For much of modern times we have taken for granted the provision of power. We plug our appliances into the wall and expect them to light up not questioning where the energy comes from or what the consequences of this ease are. Our world on the everyday level is still one where electricity is a kind of magic, where for the most part the infrastructure that provides it remains far away, underground, hidden in walls and in someone else’s neighbourhood. This illusion of easy energy feeds our rampant consumption of it; if we can link our habits of demand with our understanding of supply perhaps they can be changed.
If we are to tackle the problems of climate change and build a sustainable future for the planet we must have an awareness of our energy consumption that influences individual behaviour and broader policy decisions. We also need alternatives to fossil fuel based energy supplies. This is not just about cleaner electricity production but about creating a diverse economy that utilizes advances in manufacturing and research. Any strategy for future energy must bring these two aspects together: changing the relationship between energy consumption and production, and developing alternatives to fossil fuels.
Can renewable energy technologies allow us to imagine a different relationship between energy infrastructure and the city? The use of renewable energy sources gives us a new model of distribution; no longer is energy supply localised to a few points of intense production but is instead dispersed across large areas of territory. Energy supply can be thought of as a layering of grids of different power sources that tap into wind, solar and ground. These energy grids have the ability to be tightly integrated within the urban and suburban realm and add another layer to the landscape we inhabit. By bringing energy infrastructure into our urban areas we can completely alter the relationship we have with power generation, it will cease to be an abstract entity and instead become a physical artefact in the city. This will result in a complete shift in perception, by seeing the power being generated, by having the infrastructure in our immediate environment, our understanding of what it means to consume will change.
How these ideas translate into the urban realm can be thought of as making the invisible – visible and productive. Bringing energy production into the neighbourhood, seeing the wind moving turbines, compressing different activities and professional pursuits into a compact area, forming a close connection to landscape that is productive, all these will define a new model of urban dwelling that will make a landmark expo, a beneficial addition to the city of Astana, and a exemplary model of urban development for the world. Our proposal can be understood in five steps.
Productive Landscape: Energy Park
At the core of our proposal is an idea of landscape as a place of production; production of power, food, recreation, rainwater reservoir, biological diversity, energy storage and work environments. The landscape has the quality of agricultural fields where a diverse range of products can be harvested, from apples to energy. It is composed of a series of strips each with a particular characteristic, from water body to wildflower field, fruit trees to recreation grounds. Overlaid on this are walkways covered by solar panels, wind turbines, energy storage units, and a whole range of infrastructure. The result is an intense experience of different environments which not only produces for the surrounding city but is also a place of leisure, recreation, and work.
New Urbanity: A Neighbourhood for Compact Living
To give a clear definition to the site we have compressed the urban fabric into a thin boundary that forms a square circumscribing the energy park. While from afar the boundary is a clear line giving a definite urban form,
the line itself is composed of varied buildings of different size, types and uses that define a winding street and numerous squares. The fine grain of the street will provide sheltered conditions all year round to allow an active street life to occur. Lined with trees and benches, fronted with cafe’s and shops, this pedestrian space, ideal for cyclists, will form a main artery of this new neighbourhood. The compression of residential, commercial and retail spaces into a dense line where all one’s daily needs will be in comfortable walking distance makes for a more sustainable and efficient community and a vibrant city life.
Windcatcher: A Symbol for the City
Marking the centre of the expo site is our symbol for the city. Like the other key monuments of Astana, this aligns to the main axis of the city and will be clearly visible from Bayterek Tower. Rather than using formal, sculptural gestures to give meaning, the symbol embodies the idea of future energy in its structure, purpose and total effect. Called the Windcatcher, it is literally a provider of future energy, a light space frame structure of stacked wind turbines that stretches the width of the main axis of the site. Generating 5500MWh annually in a steady breeze, this symbol is the antithesis of fossil fuel power generation. It will be the aspiring symbol for renewable technology, clean, ephemeral, a matter of civic pride and a beacon for sustainable development.
Creative Heart: A Catalyst for the Area
At the heart of the scheme is the main expo site which will become a science and technology park after the event concludes. We intend this centre to be a catalyst for the entire area, attracting spectators from around the world during the expo, and being a place for research and development during the legacy. For the success of both stages we envision this area more as an urban quarter, with streets and plazas, than a typical expo park, which is characterised by pavilions as objects in an open park . It is about creating a space to think, meet, experiment and explore. Our intention is to emulate the best creative districts from around the world such as Soho in London and Brooklyn in New York, where spaces are easily adaptable, there is a high quality of public space, and a close proximity between companies. We also believe a more vibrant and compact expo will lead to a better experience for the visitor.
Future Energy: A Model for Kazakhstan and the World
Expos have always presented the latest in technological development and offered a vision of the future. There is also a tradition of housing the expo in grounds that offer a new paradigm for architecture and urbanism; this can be seen in London in 1851, Montreal in ’67, and Osaka in ‘70. Our design continues this aspiration and is organised so as to be a blueprint for city districts elsewhere. With a clarity of parts; the energy park, periphery, central pavilions, our scheme can be refit for different sites. Our design presents a radically different configuration of the urban environment that that will have a profound impact on our individual lives; energy infrastructure will no longer be an invisible entity but will be fully integrated into daily life. By rethinking the urban realm of the community we can hope to offer an example to the country and to the world.
Astana 2017 offers an unparalleled opportunity to re-address the place of energy in our lives and environment. The expo will be where not only new technologies will be demonstrated but an entirely new model of urbanity can be realised. Through the strategy of making the invisible visible we hope to demonstrate that the integration of renewable energy into the urban realm will create a dramatic shift in the relationship we have energy, its supply will form an essential part of our culture and economy to an extent that we haven’t previously experienced which will in turn affect every aspect of our life.
- Location: Astana, Khazakhstan
- Use: International Expo
- Client: The Mayor of Astana
- Status: Competition Entry, August 2013
- Design Team: Chris Lee, Kapil Gupta, Martin Jameson, Bolam Lee, Patrick Usborne, Simon Whittle, Brian Cheng, Fei Wu, Santosh Thorat, Neha Momaya