by Jerry ElengicalMay 04, 2021
The shift envisioned from our conventional modes of transportation, more importantly the fuel that propels those, to full electric mobility is a lengthy and ambitious one, but it is surely one whose wheels seem to have been put into motion through design innovation. As the climate emergency grows at an alarming rate, various governments and organisations over the world seem to be hurtling to have green initiatives as part of their agendas for the upcoming years, for a population that still largely seems indifferent to the long term impacts of business as usual. Apart from Europe’s Green New Deal, the United States has also set aside $2.3 trillion in infrastructure development costs that enable this change. Furthermore, California, the largest automobile market in the States, is predicted to be largely electric by 2035, aspiring to deal in 100 per cent clean energy.
Presented at Pump to Plug, an online symposium held by the city of Los Angeles and organised by Christopher Hawthorne, LA’s Chief Design Officer, Re-Charge LA by global design studio Woods Bagot is a conceptual intervention for an electric vehicle charging station for the future. The design carefully considers current trends, technologies, and their trajectories to envision EV stations as social hubs with alternate uses for the substantial infrastructure. Especially considering that the current number of such stations across the US, a hundred thousand, is projected to grow fivefold over the coming years, apart from private endeavours like Tesla owning their own expansive networks, there lies a transformative opportunity at the heart of the massive infrastructural requirements to enable that number of EV stations to spring up, and for them to become commonplace.
“We looked to create a cultural currency for the future of Los Angeles,” states the studio’s LA design Principal Matt Ducharme. Re-Charge LA imagines the EV stations as flexible, community-oriented social hubs, as “representative of local communities by emphasising their incredible forms of neighbourhood expression”. The inspiration for the intervention, or the soul of it, comes from the quintessentially American imagination for gas stations and the embedded imagery those, and automobiles in general have held over pop culture and the collective American conscious. The thought for a “hub” also comes entailing the fact that it usually takes nearly an hour or more to fully charge an electric vehicle, and that such spaces could fulfill a broader set of demands while the drivers and passengers waited.
The design for Re-Charge LA then manifests itself to adapt to different “shifts” through the day and night, and eventually through weeks. The proposal counts on significant improvements in our technology to incorporate modular pavers that can even charge cars through induction. Woods Bagot’s speculative design imagines the intervention to be housed beneath a large framed structure with a foldable shade screen, wherein food trucks, another important part of the American imagination with respect to public life and leisure, could gather for serving coffee in the day, lunch at midday and soup in the evening: the trifurcation enabling a more dynamic set of activities as the shading screen acquires another purpose.
The scheme’s visual highlight is the large transformable screen that is also hackable and multipurpose. When completely horizontal, the screen may serve as the shading device for patrons gathering beneath it, while during the busier hours, the screen can be tilted allowing for the possibility of a video backdrop for performances, AV installations, and even a movie screen, transforming the EV lot into a drive-in theatre. The “urban park” thus offers nearly limitless potential for an urban and social rejuvenation of sorts, and one that is propelled by technology, placing it at an important juncture in the realm of public spaces, at the exact precipice of the traditional and futuristic.