Check your rearview mirrors, Audi. The Japan-based luxury car company Lexus recently announced the launch of a new design award that calls for proposals on the theme of “Motion”: ”Our daily lives are continuously filled with motion. The motion of things, the motion of people. Moving people’s hearts. Shifting consciousness…” You get the idea. And it’s one that may ring a bell—the theme of this year’s Audi Urban Design Award was “Mobility.” In an intriguing twist, architect Junya Ishigami of Tokyo, one of the 2012 Audi award finalists who dropped out of that competition before the October judging, has now reappeared as a “mentor” to the Lexus award. There’s the requisite big-name panel of judges (Antonelli, Ito, and more), and a five million yen (about $60,000) prize for each of ten winners. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Audi.
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Audi and GSAPP teamed with FLATCUT_ to create a 1:1500 scale model of Manhattan's street grid from 3/16-inch-thick aluminum sheetsThis September at the preview of the Lowline Park in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, visitors had the opportunity to absorb nine visions by students from Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture Planning and Preservation (GSAPP) about the future of urban living and mobility. Conducted as the culmination of a yearlong research program in partnership with Audi of America, the exhibition, Experiments in Motion, was tied together and contextualized by a hanging, 50-foot-long, 1:1500 scale model of Manhattan’s street grid. Audi and GSAPP called on New York and New Jersey-based fabrication studio FLATCUT_ to create the model, which also calls out every subway station on the island. The job required the studio to pull off a high wire balancing act: the fabrication of an object both intricate and sturdy, modular yet monolithic. The Manhattan street grid had to float amid a sea of colorful projections emanating from the student’s exhibits, which were presented in digital format. Light from the screens had to be able to dance across the model. Equally important to the exhibit, the model had to work with a projection by Nuite Blanch New York that created the appearance of a heavy shadow. Silhouetting the street grid upon the digital displays, the model placed the projections in context. “That was pretty unique,” said FLATCUT_’s Tomer Ben-Gal. “The model had to be both reflective and have the ability to cast a shadow.” In close collaboration with the Therrien-Barley design team, FLATCUT_ studied several materials to find the right one to render the complex line work of Manhattan’s street grid. “It was critical that we identify an alloy that was both strong enough to hold the piece up, but not too thick that it would become difficult to cut the fine pattern they were looking to achieve,” added FLATCUT_’s Daniel Ramirez. FLATCUT_ went with 3/16-inch aluminum sheets. The studio revised the detail of the design team’s line drawings in Rhino, refining the grid so it could be cut using a water jet cutter. They also broke the overall model down into modular parts that could fit through the CNC cutting machine. After consulting with the designers on a variety of reflective finishes, the team decided to leave the raw look of the aluminum’s mill finish. Once cut, the modular pieces of the model were welded together in FLATCUT_'s New Jersey fabrication shop with flanges, creating a smooth, unbroken appearance to the finished product. Once assembled, Art Domantay hoisted the unit in place with aircraft cables connected to the flanges. FLATCUT_’s attention to detail throughout the process is evident in just how seamlessly their ghostly Manhattan melded with the digital projections that comprise the rest of the exhibit. “It was interesting,” Ramirez said, “to apply our skills as fabricators of physical pieces to digital interactions.”
Last night in Istanbul, Audi bestowed its 2012 Urban Future Initiative award to the Boston-based firm Höweler + Yoon Architecture for Shareway, their 2030 vision for the Boston-Washington corridor. In a ceremony designed to generate Oscars-level suspense, Eric Höweler accepted the award (which carries a €100,000 prize) from Audi CEO Rupert Stadler. 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, D.C. (a.k.a. “Boswash”) and repositioning the “infrastructural leftovers” of the post-war city into places that generate activities relevant to today.
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.