The Power of Youth

This year’s Next Generation runners-up used the theme of energy as fuel to generate great sustainable design concepts

If we could find a way to harness it, the combined creative voltage of the 2007 Next Generation applicants could probably power the Metropolis office until 2008. For the first time, our annual design competition proposed a theme—energy—as a point of departure for the entrants. “The focus on energy helps us tell a more complete design-­innovation story about a significant need,” Metropolis editor in chief Susan Szenasy explains. The shortlisted projects range from small solutions for individual action to entire systems that rethink how we manage our resources. “Together they say some im­por­tant things about the responsibility we have on every scale, everywhere, to solve this common socioeconomic problem,” Szenasy says.

Some of these innovative concepts provide promising ways to harness power—such as electricity generated from human activity—while others aim to minimize the depletion of valuable resources. Taking cues from the past and the present, the runners-up appropriated nineteenth-century discoveries like piezoelectricity and the Faraday effect, reassessed Modernist theories, and referred to the current cultural moment with names like iSAVE and i-Rise. No matter where the entrants looked for inspiration, their common goal is a sustainable future. Realizing that such a future calls for change in our collective psyche as well as our consumption habits, they also considered ways to raise public awareness about our respon­sibility toward the planet—and one another.

Alberto Villarreal
San Francisco

[Click to view this concept]

BrightWalk trainers let after-dark joggers put their expended energy to good use, lighting the way and alerting cars to their presence. Every time a sole strikes the ground, piezoelectric transducers convert the shock into electricity, which in turn stimulates electroluminescent polymers—low-heat-generating light sources—embedded in the shoe’s toe and heel. With a customizable upper, the sneaker allows sporty nocturnal types to exercise in safety and style. “This shoe introduces the concept of ‘empowered fashion,’” Villarreal says.

Composite Space: Sustainable Building Applications for Computer-Automated Fiber- Placement Technology
Mike Silver
Mike Silver Architects
Brooklyn, New York

[Click to view this concept]

Silver, a Next Generation runner-up in 2004 with his Auto­mason proposal, continues to impress the jurors with his research into building technologies. This year he reconsiders the underpinnings of architectural design with his concept of “frameless” buildings. By using computer-automated fiber-placement robots to weave a single extra-strength composite shell, Silver believes he can liberate architects from traditional frame-and-panel construction. Guided by his fiber-placement design software, Fibershop Ver 1.0, the robots mesh reinforced thermoplastic threads into a versatile building material that’s lightweight, sturdy, and thermally efficient. (The illustration below shows the analysis process that must be undertaken to create a design.) The robotic manufacturing process is efficient too: by consolidating the construction of the composite material with that of structural elements such as windows and walls, Silver believes that his frameless building system will require less energy and fewer resources than conventional methods.

Startup Kitchen
André Dettler
Grand Rapids, Michigan

[Click to view this concept]

“I saw the title of the competition, ‘Energy,’ less as an environmental story than as what we create just by being together,” Dettler says. “Energy is wasted when people cook and eat alone.” The Startup Kitchen is designed to bring people back to the heart of the home by encouraging congregation around a multipurpose unit. Created for small urban spaces that are less than ideal for communal activities, the kitchen system can be configured for various purposes, providing counter space that can double as a dining area for hosting friends. Though the environmental story may be secondary, it still forms an integral part of the design; drained water is filtered under the sink for reuse around the house, and heat from cooking appliances is redirected to warm the room in winter.

i-Rise: Vertical Dwelling
State of Mind
Joseph Cory, Eyal Malka
Geotectura, Malka Architects
Haifa, Israel

[Click to view this concept]

i-Rise—a self-sustaining, socially responsible vertical dwelling—has impressed jurors all over the world as a model for ethical design based on a reappraisal of Modernist ideologies. An economical multilevel residence, i-Rise is built from modular industrial components. Its vertical plan keeps the footprint to a minimum but maximizes residential space—a vital consideration in cities—while elevated garden levels reclaim green areas and cool exposed surfaces. Furthermore, the project economically empowers local communities by offering new opportunities for training and employment in its construction. Plus, each building generates its own renewable energy with a wind turbine and an optimum-exposure photovoltaic system, and supplies its own gray water from a rain catchment on the roof. “The ecological agenda is a basic necessity,” Cory says. “It should be available to all sectors of society.”

Super Absorber
Doug Hecker and Martha Skinner
Collaborators: Marc Leverant,
Mark Gettys, Janice Fowler
Clemson, South Carolina

[Click to view this concept]

The Super Absorber team suggests a new way to clean the air by replacing traditional highway barriers with giant photocatalytic cement sponges. In addition to buf­fering against automotive noise, Super Absorber barriers are treated with a chemical called TX Active, which—in the presence of light and air—breaks down airborne pollutants emitted by passing cars. Super Absorb­er’s porous design creates more surface area for purifying emissions and allows headlights to pass through, activating the chemical reaction and playfully illuminating residential areas bordering the highway. “The system of openings transforms light from ‘pollution’ into a more positive urban phenomenon,” Hecker says.

Elizabeth Redmond
Dexter, Michigan

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Imagine a nightclub where dancers generate the venue’s electricity just from the impact of their steps. With Redmond’s innovative flooring system, this vision of a human-powered energy source may be close to a reality. The floor tiles, cast in durable concrete and recycled glass, are fitted with piezoelectric brass-reinforced ceramic plates covered in nickel electrodes. With the impact of each footstep, a metal pointer inside the tile compresses the ceramic plate, generating an electric impulse. The resulting voltage activates four LED lights, visible through the glass surface, allowing energy-generating participants to see the power of their steps. Envisioned as a flooring system for high-traffic areas such as sidewalks, public-transport platforms, and gymnasiums, PowerLeap proposes to give pedestrians an active role in offsetting their energy consumption. “I am calling on all humans,” Redmond says, “to become responsible and sustainable self-generators for the
communal grid.”

Jewels of the Nizam
Michael Kirchmann, Mark Igou, and Team SOM
New York

[Click to view this concept]

How do you build a glass hotel in India without subjecting the guests to heatstroke? That’s been the challenge for Kirchmann, who is working on SOM’s project for the Park Hotel in Hyderabad, slated for completion in 2009. His elegant low-tech solution is an undulating perforated-metal screen that minimizes the need for energy-consuming air-conditioners while maximizing natural light. Based on intensive scientific research on the site’s solar conditions, the screen’s ornamental 3-D profile takes inspiration from the local jewelry-making tradition; accordingly, the project’s title refers to Hyderabad’s opulent Nizam jewelry collection. As an example of sustainable problem solving, Jewels of Nizam demonstrates how thoughtful design can trump complicated machinations. “It’s easy to lose sight of how simple passive solutions can provide the greatest impact,” Kirchmann says.

Martina Decker
New York

[Click to view this concept]

SmartScreen puts a futuristic twist on glass-facade shading by adapting itself to a building’s thermal conditions. Shape-memory polymers—which expand or contract as temperatures fluctuate—activate Decker’s indoor and outdoor textile screens. Like Jean Nouvel’s L’Institut du Monde Arabe, in Paris, SmartScreen operates on the principle of opening and closing “apertures”—but without the complicated machinery and power use. On hot days her shade shuts out sunlight to prevent the building from overheating, and on cooler days the perforations open up, allowing the interior to warm naturally. By relieving some of the burden of heating and air-conditioning, SmartScreen addresses a major culprit in energy consumption; buildings consume 40 percent of the U.S. energy supply, most of which is used to maintain comfortable indoor temperatures.

Yu Guoqun
Shanghai, China

[Click to view this concept]

Yu has developed an energy-efficient way of reminding consumers to save water. The iSAVE generates the power for its LED water-consumption display by employing the Faraday effect; on its way to the faucet, flowing water turns a turbine that rotates a wire loop within a magnetic field, creating an electric charge. Designed to accommodate both sink and shower applications, the monitor shows the volume of water used in blue, changing to red when consumption levels become excessive.

Boris von Bormann
Collaborator: Nik Hafermaas
Los Angeles

[Click to view this concept]

Von Bormann plans to brighten urban centers with his solar-powered light installations—a public-art project that he envisions as a poetic source of community pride. Initially conceived for the new “Innovation Corridor” in Pasadena, California, PowerSEEDs are decorative site-specific light sources that embed into pedestrian sidewalks or other sun-exposed surfaces. Individually controlled by programmable timing devices, they coordinate to create luminous displays. “You don’t need any wiring,” von Bormann explains. “You simply drop them in the ground.” As well as adding a lively touch to city landscapes, PowerSEEDs are meant to raise public awareness about renewable energy sources and blaze the trail for further positive innovations by demonstrating the possibilities of sustainable technologies. With the prototypes completed and plenty of ideas for future applications, von Bormann’s first installation is set to illuminate Pasadena streets at the end of the summer.

Gypsum Wallboard
Eric Olsen
Ann Arbor, Michigan

[Click to view this concept]

Olsen hopes his electro-conductive gypsum wallboard will eliminate the need for electric outlets altogether. By embedding flat-wire technology into low-cost fire-­resistant gypsum cladding, he’s created a working prototype for a conductive surface that could radically alter how we access electricity—we’d simply plug directly into an available piece of wall. Olsen believes that in addition to providing more flexibility in how we arrange our gadgets, his product can curb energy consumption by supplying electronics with only as much power as they need. His low-voltage wallboard eliminates the need for point-of-use transformers that reduce the current between the electrical source and the device. “Conventional wall outlets may be a thing of the past,” he says.

Locoplug and Locooutlet
David Slocombe and Adrian Ashley
Project Bureau, Ashley Kalman, Ltd.

[Click to view this concept]

Slocombe and Ashley were shocked when they discovered that one percent of global carbon-dioxide emissions is produced by electronics on standby—equivalent to the emissions of 35 million cars. So they set about designing their Locoplug and Locooutlet (“Loco” stands for low consumption), which open the electrical circuit while devices are on standby, eliminating energy waste and reducing household electric bills. Not only have the designers come up with a simple way to save energy, they’ve figured out how to appeal to their target consumer. “Being eco-friendly seems terribly boring to some people,” Slocombe says. “So we made the Locoplug look cute and made it insanely easy to use.” Feel like catching the latest episode of your favorite show? Just point the remote at Loco’s infrared sensor to turn on the TV. Even couch potatoes can do their part for the environment—without having to get up from their seats.

Beeline: A Virtual Marketplace for Local Food Distribution
Dawn Danby
Collaborators: Jyoti Stephens and Mary Rick
Project Advisor: Dennis Gawlik
Bainbridge Graduate Institute
Vancouver, British Columbia

[Click to view this concept]

Inefficiencies in food-distribution routes not only contribute to carbon emissions but also increase food costs and compromise freshness. Developed by a team of students working toward MBAs in sustainable business, the Beeline online service links local farmers and food retailers to deliver produce along the most energy-efficient route possible. “The project demanded a multidisciplinary approach,” Danby says. “We collectively have expertise in local economies, the food industry, sustainable design, and urban issues.” Cutting middlemen out of the distribution, Beeline also monitors the environmental impact of its delivery system. Plus, the tool provides information about local growers and retailers, empowering the customer to make informed choices. A virtual marketplace called the Hive gives retailers access to local farmers’ offerings and allows customers to rate services and products. Picking up on consumers’ demand for local produce and on farmers’ frustration in getting food to store shelves, the Beeline team’s model of sustainable system design serves both its customers and the environment. “Think of it as eBay meets MySpace, where selling is intertwined with social networking and education,” Stephens says.

Jerad Tinnin
Wellington, New Zealand

[Click to view this concept]

Big ideas can come in small packages, as Tinnin dem­onstrates with this design for a diminutive LED desk lamp that monitors the energy consumption of its users. Tinnin understands that helping people visualize the environmental impact of their decisions is crucial for fostering energy-conscious consumers. Luminet connects to a computer, showing users not only their own contribution to greenhouse gas reduction and resource savings but the contributions of the entire Luminet community. As well as being an energy-efficient light source, the lamp has low embodied energy. To reduce the shipping burden, it comes in compact packaging, which when reversed becomes a prepaid parcel that can be mailed back for reuse or recycling. Users can even track the life cycle of their Luminet boxes online via their bar codes. “This product aims to represent a global community of conservation and thoughtfulness,” Tinnin says. “It’s a beautiful yet utilitarian desk light and a network of people making a simple change.”

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