Last year, looking back on 2017, I wrote about scale: about how UNStudio’s designs stretch from transformative metropolitan projects across Europe and Asia, down to the everyday objects we use. This year, the scales have truly tipped - again - by producing work that has impact going far beyond what we ever imagined when we founded UNStudio 30 years ago. This year’s work builds towards a more connected world; more connected in an infrastructural sense of course, but beyond simply that, 2018’s projects are fully immersed and open to the contexts in which they find themselves. These contextual connections create human and societal roots, which in turn have lasting impacts within a city, and beyond.
Early this year, by designing a new bridge in Budapest and two new cable car systems in Amsterdam and Gothenburg, we took the first steps towards opening up whole new city quarters by connecting the communities within them. We also produced design studies with the BNA that looks to connect communities across existing infrastructural barriers, such as train tracks, by building over them. At a time when urban space is at its most valuable, we must shape cities in such a way that we make use of every square inch in an infrastructurally rich and sustainable way. Scaling out once again from metropolitan to continental, we have also taken the first exciting steps towards connecting cities across borders, by contributing our design expertise to the development of a European Hyperloop integration: the Hardt Hyperloop.
In terms of societal connection, many projects we designed this year gave either culture or community a home, whether a cultural institution in its own right in France or China, an urban masterplan, or a mixed-use project. Nowhere was that more prevalent than with our winning submission for the Southbank by Beulah competition, which is set to become Australia’s tallest building. Beyond being a residential, office and hotel space, the Green Spine will have extensive public community and cultural programmes, bringing the city up into the air, while at the same time inviting community in on the ground.
If you walk along the Stadhouderskade in Amsterdam, with the Heineken Experience behind you, you will come across a construction site right outside the UNStudio office. At a time when global construction really is peaking, we have turned our architectural eye on our own office space. Not only out of the need to put our healthy workplace research into practice, but because we have simply outgrown ourselves. 2018 Saw an internal scale-up for UNStudio like we have never seen before, with an enormous number of architects and designers joining our team: a head count rise of 25%. And so, to accommodate this, we decided to reimagine, refurbish and reconstruct our office walls, and to encompass our neighboring building. Twice this year, we even leapt beyond our walls to found two entirely new companies. The first, UNSense, is our arch-tech sister company whose goal is to improve people’s living conditions by integrating technology within the built environment. Personally, I am very excited about a project close to home that we are working on: the Helmond Brainport smart district. This urban development goes beyond the smart city, becoming a smart community by integrating tech into the way that people experience their daily lives.
Later in the year, at the Dutch Design Week, UNSense launched Solar Visuals: its own daughter company in a joint venture with TNO and TS Visuals. Solar Visuals proposes the idea that buildings no longer need to be energy consumers, but can become energy positive in their own right. Through cladding material that combines customizable aesthetics with solar energy production, we can turn buildings into producers of large scale energy. This direction, for me, is a critical one for any player in the built environment to undertake going into 2019. Beyond the built environment, the real environment is under serious strain from changes that are completely within our control. Through design interventions that are built for longevity with future users in mind, are energy positive, encompass circularity, incorporate digital technology, allow for resilience and biophilic design, and add to the existing infrastructure, we can design ourselves a sustainable future.