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A glimpse of a car-friendly urban future, courtesy of–no surprise–a car company

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Standardarchitecture plan for BeijingVisions of the future have long revolved around the automobile, from the ubiquitous flying car of sci-fi flicks such as The Fifth Element to the garbage-guzzling, Mr. Fusion–retrofitted DeLorean that Doc Brown pilots through time in Back to the Future.

So a car company sponsoring a competition to dream up a vision of the future actually seems to make a lot of sense. The Audi Urban Future Award is a contest among six international architecture firms to envision futuristic cityscapes, circa 2030, with an emphasis on, ahem, personal transportation. ("Audi is confident that there will be cars in the city of the future," the competition Web site declares.)

The winner of the competition will not be announced until the 12th International Architecture Exhibition, which begins August 29 in Venice, but the firms met May 28 at a conference in London to present their preliminary concepts.

Some are fantastical, such as Standardarchitecture’s vision for the future of Beijing, where the firm is based. The "harmonious Beijing" (pictured) is ringed by pillarlike buildings known as "metamountains"; the roads become conveyor belts that transport people around the city—whether on foot or inside Audi-branded pods.

The New York City–based firm of Diller Scofidio + Renfro imagined a future in which transportation and housing are more closely entwined. Riffing off the concept of the recreational vehicle, the architects proposed that in the future an increasingly mobile population may want to have a modular, portable personal space to bring along with them in the form of a shoebox-shaped modular unit. Audi could, according to the concept statement, "provide new ways of living, working and moving within the city beyond the categories of the car and the house." Buildings might become scaffolds, essentially, with slots to accommodate the units.

Other firms eschewed grand visions of the city to focus on the vehicle itself. Barcelona’s Cloud 9 loosely conceived of a vehicle that is both light and flexible—a bubble with soft skin and photovoltaic dots that generate energy. The Bjarke Ingels Group of Copenhagen turned to the long-running fantasy of the driverless car, which in this case is also presumed to be clean-running. The firm’s concept statement ponders how a city might look without traffic and automotive pollution but skirts the details, noting that foretelling the long-term future is a tricky business—witness the nonarrival of the flying car.

But what the heck? It’s fun to prognosticate, and there’s a cash prize. The award comes with an endowment of 100,000 Euros, or about $120,000—enough for two Audi A6s with a nice option package.

Standardarchitecture’s "harmonious Beijing" conception used with permission from Audi AG

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  1. 1. Elderlybloke 4:17 am 06/17/2010

    The future is depicted as more of the same mode as now.
    People rushing about in cars, pods or some other personal transport gadget.

    The future might be better if the cities developed more as small self sufficient village /small town type units.

    The colossal amount of fuel expended in USA is something that cannot continue much longer, the cost of fuel will escalate as reserves get smaller.
    To think that the last 60 years of extravagance /waste can continue is delusional.

    Link to this
  2. 2. jd17 11:41 am 06/25/2010

    It is unethical for Scientific American to publish what are essentially marketing materials for a car company in the guise of an article.

    The designs based on continuing an auto-centric approach to urban design well into the future are laughable. Many involve the same kind of stupid thinking that went into the the Futurama exhibit at the 1939-1940 New York City World’s Fair, and that set off the automobile-only mobility visions that persist to this day.

    I simply quest why Scientific American takes no scientific approach to analyzing human mobility and its problems in automobile-dominated culture, thinking, and political influence. I know Scientific American takes advertising from car companies, but I think it is unethical for it to skew editorial decisions based on that money and to throw science out the window when it comes time to critically and intelligently examine transportation.

    Link to this
  3. 3. jd17 2:03 pm 06/25/2010

    Please see better designs at

    http://culture.wnyc.org/articles/features/2010/jun/23/city-re-designs/

    Link to this
  4. 4. sirbikesalot06 5:24 pm 06/28/2010

    This article isn’t so unethical as it it comical. After all, oil is becoming harder and harder to find and the future power source of cars will have to be electricial. That means more Nuclear and since America has a stance that states "Not In My Back Yard," I have know worry about such a vision. After all the car companies couldn’t see that the SUV sales would drop, I doubt that they really see this happening.

    Cars will never be green. They’re the crutches we need to get around in most of america. They have caused our country to start on a downward spiral. It has forced us to send moneys to countries that don’t even like us. It caused our nation to be more and more unhealthy and forced us to live in communities that have no interpersonal contact. It has caused old ladies to die in their homes and not be found for months at a time, and yet they want us to believe that this is the future.

    Link to this
  5. 5. sirbikesalot06 5:26 pm 06/28/2010

    This article isn’t so unethical as it it comical. After all, oil is becoming harder and harder to find and the future power source of cars will have to be electricial. That means more Nuclear and since America has a stance that states "Not In My Back Yard," I have no worry about such a vision. After all the car companies couldn’t see that the SUV sales would drop, I doubt that they really see this happening.

    Link to this
  6. 6. jd17 2:33 pm 09/7/2010

    This article is unethical.

    What money has Scientific American received from the car company sponsoring this event? What % of advertising in Scientific American is from car companies?

    It is unethical for a publication to put forward an obviously nonscientific article as actual content, rather than advertising.

    Link to this

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