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Telling the story of smart cities

Jan Bunge, partner at creative digital studio and consultancy Squint/Opera, explains why nature and technology must co-exist in harmony in future cities.

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Toyota Woven City is scheduled to be built at the base of Mount Fuji in 2021
Toyota Woven City is scheduled to be built at the base of Mount Fuji in 2021

Today we are happy if our cities are not bad for us but, in the future, we will measure their success by how good they are for us. Today we aim to build energy-neutral – in the future, buildings have to become productive.

 

The challenges we are facing in our built environment are huge but for the most part, we are running 100+ years-old systems and processes. In order to be able to develop better solutions, we need to team up and work collaboratively across all industries, with all parties involved. We have to totally rethink the way we design, build and operate buildings and cities in the future.

 

Leading the way

 

Currently, there are around 7.8 billion people living on earth and according to the United Nations (UN), this will reach 9.7 billion in 2050 and could peak at nearly 11 billion around 2100. This growth has huge environmental implications and as a first step, we all have to intensify our efforts to reach the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

 

It is my hope that projects like the Woven City from Toyota and Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) will lead the way. It’s planned to be built in 2021 at the base of Mount Fuji in Japan and the Woven City will be created around truly sustainable and circular systems.

 

The challenges we are facing in our built environment are huge but for the most part, we are running 100+ years old systems and processes.

 

BIG’s design is looking at ways we can move towards self-sufficient, hydrogen-powered places to live. This “living laboratory” will include full-time residents and researchers who will test and develop technologies such as autonomy, robotics, personal mobility and smart homes in a real-world environment.

 

The Woven City’s concept and design were launched earlier this year at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Squint/Opera helped this launch by creating a 360 immersive theatre, a film and an animated presentation to support Bjarke Ingels’ introduction of the Woven City.

 

 

Imagining a city of the future – dystopian versus utopian

 

Most people generally don’t like change and are often fearful about how technology will impact their lives, jobs and cities in the future. When they hear words like ‘robots,’ ‘automated technology’ and ‘self-driving vehicles’ something sinister comes to mind.

 

It is time for a new and better future vision for our built environment in which people, nature and technology co-exist in harmony.

 

Often this is because Hollywood takes the monopoly on visualising future cities and more often than not, their vision is dystopian. Think of the clean, cold sterile environment created in Gattaca, the gritty, grungy world of Mad Max or Bladerunner, where acid rain falls on a neo-noir backdrop. These narratives depict a world when technology reigns supreme, often at the cost of the natural world.

 

In regards to the impact of technology, I believe that as a society we need to define our values and set our moral compass. It is time for a new and better future vision for our built environment in which people, nature and technology co-exist in harmony.

 

In future, cities will be judged on how good they are for us
In future, cities will be judged on how good they are for us

An ecosystem like the Woven City is multi-layered – it’s a mixture of the natural environment and new technology. We made an effort to visualise the natural elements, by showing their functions.

 

As for the Woven City, they will contribute to biodiversity and have productive functions, like the ability to produce food, clean water and power. This kind of planning shows that it’s not either/or, it’s not about technology versus nature, it’s about both working well together.

 

This kind of planning shows that it’s not either-or, it’s not about technology versus nature, it’s about both working well together.

 

This is a balance we often aim to strike when visualising high-tech cities, or solutions. It’s about showing that the technology will be there, but with a purpose. Showing that the place will also be comfortable, beautiful and sustainable.

 

Because technological advancements don’t have to equate to an absence of human connection or nature but used in the right way, technology can enhance and strengthen our relationship with our natural environment.

 

We’re moving towards more resource-efficient cities and systems and technology is used as a way to help optimise the process and get us there faster and smarter. The cities of the future won’t be technology versus nature, it won’t look like science-fiction – instead, there will be a combination of both.

 

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