An urban intervention as delightful as it is functional.

The increased interest in the way in which attitudes to nature can inform the architecture of the city is particularly evident in this unusually powerful combination of architecture, urbanism and landscape, which redefines not merely the way you think about this particular suburban extension, but about the nature of streets as a whole, particularly in extreme climates. The architect has installed ‘air trees’ along a new road which represents the anonymity of edge-of-town extensions while offering a constructive proposition about their future.
The idea is simple: residents can make choices about how they would like to ‘grow’ some aspect of environmental control or modification within the created light structures, that are ‘easily dismantled and energetically self-sufficient’. The notion is that these temporary mini-forests operate until such time as these areas are no longer reliant on air conditioning, at which point they can be disassembled, and left as ‘clearings’ in the urban forest (or jungle). Combining the idea of the tree, the container in which it might sit, solar power and the flow of air through a given structure creates a form of environmental nursery which nurtures growth, and provides a well-tempered environment which acts as a critique of the ‘bad planning’ which made such a proposition necessary in the first place.
The judges found the proposal interesting from several perspectives. First, the structure’s extraordinary nature and its appearance in a nondescript suburban setting. Second, the idea that a temporary structure could make a long-term proposition about the way a city streetscape might adapt in the context of ever-hotter urban environments. And not least the confidence and verve with which the project was not only conceived, but put into effect. The idea of creating public spaces that are 8 to 10 degC cooler than the surrounding ambient temperature is being developed in various extreme climates round the world, exploiting techniques more familiar to the world of agriculture than urban architecture.
At a time when the assumptions of ‘high technology’ have come under increasing scrutiny in the wake of concerns about climate change, energy efficiency and intelligent use of materials, this project suggests that the understanding of technology at a fundamental level is crucial to developments which may bypass the cruder assumptions of the world of air conditioning. Happily, the design outcome here is evidence that this line of investigation can also be visually impressive. PAUL FINCH

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