DS18_2014/15: Architecture, Energy, Matter 2, Semester 2 – Designing with Energy

Instructors: Lindsay Bremner and Roberto Bottazzi

During the second semester of the 2014/15 academic year, students in Design Studio 18 (DS18) in the MArch programme at the University of Westminster in London, developed proposals that explored the urban and architectural consequences of their energy strategies for the Camdeboo South Africa, covered here. Some of these were highly speculative and experimental, others rooted in the history, socio-spatial and political context of the Camdeboo.

Samples of student work:

John Cook: Camdeboo Solar Estate

In an age of dramatically rising population, diminishing fossil fuel resources and the alarming and all too visible consequences of climate change, the Camdeboo Solar Estate looks to provide an alternative energy strategy and agricultural resource for South Africa’s burgeoning cities and rising energy demands. Located in a remote municipality in the semi-arid environment of the Karoo, its array of CSP (Concentrated Solar Power) plants are hybridised with the long practiced technique of terraced farming, to enable a bountiful and economically prosperous wine industry. The master plan arrangement, its axial pathways and internal orientations are calibrated to the positions of the celestial objects in the solar system at the time of opening, 2050. The proposal embeds a new economy of solar tourism within the region, where agriculture, energy production and celestial movements become entwined and experienced as a new form of urban / territorial restructuring, at cosmic, landscape and building scales.

Winner of the Shoaib Mahmad Rawat prize for the best portfolio in the second year of study of the MArch.

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This drawing (below) won the Commonwealth Association of Architects (CAA) and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) international student competition ’Visualising the Future of the City.’ See here.

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Andrew Baker-Falkner: Nomadic Solar City

In a 2007 report published in Scientific American, it was estimated that if you harnessed all of the sun’s energy falling on the earth’s surface in just 40 minutes, it would be equal to all of current society’s energy consumption for an entire year. While this would be practically impossible, it highlights the massive energy potential of the sun. Globally, South Africa gets within the top 3% of solar irradiance. To exploit this, 45 CSP (Concentrated Solar Power) plants are proposed in the Camdeboo municipality, linked to the country’s energy distribution network. The Nomadic Solar City answers questions of how this vast infrastructural project would be constructed. It proposes a new typology for construction sites, creating a working environment and social community for construction workers. Each CSP plant takes 400 workers 4 years to complete. Due to the semi-arid and remote siting of the CSP plants, Nomadic Solar City houses the workers on site. Workers live and work in the city on two week on, two week off basis. A modular design allows for a quick and efficient assembly process and maximum flexibility. The city is laid out according to the dimension of heliostat components, which become the building blocks of the city. Inhabitants divide their time between working on the heliostat assembly line and spending free time in the dormitories or communal areas – shaded courtyards, bar, gym or football pitch. After 4 years, when the CSP plant has been completed, the city is disassembled and transported to the next site.

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Jared Baron: Cultivated Wastelands Co-operative

Natural fertiliser produced from the breakdown of organic waste holds huge potential for Graaff Reinet and its surrounding areas. The two main industries of tourism and game farming produce vast amounts of organic waste, but its potential is yet to be unlocked. The Cultivated Wastelands Co-operative aims to utilise this waste to instigate a new agrarian economy and to fertilise residual apartheid wastelands. The proposal is strung along a disused railway-line that formed a buffer between Graaff Reinet and Umazisakhe during the apartheid period. Its architectural elements are made up of different combinations of open source components.

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Jack Thompson: Synthesis Building

This project proposes to turn Umasizakhe, the former black township, now suburb of Graaff Reinet into a continuous productive landscape to address local food poverty. Agriculture is inserted into the suburb at multiple scales, from small single vacant plots to large open tracts of land. These are planted as catalysts for further agricultural production. A building combining market, education facility and community meeting spaces known as the synthesis building is the flagship for the project. It uses components found in the township or made on site on a steel frame structure, and incorporates rain water collection and storage, solar panels and a planted hydroponic wall.

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Oscar McDonald: Wind Seed 01

The Camdeboo is a poverty stricken and still racially divided municipality in central South Africa where HIV Aids and unemployment rates are as high as 45%. Where the electricity grid exists, it is intermittent and increasingly expensive and the arid landscape offers little opportunity for farming. Wind Seed 01 proposes the exploitation of an intermediate technology to revitalise the local economy. It creates an off-grid, self sufficient, self replicating small scale commercial system with the aim of catalysing much needed economic development. This draws on adaptable, modular design and a versatile, non-predetermined planning approach based on viral spread and Conway’s Game of life. The basic seed is an easily transportable kit containing 5 x 1kw wind turbines and a simple workshop. Once built, this workshop facilitates the construction of further turbines and units.

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Rupert Calvert: Energy Parliament

This proposal transforms Graaff Reinet into an off-grid energy community using wind power. This requires large-scale energy storage because, unlike other forms of energy, wind power generates energy intermittently. The proposed building has three main functions: energy storage, an indicator of the level of energy stored and an energy parliament for debate and legislation, given that the town, now off grid, requires self governance over energy generation and distribution. The building will host this forum, made up of the town’s 246 representatives, as well as the storage for excess energy produced. This takes the form of 1,500 liquid metal modular batteries, enough for a single day of back-up energy. The amount of energy stored in these batteries is indicated by a canopy of balloons inflated by heat loss from the batteries, directly proportional to the amount of energy being stored at any one time.

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Cheryl Choo: Sciencity

Sciencity is a development that integrates science, art, literature, technology, astronomy, and culture through experimental energy production. This transforms the Camdeboo into a generative research laboratory and education institution networked with other such institutions in South Africa and around the world. It proposes an experimental approach to resolving future energy issues alongside questions about the nature of the universe. Its primary purpose is to be the leading innovator in furthering Nikola Tesla’s wireless electricity transmission theory, involving the energy flow of airborne electricity.

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Shiue Nee Pang: Experimental Wind Community

The experimental wind community comprises ten to twelve households powered by an Altaeros’s Bouyant Air Turbine (BAT) capturing air movement 300 meters above the earth. The community, composed of local families, meteorologists and energy experts is dedicated to gathering and sharing atmospheric data using a range of approaches and instruments. The design is informed by indigenous Khoisan wisdom, particularly beliefs about the wind, and by James Glaisher’s Nineteenth Century account of the sky through his ascent in an air balloon, correlating personal encounters of air elevations with scientific data. The building itself is generated from simulations of seasonal wind and cloud movements across the site, providing an intermediary zone between people and the sky. It seeks to nurture intimacy with the sky as an embodied aesthetic, a scientific object and a visual epistemology.

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Iulia Stefan: Invisible Light

This proposal is for a research centre for space-based solar and stellar power using earthly magnetic fields. Hexagon-shaped satellites in space transmit energy microwaves through spiralling magnetic fields to a rectenna (a special type of antenna that converts microwave energy into direct current electricity) in the centre of the research centre. This resembles the ways in which the local San people depicted cosmic energies and universe creation stories in rock art. The centre encourages and provides space for hybrid approaches to research by bringing together local artists and international scientists. Experimental energy technology becomes a bridge between local people and the international scientific community, the earth and the sky, the past and the future.

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During the summer of 2015, the past two studios of DS18 will be critically evaluated by Lindsay Bremner and Roberto Bottazzi, and published as an edited book titled Architecture, Energy, Matter, Data that will include a number of essays by leading scholars on the issues it has raised.

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