Audi Urban Future Initiative 2012

Höweler + Yoon Architecture's winning installation is a big picture view of how smart highways
Höweler + Yoon Architecture's winning installation is a big picture view of how smart highways, superhubs and shared spaces can cut journey times and congestions along America's eastern seaboard
(Image credit: press)

Audi (opens in new tab) kicked off its Urban Future Initiative in 2010, with an exhibition and awards ceremony at the Venice Architecture Biennale. The firms that took part included Alison Brooks Architects (opens in new tab) from London, BIG (opens in new tab) from Copenhagen, Cloud 9 (opens in new tab) from Barcelona and Standard Architecture (opens in new tab) from Beijing, with the winning proposal coming from German digital wunderkind Jürgen Mayer (opens in new tab).

Fast-forward two years, and the initiative is in full flow, with a second awards recently taking place in Istanbul as part of the city's first Design Biennial (opens in new tab). Taking over a sizeable chunk of the former Hasköy Wool Yarn Factory, now a major event space on the banks of the Golden Horn, the AUFI saw invited participants tasked with bringing a clean slate approach to the problems of urban mobility. The event and competition was overseen by the Frankfurt-based agency Stylepark (opens in new tab).

It's not surprising that a car company would want to streamline the process of urban driving. Back in the 1960s, this subject was the preserve of architects and planners; car makers kept their noses out, mostly safe in the knowledge that the status quo was on their side. Five decades later and we're more congested than ever (Istanbul being an especially good place to prove the point), a bottleneck that threatens health, wealth and - most pressingly of all for the likes of Audi - future sales.

Enter the architects. The five teams were drawn from around the world, including China's NODE Architecture (opens in new tab), São Paulo's Urban-Think Tank (opens in new tab), Mumbai's CRIT (opens in new tab), America's Höweler + Yoon Architecture (opens in new tab) and local studio Superpool (opens in new tab). Each set out their vision for tomorrow's urban mobility, arranged as a series of translucent pavilions.

The inter-disciplinary nature of many of this year's studios showed a far greater concern for specific research, not big picture daydreaming. Not all the schemes were totally sympathetic to a future where the car was still king. Audi makes no bones about this being a research exercise, something that'll feed ideas and concepts back into the design of their cars. Indeed, the firm has showed several small-scale city car concepts in recent years, and is also making great strides towards a world of autonomous driving, especially in the nose-to-tail environment of the traffic jam.

In the end, the jury, which included Audi's CEO Rupert Stadler (opens in new tab) - who has made the AUFI into something of a pet project - respected design theorist John Thackara (opens in new tab) together with Mayer, selected a re-working of the American dream by the young Boston-based studio of Höweler + Yoon (opens in new tab). Of all the proposals, H+Y's perhaps saw the bluest of skies, focused as it was on big picture infrastructural shifts to transform the eastern seaboard into a place of perpetual motion. The studio won 100,000 euros and the chance to work up their scheme into a detailed dossier, complete with original research.

See the winning scheme and the runner-up proposals in our gallery. More information can be found at Mooove.com (opens in new tab), Audi's new dedicated mobility portal.

New building types and new opportunities for urban agriculture

Höweler + Yoon suggest that infilling the area between highways and highspeed rail will create new building types and new opportunities for urban agriculture

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The 'Shareway' is Höweler + Yoon's vision of a superhighway complex

The 'Shareway' is Höweler + Yoon's vision of a superhighway complex, delivering fast traffic long distances, with integrated high speed rail and small scale electric car sharing

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Höweler + Yoon imagine a future where you can step off an intercity train

Höweler + Yoon imagine a future where you can step off an intercity train and straight into a 'last mile car' - powered by the kinetic energy released by the braking train - to take you home

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CRIT's 'Being Nicely Messy' concept taps into the adhoc expansion of Mumbai

CRIT's 'Being Nicely Messy' concept taps into the adhoc expansion of Mumbai, with its web of manufacturing, entrepreneurship and chaotic transport systems, to propose new typologies, associations and even professions, rebuilding the way the city works from the ground up

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Mumbai's multi-layered future society is revealed in CRIT's concept

Mumbai's multi-layered future society is revealed in CRIT's concept for a city of new options and opportunities

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A model of NODE's proposal

A model of NODE's proposal; a vast subterranean complex of automated delivery tunnels, freeing up the streets of Shenzhen for personal transit, not goods and services

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NODE envision an underground world

NODE envision an underground world of delivery systems, constantly whirring beneath our feet

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Superpool's installation looks at the role of car-sharing in the congested city

Superpool's installation looks at the role of car-sharing in the congested city - in this case their home town of Istanbul

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Through a combination of smartphone apps and community collaboration

Through a combination of smartphone apps and community collaboration, Superpool propose a city of reclaimed streets

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Superpool's vision of an Istanbul

Superpool's vision of an Istanbul with minimal auto involvement

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Urban-Think Tank's installation

Urban-Think Tank's installation is dominated by this large-scale model of future São Paulo

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Urban-Think Tank have worked extensively with São Paolo's various stakeholders

Urban-Think Tank have worked extensively with São Paolo's various stakeholders, from the mayor's office onwards. Their Skywalk proposal simply suggests building up, not out, capitalising on the city's air rights to build new interconnected communities in the sky

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he multi-layered city of the future

The multi-layered city of the future, as set out in Urban-Think Tank's 'Urban Parangole'

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Jonathan Bell has written for Wallpaper* magazine since 1999, covering everything from architecture and transport design to books, tech and graphic design. He is now the magazine’s Transport and Technology Editor. Jonathan has written and edited 15 books, including Concept Car Design, 21st Century House, and The New Modern House. He is also the host of Wallpaper’s first podcast.