Evolution from the office-dominated urban core

June 23, 2009

A couple years ago I interviewed British architect Wil Alsop, for FFWD, when we had come to Calgary to talk about the city space and offer his unique perspective on it and our place in it. When I asked him what we could do to improve Calgary, he suggested turning all of the first 5 floors of downtown in a combination of retail and living space, to adjust our mix of urban/suburban population and to add some vitality to our city streets after 5:00.

So the other day I was talking about the future of the city and how I felt that the urban landscape will eventually evolve under two main motivating factors: the influence of our increasing need for urban space for housing, and technology that means that, more and more, we no longer need to gather in such large spaces to get things done. This is what Alsop was getting at.

Imagine a downtown not dominated by office buildings but instead is a civic place of retail, cafes and restaurants, museums and schools and could feature ‘nexus’ points, hubs that are wired for people to gather in whenever there is a need to meet to face to face. There could be high end, lavish hubs, and lower end, cheaper hubs. A monthly fee could give you access to a booking calendar for the space and a passkey to get into them all. With smart phones, you can zoom around and check see where they all are, plotted out with Google Maps. Each hub has a board room, a big LCD screen tied into Internet, plus a couple of smaller, private offices and a lounge for brainstorming or just meeting.

There’s a paradigm shift coming, I think. Things will eventually go this way. Traditional downtown office buildings require a massive amount of energy to maintain, and moving 80% of a population into the core to work, in every industrialized city in the world, is brutally inefficient. Changing the need for white collar workers to be in the same place at the same time would dramatically improve the nature of the city, and would be much better on the environment. On any given day, only 40% of your workforce might need to leave home to meet. Up to 60% could conceivably work from home, via Skype, and get just as much done.

Check out these cool spaces: