Google CEO Wants Land Set Aside for Experimentation

future-city-1Back in May, Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page hosted a rare Q&A session with the attendees of the Google I/O keynote speech. During this time, he gave some rather unfiltered and unabashed answers to some serious questions, one of which was how he and others should focus on reducing negativity and focusing on changing the world.

Page responded by saying that “the pace of change is increasing” and that “we haven’t adapted systems to deal with that.” He was also sure to point out that “not all change is good” and said that we need to build “mechanisms to allow experimentation.” Towards that end, he claimed that an area of the world should be set aside for unregulated scientific experimentation. His exact words were:

There are many exciting things you could do that are illegal or not allowed by regulation. And that’s good, we don’t want to change the world. But maybe we can set aside a part of the world… some safe places where we can try things and not have to deploy to the entire world.

So basically he’s looking for a large chunk of real-estate to conduct beta tests in it. What could possibly go wrong?

detroit_experimentOne rather creative suggestion comes from Roy Klabin of PolicyMic, who suggest that an aging and dilapidated Detroit might be just the locale Page and his associates are looking for. This past week, the city declared bankruptcy, and began offering to sell city assets and eradicate retirement funds to meet its $18 billion debt obligations.

What’s more, he suggests that SpaceX founder Elon Musk, who’s always after innovation, should team up with Google. Between the two giants, there’s more than enough investment capital to pull Detroit out of debt and work to rehabilitate the city’s economy. Hell, with a little work, the city could be transformed back into the industrial hub it once was.

And due to a mass exodus of industry and working people from the city, there is no shortage of space. Already the city is considering converting segments of former urban sprawl into farming and agricultural land. But looking farther afield, Klabin sees no reason why these space couldn’t be made available for advanced construction projects involving arcologies and other sustainable-living structures.

dragonfly-vertical-farm-for-a-future-new-york-1Not a bad idea, really. With cities like Boston, New York, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Moscow, Chendu, Tokyo and Masdar City all proposing or even working towards the creation of arcologies, there’s no reason why the former Industrial Heartland – now known as the “Rust Belt” – shouldn’t be getting in on the action.

Naturally, there are some who would express fear over the idea, not to mention Page’s blunt choice of words. But Page did stress the need for positive change, not aimless experimentation. And future generations will need housing and food, and to be able to provide these things in a way that doesn’t burden their environment the way urban sprawl does. Might as well get a jump on things!

And thanks to what some are calling the “New Industrial Revolution” – a trend that embraces nanofabrication, self-assembling DNA structures, cybernetics, and 3D printing – opportunities exist to rebuild our global economy in a way that is cleaner, more efficient and more sustainable. Anyone with space to offer and an open mind can get in on the ground floor. The only question is, what are they willing to give up?

venus_projectThere’s also a precedent here for what is being proposed. The famous American architect and designer Jacque Fresco has been advocating something similar for decades. Believing that society needs to reshape the way it lives, works, and produces, he created the Venus Project – a series of designs for a future living space that would incorporate new technologies, smarter materials and building methods, and alternative forms of energy.

And then there’s the kind of work being proposed by designer Mitchell Joachim and Terreform ONE (Open Network Ecology). And amongst their many proposed design concepts is one where cities use vertical towers filled with energy-creating algae (pictured below) to generate power. But even more ambitious is their plan to “urbaneer” Brooklyn’s Navy Yard by turning natural ecological tissues into viable buildings.

future-city2This concept also calls to mind Arconsanti, the brainchild of architect Paolo Solari, who invented the concept of arcology. His proposed future city began construction back in the 1970 in central Arizona, but remains incomplete. Designed to incorporate such things as 3D architecture, vertical farming, and clean, renewable energy, this unfinished city still stands as the blueprint for Solari’s vision of a future where architecture and ecology could be combined.

What’s more, this kind of innovation and development will come in mighty handy when it comes to time to build colonies on the Moon and Mars. Already, numerous Earth cities and settlements are being considered as possible blueprints for extra-Terran settlement – places like Las Vegas, Dubai, Arviat, Black Rock City and the Pueblos and pre-Columbian New Mexico.

Black Rock City - home to "Burning Man" - shown in a Martian crater
Black Rock City – home to “Burning Man” – shown in a Martian crater

These are all prime examples of cities built to withstand dry, inhospitable environments. As such, sustainability and resource management play a major role in each of their designs. But given the pace at which technology is advancing and the opportunities it presents for high-tech living that is also environmentally friendly, some test models will need to be made.

And building them would also provide an opportunity to test out some of the latest proposed construction methods, one that do away with the brutally inefficient building process and replace it with things like drones, constructive bacteria, additive manufacturing, and advanced computer modelling. At some point, a large-scale project to see how these methods work together will be in order.

Let’s just hope Page’s ideas for a beta-testing settlement doesn’t turn into a modern day Laputa!

And be sure to check out this video from the Venus Project, where Jacque Fresco explains his inspirations and ideas for a future settlement:


Sources:
1.
Elon Musk and Google Should Purchase and Transform a Bankrupt Detroit (http://www.policymic.com/)
2. Larry Page wants to ‘set aside a part of the world’ for unregulated experimentation (theverge.com)

3. Six Earth Cities That Will Provide Blueprints for Martian Settlements (io9.com)
4. The Venus Project (thevenusproject.org)
5. Arcosanti Website (arcosanti.org)
6. Terreform ONE website (terreform.org)

Poalo Solari and the Birth of Arcology

Arcology: noun (plural arcologies) an ideal integrated city contained within a massive vertical structure, allowing maximum conservation of the surrounding environment. Origin: 1969: blend of architecture and ecology.

The question of what to do about Earth’s growing population – 7 billion and counting – and the environmental impact it is having has been on the minds of city planners, environmentalists, and global leaders for qu9ite some time. Far from it being a simple matter of determining how we are going to feed new every mouth we create, there’s also the question of how to provide for their other basic needs.

In the 20th century alone, humanity grew by multiplication factor of six. Cities expanded, suburban developments went up, and inner cities were “rezoned” and redeveloped in order to make room for them. When horizontal space became an issue, vertical structure were adapted, incorporating sky scrapers and massive high-rises. In addition, cities, counties and entire nations needed to find more sources of fresh water to address their health and sanitation needs, more landfills to accommodate waste, and more green spaces to grow food. In time, it soon became clear that this increased output of human beings and their various wastes was causing irreparable harm to the planet.

By the turn of the century, the projections only became worse, thanks in large part to the ongoing industrialization of developing nations. In these parts of the world, where a full third of the human race resides, the impact of so many new power plants, urban developments, superhighways, and fossil-fuel burning cars could not be underestimated. The problem of providing space for our people and seeing to their needs in a way that is sustainable in the long term has only become more pressing as a result.

As it turns out, the answer may lie in a concept developed in the 1960’s by a man named Paolo Soleri. An architect of Italian descent who studied at the feet of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, he is credited with coining the term “arcology”, a new form of architecture that plotted the creation of three-dimensional hyperstructures that would be self-sufficient, and in some cases, self-contained. Primarily proposed as a means to combat two-dimensional urban sprawl, arcologies were also meant to economize on transportation, energy use, commerce and agriculture. All needs, which included the need to reduce waste and impact on the environment, were incorporated in his new designs. And on top of that, they would be beautiful as well as very, very big.

One of his first designs was for a city-structure named Babel (or IID as it’s officially designated). This design called for a flared cylinder of apartments sitting in a saucer-shaped base, complete with commercial, civil spaces, and public areas. The estimated population for this monster design was 550,000 people – the population of a major city – but placed in an edifice 1900 meters high and 3000 meters at its widest point.

Close-ups of the design show the immense attention to detail that Soleri’s featured in his drawings. From housing, to production centers to water treatment and waste disposal, nothing was overlooked. And just in case you’re having problems imagining the scale, he features a picture of the Empire State building for a size comparison.

And then there was Hexadredon, an incredible geometric mountain resting on three immense supports. Accommodating over 170,000 people, it measured a mere 800 meters by 800 meters (640 square km). On top of all that, it looks immensely artistic, incorporating such design features as massive pyramids, support columns, and rotundas. In reality, it looks more like an ancient temple than a three-dimensional city.

His many other concepts involved cities adrift on water, built into canyons, or on the side of cliffs. As far as Soleri was concerned, nothing was off limits. Any and all geographic features and landscapes, including the ocean itself, could be built into human habitats. Though it remained somewhat speculative for its time, Soleri’s ideas formed the basis for a great deal of speculative writing and urban planning.

For instance, in Japan, urban planners have proposed a future city development to deal with urban sprawl in Tokyo – known as the Shimizu Mega-City Pyramid. As it stands, much of Tokyo Harbor is artificial, composed of fill in order to accommodate Japan’s growing population and industrial centers. This further expansion calls for the creation of a massive pyramid measuring 730 meters high, 8 square kilometers at the base, and capable of housing 750,000 people. All told, it would be roughly 14 times the size of the pyramid of Giza.

In addition, there is the proposed building project in Moscow known as “Crystal Island”. Measuring in at a whopping 2500 square kilometers at its base and 450 meters high, it will be the single largest structure on Earth, if and when it is completed. Shaped like a massive tent, the superstructure of the proposed design acts as a sort of second skin to the main building, creating a thermal buffer and shielding the interior from Moscow’s harsh weather.

In addition, this second skin will adjust with the seasons and sealed in winter to minimise heat loss, while opened again in summer to naturally cool the interior. Power would also be provided by built-in wind turbines and solar panel, as well as a series of renewable energy solutions. On top of all that, the design incorporates an existing park, which provides a range of activities, including cross-country skiing and skating. Construction was officially postponed in 2009 due to the economic crisis, but is expected to resume in the coming years.

Last, but not least, there is the planned community of Masdar City, which I wrote about in a previous article. Though not technically an arcology in the sense of a three-dimensional colossal environment, the design nevertheless incorporates all other aspects of Soleri’s concept. These include renewable energy sources, sustainable resource management, mass-transit, recycled water, and a range of other green technologies.

Today, the planned city of Arcosanti, which Soleri himself began construction on in 1970, remains an unfinished testament to his work and his genius. Located in central Arizona, just 110 km north of Phoenix, this work-in-progress incorporates Soleri’s unusual design features and, though uncompleted, remains a testament to his vision.

Check out this video from Arcosanti website, which featured Solari’s design for the mega-city Nudging Space: