08 Feb 2017
World innovation news
Infrastructures and Built Environment
ReGen Villages—Socially Responsible and Intelligent Sustainable Urbanity
What if we redesigned our cities by combining sustainable development, artificial intelligence and a socially responsible urban prospective? In response to the increasing phenomena of migration from rural areas—caused by the decline of economic opportunities—and urban sprawling on arable land, James Ehrlich created a new urban concept that will materialize upon completion of works on the first ReGen Village, which began in Almere, Netherlands, in the summer of 2016.
Urban Planning, Sustainable Development and Artificial Intelligence
The first architectural and urban observations involving ecological issues date back to the work of American architect Richard Buckminster Fuller. We have witnessed his revolutionary and monumental ideas at Montreal’s Expo 67, with the biosphere on Île Sainte-Hélène—a tribute to lighter and synergistic urbanism. As a result, several concepts have since emerged and enriched the sustainable urban planning sectors. From vertical green architecture to self-sustaining floating cities, urban planners, architects and designers are anticipating a future where it will be necessary to face potential energy and food shortages.
The ReGen Village is the result of cross-curricular concepts included in a UN presentation entitled UN Sustainability Brief, co-written by Ehrlich, senior technologist at Stanford University, Professor Larry Leifer, and Chris Ford of the Stanford Center for Design Research. The presentation focuses on tech-integrated housing implementing food self-sufficiency for families. It also stems from the research work conducted by Stanford University for the Solar Decathlon biennial international competition on architecture, design, urban planning and engineering.
The Village project action plan was carried out at the Stanford Center for Design Research. It consisted in designing and planning daily life within a sustainable urban complex, by achieving:
- Positive energy housing or, roughly put, habitats that generate more energy than they consume.
- Renewable energy sources adapted to regional needs.
- Aquaponic systems to ensure high-yield organic food production.
- Water and wastewater management systems, integrating biological components to channel, recycle and reuse water.
- Incubation programs fostering new organizations to counter the 47% job losses that will occur within 20 years due to increased computerization.
- Micro sensor grids in each village, integrated into production equipment and buildings, fish ponds, seed beds, renewable energy system interfaces, etc., to broadcast real-time data feeds to a cloud database. Information will be processed by cognitive computing algorithms that will autonomously actuate local (housing) and regional (village) system responses, or request human intervention.
- Algorithms for the semi-autonomous actuation of thriving mechanisms. The goal is to further streamline thriving mechanisms through artificial intelligence and robotics to allow residents to grow a variety of protein sources for both their livelihood and export purposes. These algorithms will allow communities, academic researchers and various levels of government to replicate and optimize the ReGen Village concept, by taking into account the collected information and results.
Creation of the First ReGen Village
Ehrlich asked EFFEKT, a Danish architectural firm, to imagine a future where self-sufficient communities can cultivate their own food and produce their own energy according to the plan of action outlined above. ReGen Villages will be off-grid communities, designed in response to climate change and food-sourcing insecurities through sustainable design.
The first village, in construction in Almere, covers an area of 15,500 square meters. Twenty-five types of dwellings are deployed within the circular layout of the village. The houses are equipped with photovoltaic solar panels. Each unit is designed according to a plan that will allow it to take advantage of passive solar energy. This will optimize energy consumption and ensure a pleasant ambient temperature. Families will grow their own fruits and vegetables in greenhouses linked together, so that the homes will form a “shared local ecosystem”.
Arable land covering 8,100 square meters will meet the food requirements of a family of three. Aquaponics will reduce water use for food production by 90%. Food self-sufficiency will effectively eliminate the carbon impact of transports. There will be charging stations everywhere to power the electric vehicles for resident transport.
Pilot projects will be carried out in Sweden, Germany, Norway and the United Arab Emirates.
Hanen Hattab is a PhD student in Semiology at UQAM. Her research focuses on subversive and countercultural arts and design practices such as artistic vandalism, sabotage and cultural diversions in illustration, graphic arts and sculpture.