This year’s WAN Urban Challenge addressed what will quite possibly be the biggest transformation of our cities since the advent of the motor car. Those same pollution-generating machines are set to take a back seat to autonomous vehicles (AV) and AI, a phenomenon that will enable cities to fundamentally re-imagine and reclaim their streets. Our challenge to architects was to show that they could lead this anticipated sea-change as a profession. We therefore asked them to submit their vision of cities where the streets are liberated from the culture of the combustion engine and private car ownership.
The highly-respected panel of judges assessing these submissions comprised Peter Bishop, Urban Planner and Urban Designer at Allies and Morrison; Feryal Demirci, Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods, Transport & Parks; John Goldwyn, Vice President and Director of Planning & Landscape London of WATG; Alice Lester, Head of Planning, Transport and Licensing at Brent Council, and Peter Murray, Chairman of New London Architecture and member of the Mayor of London’s Design Advisory Group.
Judges were looking for several factors including originality, innovation, quality, sustainability, transferability, context and evidence. Presentation was also deemed very important, with each practice’s ability to communicate the ‘story’ of the project under scrutiny.
Together, the panel studied some 76 interesting and varied submissions, eventually whittling the longlist down to twelve thought-provoking case studies and concepts. The eventual winners will be announced in next week’s WAN News Review. In the meantime, we take a snapshot look at the deserving shortlisted entries. These are listed alphabetically and not in any particular order of merit or ranking by the judges.
This entry focused on the West Loop, a booming mixed-use district in Chicago, USA. Stantec’s solutions for an environment where AVs were the norm included retrofitted streets featuring solar panels and extended sidewalks utilising kinetic, permeable pavers to capture and produce energy. Space freed from vehicles would be repurposed for landscape, urban farms, water features, parks, and markets. Judges praised the use of different technologies and assets in one project, with Peter Bishop commenting: “It is presenting all the available technology in one space. We see so many so-called ‘smart cities’ that use a single technology and aren’t very smart.”
The Co-create Charoenkrung project seeks to develop Charoenkrung, a district of economic and historical importance, into a new “creative district”; one that redefines and sets a new precedent for future creative industries. The project uses a new inclusive method of design and was devised in order to identify problems in the community, and to meet criteria such as the public’s physical, psychological, economic and social needs.
This project offers a framework and inspiration for creating sustainable city paradigms that enable people and nature to thrive through reducing the dominance of automobiles. Urban greenhouses, agriculture integrated into parks, and a food marketplace in a meadow would contribute to the local economy of Avenida Los Carrera, currently a six-lane roadway bordered by primarily low density and degraded developments. John Goldwyn found the plans ‘contentious’ (a good thing in his view) and ‘ambitious’.
From 12-15 October 2017, Alfred Street in Sydney, Australia was transformed into a street of the future as part of the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects’ (AILA) 2017 International Festival. In partnership with AILA, Smart Cities Council and the Internet of Things Alliance Australia, Place Design Group conceptualised and led the design for ‘Future Street’ to deliver a real-life experience of a potential street from the future.
A new city centre of circa 65 hectares, Leidsche Rijn Centre (LRC), is being built next to Utrecht’s historic one. This organic growth of the city would have been impossible if, in 1995, the Dutch government had not decided to construct Leidsche Rijn’s North-South main road inside a large tunnel whose roof forms a 9 m-high plinth. Aspects that make LRC unique include its central location, and the great diversity of mixed-use functions it offers. Alice commended this project for being ‘grounded in the here and now’.
LOOP proposes to optimise existing infrastructure and create “micro-highway” loops throughout New York City, turning major streets, along with lanes of perimeter expressways, into autonomous-only driving zones. Automated electric buses will operate autonomously on these major cross streets, providing cheap and sustainable alternatives and helping to reach more sustainable civic goals. Peter Bishop commented: “If they are seriously suggesting – which is feasible in 30 years – that Manhattan and other central urban areas are not a place for the car at all, then it’s brilliant!”.
The project team developed a strategic plan aimed at achieving a unique quality of living as a complement to existing suburbs around Copenhagen. The proposal is an area where urban qualities meet suburban life in a structure that is both low-density and green cluster, with four different neighbourhoods reflecting the varied local landscape characteristics and neighbouring build structures. The masterplan’s cluster structure gives a robust framework, with a varied urban fabric that can absorb the needs of small and large scale developers, private initiatives, and building groups, as well as different programmes.
Public Square was created to provide New York City a way to rethink its streets and reclaim space for pedestrians, and can be implemented in virtually any other city. Public Square is a plug-and-play system of interlocking unitised squares, roughly 8 feet by 8 feet in size, with built-in infrastructure and a wide variety of surface module programs from seating, to retail stands, to play equipment, to gardens and green space. Peter Murray commented: “We need more flexible streets [like this]. We’re digging up too much permanent infrastructure which we can’t make flexible enough to meet the changing requirements of the car and different users.”
On behalf of the Greek government, the Onassis Foundation has organised an international competition for regeneration of Athens’ City Centre. On the front pages of all the newspapers, OKRA’s winning entry was described as what the city really needs for change. Decades of rapid growth in Athens caused infrastructural problems and social-cultural imbalance, against a background of difficult economic circumstances. OKRA’s plans to transform Athens’ city centre into a green network includes a resiliency strategy with specific attitudes towards reducing urban heat and improving thermal comfort.
This vision for London’s Cheapside is designed as a living, thinking surface treatment that adaptively responds to user demand. Comprising a series of paving modules, the street is revealed as an intelligent multi-functional system that supports energy creation, inter-lockable furniture, LED lighting displays, sensory recognition and live analytics. These paving modules facilitate modular street furniture for social interaction, recreational zones for active health, street markets and exhibitions for cultural expression, or commuter traffic during peak periods. Peter Murray was impressed with the idea of this ‘time-based street’ where changes can be made during the day according to requirements.
In this concept, the street space responds via an app to the needs and wishes of those around it to create flexible streets 24/7. Such requests might include a mobile wellbeing and healthcare facility, a library, or a pop-up cinema where AVs are used as seats in the style of a drive-in. AVs could also be used as sleeping pods, offices or social spaces as well as for transport when not on the move. John Goldwyn loved the idea, saying: “Cars wouldn’t be cars, but a moveable urbanism that transports you with other things going on too.” Feryal Demirci also favoured this flexible use of the streets based on her personal involvement in London’s ‘Play Streets’ initiative, commenting: “It’s futuristic but not beyond the realms of possibility.”
The Washington Alley Project (WAP) examines the city’s informal alley network as a viable site for new modes of urban living, presenting the city with an opportunity to adapt to future social and technological change without sacrificing its unique architectural heritage. Using temporary wayfinding graphics, EL Studio would curate a walkable path between the three alleys, selected for their unique physical conditions and their proximity.
Although a number projects narrowly missed the grade for the WAN Urban Challenge 2018 shortlist due to the exceptionally high standard of entries overall, the judges were keen to commend them. They are:
A special mention for the ‘Dystopian Prize’ was also awarded, but more of that with details of the ultimate winners next week.