Today, all major cities of the world are severely unprepared when it comes to one of the necessities of living in an urban environment - mobility. Nearly 60 per cent of the world’s population is expected to be living in metropolises by 2030 - an increase of 50 per cent as compared to the current living scenario. Also, the present tally of 1.2 billion cars in the world could possibly double in the next 10 years, while kilometers travelled within cities may double, or even triple in the next three decades. The rise of a modern city is built on the ease of getting around, but in most of the cities the prevalent mobility systems are on the verge of collapse.
In this respect, it is interesting to mention that Dutch architectural practice UNStudio has a fierce vision of ‘future proofing the future’. Based across four cities - Amsterdam, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Frankfurt - UNStudio has been consistently providing designs centered around ‘mobility’, offering greener and sustainably efficient alternatives, to traverse dense, urban spaces.
Demonstrating their vision of alleviating congestion from roads and encouraging the use of public transport, the studio recently released a mobility report, consisting of numerous transport-based projects by them - from speculative (Hardt Hyperloop) and proposed (IJbaan cable car) to built designs (Arnhem Central Station).
The future of public transport: Cable cars
The cable car is becoming popular as other public transport systems are finding it difficult to keep pace with booming construction and ever increasing population in the developing world. "Cable car systems provide a new form of public transport that is sustainable, extremely fast, reliable and efficient. Although primarily a pragmatic solution, cable cars are also a very congenial way to travel as they enable city residents to see and experience their cities in a whole new way," says founder and Principal Architect of UNStudio, Ben van Berkel.Gothenburg Cable Car
UNStudio’s design entry won the competition for a cable car system in the city of Gothenburg, Sweden. Gothenburg will celebrate its 400th anniversary in 2021, and this project is proposed to be completed by then, offering efficient and fast aerial transport across the city.
Commissioned by the IJbaan Foundation, the IJbaan cable car in Amsterdam will connect the northern part of the city with the newly developed neighbourhoods in the west. The one-and-a-half kilometre long cable car journey is estimated to be completed by 2025, when Amsterdam marks its 750th anniversary. Currently in its sketch phase, with advance concepts for the cable car towers and two transit hubs, this project originally began as a crowdfunded, ‘Amsterdammer’ citizens' initiative in 2015, and is now supported by the Municipality of Amsterdam.
Another winning design by UNStudio is for the first-ever cross-border cable car between Blagoveshchensk (Russia) and Heihe (China). The terminal will have two cable car lines running over the Amur river. This design includes the cable car terminal on the Russian side of the river, which has been proposed to eventually become a leisure and cultural hub.
Efficiently sustainable and green mobility solutions
Aiming at getting people out of their cars and encouraging public transport, whether aerial, underground, or even capsules travelling at over 600 kms per hour, UNStudio’s current mobility designs emphasise connectivity in an urban setting and improving accessibility and visual appeal of cities. These modes of transport are conceived to reduce carbon emissions, and to enable cities to increase green areas, cater to pedestrians as well as and future mobility solutions.Qatar Railways' Doha Metro Network
The Qatar Integrated Railway Project in Doha has been in progress for the last seven years, and opened its first line to the public in May 2019. Reference designs for the stations were made in collaboration with Qatar Railways, and an architectural branding manual specifying design guidelines, architectural details, and material outlines was developed for the same. The network’s design bridges the past and future of Qatar as it presents a constructive vision for the future by taking influences from regional architecture.Hardt Hyperloop: a sustainably convenient alternative to flying
“The Hyperloop is not only a realistic and viable alternative to flying, it is going to revolutionise travel. It will provide extremely fast travel times with direct connections between cities, enabling completely new ways of working and spending our leisure time, which in turn will lead to a multitude of economic, environmental and knowledge exchange benefits,” explains Berkel.
A vision by UNSFutures (the UNStudio’s Futures Team – a multi-disciplinary team of researchers, futurists, architects, speculative designers and storytellers) for the European Hyperloop stations of the future, the Hardt Hyperloop Hub is also a study of urban integration for the Hyperloop across cities and towns of different sizes.
UNStudio not only designs but collaborates with city governments and municipalities as well to strategise and design for the future. UNSFutures, in collaboration with Royal Haskoning and others, recently finalised a mobility strategy for the municipality of Amsterdam, catering to future urban mobility situations. Amsterdam had declared that by 2030, all its traffic should be electric (all gasoline/diesel cars will be disallowed). This resulted in a strategic design study, titled ‘Perspective on Mobility of the Future in Amsterdam’, and the capital city of Netherlands is setting an exemplary goal for other cities of the world.
UNStudio is also concerned about the environmental impact and footprint of their designs. Focusing on understanding and making their designs more sustainable and circular, a group of UNStudio employees formed the Green Team. The very first project that they undertook happens to be near their Amsterdam office, the Stadhouderskade.
The Stadhouderskade street has an unfortunate reputation of being one of the busiest and most polluted streets in Netherlands. To combat this, the Green Team is determined to convert this main artery into ‘The Green Mile’. The goal is to reduce air pollution, noise, and carbon dioxide emissions, and to form a greener, healthier public realm along the Stadhouderskade street. The design team will also invite different stakeholders who use the street – locals, residents of de Pijp and other businesses, to become a part of the urban plan, which encourages a sustainable approach to getting around on this busy stretch of road.
One of UNStudio’s landmark projects, the Arnhem Central Masterplan, in Netherlands, completed 10 years in 2018. On this occasion, the studio made a short documentary, titled A Celebration of Travel, demonstrating what daily life is like at Arnhem Central Station.
It is essential, now more than ever, to ask and address the challenges of energy scarcity, climate change, and mobility. The fields of urban planning and architecture need to inculcate sustainable building practices to combat the mobility needs of cities, for tomorrow. Efficient and green transport systems must become commonplace, as is being put into practice by UNStudio.