'Smart beautiful' in the context of building and construction seems like a strange
conundrum that refuses to unravel itself. Yet today it is almost a mandate when
it comes to planning the building of smart cities. Clearly then, we need to change
the lens through which we see both 'smart' and 'beauty'. Once we admit to ourselves
that there can be other interpretations to being smart and beautiful at the same
time in building and construction, the landscape of possibilities seems endless.
Today, we look for value in everything we do, buy or think. While the idea of attaching
a value to beauty may look like we are underestimating beauty, it is actually adding
another dimension to its functionality; it is this that makes it not just beautiful
but 'smart beautiful'. So while there is place for beauty for beauty's sake, the
time now is for beauty to create an enriching life experience. Seen in this light,
the most obvious interpretation of smart beautiful will certainly be environment-friendly
centric. In this context, best discussed would be the Zimbabwean architect, Mick
Pearce. He seems to follow one vision in all his work – to build sustainable, non-intrusive
buildings that are low on maintenance and cost. It is not surprising, then, that
Nature has inspired Pearce almost every time he has worked on a project. One of
the finest examples of his work is the Eastgate Shopping Center in Harare, Zimbabwe.
The building uses a unique method of controlling temperature within. Borrowing from
the termites, the building is fitted with tubes that move air through the structure.
Speaking specifically of smart cities, here's another example of how beauty is akin
to smart in a meaningful way. The city of Los Angeles is on its way to fitting 4,500
miles of orange-yellow sodium-vapor streetlights with a moonlight-hued matrix of
light-emitting diodes. The idea is to make the roads look brighter, but importantly,
add heavily to connectivity and road safety. It is intended that every lit lamp
will be connected wirelessly to the Bureau of Street Lighting. So that, any discrepancy
in the lighting system will be clocked immediately and hence, attended to just as
Another smart example of building for a more convenient life lies in the city of
Medellín, high up in the Andes. A lot of its population (especially the poor) lives
in houses built on steep slopes, and on the whole the city was marred by a fractured
commuting system. To cover the cracks, cable cars were introduced; soon rather than
navigating their way up and down the steep slopes, the people started hopping on
to a cable car to get going. The first Metrocable line opened in 2004 and was quickly
followed by others. "The genius of the Metrocable is that it actually serves the
poor and integrates them into the city, giving them access to jobs and other opportunities,"
says Julio Dávila, a Colombian urban planner at University College London. "Nobody
had ever done that before." Taking the idea of building smart for the city, architect
Alejandro Echeverri, as the city's Director of Urban Projects from 2004 to 2008,
designed five libraries and sprinkled them throughout Medellín, surrounding them
with beautiful scapes of green. These "library-parks" were deemed to be among the
first safe public spaces many neighborhoods had ever seen.
Today, Eindhoven in Netherlands is known for more than the famous family that makes
light bulbs for the world – Philips. It has held up an example of a smart city innovation
that is simple and yet so very effective. As the sleepy town grew into a hub for
technology and research where workers commuted to and fro and within the city every
day in great numbers, intersections became unfriendly to traffic, especially to
bicyclists. When the urban planning commission decided to look into it, the result
was the $8 million Hovenring – a rare piece of cycling infrastructure, a 1,000-ton
steel deck suspended by 24 cables from a towering space needle and lit up with LEDs.
Spectacular as it looks, rising up to meet the northern sky, its functional benefits
are even more magnificent.
Image source: http://twistedsifter.com/2014/01/hovenring-worlds-first-suspended-bicycle-roundabout-netherlands/
As the urban world awakens to the reality of limited resources and the necessity
of creating better life experiences within the limitations, there are and will be
more examples of smart beautiful in the making. This year Ultratech, as proud patrons
of the India Under Construction (IUC) conference on 'Smart SoCIeTY', makes a special
commitment to smart beautiful. It is hoped that the forum will be the beginning
of many meaningful conversations with the AEC community on a subject that underlines
the essence of contemporary urban living.
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