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Rethinking How People Move in Cities November 14, 2014
With 21st century mobility reaching its spatial and ecological limits, we have to revisit the relation of mobility and urban space on a systematic scale. The major goal of Studio Schwitalla’s proposal is to renegotiate the relationship between mobility and the urban space on the three levels: product, infrastructure, and use. As the 20th century has been the era of urbanisation, mobility and digitalisation, the 21th century is about the symbiotic fusion of these components.
Max’s goal is to create a just-in-time system that increases the utilisation rate of urban vehicles and infrastructure and allows for an individualisation of use. By employing destination control algorithms that are operational in elevators worldwide, the collective execution of individual needs will improve the performance of the whole system. Studio Schwitalla wants to remove the divide between private-individual and public transport by blurring the boundary between the two modes of mobility. Such a system will transform the static station-based concept of public transport into a dynamic traffic landscape and free valuable urban space for alternative uses.
We founded the studio, 12 years ago, as you [Angela Brady] said, 2 years ago, sorry, 2012, in Berlin. We are really young and really experimental studio and our approach to architecture and urban design is literally through mobility. We don’t have traditional clients, we rather have research collaborations with an elevator company from Switzerland, Schindler, and since this summer also with Audi, the car manufacturer. Actually, as we can see, I mean, the 20th century actually proved that mobility shaped our cities. The “elevated city” on the left and the “car city” on the right.
If we look at the beginning of the 21st century now, especially in growth markets such as China, I mean, it’s actually, the worst combination of both. We have like singular towers that lead into a kind of social vertical isolation and we have massive infrastructures for cars in between. So I think something went fundamentally wrong somehow. And I think we really forget about the people in the cities. And this is on purpose an image, a still image, that shows people stuck in urban mobility rather than flowing and segregated from each other. I don’t know if these people do want to buy a car, I think they want to go from A to B as convenient, as seamless as possible. And I think we should really overcome the concept of 20th century technology that is really based on the car and elevators as I showed before.
But not only technology also, I think our approach to urban planning should also be rethought I believe. Right now, urban planning is shown mostly in plan, literally, in two-dimensional plan view. Why don’t we actuate much more the third dimension? Why don’t we challenge cities centre and their relation to the periphery three-dimensionally? And this is a concept we call a “Babel Town”, on purpose it’s called “Babel Town”, this is not a design proposal, this is a theory an image because we want to provoke rethinking also via image but, you know, why don’t we think of architecture that produces green space instead of consuming it, as we know it? Because, you know, the ’60s, of course is really as our heroes, I believe, but I think also the time to rethink, or think like this again is here, I mean, the need to think like that, is totally present, also, the technologies is much further now. But also, other ideas… roller-coasters, how could they generate vertical villages stacked on top of each other? How could we use this technology, using joints, therefore it’s not like a roller-coaster ride, and you throw up after the second turn but it’s like convenient travel, you know, mobility concept that I integrated into a horizontal knit into that as well as into the vertical, allowing to, you know, subways stops on top of each other, to spread multiple villages on top of each
Also, the idea of like the hacking a little bit the disciplines between architecture and urban planning, so maybe there’s a scale in between which is the neighbourhood. This is a traditional block on the left, in Berlin, that is, you know, isolated from each other with staircases. Why don’t we think in more kind of horizontal landscapes? The idea of a village within a city. And this is like prototypes we also developed together with Schindler. So the idea to also prevent the need for mobility at the other end of the problem, I believe. So this is a little kind of intro of what we are up to, and this is now a project we want to present to you, which we just presented on Monday, as part of the Audi Urban Future Award, so it’s fresh out of press, and it’s called “Destination Collective”. The idea was really to, the vision of organic traffic landscape, that is modelled around individual needs. And for this, we actually could work together with people from Audi. The experts for horizontal mobility, on the left you see experts for vertical mobility and we even worked together with people from biomimicry to get inspiration from nature, as one of the biggest inspirations for innovation. And for this project we got really inspired how elevators change, or destination control change, the world of elevators. We’ll actually blur the boundaries between individual and public transportation. We want to hack and activate different layers of infrastructure and this is a proposal for Berlin and I think especially in Germany, we should think about a new urban vehicle, 75 years after the Volkswagen, is probably a really time to rethink an urban vehicle, and for this we’ll then be inspired by nature. This is not photoshopped, this is reality. And as a result of that, we then can also show how the city of the future of Berlin could look like. And all of this, I want to present you now is more like a journey through time and space. We will start with today. We will reach a new urban development that is on the former site of the Tegel Airport and we will, 2017, and we will go through a test track and on the way back, we will show you our vision for the whole entire city of Berlin, in 2035. So, you know, you can really lean back, relax, enjoy the ride, it’s going to be just 20 years of time that is going to take now.
So, starting in Berlin today, is one of the most exciting cities in Europe, I think. It is relatively small compared to other metropolitan areas, and therefore doesn’t suffer the same scale of problems yet. It is known for its really creative atmosphere, and that’s why we, also believe, it’s a really perfect spot to think about new concepts of urban mobility. So that’s what you said, let’s see, let’s get up, find the hidden potentials, but also really face the problems that we find in our streets today. Because, I mean, if we step outside of the door, this is not a street anymore, this is mainly a parking lot. Most of the space is consumed for parking and actually, if you sum up the entire space for Berlin, it adds up to about 7 million square metres. And that’s actually a space, comparable for 200,000 people to live in. And Berlin is suffering real estate speculations at the moment and we should ask ourselves “who do we build the cities for, for cars or for people?”. And, even though just half of Berlin’s households do have a car, we end up with like 1.3 million cars in total in Berlin. Each of them occupied with only 1.3 persons. So that actually means that we spend one hour per day, isolated by ourselves, totally alone in really frustrating, stop-and-go traffic. And this traffic is mainly produced by transit trips, crossing through city centres above 3 kilometres distance. And as these streets are changing at the moment, I mean, shared cars are rising, and that’s fantastic, but remember they will be stuck in traffic as well. So if you look at the entire mobility system of Berlin, we find that private cars is still the first choice in Berlin, with 38% and around one third of the people in Berlin are walking and cycling, and the second biggest choice is public transportation, with 27%. That’s quite similar to Copenhagen I think. And as I said in the beginning, we want to blur these boundaries, and actually, you know, propose a “Collective mobility” concept, that takes the best of both, and until now, we looked at the problems of private mobility and individual mobility. Let’s have a look at public as well, public transportation. For example, the subway, because it runs in steady timetables and frequencies, you as individual user, literally, always miss the train. And you will always wait for the next one. But not only that, but also transfer times between lines in average right now, is two and a half minutes, that’s great but if we think about that in the entire system, that sums up to six years we loose per day in total. And you know, these tunnels stay mainly empty which is totally crazy if you think about how expensive they are to build and these tunnels of course, they are disconnected from each other, and that’s why we as a, when we need to change direction, we need to pass through these architectural bottlenecks, that are super expensive and they are not even beautiful all the time. So, what we are trying to overcome is actually the concept of this hub-based transportation and really organise flows by their destination. And this is, you see now here, our test site, the airport which is still running at the moment, but once it will be close, it will be our test site and then there will be a proposal for our “Flyway”, which is a test track that it will lead us there. And what we want to test here is, actually the first hybrid solution out of individual and public transportation, and that’s based on autonomous driving.
The starting point for this, for this Flyway, the test track, is an old elevated train track that was built in the 1920s by Siemens and we think is actually, would be a fantastic chance to test autonomous driving within the urban environment and in a real case scenario with real users. And it’s located in close proximity to this new urban development, it’s four kilometres long and we want to reconnect it to the existing public transport network so there will be a station, there will an entrance gate to this Flyway, and in the north we will want to propose to extend an elevated track into the testing site. So, as a first hybrid solution, as a train of electric vehicles taking off and then splitting up on site and serving individual destinations. On the way back, they should regroup to a train in order to save space on the track and then we have the moment where they pass by, on so called bypasses that are located along the curves of the track. And because they are there we can actually design them as super elevations so in order to save space and to give space to other functions for Berliners, such as, you know, cafés, bars, restaurants, and sport facilities. So it could become, you know, a new urban landmark in Berlin, because it’s open to the public, it’s also a great benefit for the local neighbourhood and it’s, to sum it up basically, on the left, you see, it’s half, it’s 50% test track and 50% public park for Berliners.
So, let’s experience by ourselves, what it means to fly on the Flyway. With an app, we would type in our final destination on site. And today we are heading to a workshop and we find out that actually, at the other end of the train, there’s another colleague from us who’s going to the same workshop and we both are assigned to the car number 3 and once we reach Jungfernheide we, this is the station, this entrance gate, to the Flyway, we find these vehicles ready for boarding for us. And that’s where we actually meet our colleague, that we’re going to join for the workshop and once in the car, we see no more steering wheel and the autopilot is actually active, ready to go. And, yeah, because it’s part of the public transport network, actually, everybody could experience autonomous driving technologies.
And once we drive on the Flyway, we find out that the former stations are turned into bars and restaurants for Berliners and for tourists worldwide. And then, once we reach the new urban development, the former airport, this will be turned into a research and science park for the technologies within the urban environment for the future and they will be invented but also tested here. We actually could test autonomous driving in the public space here. So we will be dropped off at our final destination and the car takes off to pick up the next customer.
So, this is where we should take a little break now, this is, everything we have seen so far is really possible with today’s technology and I think it’s very important to start learning by doing as well because we want to do, you know, the step from the local test track to a vision for 2035 that integrates the entire city. And for this, all the aspects we have seen so far, we just need to extend them to an urban scale for the idea of autonomous driving and the idea of infrastructure hacking and the concept of destination control.
And now, we’ve seen vehicles that are looking more less like vehicles we know from the streets today, but we want to, kind of couple them also physically, spatially, not only virtually, like we have seen so far, in order to come up with a true collective mobility concept. And I’m going to start with explaining destination control within the elevator world first. And we see here three elevators that are running without destination control, actually, where everybody squeezes in, push the button where they want to go, and the result is a really frustrating stop and go traffic, and to the last one to get out, you’re probably quite moody once you’re up there. And it’s a really competitive behaviour, it’s something we really experience on the streets as well today.
So, now we try again with destination control. On the right, where the user puts in his final destination before you get in the cabin and the system can then group people accordingly and then its mathematical algorithms minimise the amount of stops and at the end of the day, everybody is happy because it’s a direct way. But not only you make everybody happier through this collaborative behaviour, you actually increase the entire system average in sense of energy efficiency and total waiting time. So this is a concept on the right we want to continue working with and transform it from a skyscraper into an urban layout, that’s why we want to take these destination floors and put them laid out next to each other horizontally and think of them as neighbourhoods now, in a city. Then we want to group people according to their destination neighbourhood, they want to travel together along transfer routes above and underground in order not to cross through other neighbourhoods and once we reach our final neighbourhood, we split our ways for the last mile and that could happen on surface again. So that means every neighbourhood in Berlin turns into a destination that is connected with all the other neighbourhoods in Berlin through a whole network of existing infrastructures above ground and underground.
So now that we understood how and where we wish to travel, we need a vehicle that can actually do this job for us. For this we got inspired by nature, as I said, and, if we zoom in a lot now, we are inside a body cell at the moment, inside a skin cell, in this case, we also find roads, different infrastructures, we find motor proteins and vesicles to carry around proteins for the cell. And I have to say, yeah, it looks super funny, but what’s really interesting is the coupling and decoupling of functions. And this allows a really a smooth transition from one infrastructure to the other.
So what could that mean for a vehicle? And in the case of the car, all these functions are packed underneath one body and as I told you, we were working together with the designers as well and they told us that it’s a really painful moment to cut out the door at the very end once you have this beautiful design. So we want to decouple these functions inspired by the cell, we organise a prime move at the periphery, reduce the cabin size to one seater and maximise the door size. And then recouple them together very loosely in order to allow a three dimensional movement because the cabin always stays horizontal. And you can imagine this was a moment where some people in Audi got a bit nervous but this concept is what we call the “Flywheel” and it’s actually the smallest unit of collective mobility. And, since the main function now is a door that can actually couple and decouple with other Flywheels and so it allows growth into both directions because it has doors into both sides, the interiors decouple and can float freely, quite spacious and because, it can turn, it can become a transporter if needed to transport goods. And because it can turn, it’s actually allowing to move three dimensionally through the city, really steep up and down and you always stay horizontally.
So let’s look at the different potentials of different group sizes of the Flywheels. It could come, of course, as a one seater, so it turns into a personal assistant, as a two seater, it could become a dating app, and as a three seater, or groups either, it could turn into a guitar concert, maybe. But I mean, everybody else probably has much better ideas and that’s how we believe, we think of this collective mobility concept as an open innovation platform for the sharing economies so it’s not us to define what it is but it’s an open platform for ideas. And the designers got very excited already, sketched out different ideas, and this is the one, the model we picked now for our ride home. Now we are in the year 2035, and as we see, navigation became super easy through a mobility landscape, this home button that we all know from the phone is finally available and the Flywheel is just one click away and actually, there’s no congestion, the system becomes better with every additional user. And it’s a really, very premium experience, because it is very, exactly then, when and where I wanted to be available. It is a very seamless experience, short connection ramps and tunnels, interconnect different infrastructures into one mobility landscape. Plastic, recycled plastic turn rail tracks into multifunctional roads, we can activate power lines down there to charge our battery on the go. And as we see, we coupled with someone because we have apparently the same destination, as I mentioned. The chance to meet our neighbour on the way home now is much higher because flows are organised around destinations. We reach our final neighbourhood and the Flywheel decouples, slows down, turns back into the last mile mode and continuing together with our neighbour our ride to the surface up. And what we find is that this mobility landscape, traffic landscape can also be extended above ground, just as a reminder, this is how the same space look before and since we now, can organise flows three dimensionally, we can also start to stack public space vertically, on top of each other and if needed, we can densify the city wherever is needed.
So, we’re almost home, let’s continue our ride and because this Flywheel is shared in autonomous self-driving and it doesn’t have to be parked, because it’s CO2 neutral, because it’s silent and small, we can actually now, renegotiate the relationship between mobility and architectural and urban space and hopefully come up with a different architectural typologies that fit better to the human scale and not to the scale of the car. So we’re back home at the street we left this morning and we say goodbye to our neighbour, maybe we just have met, because we shared the same way and now, there it is, “bye bye”, and we go to rest, but this Flywheel doesn’t need to sleep, of course, so it could also do other jobs at night. It could deliver parcels. And you know, just to sum it up, this is… it’s collective mobility is really, it is just in time, it is personalised, it is three dimensionally and seamless and it’s also scalable. And the Flywheel cannot fly yet but who knows what the future might bring. Thank you very much.
Founder of Studio Schwitalla, Max studied architecture at the University of Stuttgart and at the ETH, Zurich. Studio Schwitalla has grown to a small agile team of international designers, researchers and scientists who enjoy blurring the boundaries between urban design and architecture. Future urban mobility is the driving passion within Studio Schwitalla.