Alternatives to Car Access for Sensitive Sites

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Architects do like to congratulate themselves when they design eco tourist resorts. On the coat tails of engineers they produce developments that generate all their own power and recycle all the guests’ shit, but which invariably cause acres of destruction in making new roads and car parking lots to provide access. Can we justify the environmental degradation by including an interpretive centre beside the Jacuzzi? Next we’ll be saying Cambodian brothels raise awareness of the plights of poor women.

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Far more worthy of praise are projects that reduce car trips, rather than generating new ones, and that rehabilitate sites that once were degraded, instead of the other way around. Amsterdam’s former gasworks, Westergasfabriek, saves people a drive to the country if they want to see nature, on a site that was formerly toxic. And because it is Amsterdam, bikes replace cars for site access.

Westergasfabriek teaches us not to view environmental impacts as an inevitable consequence of new development, that at best we can try to minimise. It teaches us to view economically beneficial projects (in this case, one that increases surrounding land values and therefore tax revenue), as clean-up operations that also reduce our consumption of oil. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all lived in Amsterdam, where everyone cycles and projects like these can be procured!

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A student here where I teach, Alexander Kean, has just convinced me that tripple-bottom-line projects like these make just as much sense in cities that are car dependent. The idea is to return former docklands in Launceston, Tasmania, to a semblance of their first incarnation as wetlands, with berms and swales. Two story cabins sit on the berms, defending the area from antisocial behaviour.

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On the other side of the site, where it will cast the least shadows, comes the developer apartment block and speculative office. However accountants decide to divvy the pennies, this is to make the job profitable, and full of people.

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A swag of eco-design tricks have been pulled out to ensure zero impacts and minimal ongoing consumption, thus future-proofing buyers against rising energy costs and the sorts of environmental levies we all should expect will impact our lives in the future. But here is the punchline:

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The project will have no access roads or car parking to shed engine oil, scare away birds, run over echidnas, or interrupt wildlife breeding or feeding. Instead, site access will be via an elevated boardwalk for bikes and pedestrians. Even service vehicle access has been so tightened as to almost disappear from the page.

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The town planner’s standard objection to elevated routes, that they compete with the ground plane, is irrelevant here, since the ground plane is a nature reserve, not a cafe strip. Commerce occurs on the one level: the raised one. The cut-away image above shows the raised boardwalk intersecting a bicycle showroom, proposed as a gateway to the development.

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On a citywide scale, the development ties in with a network of rail-trails and waterway bike paths that naturally converge on the docklands. That sets the stage for apartments designed with bike-loving buyers in mind. The long wall inside the front door has hard wearing surfaces and lots of shelves to store bikes and bike gear.

One of the findings from the studio Alexander Kean was a part of, is that a bicycle focused development aught to provide a wide range of bike parking options. Secure bike rooms at the base near the lobbie, as well as space for bikes at your desk or inside your apartment, as well as covered racks outside for hardier bikes: as designers we need to be catering for cycling in all its variety, not forcing it into a mould. Achieving that with a project, would be deserving of somewhat more praise than a Platinum LEED or Six Green Star project that everyone drives to.

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