Build: Technology is advancing the ways we create, and experience, our spaces

The City of the Future

From housing to food, Rotterdam is tackling population-scale problems in creative, sustainable ways, most often powered by advanced technology and a bit of old-fashioned imagination.

Some cities are defined by their history and tradition. Rotterdam, on the other hand, is defined by its future. After nearly being wiped out by World War II, the city has emerged as one of the world’s most sustainable cities. And that’s by design.

Through creative, comprehensive building that focuses on expanding urban life, reducing pollution, and creating social spaces, Rotterdam embodies technology and sustainability, bringing to life structures that can serve as models for the rest of the modern world. The “architect” obtains a new definition that encompasses the evolution of their power and abilities through the use of the latest technology and integrated approaches. We can see the results on the ground, but the majority happens in the cloud, as architects are relying heavily on creating functioning and self-sustaining digital infrastructures that will provide the foundations of Rotterdam's futuristic city.

Robotic Construction

Architectural design and fabrication company Studio RAP is bringing expressive designs to life through robotic construction. In 2015, the studio, in partnership with the Port of Rotterdam, used a refurbished ABB robotic arm to construct a 130-square-meter building inside a former industrial machine hall in Rotterdam’s new Innovation Dock. This is the first robotically fabricated building in the Netherlands. And it’s not just a simple rectangle. It’s more like a vault, made of 225 unique wooden triangles and 3,200 robotically pre-drilled screws, rising spectacularly up from a central column that blends into the compression-only roof in one smooth motion—a technique made possible only through recent advances in robotics. Before breaking ground, the studio’s cofounders created a simulated 3D floorplan using RhinoVAULT, software that specializes in optimizing shapes based on compression. A custom algorithm then translates the plan into robotic movement and directs the robotic arm. The final result is a unique piece of architecture that not only looks cool, but also has created smarter shapes using fewer materials, less cost, and more sustainability.

“Our goal is not automation or using a robot. We are much more interested in a new architecture and also in a more sustainable way of constructing,” said cofounder Wessel van Beerendonk. “Innovations of robotics can bridge the gaps between the digital and material worlds.”

Wind Turbine Hotel and Apartment Block

In the EU, buildings are responsible for 40 percent of energy consumption and 36 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. We can only expect more buildings to be erected and contribute to this energy usage. But what if a building created more energy than it used? That’s the hope behind a new take on the traditional windmill: the Dutch Windwheel, created by architecture studio Doepel Strijkers and partners Meyster’s and BLOC.

The Dutch Windwheel, set to be revealed on Rotterdam’s waterside in 2020, will be a wind turbine, a hotel, an apartment complex, and a tourist attraction all in one. Oh, and it will also include a roller coaster, because, why not? Rising to 174 meters, the structure will be framed by two rings: a static inner ring with apartments, a hotel, and a restaurant, and a rotating outer ring made up of 40 rollercoaster cabins. At the center of this incredible edifice will be a wind turbine that will work without mechanically moving parts. Using Electrostatic Wind Energy Converter (EWICON) technology, the turbine will harvest wind and water to create electricity, silently.

Cloud computing made it possible to coordinate the construction and operation of so many unique elements. And the team didn’t stop at functionality: The facade itself will also integrate digital glazed “smart walls” that add a virtual view of the waterfront so visitors can identify the historic mills nearby. And just to bring a bit more historical relevance into the mix, the rollercoaster will also include an interactive cinema that charts the history of Dutch water management. How’s that for a Renaissance approach to building in the future?

Floating Pavilion

Under a city of Rotterdam initiative called Rotterdam Climate Proof, the Floating Pavilion is proving to be a catalyst for climate change–proof architecture. Anchored in the old city harbor, the Floating Pavilion looks like three massive, connected bubbles rising up 40 feet tall and about the size of four tennis courts. It’s designed by Deltasync and Public Domain Architects and is considered a prototype for a future community of floating homes, a proactive plan to adapt to rising sea levels.

Its translucent exterior is made up of a strong, anti-corrosive plastic called ETFE, which is 100 times lighter than glass. The base is a sort of unsinkable concrete box, filled with foam. The heating and cooling systems rely on solar energy and surface water, and they are programmed only to turn on in areas where they are required, a system made possible through the Internet of Things (IoT). In addition, the pavilion purifies its own toilet water for use in restrooms. “The Floating Pavilion demonstrates that it’s possible to create floating communities that combine different functions on the water, as well as infrastructure,” said Barbara Dal Bo Zanon, researcher and architect at Deltasync.

Smog-Free Tower

The World Health Organization has found that more than 80 percent of people who live in urban areas are exposed to air quality levels that exceed its limits. Despite Rotterdam’s progressivism, the city’s air quality actually breaks with EU standards. One of the city’s newer buildings is attempting to change this.

Erected in 2015 by designer Daan Roosegaarde, the seven-meter smog-free tower creates a pocket of clean air in its vicinity to help alleviate pollution. In fact, the park at Vierhavensstraat 52 is 20 to 70 percent cleaner than it used to be, according to the Technical University of Eindhoven. The tower processes 30,000 cubic meters of air per hour, removing ultrafine smog particles while pumping out clean air. Smog gets sucked into the top of the tower and then air comes out through vents in the six sides. The tower manages to do all of this using no more electricity than a water boiler. Plus, it’s easy on the eyes. All of Roosegaarde’s urban projects embody the Dutch word schoonheid, which encompasses poetry, beauty, and cleanliness.

“I think we need beauty and aesthetic design to convince people of the beauty of the new world,” said Roosegaarde, who believes that the future of technology isn’t about creating apps, but rather solving the world’s real problems.

Floating Dairy

The city of Rotterdam is asking how it’ll produce enough healthy food to feed the world’s growing population, when the amount of arable land is steadily decreasing and the deltas are sinking. One answer is to build a floating farm, or in this case, a floating dairy.

An initiative of floating architecture specialists Beladon, dairy sector innovators Courage, and urban farming specialists Uit Je Eigen Stad, the Floating Farm will be completely self-sustaining and based off a closed-loop system, a paradigm for feeding cities in the future. The overall project is expected to be finished by September 2018. The farm is still in the planning stages, but the developers envision 40 cows on a 1,200-square-meter floating platform, producing a total of 1,000 liters of milk a day to be pasteurized and processed. Beladon envisions building in concrete, with galvanized steel frames and a special membrane on the ground to allow the cow urine to filter through the floor. The urine will be purified and used to grow red clover, alfalfa, and grass under artificial light for fodder. There’ll be a machine to sweep up feces and another to top up the feeding stations, both of which will be preprogrammed with a basic user profile and may include additional sensors to optimize accuracy through the IoT. Manure will be either used or sent to a nearby farm. The cows will be able to roam in and out of their stalls and milking station onto a real-life pasture. In addition, the designers are planning to use artificial trees with real ivy for shade and solar panels to power the farm.

Benthemplein Water Squares

Urban environments like Rotterdam are built up, densely populated, and largely made of concrete. Rotterdam specifically is already 90 percent below sea level. Climate change promises that rain showers will not only come more frequently, but more intensely. So where will all the water go, when the sewage systems and canals are choked to the brim?

Another result of Rotterdam’s Climate Change Initiative, De Urbanisten’s Benthemplein project is the first large-scale water square that provides a solution for excess water in cities. To the unknowing eye, the Water Square, located just north of the city center, appears to be an inviting sunken play area, where residents can be seen skating along the edges, shooting hoops in the center, or soaking in the sun on the steps. But this flexible and mixed-use space actually serves as a water retention space for the city of Rotterdam, helping to prevent flooding in the case of heavy rainfall. When it rains, rainwater and runoff from the surfaces and rooftops flow into the two shallow basins. When those overflow, the water flows through an impressive water wall into a third deeper basin, which is used for sports like basketball when it’s dry. After collecting and analyzing data on the city’s existing sewage and open water systems, the firm was able to build the third basin in a way that ensures it will empty within 36 hours of filling up, as the water pumps out of the square and into the open water. And by utilizing digital 3D models as they experimented with their design, De Urbanisten’s team was able to offer city engineers the option to connect the Water Square to the city’s preexisting systems.

Robotic Construction

Architectural design and fabrication company Studio RAP is bringing expressive designs to life through robotic construction. In 2015, the studio, in partnership with the Port of Rotterdam, used a refurbished ABB robotic arm to construct a 130-square-meter building inside a former industrial machine hall in Rotterdam’s new Innovation Dock. This is the first robotically fabricated building in the Netherlands. And it’s not just a simple rectangle. It’s more like a vault, made of 225 unique wooden triangles and 3,200 robotically pre-drilled screws, rising spectacularly up from a central column that blends into the compression-only roof in one smooth motion—a technique made possible only through recent advances in robotics. Before breaking ground, the studio’s cofounders created a simulated 3D floorplan using RhinoVAULT, software that specializes in optimizing shapes based on compression. A custom algorithm then translates the plan into robotic movement and directs the robotic arm. The final result is a unique piece of architecture that not only looks cool, but also has created smarter shapes using fewer materials, less cost, and more sustainability.

“Our goal is not automation or using a robot. We are much more interested in a new architecture and also in a more sustainable way of constructing,” said cofounder Wessel van Beerendonk. “Innovations of robotics can bridge the gaps between the digital and material worlds.”

Wind Turbine Hotel and Apartment Block

In the EU, buildings are responsible for 40 percent of energy consumption and 36 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. We can only expect more buildings to be erected and contribute to this energy usage. But what if a building created more energy than it used? That’s the hope behind a new take on the traditional windmill: theDutch Windwheel, created by architecture studio Doepel Strijkers and partners Meyster’s and BLOC.

The Dutch Windwheel, set to be revealed on Rotterdam’s waterside in 2020, will be a wind turbine, a hotel, an apartment complex, and a tourist attraction all in one. Oh, and it will also include a roller coaster, because, why not? Rising to 174 meters, the structure will be framed by two rings: a static inner ring with apartments, a hotel, and a restaurant, and a rotating outer ring made up of 40 rollercoaster cabins. At the center of this incredible edifice will be a wind turbine that will work without mechanically moving parts. Using Electrostatic Wind Energy Converter (EWICON) technology, the turbine will harvest wind and water to create electricity, silently.

Cloud computing made it possible to coordinate the construction and operation of so many unique elements. And the team didn’t stop at functionality: The facade itself will also integrate digital glazed “smart walls” that add a virtual view of the waterfront so visitors can identify the historic mills nearby. And just to bring a bit more historical relevance into the mix, the rollercoaster will also include an interactive cinema that charts the history of Dutch water management. How’s that for a Renaissance approach to building in the future?

Floating Pavilion

Under a city of Rotterdam initiative called Rotterdam Climate Proof, the Floating Pavilion is proving to be a catalyst for climate change–proof architecture. Anchored in the old city harbor, the Floating Pavilion looks like three massive, connected bubbles rising up 40 feet tall and about the size of four tennis courts. It’s designed by Deltasync and Public Domain Architects and is considered a prototype for a future community of floating homes, a proactive plan to adapt to rising sea levels.

Its translucent exterior is made up of a strong, anti-corrosive plastic called ETFE, which is 100 times stronger than glass. The base is a sort of unsinkable concrete box, filled with foam. The heating and cooling systems rely on solar energy and surface water, and they are programmed only to turn on in areas where they are required, a system made possible through the Internet of Things (IoT). In addition, the pavilion purifies its own toilet water for use in restrooms. “The Floating Pavilion demonstrates that it’s possible to create floating communities that combine different functions on the water, as well as infrastructure,” said Barbara Dal Bo Zanon, researcher and architect at Deltasync.

Smog-Free Tower

The World Health Organization has found that more than 80 percent of people who live in urban areas are exposed to air quality levels that exceed its limits. Despite Rotterdam’s progressivism, the city’s air quality actually breaks with EU standards. One of the city’s newer buildings is attempting to change this.

Erected in 2015 by designer Daan Roosegaarde, the seven-meter smog-free tower creates a pocket of clean air in its vicinity to help alleviate pollution. In fact, the park at Vierhavensstraat 52 is 20 to 70 percent cleaner than it used to be, according to the Technical University of Eindhoven. The tower processes 30,000 cubic meters of air per hour, removing ultrafine smog particles while pumping out clean air. Smog gets sucked into the top of the tower and then air comes out through vents in the six sides. The tower manages to do all of this using no more electricity than a water boiler. Plus, it’s easy on the eyes. All of Roosegaarde’s urban projects embody the Dutch word schoonheid, which encompasses poetry, beauty, and cleanliness.

“I think we need beauty and aesthetic design to convince people of the beauty of the new world,” said Roosegaarde, who believes that the future of technology isn’t about creating apps, but rather solving the world’s real problems.

Floating Dairy

The city of Rotterdam is asking how it’ll produce enough healthy food to feed the world’s growing population, when the amount of arable land is steadily decreasing and the deltas are sinking. One answer is to build a floating farm, or in this case, a floating dairy.

An initiative of floating architecture specialists Beladon, dairy sector innovators Courage, and urban farming specialists Uit Je Eigen Stad, the Floating Farm will be completely self-sustaining and based off a closed-loop system, a paradigm for feeding cities in the future. The overall project is expected to be finished by September 2018. The farm is still in the planning stages, but the developers envision 40 cows on a 1,200-square-meter floating platform, producing a total of 1,000 liters of milk a day to be pasteurized and processed. Beladon envisions building in concrete, with galvanized steel frames and a special membrane on the ground to allow the cow urine to filter through the floor. The urine will be purified and used to grow red clover, alfalfa, and grass under artificial light for fodder. There’ll be a machine to sweep up feces and another to top up the feeding stations, both of which will be preprogrammed with a basic user profile and may include additional sensors to optimize accuracy through the IoT. Manure will be either used or sent to a nearby farm. The cows will be able to roam in and out of their stalls and milking station onto a real-life pasture. In addition, the designers are planning to use artificial trees with real ivy for shade and solar panels to power the farm.

Benthemplein Water Squares

Urban environments like Rotterdam are built up, densely populated, and largely made of concrete. Rotterdam specifically is already 90 percent below sea level. Climate change promises that rain showers will not only come more frequently, but more intensely. So where will all the water go, when the sewage systems and canals are choked to the brim?

Another result of Rotterdam’s Climate Change Initiative, De Urbanisten’s Benthemplein project is the first large-scale water square that provides a solution for excess water in cities. To the unknowing eye, the Water Square, located just north of the city center, appears to be an inviting sunken play area, where residents can be seen skating along the edges, shooting hoops in the center, or soaking in the sun on the steps. But this flexible and mixed-use space actually serves as a water retention space for the city of Rotterdam, helping to prevent flooding in the case of heavy rainfall. When it rains, rainwater and runoff from the surfaces and rooftops flow into the two shallow basins. When those overflow, the water flows through an impressive water wall into a third deeper basin, which is used for sports like basketball when it’s dry. After collecting and analyzing data on the city’s existing sewage and open water systems, the firm was able to build the third basin in a way that ensures it will empty within 36 hours of filling up, as the water pumps out of the square and into the open water. And by utilizing digital 3D models as they experimented with their design, De Urbanisten’s team was able to offer city engineers the option to connect the Water Square to the city’s preexisting systems.

Over the past several decades, Rotterdam has established itself as a maker city. Its residents have a hands-on, progressive attitude that allows for the exploration of the role technology can and should play in how we build our cities. The technology utilized in this evolution leverages deep knowledge and complex computing skills that allow, for example, devices to talk to one another and analyze data in real time. Inventions like edge computing, which can store even more data and use more analytic power to act on that data within a specific machine such as a robotic construction arm, will become invaluable to builders in the future.