Audi 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 from London, BIG from Copenhagen, Cloud 9 from Barcelona and Standard Architecture from Beijing, with the winning proposal coming from German digital wunderkind Jürgen Mayer.
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. 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.
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, São Paulo's Urban-Think Tank, Mumbai's CRIT, America's Höweler + Yoon Architecture and local studio Superpool. 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 - who has made the AUFI into something of a pet project - respected design theorist John Thackara together with Mayer, selected a re-working of the American dream by the young Boston-based studio of Höweler + Yoon. 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.