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Please swarm out
by Max Schwitalla | 8/11/2014
As a motor protein, kinesin ensures intracellular transport of molecules. Left Image © Dr. Jan Schmoranzer, Right Image © Graham Johnson, Audi Urban Future Initiative

During 3.8 billion years of evolution, nature has developed design strategies and systems that are optimized, resilient and sustainable. Humans are not the first to tackle challenges of individual and collective transport. Mobility is no invention of modern times. In nature everything is in constant motion, mobility is life. Every single cell of our body transports nutrients and materials all the time. Without it, no life would even be possible.
Looking at the city like a neuronal distribution network we consider urban infrastructure as a dynamic network for flow optimization. We have to rethink the old-fashioned way of static and separated infrastructures entirely. We would like to transform a world, where cars, subways and elevators are all strictly separated, into a just-in-time system based on the swarming dynamics seen in self-organizing natural systems. Schools of starlings are just one example.
In our team we combine three very different fields of expertise – architecture, neuroscience and transit management. When we work together, we are continuously switching back and forth between the biosphere and the technosphere. At our “wall of excitement”, where all our ideas are visually represented, images from locust swarms are right next to automated vehicle illustrations. At one moment we look at cells optimized to regulate network dynamics even during high system loads. In our nervous system many processes happen on a millisecond time-scale - traffic jams or delays would be disastrous!
We use various frameworks in our brainstormings and conduct tests in the laboratory. Besides studying scientific research data and correlating them with urban metrics we also dig into mathematical models for flow optimization. That's where the magic seems to happen: merging several disciplines and taking a bird's perspective (quite literally). It is obvious that the flow systems we create follow the very same physical laws and thus similar standards apply. To rethink mobility and city infrastructure and to redesign urban spaces based on ecosystems behavior may equip us with solutions for resilient future cities.

The DNA of mobility: Assuming an urban structure without buildings, bundling and flow of mobility within this urban system become clear.
Image © Studio Schwitalla / Schindler Ltd, Audi Urban Future Initiative
Combining knowledge: Architect Max Schwitalla and neuroscientists Arndt Pechstein bring their knowledge together. Photo © Alexander Herold, Audi Urban Future Initiative
Three fields of expertise, one project: Team Berlin combines the knowledge of architecture, neuroscience and transit management.
Photo © Alexander Herold, Audi Urban Future Initiative