Terms like climate change, green transition, and sustainability are now an essential part of any architectural project worthy of the name. As always, the point is to make sure that these beautiful theories don’t just remain theories, by incorporating them into the modern job description of architects – architects who see within themselves a reflection of many of the problems involved in living in cities. And architects are increasingly shifting their sights beyond individual buildings to questions of urban planning. After all, as concentrations of individuals, activities, and structures, cities are unsustainable environments par excellence. Their daily demand for resources – energy, food, goods, services, information – simply can’t be satisfied by their own ecosystem. And this produces an imbalance that’s only made sustainable by relying on increasingly vast supply systems. And these systems are increasingly expensive in terms of the environment and economies.
Cities have also crossed a threshold in terms of size and complexity, so that agglomeration economies (the natural advantages of being close to each other) have turned into diseconomies. Urban populations have rapidly grown over the last centuries, since the second half of the twentieth century, in particular. While in 1600, no more than five percent of us lived in cities, and no more than ten percent of us did in the early 19th century, nowadays urban dwellers make up fifty percent of the world’s population. And the UN estimates that this figure will reach seventy percent by 2050. (Source: UN World Report 2021).
This is why it’s so important to ask ourselves about the so-called Cities of the Future, and whether or not they really are “smart.” From people’s living conditions to the protection of cultural and natural heritage, access to public transport, and policies to encourage inclusion and resilience, these are highly complex questions that are different in different parts of the world, according to levels of development and varied urban situations. In the European Union, which is home to an extraordinarily widespread and ancient urban network, the awareness that technological progress and improved living conditions must go hand in hand with a dramatic increase in long-term sustainability is gradually gaining ground. As one of the best known slogans to come out of the School Strike for Climate movement says, “There is no planet B.” A good example is what’s been happening over recent months in Milan, with its plan to become a 15 Minute City – that is, a city in which all the services a resident needs are no farther than fifteen minutes away by bike or on foot.
And the rest of the world? What do the best architects have in mind for the cities of the future? Let’s take a look at the masterplan for an area of Seoul, where UNStudio has designed a “10 Minute City” that uses digital technology to create a new city model, especially for future mixed urban development projects.
Project H1 is the name of the ten minute smart city designed by UNStudio. With an expected completion date in 2024, the idea grew out of a redevelopment project that’s transforming 123 acres (500,000 m2) of former industrial land and railyards into South Korea’s first ten minute smart city. This new district, Project H1, will then serve as a model for future mixed urban development projects that integrate green energy, innovation, circular economies, and quality of living in a single site.
The masterplan involves the construction of eight residential towers surrounded by a network of public services and large green spaces that will allow residents to access any of their daily needs within ten minutes on foot.
Unlike the traditional smart city concept, UNStudio’s project includes an important technological innovation, which was developed in partnership with UNSense.
This additional layer of technology is designed to complement the physical urban plan and create a fully digitized neighborhood that goes beyond the usual focus on efficiency of smart city models to improve residents’ daily lives and free up time for recreational activities. – Ben van Berkel, founder of UNStudio.
Obviously, the digital component will be used to monitor consumption and manage energy at optimal levels.
“With time saved, more time is created,” says van Berkel. And this is the concept behind 10 – or 15 – Minute Cities. All the services you need are located close to home. This in turn gives the neighborhood a rich network of experiences, activities, functions, and a public network designed to encourage social interaction. Project H1 is based on a concept of flexible urban density. Public spaces are multifunctional and allow residents to use the city according to both planned and spontaneous scenarios.
Fundamental for the development of the project is the inspiration provided by the surrounding mountain landscape. Nature is therefore an integral and featured element of the masterplan, with a series of spaces dedicated to hydroponics, while parks, squares, and green roofs will encourage people to spend time outdoors.
Sunlight, fresh air, and open spaces are three vitally important ingredients to ensure the wellbeing of residents in any architectural setting. For this reason, the buildings are designed to make the most of natural light and ventilation. In addition, to cope with Seoul’s normally high levels of rainfall, most horizontal surfaces are covered with a thick layer of earth to absorb the rain and then filter it through a specially developed system. The water collected is then used for irrigation and for increasing biodiversity.
Waste is collected and stored in special facilities at basement level, while organic waste is composted.
Client: Hyundai Development Company
Location: Seoul, South Korea
Building surface: 504.000m2
Building site: 78.000 m2
Programme: Masterplan and architecture for Kwangwoon University Station Redevelopment Area
Render © WAX & Virgin Lemon, courtesy UNStudio