>Smart Grid – Architecture in an Autonomous Landscape


>Riane Samir

London, UK


Situated in the Lake District, Cumbria, Smart Grid explores what can be achieved when we unlock the true potentials of mobility, systems, flows and circularity. In a complicated world, threatened by continual global crisis, we continue to function in the most unsustainable ways. The way in which we attain everyday commodities such as electricity, water, food and heat was developed at a time when this technology was limited. Infrastructure was created to support these systems, causing technological lock-in. As a result, our landscapes are plagued with this infrastructure that is both seen and unseen, becoming such a common occurrence that we are numb to it.

Electricity has become a commodity that every occupied building in the UK has access to. The infrastructure needed to support this is extensive and uses a substantial amount of copper for its conductive value. Throughout the Lake District, a quarter of homes are second homes that are used seasonally. The amount of electrical infrastructure does not change depending on how often the building is occupied. In some instances, a single cable will need to travel over 2km to reach a single home. The mapped area contains around 15,000 tons of copper if recycled has the ability to generate over £55m that could then be re-invested into new systems.

The way in which commodities currently arrive at the home is also inconsistent due to technological lock-in. Even with the most sophisticated technologies that enable a home to be self-sufficient have the need for continual adaption. Over the lifespan of the home, significant alterations need to be made if it is to evolve and survive. What does it mean for heritage when the structure is designed to last 200 years, the skin 60 years and the services 15 years? This continual adaption is causing heritage to significantly lose its value.

Smart Grids proposes to exploit the electrical vehicle and the road network to challenge the current systems & flows in place. Utilising modern technologies to create a new, invisible connective tissue. Proximity will no longer an issue! 20th-century infrastructure will become redundant. People will travel collectively. Roads will never be congested. Carbon will be net-zero. Commodities will become shared. Heritage will be preserved. The Lake District will once again become self-sufficient.

In a hyper low dense landscape with amenities spread miles apart, car travel time is extortionate. Studies have shown some residents can spend much as 4 hours a day in a personal vehicle. Smart Grid proposed to collate journeys using the Internet of Things. Each journey will be analysed by the system to create the most efficient routes. Like ants in a colony, smaller autonomous vehicles that are capable of dealing with the difficult terrain of the Lake District will be working continually to move people and commodities throughout the landscape significantly reducing the amount of time spent in the car.

Taking advantage of now disused car parks, an abundance of centrally located areas become available in desirable regions. These car parks will become primary service stations for vehicles that are active in the landscape. When not in use, the space will be versatile and allow for the creation of green spaces, that communities can enjoy. Bus stops that are located along main routes will contain inductive charging pads. This will allow for larger forms of transport to either charge up or offload charge during the course of the day without disrupting travel.

The autonomous vehicle will have the ability to read the landscape in an analytical way. Eight surround cameras provide 360 degrees of visibility around the car at up to 250 meters of range. A forward-facing radar with enhanced processing provides additional data about the world on a redundant wavelength that is able to see through heavy rain, fog, dust and even the car ahead. As a vehicle passes by a building, it will be able to read stats sent via 5G, allowing it to understand the amounts of commodities it contains. If the vehicle detects low quantities, it will either make a stop to replenish commodities of the building or activate an alert that will immediately call a vacant vehicle in the area.

As commodities are transported from regional distribution centres using larger forms of public transport, located in the towns highlighted in the master plan will be local distribution centres. The primary function will be to store commodities for the autonomous vehicle to collect. Local distribution centres will be contained within existing Architecture to make the system as invisible as possible. Using existing bays and car parking spaces, autonomous vehicles when empty will line up. Employees of distribution hubs will replenish the commodities by simply clipping on and off the designated compartments. When fully replenished, the vehicle will be ready for service. Upon departure another empty vehicle will take its place. This cycle will continue throughout the day, providing the goods and services needed to sustain the population of the Lake District.

Inspired by Reyner Banhamm’s essay the home is not a house, Smart grid proposes to keep systems and Architecture separate. Rather than attaining commodities by connecting services directly to the home, commodities are attained by connecting the vehicle to a skin and the skin to the home. When the system becomes outdated, it can be upgraded without having any impact on heritage whatsoever.

Contained within the skin are a number of systems that will improve the performance of the home. Rainwater harvesting & sprinkler system to provide water and to sprinkle vegetation that will grow in the vertical garden. Photovoltaic with a convertor & inductive charging pad to power the autonomous vehicle & home. HVAC system to regulate temperature, circulate air and inflate the ETFE skin and finally a robotic arm that will automate the process of removing and attaching commodities to the vehicle such as greywater, food and electricity. The entire skin will be made from materials extracted from the now redundant 20th-century infrastructure.

Utilising an experimental configuration of tensegrity structure means that heavy contact to the ground will only be made at two locations on the site. Using wooden prisms at fixed location to create a form and wrapping this using ETFE held in place through a tension system. Flexibility allows for the prisms to create inhabitable space depending on the user requirements. In this example, the prisms were used to create housing for services, a vertical garden and a kids play area space.

Inside the home, the occupant can enjoy unaltered heritage without the need for any further modifications to allow for comfort. Vernacular construction techniques such as dry stone walls, timber joist ceilings and single glazed window can remain untouched and celebrated.

Implementation of the system will enable the landscape to become totally free from visible infrastructure, adding value to the ‘world heritage’ status the Lake District is supposed to reflect. People will regain control of the streets. It will appear as pristine and perhaps untouched. In reality, the landscape will remain a highly technological system. Through design, the Lake District will have the ability to function as a city, but in a much lighter, smarter way.

Autonomy will mean there is no longer need for reflective road signage to help give drivers information. New hand-crafted street signage can be created from recycled telegraph poles. In order to support the implementation of 5G network coverage. Smart Grid proposes to incorporate an accumulation of mini 5G masts that can provide internet coverage to the entire lake district without the need for huge towering infrastructure. This infrastructure will help to support the GPS systems used by autonomous vehicles, meaning all corners of the Lake District will have the fastest speeds of internet connection.

Feasibility of the project is unique in the fact that it has the ability to generate many streams of revenue, effectively being capable of funding itself. Using GIS software to map the electrical infrastructure, it was discovered there is over 60,000 Mega Tons of copper contained throughout the landscape in electric cable. At a resale value of £4,200 per MT, a total of £252m can be generated by mining this infrastructure. Other valuable metals can also be found in other decommission systems. Another revenue stream might come in the form of sponsorship & advertisements on the autonomous vehicles. With a predicted rise in tourism of 5% per year by 2050 the vehicles will provide advertising exposure to millions of people.

Smart Grid can be scaled for use in many of the smaller villages contained in underdeveloped countries where the infrastructure is not in place to allow for homes to have access to commodities. Instead, commodities such as water, for example, are placed in one location and will require the person to physically retrieve it. Other things like electricity and the internet have not even arrived. This system will allow for the transport of commodities to arrive at the home. It will also allow the opportunity for other commodities to become incorporated in a landscape that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. For example, the vehicles can be located in a nearby town or city with more advanced infrastructural systems. Here they can charge and retrieve things to transported to the villages. Whilst doing so, this will also allow for people that live in small villages to be transported to towns/cities to earn a better income.