Friday Fun: Driverless City
Photo via ArchDaily.

Bjarke Ingel Group's proposal for the Audi Urban Future Award featured a driverless city, relying on automated and synchronized personal vehicles to reduce congestion and enhance shared urban space. Photo via ArchDaily.

The Audi Urban Future Award is an international competition among privately selected architectural firms to design the future of cities. The initiative is Audi’s effort to look at the urban environment as a laboratory and to create a changed reality that is socially, technically, economically, ecologically and aesthetically viable. The project also considers Audi’s role in creating solutions to the future of urban and environmental problems.

Already, more and more people live in megacities and high-density urban areas. Highlighting the dichotomy between low- and high-income nations, the award aims to understand the economic and demographic shifts that should inspire the design of future urban spaces. But the design is not merely a practical approach to alleviating urban space issues. For Richard Burdett, an architect and urban planner, it is also a matter of aesthetics. “As oil costs soar, the city of the future will need to adapt to modes of transportation that are not petrol-dependent,” Burdett said at the 11th Architectural Biennial in Venice. “But this issue is not only environmental; it is also aesthetic and social.”

The winner of the award was J. Mayer H., a Germany-based architecture firm, with its project A.WAY. The other participants included the following:

The finalist, Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), an architecture and urban design firm based in Copenhagen, entered the competition with a project featuring a driverless city. In BIG’s project proposal, the city is imagined not with flying cars and saucers but instead with the full merger of information technology and personal transport. “The driverless car; the first truly auto-mobility could be the next revolution in urban space,” the project’s website explains. “We imagine that inner cities that are currently banning cars through taxation or tolls to relieve congestion will simply become driverless rather than car-less.”

The project proposes roads and pavements transformed into reprogrammable surfaces, replacing the fixed elements of a driveway, sidewalk or square. Instead this shared public space becomes a digital street surface with the help of a thin layer of solar-powered sensors that can communicate with the flux of driverless cars. The advantage of driverless cars would be the automated and synchronized choreography of moving vehicles.

The idea is not as far-fetched as it might seem. There are, afterall, several fully-functioning driverless trains. Dubai Metro, Singapore Light Rail, Lille Light Rail and Copenhagen Metro are all examples of driverless mass transit. “The driverless car is being introduced in small increments through luxury crash prevention features,” the project’s website says. “Vehicles are designed to anticipate potential risks pre-crash and take control of the vehicle.”

According to the project’s creators, a driverless car could work as a solution to congestion by simply creating a platform of communication between vehicles and using efficient patterns to travel. “Cars that drive fast take up a lot of space, because they have to keep distance, but cars that hold still are actually comparable to busses and trains,” the creators explain. “Driverless cars would take up four times less space, even at high speeds, simply because they are able to drive closer.”

Further interesting would be the blurred boundaries of pedestrian and vehicle spaces. “With this re-surfaced city it is possible to liberate the street from curbs and physical barriers, and allow for the greatest flexibility of public use,” according to the proposal. “Infusing the surface of the city with information, energy, and light, will enable the city to adapt to the changes of urban life in real-time.”

Whether the project will gain ground in the future is uncertain, and whether it’s as efficient a solution as mass transit is debatable; but the project’s emphasis on linking information technology and transit is certainly commendable.

Audi Urban Future Award proposal / BIG from ArchDaily on Vimeo.

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