IF YOU work for a young web company, you probably think your office is pretty cool. Maybe it has a pool table or even a roof terrace. Pah! Give it 37 years and, according to engineering company Arup, our office blocks will contain working farms, produce their own energy, be linked together by suspended green walkways and sections of each floor will be removable, upgradable and replaceable.
This is the building of the future, imagined in a report released earlier this month by Arup's "Foresight + Innovation" arm. It is just one example of the elements that will make up our "smart cities" of the next age.
"Smart cities" is the buzz phrase of the moment. It refers to energy-efficient and spacially economical urban worlds in which we'll live in years to come -- all thanks to technology. Smarter cities are now a focus of both big business, such as Shell and IBM, and small entrepreneurs and scientists, such as the Dutch microbiologists who have developed a self-healing concrete. Cracks in the buildings of the future will be filled by calcium carbonate, produced by a bacteria feeding on nutrients, both incorporated into the cement. The bacteria are only activated when rainwater gets into a crack.
"The global population is growing towards nine billion by 2050," says Rick Robinson, executive architect for the Smarter Cities arm of IT company IBM. "In the West we've become accustomed to building cities outwards around cars. If more people fall into that lifestyle we're going to exhaust the world's resources very, very quickly."
Adam Newton is a project manager for the Strategy and Scenarios team at Shell. "By 2050, between 70 and 80 per cent of the world's population will live in cities. How and where people consume energy will be very important," he says. Tonight both Newton and Robinson join a panel debate on smarter cities by Intelligence2, at the Royal Institute of British Architects.
For IBM, smarter cities mean ones that harness data. It is already creating space on the cloud to share information such as water flow and distribution.
"By managing pressure on a water distribution network, you can serve additional houses without needing to expand the system -- allowing you to support a growing population without spending hundreds of millions of pounds on infrastructure," explains Robinson.
Intelligent traffic lights are also high on the agenda. "In Singapore and California we've used technology that can make predictions that are 85 per cent accurate about how traffic is going to develop over the next hour," he says. In future the light sequencing might change automatically.
For Shell, it's all about energy efficiency.
"The low energy prices that drove cities to sprawl may not exist in 20 years. Fewer roads and better integrated public transport is likely to be the way forward," says Newton. …