I would like to refer to what we call “futurecraft,” as we discuss in our latest book. This is something that is rooted in Herbert Simon’s definition of design, which he put forward in his classic ‘The Sciences of the Artificial’: “The natural sciences are concerned with how things are.… Design, on the other hand, is concerned with how things ought to be.” I like to see our work as something that contributes to the production of mutations, accelerating the transformation of the present into how it “ought to be.” I think design can be used as a systematic germination of possible futures, intervening at the interface between people, technologies, and the city.

Which emerging technologies of smart cities seem particularly interesting to you?

As you keep on using the word “smart city,” I would like to point out that I do not particularly like it. However, it is nothing else than the outcome of a broad technological phenomenon that has been unfolding over the last two decades and is now undergoing a dramatic acceleration. The Internet is entering physical space, becoming an Internet of Things (IoT)—and ushering in a series of unprecedented possibilities in terms of how we can understand, design, and live in a city. Applications are manifold: from mobility to energy, from water to waste.

For instance, let’s look at mobility. We know that mobility will radically change thanks to the advent of self-driving. Over the next decade, self-driving vehicles promise to have a dramatic impact on urban life. This is not mainly because you do not need to keep your hands on the steering wheel but because they will blur the distinction between private and public modes of transportation. “Your” car could give you a lift to work in the morning and then, rather than sitting idle in a parking lot, give a lift to someone else in your family—or, for that matter, to anyone else in your neighborhood or social-media community.

The advent of self-driving cars will change part of the urban infrastructure. Something that will probably change is parking. Today, our cars are parked on average a staggering 95% of the time. As a result, the parking infrastructure is so pervasive that for every car in the United States, there are approximately three non-residential spots—amounting to 5,000 square miles, an area larger than Puerto Rico. Autonomous cars can keep on being used in the system and hence could free up some of today’s parking areas.

‘Roboat’ is an autonomous on-demand infrastructure that can transform into bridges for pedestrians or be used as individual transportation through the city’s canal system. Photo (c) MIT and AMS Institute.

Prof. Carlo Ratti is a director of the MIT Senseable City Lab and a founding partner of the international design and innovation office Carlo Ratti Associati. Images © Carlo Ratti Associati.

Banner image (c) Carlo Ratti Associati. Paris Navigating Gym’: a project by Carlo Ratti Associati in collaboration with Technogym, Terreform One, and URBEM. It is a 20-meter-long boat that cruises along the Seine thanks to passengers’ workouts; Image “Roboat.org” (c) MIT and AMS Institute

This is an excerpt from the Laka Perspectives book vol. 02, published by Laka Foundation (non-profit, Poland) with the support of Solarlux GmbHwww.lakaperspectives.com. Follow Perspectives on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/laka.perspectives/