Together with the change of mobility, also the shape of our cities will change drastically. Present building typologies will become obsolete – new ones will be required. Last year, a discussion about the upcoming need of landing sites for air taxis, started at Munich. Developers are optimistic to begin public transport with air taxis in a few years. This makes it essential, to find architectural solutions, in order to integrate this new infrastructure into our cities. In this project, an existing multi-storey car park was analysed, in order to extend its function through a conversion into an Air-Taxi-Stand. The object is a 4-storey car park from the 70s and is located in the street ´Rupprechtstrasse´ at the centre of Munich.
The main part of the proposal are six silos, which are placed on the roof structure of the existing building. Air taxis can land and start from the interior of their turbine-like shaped volume. The roof is closable thanks to an iris diaphragm, which enables people to enter the air taxis at a dry and safe place. The silos go down to the fourth and third floor of the present structure. At the fourth floor, the air taxis are landing and starting. This is also the passenger level, where people can enter the silos from a grand waiting area. In order to get up there from the street, the staircase and elevator of the existing building will be refurbished. Moreover, there are car ramps in the silos, which go up from the parking deck at third floor and end at the passenger level at fourth floor. There are concepts for autonomous vehicles, whose function can be extended to an air taxi by connecting their cabin to a drone. These cars can enter the silos by driving up the ramp from third to fourth floor, where they connect to the drone and take off. The surface of the silos is made of polished aluminium planking. Not least because of the turbine-like shape with details like ventilation slats, the proposal gets a futuristic appearance, inspired by high-tech architecture of the 70s.
What prompted the project?
The technology of air taxis has developed rapidly, in the last years. Developers and manufacturers are optimistic to be able to introduce public transport within the next few years. In Munich, where the central station is about to be refurbished, a discussion started about the need of a take off and landing facility for air taxis. This could be an intelligent solution for the ongoing question, how the connection of the city centre with the airport in the outskirts could be improved. As a result, the chair of Architectural Design, Rebuilding and Conservation of TUM decided to investigate possible solutions and their architectural consequences. One of the key objectives was to implement this new infrastructure into the structure of the existing city. New demands for mobility and the development from car-centred, individual to autonomous, shared transport, will change the need of specific building typologies. We especially dealt with the question, how to convert images of future, into a useful architectural language.
What questions does the project raise?
One of the first questions, we had to face, was how air taxis do look like. There are several manufacturers with different approaches and a variety of scales. For us, a concept of an autonomous vehicle, which can be extended to an air taxi by the combination of a ground module, a cabin module and air module, sounded promising. This led us to the connection of road and air traffic. Multi-storey car parks could fulfil the required role of an interconnection between these two ways of mobility. The question about the flow of the infrastructure system from the view point of the user was essential. Will it be a glamorous way of travel with lots of grandeur or a faster kind of metro-like commute? In our vision, air taxis could enable people to quickly get to their destination without the limitations of the ground. Therefore, an efficient and seamless solution with minimal waiting periods was the key. The design process was also focused on the question about the formal language and how the future can coexist with the existing. And at least, how design can have an impact on the acceptance for future technologies.
What is for you the power of the drawings as unique site where this speculation now exists?
As the proposal is about to be implemented into a present building, the distinction between new and existing had to be communicated throughout the drawings. The character of the surfaces and materiality and how they are responding to light and shadows, are an important part of the investigation. A method of drawing, which is a suitable way to deal with these aspects, are the aquarelle painted plans by architects from the late 18th and 19th century, like Karl von Fischer. The adaption of this technique and therefore the use of a set range of stylistic devices improves the comparability between different aesthetic concepts at the university. The colour code shows the existing in grey, demolished parts in sepia and everything new-built in rose. This nod to the analogue way of visualising architecture, emphasizes the actual qualities of a building, which are mostly neglected in computer- rendered images. Somehow this creates an interesting paradox on the futuristic design theme.
How and to what extent do you envision the city transforming as a result of this new type of travel?
The introduction of short-distance air travel takes an upcoming need of infrastructural elements, apart from starting and landing facilities. Moreover, there will be more possibilities to connect buildings to the infrastructure system. This could change the direction of the city´s organisation from the horizontal to the vertical. On the one hand, this shift can make a positive change for the city centres of metropoles. Less road traffic will offer new possibilities to develop public spaces on the ground of our cities. Not least because of the reduction of CO2-emissions, living conditions could be improved. On the other hand, the sky will be more frequented. This could also raise a range of issues, regarding traffic regulations, noise protection and security. It is difficult to predict the actual extent of this development, as it applies nearly every aspect of our urban environment. There definitely will be a difference in the velocity of this change, depending on the built cultural and historical background of the specific city.
Can you discuss the shift from present building typologies to 'new ones'?
Thinking on a small scale, the new technology will decrease the demand of parking spaces for non-public transport. Therefore, these spaces could be converted into the new facilities, which will be also needed. Conversions are a useful way to preserve existent buildings and their historical character, while integrating new purposes. Apart from the air taxi stand, which we have investigated, there also will be a need of charging and maintenance stations or other service elements. They could be accommodated separately in the outer area of the metropoles. These changes will be the first step in a larger redevelopment. But on a bigger scale and over a longer period of time, the shape of our cities might change a lot more drastically. This could mean, that utopian (or maybe dystopian) images, as you find them in science fiction films, come closer to reality. Perhaps, the city grows even more into the sky and the ground level loses its original importance.
How do you imagine the street of the future?
The streets of the future will not only be on the ground level anymore – there will be a multilevel infrastructure system. Traffic grids change from a two-dimensional network on one street level, into a complex three-dimensional system in the air. This means that the entrances of buildings may not only be located on the ground. The access to your home, workspace, gym or grocery store could be then the airway, as well. But before these revolutionary steps, our current system of streets will just literally have new space for improvements. Since the frequency of cars, driving on the road will decrease, pedestrians and cyclists would have better conditions. Urban spaces could then be redeveloped into public, recreational spaces, free from disturbance. In the end, the introduction of the air taxi technology would mean the beginning of a new way of urban planning, including appealing possibilities, which have not been there before.
How and to what extent will this shift affect and change the life and attitude of the inhabitants of the city itself?
At first, the shift of technology in mobility, will appear as something revolutionary and could therefore also be unsettling for many inhabitants of the city. Just the sight of flying vehicles, close to our heads, might be strange and frightening, not to mention how it will be as a passenger. But there will also be a lot of fascination and curiosity about this topic. Once people have gotten accustomed to use air taxis, which will take some time, it could be a normal part of everyday life, just like using the metro. It might be similar to the invention of the car, which also was a quite controversial process, at the beginning and now is not questioned anymore. Obviously, life then will be more tech-based and -dependent. Generally, the sky will further become human terrain.