Audi Urban Future Initiative

Observing the Audi Urban Future Initiative exhibition

Once upon a time, the automobile was regarded as the key to modern mobility. Designers and planners envisioned grand superhighways cutting through the urban landscape, allowing people to easily zoom between the comforts of their suburban homes to their offices downtown. A century later, we are faced with the grim realities of our car-centric world: urban sprawl, gridlock, dependence on oil, and rising carbon emissions. Cars — the fossil fuel burning kind, at least — are a problem, and as the world’s cities and megacities grow at breakneck speed, we need a new model of mobility for the coming era.

Rather than resisting this claim (as one might expect an automobile manufacturer would), Audi has decided to face the question head-on, exploring the role of individual transport in the future city. To spearhead the effort, the automaker established the Audi Urban Future Initiative in 2010, a program intended to explore the next frontier in mobility and its intersections with architecture and urban design. The Initiative, developed in partnership with Stylepark, is comprised of four parts: research, in partnership with academic and cultural institutions around the world; the Summit, a public symposium where internal and external voices debate ideas and share knowledge; the Insight Team, an internal multidisciplinary think tank exploring the future of Audi’s business; and the Award, a biannual invited design competition about sustainable urban mobility.

This year, the Initiative came to Istanbul to present both the Audi Urban Future Award 2012 and the New Museum’s IDEAS CITY: Istanbul conference, of which Audi is a sponsor. The conference was the first of a series of international events that will serve as a creative pre-game of sorts to the IDEAS CITY festival taking place in May 2013 in New York City. The theme of IDEAS CITY, both the Istanbul event and the forthcoming festival in New York, is “Untapped Capital.”

The Audi and IDEAS CITY events also coincided with the inaugural Istanbul Design Biennial taking place October 13th to December 12th. It is no coincidence that all three programs – the Audi Urban Future Award, IDEAS CITY: Istanbul, and the Design Biennial – happened in parallel; all explore complimentary themes related to urban development, questioning the current state of cities and future urban paradigms.

From left to right: Amanda Burden, Eric Lee, and Suketu Mehta observing the exhibition of Audi Urban Future Initiative proposals

From left to right: Amanda Burden, Eric S. Lee, and Suketu Mehta visiting the exhibition of Audi Urban Future Initiative proposals

The Audi Urban Future Award 2012 exhibition, presenting the five projects from the invited design competition, opened on October 11th, following the IDEAS CITY conference keynote address delivered by Amanda Burden, Chair of the City Planning Commission and Director of the Department of City Planning. This is the second time that the Audi Urban Future title is being awarded; Jürgen Mayer H. was the winner of the first Award in 2010. While the inaugural competition looked at universal concepts of urban mobility, this year’s Award focused on five specific metropolitan regions: the Boston-Washington metropolitan region, Istanbul, Mumbai, the Pearl River Delta, and São Paolo. Audi selected an emerging design firm from each region — Höweler + Yoon Architecture (USA), Superpool (Turkey), CRIT (India), Node Architecture & Urbanism (China), and Urban-Think Tank (Venezuela) — and asked each team to develop a vision for urban mobility in their own metropolitan area for the year 2030.

The 2012 Award, and its €100,000 prize, was given to Höweler + Yoon Architecture for “Shareway 2030,” their vision for the 400-mile corridor between Boston and Washington, D.C., which they affectionately dubbed BosWash. Shareway is a radical reimagining of the American dream, proposing changes not just to the physical infrastructure but also the social, economic, and communications networks of the region.

Shareway 2030 | Howeler + Yoon

Shareway transforms the I-95 highway into a network of bundled multi-modal transportation, a communication platform, and space for new social and economic opportunities. High-speed rail, freight trains, bicycles and pedestrians all flow in segregated yet interconnected and overlapping thruways that run the length of BosWash. A “Superhub” in Newark, New Jersey, serves as the epicenter of the transportation network, where the bundle converges with an airport, seaport, and central train station. A digital communication interface is integrated into the network, providing real-time information and allowing easy transitions between various modes of travel.

Grouping the many modes of transport together into one compact bundle creates room for alternative uses of the highway and adjacent land for parks, housing, farming, and energy generation. The team envisions these areas as shared property, abolishing the notion of private ownership that was once a pillar of the American dream. “Sharestay” housing is based on time-based occupancy, where individuals pay rent only for the time that they are at home and can easily change dwellings as they travel along the BosWash corridor. “Farmshare” reappropriates vacant lots in Baltimore into communal agricultural land, tilled by all and efficiently distributed through the Shareway network.

Shareway is based on the core idea that sharing and collective consumption could replace private ownership. Höweler and Yoon reimagine the highway and existing infrastructure “as a platform for staging other infrastructural narratives and moments of political, social, and spatial difference, and with them, new possible incarnations of the American Dream.”

Of all the competing projects, the Shareway proposal was the most architectural in nature, proposing a new physical environment alongside the digital and cultural components. Ultimately, this is what won the jury over, writes John Thackara, design theorist and jury chairman, in his jury report. Thackara notes that the jury was impressed by all of the proposals, citing a “freshness of approach, combined with a deep investigation of its context” in each case.

PARK | Superpool

Superpool proposed a online loyalty program called “PARK” that transforms the Istanbul streets into a game of points and rewards. The project takes an existing mode of transportation ubiquitous on Istanbul streets, the dolmuş (shared taxi), and envisions a world in which the driverless dolmuş would replace individual car transport, freeing up space on the streets for alternative uses. By riding a dolmuş, individuals earn points that can then be used to reserve the available street space for their own use (like a street party, picnic or soccer game).

Being Nicely Messy | CRIT

CRIT’s proposal for Mumbai, “Being Nicely Messy,” focuses on the informal transactions and collaboration that take place in the city. The team argues that megaprojects cannot succeed because the city is not homogeneous and overarching policies do not work with rhythm of the city. Instead, Mumbai is full of nuances and blurred boundaries. Sensitive to these nuances, CRIT presented a catalogue of small-scale interventions; a tool box “to navigate the networks and platforms of Mumbai’s complex ecosystem of mobility.”

Atmosphere | Node Architecture & Urbanism

Node Architecture & Urbanism’s proposal relieves Shenzhen’s streets of congestion and chaos by separating the conveyance systems for people and for goods. Transportation for goods is buried underground in a new “logistics infrastructure,” freeing up the streetscape for social interaction, economic development, and ecological zones. This physical reorganization is partnered with a cloud logistics system that ensures an efficient flow of mobility, both above and below ground.

Urban Parangolé | Urban Think Tank

Urban-Think Tank’s playful idea for “Urban Parangolé,” inspired by artist Hélio Oiticica’s wearable sculptures, aims to break physical and social boundaries within São Paolo, allowing people to move or “dance with the city.” By creating multiple strands of both formal and informal mobility in all dimensions that are accessible to everyone, people are freed to travel around, interact and invigorate the city.

All five proposals raise compelling questions about what it means to live and move in a city, illustrating that the future of urban mobility is tightly intertwined with the cultural fabric of the metropolis. Any solution for future mobility must also address related social, economic, and political issues. Through the Award and the Urban Future Initiative more generally, Audi is communicating that not only does it understand this obligation, but also takes it on as part of its corporate responsibility. They recognize that cars, as they are made today, cannot sustain cities of the future. We can only hope that the innovative ideas presented in the competition proposals will help to shape the future of Audi’s production line.


All images courtesy of the Audi Urban Future Initiative.

The views expressed here are those of the author only and do not reflect the position of Urban Omnibus editorial staff or the Architectural League of New York.

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