Imagining the cities of the future
This week the global conversation at Expo 2020 turns to urban development, and more specifically imagining the perfect city of tomorrow. New Zealand has some of the most sprawling cities in the world, Auckland, home to just under two million people is 120km from top to bottom. Compare that to London, home to more than nine million people which is just 50km from top to bottom. New Zealand has some amazing opportunities when it comes to our cities of the future so how can we harness technology, culture, sustainability and the power of nature to build better? And how can we learn from others around the world tackling the same challenges? We speak to experts in our Kea community to find out.
Architecture Van Brandenburg is a cutting-edge architecture and design company with studios in Dunedin and Queenstown. For the past few years Damien Van Brandenburg and his team have been focused on building a 120,000m2 corporate campus for Chinese fashion giant Marisfrolg in Shenzhen, China. Supporting thirty thousand employees, Damien says the campus is like a mini city and it’s design aims to mimic the natural world.
“The design of Marisfrolg is based on nature and how nature can inspire architecture. We have the ability to learn from natural networks and use these to enhance our lives. For example the roof of the campus is created from leaf life shapes which form canopies, they collect rainwater and push it down a ‘stem’ to be collected and reused much like a plant or a tree would. There is a lot to learn from the way in which a forest, for example, will grow and adapt to look after all the species within it. We can learn from this when we think about the planning and architecture of our future cities.
Damien’s designs aim to use as many recycled and sustainable materials as possible and he says the ability for New Zealand cities to adapt and evolve particularly when it comes to sustainability needs to be a key consideration for Aotearoa.
“Nature is constantly adapting and evolving and changing to make things more efficient for trees and plant life. People have had to adapt a lot recently in response to the pandemic, and I think in future we will see that adaptation be applied to the growth of cities. For example could the cities of the future be grown entirely from trees? Could all our homes come from renewable materials such as mass timber construction which is all digitally fabricated? I think the challenges and opportunities are in adaptation. There is a huge amount of data out there to influence city development so cities of the future can really be learning from the cities of today.”
Making sure Aotearoa’s future cities learn from others is something which Professor Anthony Hoete (Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Ranana) is passionate about. Anthony recently moved back to New Zealand after thirty years of practising architecture in Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK. These days he’s working for the University of Auckland using his expertise in optimal density housing to research ways to make Aotearoa’s cities more compact. He feels New Zealand has a number of opportunities in this space but it’s going to require a big shift in thinking.
From Northern to Southern boundaries Auckland is 120km, whereas if you look at a city like London with almost four times the population it’s around 50km from one edge to the other. We have to optimise our density of living as we move forward, it’s the one major means to tackle the housing crisis. We have a lot of opportunities for infill within our cities, a lot of places where we can build up or create more compact living particularly around transport hubs. A lot of houses with empty roof voids. We need to move away from the quarter acre dream and get used to living closer to each other, yet living closer doesn’t necessarily come at a detriment to quality as we can design buildings for sunlight and daylight, for privacy and overlooking, to make the most of shared spaces.”
“There is nothing wrong with a backyard but let’s get rid of the side yard. Moving into the future we need to look at arrangements like terraced housing. High density housing doesn’t mean ugly cities. Paris, Barcelona and Berlin are all seen as beautiful cities and with citizens living side by side and above and below each other. We also need to question the relationship between house and car, we need to look at parking on the street – maybe walking 20, 50 meters to our front doors and I know that’s a bit of a pain-in-the-rain but accommodating the car onsite is really impeding our livable space.”
Along with the ability to increase density, Anthony says New Zealand also has a real opportunity to create less suburban sprawl and more sustainable cities of the future given our unique environment and our culture of embracing technology.
“We can grow pinus radiata and spruce relatively quickly in this country given our soil conditions. Reforestation is a real opportunity. It’s surprising to me that given we have the capacity to plant the second-largest man made forests in the southern hemisphere (Kaingaroa) we cannot socio-economically exploit locally-grown exotic forestry more. We need to shift the entire housing supply model, embrace off-site manufactured processes with a lot more digital fabrication technologies. By doing so, we could minimise waste and upskill and increase the labour market and disrupt housing supply chains.
Founder of the New Zealand Green Building Council Jane Henley says our building sector is one of the last sectors to innovate and when it comes to cities of the future, innovation and factory manufacturing within the sector will be key.
“Currently the building industry is very bespoke, we need to look at how we can drive a manufacturing mindset. Innovation is key to sustainability and cost effectiveness. The more we can drive computer technology and bring that into the market, we will be able to reduce waste and reduce design cost wastage. If you build better buildings you in turn will have better cities.”
Another key consideration for New Zealand is how we incorporate our culture into urban planning. Deidre Brown has a background in Māori and Pacific architecture and says the cities of Aotearoa’s future must celebrate their place within the pacific.
“Right now the University of Auckland is working on a project looking at how Tāmaki Makaurau would have developed into a modern city without colonization. If we can imagine that and build a model of that then we can start to think about how we could bring some of that back. I think cities of the future have to reflect the people living in them and also reflect the heritage. When they are able to do that they can better adapt to their environment.”
But perhaps the most important consideration when it comes to the cities of the future is making sure they are spaces people want to live in. Damien says he’s optimistic we can create future cities which are not only kind to the planet but also kind to people.
“If you start imagining what future cities might look like, many people will have this idea of sci-fi futuristic cities which are often portrayed in movies. But I think more of an optimistic solution which I think is achievable. Future cities should have spaces, environments, and cultures that we want to be in, that are inclusive and fair. From a design perspective I want the foundations of these cities to be as welcoming as possible, I want people to be able to move through cities without huge congestion, to be able to make the most of things such as small-scale aero transportation. I’d like to think future cities will have buildings which can generate their own power and can be adapted to grow food, to allow farming to take place within a city environment. But overall I think the cities of the future need to be inclusive and welcoming, to allow people to feel safe.”