A proposal for digital pods that roam cities and engage the public with surprise activities has won the latest Future Spaces Foundation student design competition. The design came from a team of five architecture students at the University of Portsmouth. The other participating institutions included Anglia Ruskin University and the University of the Creative Arts.
More than 35 students in total entered the competition, which challenged them to tackle urban loneliness in the city of the future. Each team was given a theme word with both positive and negative connotations – ‘age’, ‘belief’, ‘comfort’, ‘movement’, ‘population’, ‘social media’ or ‘tribes’ – and asked to use it as a springboard for designing components of place that promote vitality and address loneliness in the local community.
The competition began in October, when the students gathered at Make’s London studio for presentations on the Foundation’s Vital Cities series and our research into the growing issue of urban loneliness, including its causes and manifestations. The teams then received their themes and spent the rest of the day brainstorming design responses.
Some teams devised targeted schemes to draw people out of their homes and get them congregating, while others focused on broader masterplans and public realm designs that promote community and encourage chance encounters. They had several weeks to refine their designs before returning to Make’s studio in November to present them to a panel of judges.
Claire Hebbes of Lendlease, Patrick Bellew of Atelier Ten, Nicolo Bencini of BuroHappold, and Imogen Webb and Cara Bamford of Make evaluated the entries. The prize of £1,250 was awarded to Team Comfort, whose proposal for digital pods explored the so-called ‘comfort paradox’ – in which being too comfortable leads us to stagnate and introvert our experiences – and addressed a range of demographics, including the elderly and the socially anxious.
“To me, this project showed the most innovation and introduced a genuinely futuristic idea,” said Imogen Webb. “The proposal was great fun, with a sense of drama and occasion that would certainly draw people together and get them talking. If one of these pods were dropped in my neighbourhood, I would definitely get out of the house and check it out.”