Tuesday, January 11, 2011
I was at our local YMCA recently, looking for something to read while working out, and I happened across the July issue of Popular Science. The theme of the issue is "Ecotopia." To me the most interesting article was "The Urban Remodeler." Here's an excerpt.
Architect Mitchell Joachim points out, frequently and without prompting, that his futuristic proposals are always based on existing technologies. No wonder he feels the need to say it. Consider some of his ideas: jetpacks tethered together in swarms, houses grown from living trees, low-altitude blimps prowling New York City with chairs hanging below them for pedestrians to hop on and off (24/7 ski lifts on Broadway!), and WALL-E-like machines that erect buildings and bridges from recycled waste.
For Joachim, a 39-year-old professor of architecture at New York University, with graduate degrees from MIT, Harvard and Columbia, these concepts aren’t Hollywood fluff but designs that could come to life today. Take his concept for waste-building machines, which he calls Rapid Re(f)use. Instead of the cubes of cardboard, plastic or steel that current recycling balers produce, Joachim’s robots would grind and compress waste into I-beams, cruciform columns or even furniture components. The structures would be pressed or melted into shape or wrapped with metal bands, which is what recycling plants do now. All that would change is the shape—like switching the mold on a Play-Doh press, but on an industrial scale. “We could do it yesterday,” Joachim insists.
His vision falls under the banner of Terreform ONE, a nonprofit design collective that Joachim co-founded to explore sustainable, fully integrated urban planning. If the same people who design the roads also design the cars, he says, and the same people who create the suburbs also plan for ways to feed and transport residents, our cities will become healthier, friendlier and more sustainable.
The group imagines how future cities might best serve their citizens on a large scale and then experiments with the small-scale materials and designs that it would take to make it happen. To this end, Terreform ONE hosts TerreFarm, an annual summer gathering of architects and scientists who develop new urban farming techniques. For several weeks this summer, TerreFarm will convert a Brooklyn rooftop into a testbed for modular growing methods, designs for maximizing available sunlight, and ultra-lightweight soil mixes essential for rooftop gardens. They will also build full wall sections of Joachim’s Fab Tree Hab, his proposal to create “living” homes by grafting trees together around scaffolds and growing them on-site.
Joachim’s other plans tend to focus on mobility, since transportation both shapes and is shaped by urban design. In his vision, individual cars would be replaced by car-share systems that function like luggage carts at an airport. Pay, step into a smart car that communicates with the city grid, drive to your destination, and leave the car there. The cars would have soft, springy exteriors, inflatable protective bladders and transparent foil, which would enable them to bump together as they traveled in flocks. “The idea of sharp metal boxes is just done,” Joachim says. “We design cars with the principle that no one would ever die in a car accident again.”
There are always true believers who think that better technology is the way through our environmental problems, and Joachim seems to fall into that class. I certainly have to give him credit for creativity - especially the spongy cars! Full time bumper cars - might be so fun it would be out of control!
Jamie Baker Roskie
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