Six Firms Compete for Audi's High-Stakes Urban Future Award

Six Firms Compete for Audi's High-Stakes Urban Future Award

Last week at Audi’s HQ in Ingolstadt, Germany, architect Junya Ishigami of Tokyo succinctly summed up the problem the car company aims to tackle: there is “a gap between people’s speed and the city’s speed,” Ishigami said. In other words, people’s habits evolve quickly to suit a 21st-century lifestyle, but the infrastructure of the cities they live in is constantly playing catch up. And Audi, whose primary product is by nature infrastructure-bound, wants get ahead of the curve.

Ishigami was one of six architects presenting research as part of the first phase of Audi’s 2012 Urban Future Award, a bi-annual program first started in 2010. The 2012 firms were selected for their track records of researching the urban environment and their relationships to one of six metropolitan areas: CRIT (Mumbai); Höweler + Yoon Architecture (the Boston-Washington corridor); NODE Architecture & Urbanism (Pearl River Delta); Superpool (Istanbul) and Urban Think Tank (São Paulo); and Junya Ishigami + Associates (Tokyo). The brief: to “create visions for individual mobility in the future.” Audi defined the future as ca. 2030, when it’s predicted that 70 percent of the world population will live in cities with eight million or more inhabitants.

Last week’s event offered a preview of each firm’s research thus far and some hints of the content of their final proposals, which will be presented in the form of an exhibition at the Istanbul Biennale in October (each firm is also working with a local curator). What became clear in the early presentations is that all the architects were looking for inspiration beyond infrastructure, particularly in cities’ in-between spaces, gaps, and cracks, and that their proposals would be flexible enough to deal with rapidly evolving urban conditions.

Some highlights:

Urban Think Tank’s presented a concept of the city as an “electric circus,” a constant-motion carnival in which services, from libraries to clothing shops, are mobilized in electric vehicles to better meet the needs of populations and create a more democratic city.

CRIT’s embraced the city, in this case Mumbai, as “being nicely messy.”  Mega projects “ruffle the logic of the city” said Rupali Gupte of CRIT, about large-scale developments that wipe out informal but highly functional networks of activity. Gupte called instead for architects to intervene between the layers of  informal and official to envision multiple futures for any given location.

Although Tokyo is perceived as a mature city, Ishigami charted how it actually changes dramatically over the decades, much like a living organism (65 percent of the city’s sites will be redeveloped within 40 years). Rather than a fixed condition, he proposed considering Tokyo as an evolving natural landscape that has the potential to be completely reborn. Any forms of future mobility will have to be nimble enough to follow.

NODE considered how people are served in volatile cities like Shenzen in China’s the Pearl River Delta. In a society where more is more, what makes a city livable rather than alienating? NODE’s Doreen Heng Liu’s message is that “balance is more” in the post-sweatshop era.

Superpool from Istanbul presented research on the city’s growth, both planned and unplanned, including how small-scale entrepreneurial enterprises have evolved to meet mobility demands that larger infrastructure cannot. Considering what similar systems might look like in the future and how they could incorporate emergent technologies is what Superpool thinks “is critical for the future of mobility in Istanbul,” a city with an evolving identity.

Höweler + Yoon Architecture’s project proposes redefining the American Dream, because “the notions of progress that supported the continual sprawling American expansion no longer ring true.” They’re looking at the monotonous I-95 corridor between Boston and Washington (a.k.a. “Boswash”) and repositioning the “infrastructural leftovers” of the post-war city into places that generate activities relevant to today.  Thinking ahead to how such a concept might be marketed, the architects brought “I heart Boswash” t-shirts and bumper stickers to the event.

The teams received feedback on their preliminary ideas at a workshop in Ingolstadt last week, and now they will have another few months to develop their concepts further. The first round selection of firms was made for Audi by the German online design magazine and publishing company Stylepark, but the final winner will be selected by jury that is yet to be announced. The grand prize: 100,000 euros—an amount that surpasses the award attached to one of architecture’s highest honors, the Pritzker.

At the end of the day, Audi will have hefty research dossiers on each of the six cities/regions and hopes to have some ideas that can be implemented in the future. But what if these visions don’t happen to include cars? “If the solution is no cars, then we have to deal with it, ” said Audi board member Peter Schwarzenbauer.