Urban air operations

Designing the skies: Dutch architects pave the way for urban airspace revolution

Wednesday, 10 April 2024

For the first time in history, Dutch designers and architects have turned their attention to the spatial organization of airspace. During the so-called Urban Sky Lab, three design teams delved into the rapidly developing world of drones, focusing on a central question: how can designers contribute to the livable, smart city of the future?

Daphne Bouman, a program creator at Arcam, an advocacy and coordination center for architecture, urban planning, and landscape architecture in and around Amsterdam, co-organized Urban Sky Lab with Amsterdam Drone Lab. They invited three teams of architects and urban planners to participate. Each team has conceptualized how drone technology could contribute to the development of an urban area over the past few weeks. Bouman noted, "Currently, the use of drones is limited by regulations, but once safety can be guaranteed, development will proceed quickly. What does a city full of drone traffic look like? How do drones move? How much noise do they make? Where do they land or recharge? What about privacy issues? How much space does a drone actually need? Our design lab began with many questions."

3 locations

Before starting their designs, the three teams received briefings on the current state of drone technology. They gained technical knowledge about drones from Droneland, information on vertiports from AirHub, insights into the smart city from Tom van Arman, and an overview of airspace laws and regulations from the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management.

Subsequently, the teams focused on three different case locations. FABRICations explored the Western Harbor area, envisaging a 'drone highway system' on a macro scale. Studio To Create delved into Amsterdam Southeast, examining regional hubs and opportunities for socio-economic stimulation. Inbo focused on the RAI as a potential drone hub or public transport location with a third dimension, the airspace.

Each design team was given a case to unleash their creativity. FABRICations focused on the Western Harbor area, a district characterized by industrial freight, shipping, and storage. This area will partly transform into a vibrant live-work environment, Haven-Stad, in the near future. Led by Eric Frijters, FABRICations explored what unmanned drone applications mean for this area, proposing a design for a layered airspace where various services could coexist.

Studio TO CREATE tackled Amsterdam Southeast, investigating how drones could support local businesses, sports and recreational events, or even improve neighborhood livability. Murtada Al Kaabi explained, "In the battle for space in the city, drones and airspace offer new opportunities. The redevelopment of existing buildings can be part of the solution to the space shortage." They developed a strategic map focusing on Healthcare and Well-being, Entrepreneurship, and Education, allowing these themes to coexist in the airspace without hindering each other. "This approach not only reduces costs and delivery times but also minimizes environmental impact and enhances customer satisfaction. It also empowers local economies, fosters community engagement, and mitigates supply chain disruption risks," said Al Kaabi.

Inbo redesigned the area around the RAI, home to Amsterdam Drone Week. "To become a true sky hub, the RAI area must transform more than just adding a few vertiports on the roof," explained Mark Kanters of Inbo. They envision the RAI hub as connecting the public domain of Amsterdam with the sky, where streets and plazas at the heart of the RAI campus connect to the drone terminal. The hub would also support the city's drone infrastructure with services like charging, storage, and maintenance facilities, equipped with necessary operational devices such as a traffic control tower and meteorological system.

Incredibly valuable

"We have learned a great deal in a short time together. Thinking about the design of airspace is still in its early stages. The insights from the design teams after just two days of reflection on this topic were incredibly valuable, which, in our view, demands more design research on this theme in the future," concluded Bouman from Arcam.

The exhibition can be visited at the Arcam gallery from March 29th to June 30th, 2024. Around Amsterdam Drone Week, Arcam organizes at least one (international) meeting about the role of designers in drone-related issues. Daphne Bouman (Arcam) and Vries Strookman (Amsterdam Drone Lab) will present the results on NL Drone Day on April 18th, 2024, from 3:30 PM to 3:45 PM.

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