London A Smarter City

Smart capital: Ideas for the City of London

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Natalie Holmes

Despite its relatively small size, the City of London has been a global hub for trade and finance for hundreds of years. As the pace of globalisation steps up, however, competition is increasingly toug­h­. Urban centres across the world are jostling for talent and investment. In response, the Square Mile is exploring the innovations, technologies and initiatives that will keep it ahead of the pack.

As part of this constructive future-gazing, a joint project of the City of London Corporation, Brookfield Property and The City Centre, an events venue in the City, created an ideas competition. The contest called for submissions on the theme of ‘A Smarter City’ under three categories: Smart Green Spaces, Smart Buildings and Smart Infrastructure, with the shortlisted entries displayed as part of an exhibition that ran until the turn of the year.

The winning ideas set out a vision for the future that is both useful and inspiring as industries, governments and citizens get to grips with what a Smart City is, and what it could be.

Smart Green Spaces – Winner: Key to the City by Atkins and Schreder

The first category of the competition sought new ideas on connected green spaces. Smart Cities are driven by connectivity, but green space remains an important aspect of life and wellbeing in the City of London, which is home to more than 1m sq ft of parks and church gardens.

London Smarter City St Dunstan

Image: Atkins and Shreder

Entrants were invited to respond to the question of how smart innovations can be used to ensure that city workers, residents and visitors make the most of these spaces whilst retaining their sense of tranquility and heritage.

The winning entry came from design, engineering and project management consultancy Atkins and lighting supplier Schreder. Their Key to the City idea sets out a strategic vision to identify digital and physical layers within the City’s network of parks. The concept involves the integration of augmented reality applications and smart objects that improve physical interaction with green spaces.

“Many people think of smart as purely technological and whilst technology plays a big part the key to a truly ‘smarter’ City is innovation. Changing the way people see and think about the City is critical,” said Benjamin O’Connor, director of The City Centre. “Atkins’ and Schréder’s ‘Key to the City’ celebrates the unique nature of the City’s green spaces whilst keeping innovation at its heart.”

Smart Buildings – VR Timetransporter by BAM and Museum of London

Next up was the Smart Buildings category, which called for innovations in building automation, activation and use of space, sustainability and intelligent architecture. The City’s architecture is iconic, from the awe-inspiring St Paul’s Cathedral to the famous ‘Gherkin’. The challenge is to not only maintain but also enhance the richness of the area, while making it fit for the velocity of the 21st century.

VR City Screen Shots

Image: BAM and the Museum of London

The winner took this concept quite literally. Conceived by BAM and the Museum of London, the VR City Timetransporter is an app that uses the power of virtual reality to show visitors how the City’s landmarks looked at key moments in history. From Roman Londinium to the Great Fire; Victorian times to the Blitz, each era can be experienced in an immersive 360-degree virtual environment. To make it accessible to all, the app can be used via a normal smartphone combined with cardboard headsets.

Smart City London VR Time Transporter

Image: BAM and the Museum of London

Presenting the team with their award, the CoL’s policy and performance director for the built environment, Paul Beckett, said: “The winning entry demonstrates how smart technology can give City workers, visitors and residents added appreciation of our rich and unique cultural heritage.”

Smart Infrastructure – Smart Carpet by McGregor Coxall and Momentum Transport

London Smart Carpet Main

Image: McGregor Coxall

Too often overlooked, infrastructure is a crucial aspect of cities: the blood vessels that keep it alive and moving. Unprecedented data gathering and analysis capabilities can today be leveraged to improve systems and processes in the background, while enhancing front-end aspects like livability, sustainability and congestion. The final section of the contest, therefore, honed in on Smart Infrastructure, seeking new ideas on energy, transport and security in the City.

London Smart Carpet Main 2

Image: McGregor Coxall

Envisioned by Momentum Transport and McGregor Coxall, the Smart Carpet is “a living, thinking surface treatment that adaptively responds to user demand.” The smart, LED paving modules can harness energy from pedestrians, light up areas to make them attractive and safe, help with wayfinding, and even be put together to create street furniture to encourage social interaction. The Smart Carpet also received the overall prize, for its innovative approach to integrating data in real-time with people and the built environment.

Accepting the award, leaders from the winning team said, “As the population and businesses continue to grow, more pressure will be placed on how infrastructure operates and how we interact with our urban realm. Whilst this brings its challenges, our innovative approach to the way we manage, design and engage with our infrastructure using advancing technology will enable us to adapt and look at things in a smarter way.”

Public Choice Winner – Grow:City by the Edible Bus Stop Studio

The shortlisted entries were also put to a public vote, with one idea clearly emerging as the people’s favourite. Grow:City by The Edible Bus Stop, a landscape architecture and design consultancy, is a system of portable modules that can be used to create instant mini-parks and community corners. Based on biophilic design, the small units can be stacked together to encourage social interaction, while at the same time actually adding to the City’s green space, thanks to the incorporation of natural elements.

Smart City Grow City

Image: The Edible Bus Stop

“It’s not just about the greening, it’s about the design and it’s about creating inclusive active spaces that create narrative environments,” said Edible Bus Stop founding director, Mak Gilchrist.

Exposure to nature has been shown to decrease stress, and improve clarity, focus and creativity—so Grow:City’s idea has the potential to enhance the productivity of people working in the area.

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