Category Archives: COMMENT

Balance of Power: The case for renewable energy for Europe

Reinier de Graaf, director of AMO, Research and Design, OMA

“Ukraine’s delay in paying for Russian gas has created a critical situation. In the event of further violation of the conditions of payment, Gazprom will be compelled to partially or completely cease gas deliveries. Undoubtedly, this is an extreme measure. We fully realize that this increases the risk of siphoning off natural gas passing through Ukraine’s territory and heading to European consumers.”

Vladimir Putin in a letter to 18 EU countries, April 10th, 2014

Europe Renewable Energy Blur_Roamdap 2050_Copyright OMA

Five years ago, on the heels of the “failure” of COP15 in Copenhagen, our office participated in a project called Roadmap 2050*, which proposed the wholesale transformation of Europe’s energy infrastructure – away from fossil fuels, towards renewable energy sources – with the aim of cutting Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80% in 2050. The idea was simple: the integration of national energy grids into a Europe-wide supergrid would permit the sharing and exchange of different forms of renewable energy between nations. In terms of Europe’s energy supply, this would be nothing short of a revolution. Rather than each nation having to pursue a full mix of energy sources within its own territory, EU nations could be free to engage in extreme a degree of specialization, whereby each EU member state could focus on the type of (renewable) energy best suited to its specific geography and climate, and still be insulated from the supply fluctuations of renewable energy.

Although little more than a footnote at the time, there was another aspect to the project, which, given the current political climate, is perhaps more interesting at the moment: Europe could become self-sufficient in its energy supply. Tied to this is an interesting political trade off: independence from external energy providers in exchange for increased energy interdependence between EU member states. Strangely enough, the byproduct of this essentially technical exercise turned out to be a more compelling case for European integration than any which had ever been made in the political arena. For a while it looked as though European integration, 60 years after the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community, could once again become an industrial project, this time with the building of an integrated energy infrastructure at its center: the transformation of national power sectors into a single integrated mutually reinforcing system of energy provision, turning Europe’s diversity into the ultimate strategic advantage.

Eneropa_Roamdap 2050_Copyright OMA

Much has happened since. A near nuclear disaster has taken place in Fukushima. Germany (largely as a result of Japan’s misfortune) has embarked on an ‘Energiewende’. For a while the Arab Spring seemed to offer the prospect of North Africa becoming the great democratic reservoir that would provide Europe with politically correct (read: solar) energy. But if one calmly takes stock of Europe’s progress, both in terms of the share of renewables in Europe’s energy provision, and the formulation of a truly integrated European energy policy, there is still much left to be desired.

In view of the recent events in Ukraine and the overt threats of Russia to use its gas supplies as a means to impose its will, not only on Ukraine but potentially on Europe (and particularly Eastern Europe), the prospect of a self-sufficient, ‘energy independent’ Europe acquires an acute appeal. Not even in the coldest days of the cold war did the USSR leverage its gas deliveries to gain the upper hand in the battle for global dominance. The ideological balance of power was guaranteed by the accompanying balance of military force. In the world of globalization however, with economic entanglement among otherwise sovereign states, energy has the capability to replace military force as the prime strategic weapon in wielding geopolitical influence, giving its possessors ‘first strike capability’, with minimal consequences in return.

MetroMap_Roamdap 2050_Copyright OMA

At the time of its launch in 2010, Roadmap 2050 was primarily driven by technological and environmental parameters; today, it is first and foremost the political aspect that grants the project a renewed momentum. Roadmap 2050 could provide Europe the necessary energy security, so it can remain firm about its democratic principles. Energy is primarily exchanged between European states that have committed to the same values and the dependence on outsiders is drastically reduced. The beauty of the idea lies in that within the proposed system no single European state can ever claim a monopoly on energy provision. Energy is exchanged for energy; todays suppliers are tomorrow’s recipients.

Dependencies shift, simply on the basis of seasonal or meteorological conditions. The very strength of the project resides in the fact that it ultimately does not assume energy is ever un-political and the profound knowledge that a Europe that relies on energy provided by those who do not share its principles may ultimately well be a Europe unable to afford those principles.

Sun Wind Map_Roamdap 2050_Copyright OMA

*Roadmap 2050 a practical guide to a prosperous, low carbon Europe. The mission of Roadmap 2050 project is to provide a practical, independent and objective analysis how to achieve a low-carbon economy in Europe, in line with the energy security, environmental and economic goals of the European Union. The Roadmap 2050 project is an initiative of the European Climate Foundation (ECF) developed by a consortium of experts funded by the ECF: McKinsey & Company; KEMA; The Energy Futures Lab at Imperial College London; Oxford Economics, E3G; The Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands; The Regulatory Assistance Project and The Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA).

Reinier de Graaf directs the work of AMO, the research and design studio established as a counterpart to the architectural practice of OMA. He has been responsible for AMO’s increasing involvement in sustainability and energy planning, which has included Zeekracht: a strategic Masterplan for the North Sea, the publication in 2010 of “Roadmap 2050: A Practical Guide to a Prosperous, Low-Carbon Europe” with the European Climate Foundation, and “The Energy Report,” a global plan for 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, made with the WWF.

Written By admin 
May 12, 2014 09:18 am

Hitachi to Deliver the World’s Fastest Ultra-High-Speed Elevator in Guangzhou, China

Hitachi Ltd and Hitachi Elevator (China) Co Ltd have recently announced that they are to deliver the world’s fastest ultra-high-speed elevator, travelling at speeds of up to 1,200 m/min (72 km/h).

The revolutionary new design will be installed at the Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre in Guangzhou, China, whisking passengers from first to 95th floor in approximately 43 seconds along a 440-metre shaft. Without their ears popping.

According to Hitachi’s press release, the elevator “will feature technologies that support safe and comfortable elevator operation, in addition to the drive and control technologies needed to attain the world’s fastest speed. Through these technologies, Hitachi will ensure that the elevator will provide passengers with a comfortable ride even when operated at high speeds”.

A BBC News article quotes Hitachi as saying that the lift design would prevent ear blockages by artificially altering air pressure in the car. Guiding rollers that adapt to warping caused by wind pressure would mean the ride remained smooth, and brakes able to resist extreme heat would activate in the “unlikely” event of a malfunction.

Hitachi says it has developed a permanent magnet synchronous motor that achieves both a thin profile and the high output needed to attain a speed of 1,200 m/min. It also claims to have “successfully developed a compact traction machine by lightening the load on the traction machine through reducing the weight of the system by reducing the main rope diameter while increasing the rope’s strength”.

Hitachi is to install a total of 95 elevators at Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre in time for the 530-metre skyscraper’s official opening in 2016. These will include two of the world’s fastest elevators as described above, and 28 double-decker elevators.

According to BBC News the current holder of the ‘fastest lift in the world’ record is the Taipei 101 building in Taiwan. Its lift sends passengers from fifth to 89th floor in 37 seconds, a speed of 1,010 m/min.

Gail Taylor

Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre in Guangzhou


Written By admin 
May 01, 2014 09:26 am

A dike with a difference


Katwijk is to have a new flood defence: a row of dunes that incorporates a dike as well as a car park. The project is unique in the Netherlands.

A flood defence currently runs right across Katwijk aan Zee. Its intention is to protect the village and the area behind it, right though to Leiden, from floods. Part of the village lies outside the flood defence and is therefore not protected. Moreover, the structure is too low to deal with a severe storm. It could be raised but many buildings would be lost and this would change the character of Katwijk. For this reason, the decision has been made to construct a new flood defence right on the seashore: a row of dunes that incorporates a reinforcing dike.

Katwijk also has another problem: when the weather is fine, the coastal village is overwhelmed by visitors to the beach. What can be done about all those cars? Currently, they are parked along the boulevard, obstructing the sea views. This led to the idea of building a car park inside the new flood defence. The project is unique in the Netherlands.

Dikes and dunes

The new sea dike will be built using the existing row of dunes between the boulevard and the beach. The dune area itself will be made larger and therefore moved up a bit. The new dunes will be where the beach was. A new beach will be created through sand suppletion. The dunes will absorb the first impact of severe storms or high water so that the dike does not have to be very high. Thus, the dike is integrated into the coastal landscape: from the beach, all you see are dunes, and from the boulevard you see the dunes and the sea. This means that Katwijk remains safe, liveable and accessible.


The ‘dike-in-dune’ concept is explained to Minister Schultz van Haegen during a working visit on 6 February 2014.


Car Park

A car park will be built on the Voorstraat. It will be constructed against the dike, and like the dike, it will be under a dune. The cars that are now parked along the boulevard will disappear from sight.


The construction of the Katwijk Coastal Structure is already well underway. Work began on creating the new beach in October 2013. Construction of the dike began last December and this month work on the car park will start. The project should be delivered by the end of the year. The beach will be accessible as usual during the upcoming beach season, from April to October.


The Katwijk Coastal Structure project is a partnership between the municipality of Katwijk, the Rijnland District Water Board, the province of Zuid-Holland and Rijkswaterstaat (the executive arm of the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment). The project is part of the second High Water Programme in which substandard flood defences are being strengthened in 89 places.

Written By admin 
February 20, 2014 10:02 am

Design Council Cabe Design & Infrastructure Seminar


Last week the Design Council Cabe Design & Infrastructure debate focused on the latest infrastructure proposals and how these impact local communities.

Hosting the event was the Design Review’s Thomas Bender. Speakers included Heatherwick Studios’ Mat Cash, the Landscape Institute and Farrer Huxley Associates Director Noel Farrer, and Martin Knight of Knight Architects.

To get the ball rolling, Thomas Bender highlighted infrastructure’s role in society as a lasting, pride-inducing coming together of design and engineering. As well as helping society through basic functions and usability, Bender noted that great infrastructure should incorporate beauty, sophistication, wonderful engineering and innovation in order to “touch the hearts” of those that use it. Recent trends have seen functional infrastructure and the energy industry taken for granted or frowned upon as dirty, dangerous and uninspiring. How can we reverse this erosion of civic pride? Vision and beauty, Bender suggested, are what’s needed to bring joy in infrastructure back to these communities. Through innovative use of materials, the regional impact of linking areas of landscape, a shift towards sustainable behavioural change and adaptive re-use, this healthier, more holistic view of infrastructure can be achieved.

heatherwick bridge

Speaking next, Heatherwick Studios’ Mat Cash focussed on the misconception of infrastructure as a substructure, rather than an intimate human network that we see, feel and interact with on a daily basis. Pointing to Heatherwick’s Paddington Footbridge – the singular uncurling mechanism of which often delights onlooking crowds – Cash noted that the spectacle of infrastructure is something to be enjoyed and celebrated as public art or theatre. Moving on to discuss Heatherwick’s new bus for London, Cash highlighted the importance of care and detail in infrastructure, in order to enhance the human experience. The bus interiors were re-examined, the palette softened and calmed, and points of interaction – i.e., stopper buttons and handrails – tweaked to offer maximum ergonomics, stylish durability and ease of use.

new bus for london stairs

Finally, Cash discussed Heatherwick Studios’ innovative Teesside Power Station. Looking back to benchmarks such as Battersea Power Station, Cash noted a clear decline in public pride for large-scale infrastructure projects. Eschewing the standard “scattering” of boxes approach, Heatherwick have proposed to stack or bunch the components of the power station together, forming a “power park”. By incorporating viewing platforms, greenery, venue hire and office space, Heatherwick Studios hope to foster an appetite for community care surrounding infrastructure, and move away from modern conceptions of power stations as dangerous, high-security, opaque complexes. Continue reading

Written By admin 
February 05, 2014 10:04 am
Posted In Business, COMMENT

How the survival of Venice will hinge on MOSE flood defences


It’s a well-documented fact that Venice is slowly sinking and experts predict sea levels around the historic Italian city will rise dramatically during the next 100 years. Venice has had to undertake inventive protective measures, unique to their setting, which are currently being put in place in a passionate bid to avert potential catastrophe to come.

Taking centre stage in a wider programme of flood defence works is an incredible feat of marine engineering: MOSE.  Short for ‘Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico’, the name is also a play on Moses parting the waters of the Red Sea. Once complete in 2016, MOSE will provide three barriers across the Lido, Malamocco and Chioggia inlets to the Venetian Lagoon that will temporarily isolate its waters from the Adriatic Sea during high tides.

After more than 30 years of controversy and political wrangling about how best to manage the increasingly frequent floods affecting Venice, MOSE finally got underway in 2003. Last October a trial section worked successfully in tests. Since then, the project has been powering ahead.

On course for 2016

About 80% has been completed with three major elements now in place as of January this year, namely two barriers across the Lido inlet (one consisting of a row of 21 gates and the other of 20) linked by a small artificial island, and a giant lock at Malamocco. The super-lock will allow large ships and cruise liners to enter and exit the lagoon when the flood barriers are up. More modest locks for pleasure craft and smaller vessels will be built at the Lido and Chioggia inlets. Continue reading

Written By admin 
February 03, 2014 17:20 pm

Backers wanted for London’s subterranean urban farm

One hundred feet beneath London’s streets is a network of tunnels. Not the Underground tunnels that shuttle millions of commuters and tourists back and forth across the city but a series of passageways that were used to shelter people during the air raids of World War II.


Richard Ballard and Steven Dring, a pair of entrepreneurs from the west of England, have today initiated a crowdfunding project called ‘Growing Underground’ with the backing of Michelin-starred chef Michel Roux Jr.

The duo has 58 days to raise the £300,000 necessary to fund their project which would see 2.5acres of these underground tunnels transformed into a subterranean farm, nurturing fresh produce for London restaurants, supermarkets and wholesalers.

Located beneath the Northern Line near Clapham North tube station, the designated tunnels are to house specially-designed structures to enable three layers of plant growth. This process has been tested in Yorkshire over the past 18 months.

Due to the site depth 100ft below street level, the tunnels enjoy a stable temperature of 16°C all year round, meaning that production can continue throughout the year and additional energy costs can be kept to a minimum. Any additional energy will be sourced from green suppliers.

Produce lists currently include Pea Shoots, Rocket, Red Amaranth, Mizuna, Broccoli, Garlic Chives, Red Vein Sorrel, Mustard Leaf, Radish, Coriander and Thai Basil. “When I first met these guys I thought they were absolutely crazy,” admits Michel Roux Jr, “but when I visited the tunnels and sampled the delicious produce they are already growing down there I was blown away.  The market for this produce is huge.”

Richard Ballard said: “Steve and I are thrilled to be close to getting Growing Underground underway.  We’ve been experimenting for months.  Now that we’ve secured the site we’re kicking off a crowd-funding campaign today.  We have a detailed business plan and we’ve already had lots of interest from private investors.

“We’re confident that investors of all sizes will see a significant return on their investment. Integrating farming into the urban environment makes a huge amount of sense and we’re delighted that we’re going to make it a reality.” Investment in the project starts at £10.

Click here for more information on backing the project. 

Source: World Architecture News

Written By admin 
January 30, 2014 17:25 pm

Why Europe’s cities are getting turned on by LED lighting

As more and more cities and towns across Europe make the switch from conventional to LED (light-emitting diode) lighting in the public realm, we take a look at what’s driving this quiet revolution…

Keeping an average municipality lit accounts for about 50% of its overall energy consumption, yet LED lighting can save up to 70% on energy used, thus significantly reducing both costs and CO2 emissions. LED and compact fluorescent bulbs also last considerably longer than sodium or mercury vapour bulbs, making them easier and cheaper to maintain once installed.

In addition, many opinion polls about local pilot schemes – such as a recent one in Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh – have shown decisively that citizens prefer the white light of LED to the orange glow of sodium, saying they can see better and feel safer.

And in some environments, the potential benefits of LED can go even further when combined with a ‘dynamic control system’ allowing subtle shifts in colour temperature and light intensity. The results of a year-long scientific experiment using indoor dynamic lighting in schools across Hamburg, Germany showed that attention span, concentration and the behaviour of pupils all improved significantly. Not only did their performance improve, they read faster and made fewer mistakes.

Northern Lights

Back on the streets of Scotland, in an attempt to show just what can be achieved using advancing technologies, Glasgow is set to become one of the world’s leading ‘smart’ cities. By the time it hosts the Commonwealth Games this summer, some 10,000 sodium streetlights will have been replaced. The new LED lamps will be equipped with digital sensors allowing them to be controlled remotely, responding to changes in local environment such as increases in traffic. Such controls can push energy savings even higher.

Also leading the way in the lighting revolution are cities such as Manchester and Birmingham (UK), Albertslund (Denmark), Eindhoven and Tilburg (The Netherlands), Mechelen (Belgium), Lyon (France), and Hódmezövásárhely (Hungary).

Continue reading

Written By admin 
January 27, 2014 16:18 pm

Infrastructure as a Healing Force


Can infrastructure stitch the wounds in our social fabric?

It’s a given that sound infrastructure forms the basis of civilization as we know it – just ask the Romans or the Victorians. It transports people and goods, it provides schools, hospitals, sanitation, communications and energy. However, our question is this: can infrastructure go further than the physical to play a role in healing the big human dilemmas such as poverty, unemployment, and social or political unrest? Can it create hope in desperate situations?

A plan for the Palestinians

Currently on hold, but nevertheless aiming to do just that is visionary project, The Arc. The project has been spearheaded by RAND, a non-partisan, non-profit research institution, in conjunction with Suisman Urban Design in California and comprises a sweeping infrastructure plan for a prospective Palestinian state. Following the curved mountain ridge of the West Bank, The Arc would establish a national corridor that would provide swift rail, roadway, water, power, and parkland for the main Palestinian towns and cities. The corridor – and its lateral branches within each city – would enable the new state to accommodate a fast-growing population by expanding urban neighborhoods and housing stock in a coherent and sustainable manner. RAND has estimated that building the core elements of The Arc would cost about $8 billion and would generate up to 160,000 jobs per year over five years in sectors like engineering and construction.

We asked Doug Suisman, Principal of Suisman Urban Design what initial reactions from both Palestinians and Israelis were when the plans for the project were first mooted back in 2005? “The initial Palestinian response was very positive, and after briefing the Palestinian Authority’s Planning Ministry, we subsequently briefed the Palestinian Authority Cabinet, the Prime Minister, and ultimately President Abbas. Over the subsequent five years, the Palestinian Authority remained very interested and kept in close contact. During that time we held dozens of meetings with hundreds of Palestinians in all sectors: business, NGOs, universities, local government.

gail Quote_5“The Israeli reaction was also surprisingly positive, with the expected amount of skepticism about whether the Palestinians were interested and capable of executing such a plan. We briefed high level government officials, including the Ministry of Defense, and Israelis across the political spectrum, in government, business, higher education, and civil society.”

As Suisman explains, things were progressing well until unforeseen circumstances meant the project had to be put on hold. “In 2010, we signed an agreement with the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Transportation to develop a master plan based on The Arc concept and principles. In February 2011, the French government hosted a conference on The Arc at the Foreign Ministry in Paris, convening French and Palestinian government and business representatives to help move The Arc forward. We were working out the details when the Arab Spring began a few months later. The work slowly ground to a halt because of the instability, uncertainty, and changing political balance in the region.”

During Suisman’s involvement on The Arc, the project hit a brick wall on at least five occasions due to political circumstances, only to be revived again when conditions changed. When asked if this stalling has dampened will on both sides to see the project succeed, Suisman replies, “This has been the longest hiatus so far, but the idea seems to have staying power, so I wouldn’t rule out another revival. Despite the absolutely overwhelming degree of frustration, skepticism, and pessimism on both sides, average Israelis and Palestinians still cling to the hope, however slim, that a resolution to the conflict can be found, and that they and their families can lead normal lives. The Arc vision gives them hope that this is still possible – that’s the comment we’ve heard again and again: this gives us hope.”

In answer to the big question about infrastructure in general being a healing force, Suisman has this to say, “I don’t think infrastructure itself heals. Rather it is the willingness of antagonists to focus on infrastructure that has the potential to divert energy from destruction and the past towards construction and the future. That willingness is there, but you need a plausible and attractive vision showing the benefits which well planned and well designed infrastructure can provide. Such a vision can – and I emphasize can – have the power to bring people together, especially those who are weary of conflict.”

Connecting communities in Jerusalem

Staying with the Middle East, let’s take a look at another infrastructure project that did go ahead and has now been operational for nearly two years. The Jerusalem Light Railway (JLR) links the Jewish and Arab areas of the city and took 10 years to complete amid various controversies. These centred on the disruption to retailers along the route during the protracted construction period, cries of “$100 million white elephant”, litigation claiming the JLR was illegal (dismissed), and people’s historic mistrust of each other.

We spoke to Nadav Meroz, General Manager of the Jerusalem Transportation Masterplan, the planning organisation behind the JLR, asking him about reported calls for segregation. He dismisses these, saying, “That was just people having a bit of a joke, it was never serious. It was about the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community having one car for the boys and one for the girls, but segregation like that won’t ever happen.”

It’s clear that to Meroz, the JLR isn’t about politics. He continues, “The JLR was born out of urgent transportation needs. Our three main communities here – Jewish, Muslim and Christian – all need to wake up in the morning and be able get to work or about their business. The light rail also connects three big hospitals and three branches of the Hebrew University. The Arab community to the north of the city is now also using the JLR to get to the mosques in the Old City much more conveniently and quickly. It’s an incredibly busy service with about 130,000 boardings every day – much higher than was expected.”

gail Quote_6Meroz tells us that in the 1990s the city centre of Jerusalem was in decline. Government offices were moved outside the city, shopping centres and malls were being built outside the city too so people were not coming into the centre. Buses were the only form of public transportation so, along with the cars, everything was noisy, congested and polluted. He continues, “What we are seeing now is a yearly rise of about 11% in pedestrians in the city centre, and far fewer cars with 2/3 of parking now eliminated. We now have many more international tourists too and there are coffee houses, pubs and new buildings springing up everywhere. There is much less pollution and from being one of the dirtiest areas of Israel, it is now the cleanest. You can hear birdsong and see butterflies in the streets.”

This all sounds very positive, but has the JLR brought people together? Says Meroz, “People from all communities and the tourists use the JLR – it is nicknamed the Train of Peace here! The JLR puts everyone side by side and when you’re sitting next to someone you might end up speaking or asking questions of each other which leads to good urban integration. The light rail connects with many of the hotels so the passenger information system – both at the stops and in the cars – is available in English as well as Arabic and Hebrew.”

And what of the shopkeepers who struggled to stay afloat during construction of the JLR? Will they now reap the rewards of being along the JLR route? Says Meroz, “Some of the architects involved in the project are French, and they have brought their sense of style to the street settings of the light rail. All along the line, including the Arab areas to the north, you won’t find an empty shop and the value of assets has gone up. From an urban point of view, the JLR has been very positive for the city as a whole. We aimed to revive the city centre through transportation – much as the French and Germans did in the 50s and 60s – and that has already happened much faster than expected.”

A streetcar named Woodward

Moving on from political and religious issues, the next featured project is attempting to address high unemployment and the resulting social deprivation – not helped by a limited and unreliable public transport system. It’s location? The former home of the American automobile and the birthplace of Tamla Motown: Detroit.

Sadly, in recent decades the once iconic city has fallen well and truly foul of the great American Dream. Its most recent claim to fame is that of the 25 US neighbourhoods in which you are most likely to become the victim of violent crime, the top three are there. Clearly something needs to be done and the new Woodward Streetcar project aims to bring people together, create new jobs, and bring $500 million to $1 billion worth of economic development along its 3.3 mile corridor. Ironically, the route will run along Woodward Avenue, the first tarmac road ever constructed…leading from the former Ford car plant.

M1-Rail, the not-for-profit private-public partnership managing the design, construction and future operation of the Woodward Streetcar has already raised over $100 million from philanthropic foundations and leading regional corporations and institutions. An additional $25 million has recently been pledged by US Department of Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood. This has been a welcome development and M1-Rail now reports “we are on track to break ground summer 2013”.

gail Quote_7Heather Carmona, M1-Rail’s Chief Adminsitration Officer tells us, “The M-1 RAIL streetcar project offers the opportunity for a better transit future for the people of Detroit and Michigan. It will be an economic driver for continued investment along Woodward Avenue, generating new jobs and more economic development for the corridor. An unprecedented public-private partnership, the streetcar project is expected to bring more than $500 million worth of economic development that benefits a variety of stakeholders, including the citizens of Detroit who will be better connected, and businesses and institutions along the route, which includes educational, cultural and medical facilities.” These include the Detroit Public Library, Wayne State University, and Henry Ford Hospital.

As with any new project like this there are critics. Some say the streetcar is a waste of money and will only benefit the middle classes, others say it should go further out into the suburbs. Carmona responds by saying, “The streetcar line can be viewed a centrepiece for what many hope someday will be a seamless transit system that connects people throughout the region to jobs, thriving businesses, retail, cultural activity, but most importantly, one another.”

It’s certainly a much-needed start and time will tell if the Woodward Streetcar can indeed deliver the prosperity and jobs it aims to – let’s hope so.

Can love build a bridge?

Of course in some circumstances infrastructure is of visceral importance – the difference between life and death. Its relationship with poverty is a vast subject in itself and one we can but touch on here. The Global Poverty Project’s report ‘Infrastructure and Poverty’ is a good source of information. It tells us that “around the world more than 1 billion people lack access to roads”. It goes on to explain that “lack of adequate infrastructure perpetuates poverty…because it denies possibilities. Hunger, one of the most obvious symptoms of poverty, is often less the result of a lack of food than a distance from food”. The report also quotes a villager from Mozambique who worries that cholera appears in the rainy season when the river is too swollen for boats to cross it. The Global Poverty Project’s response to this is pragmatic: “The answer to treating cholera in this case is not medicine or doctors, it’s a bridge.”

However, it would be naive to claim that infrastructure alone can cure all society’s ills. Its success or failure is ultimately down to people. It takes a will to design and build constructively and sensitively in areas where need is greatest. It takes people to embrace bold new projects and maximise on the opportunities they can offer, setting aside old hostilities. If you like, infrastructure can act as a conduit for the best – or worst – of human nature.

In Derry, Northern Ireland, in a strikingly symbolic gesture last April, Catholic and Protestant religious leaders joined the Dalai Lama on the new Peace Bridge – a footbridge across the River Royle linking two communities who had once been at war – to spread a message of peace. It does make you hope that, just perhaps, through the creation of inspirational new infrastructure projects and a common will to make things better, we might, just might be able to give peace and prosperity at least a bit of a chance…

Gail Taylor

Written By admin 
July 17, 2013 13:30 pm

Base London Report – Is Big Data a Big Deal?

Big_Data_panel base london world infrastructure news

We’ve all heard the press hype, but how exactly will the rise of ‘Big Data’ impact and benefit our cities’ infrastructures? This was the question at the heart of last week’s panel discussion hosted by World Infrastructure News at Base London.

Chaired by Brian Kilkelly of World Cities Network, the panel included HOK vice president Barry Hughes, Scott Cain of future cities and the Technology Strategy Board, IBM data expert Ed Bryan and Parsons Brinckerhoff’s head of sustainability Lynne Ceeney.

First of all, the panel questioned, is Big Data even that new? The Domesday Book was, after all, compiled in 1086. Also, as Ed Bryan pointed out, sensors and data were being used by governments as early as the 1940s. Perhaps the fundamental recent shift has been the vast increase in speed at which data can be received and distributed.

Another key transition to take place has been the movement of data from the ‘back office’ into the mainstream. As individuals we are now all ‘wired in’ to infrastructure as part of a smart city ecosystem, tracked from cellphone tower to cellphone tower as we contribute data willingly or unwillingly to services like Google maps, traffic jam calculators and so on.

Fighting the case for big data’s useful application in architecture, Barry Hughes pointed to our new-found ability to use data in the modelling of buildings before they are built, thus maximising energy efficiency and sustainability. The next step, Hughes said, is to plug these efficient models into a city model of robust data.

As Ed Bryan agreed, this application of analytical insight can help solve our cities’ problems, through transition to multi-faceted operational constructs, smarter visual analytics, vertical solutions in water management, transportation, city planning operations and emergency management.

In what was perhaps the key message of this discussion, Scott Cain pondered that, if there is value and utility in big data, how does this lead us to behave differently? As Scott put it, “You can release as much data and understand the flows and patterns within a city as much as you like, but at some point you’re going to have to get the diggers out.”

With a more sceptical approach to big data, Lynne Ceeney concurred that, while the indication of infrastructural problems through data is all very well, data itself is not the answer. Big data is perhaps overhyped. We need physical resources to fix infrastructural problems, together with infrastructural systems that offer resilience and flexibility.

While big data is useful in realtime, every smart system needs a single aim, and the multi-faceted, fractured nature of large cities – which contain so many ‘players’ – makes marshalling this data a huge task in itself. There is also the challenge of the ‘big brother’ syndrome where public buy-in is not achieved and there is a move to resist sharing.

Something our panel seemed to agree on was that the gap between Big Data’s rhetoric and the reality of smarter cities on the ground needs to be closed. As Barry Hughes observed, “data is agnostic” – it doesn’t help you make more stuff. You can only open up the hard shoulder once, or tinker with speed limits so many times to try and deal with congestion in a 100 year old road network.

Perhaps the big challenges for city data are how to deal with the legacy of data-less infrastructure and how to ensure that our experience of big data is a positive one.

Richard Greenan

Written By admin 
July 17, 2013 13:25 pm

Comment: Philip Bates responds to US Infrastructure report

Philip Bates, Buro Happold

Philip Bates, Buro Happold director of strategic transport responds to our recent feature on the US transport infrastructure dilemma…

The real American Dream hasn’t been cars and freeways – it’s not having to pay the correct yearly amount for those freeways. Still, it’s hard to refuse a free dinner today, even if we know someone will have to pick up the bill tomorrow. What’s more, with the boom in shale and the pattern of low density land use across much of the USA, creating a transport dream that doesn’t involve cars and freeways is many years away. What’s more, it seems most Americans are happy with the dream of cars and freeways and wouldn’t want to change it anyway.

However, the problems of a free lunch on freeway funding are starting to become more and more self-evident. Being responsible for a road network (and indeed any economic infrastructure) is like owning a building. You can cut your spending on maintenance and repairs and for many years things seem, at least on the surface, to be fine. Trouble is all of a sudden all the windows have rotted, the roof and water pipes are leaking and the electricity shorts out. Of course, the correct thing to do is look after the building in the good times, so it can ride out a few bad years. Trouble is, when times are good who wants to waste money on mundane things like building maintenance when there are all those parties to go to!

The US is increasingly reaching this point across much of its highway network. Interestingly, while highways in the US may be deteriorating, people seem to be prepared, at least at present, to put up with the temporary inconvenience. In theory that’s fine; it’s their choice, but it brings us neatly to the key issues; bridges are different to general highways. Highways can wear out, deteriorate, pot hole, etc, but they don’t catastrophically fail but bridges do, and when they do, the loss of life and impact on economic performance can be significant.

The short term solutions are many, with lots of tried and tested mechanisms to deliver rehabilitation of sub-standard bridges using both public and private finance and a range of traditional and innovative procurement models. These solutions seem to vary by scale and importance. Large economically critically bridges often opt for direct user tolls to cover costs, with examples including the Bay Bridge in San Francisco which has paid for seismic retrofits with toll increases. Smaller networks tend to be linked into network wide approaches, with the Missouri Safe and Sound Bridge Improvement Program being an example of this network wide approach. Finding the optimal solution for each situation can take time, but rest assured, there is an answer.

However, this is a temporary solution if long term maintenance costs are not addressed. If drivers are not prepared to pay the true and full amount for their highways, whether it be through direct motoring related taxes, indirect taxes or direct scheme related user tolls, the infrastructure won’t be maintained, and it will only be a matter of time before you are in the same situation. Perhaps, ultimately the problem comes back to the unique characteristics of America. It’s a big country, with a history of large population movements away from government interference; unease with taxation; and with a pioneer spirit that is wary of anything that can’t be done very locally. Until the American people takes ownership of their national highway network (and especially those critical bridges) as if it was their own house, this problem won’t go away.

Of course, this isn’t a uniquely American problem; we see the same basic issues replicated in their own local way across the globe. The 2006 Eddington Report to the UK Government on the long term links between transport and economic growth concluded; “Because the UK is already well connected, the key economic challenge is therefore to improve the performance of the existing network”. This advice, was quietly filled away. After all, looking after what you have doesn’t offer the same photo opportunities as opening something new and shiny… So, perhaps the problems of inadequate bridge maintenance are ultimately just one more reflection of our modern political systems.