Urban Plan

Busan, South Korea

First shown at the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam 2007

Sustainability Engineers: ARUP Los Angeles

Art Direction: Richard Massey

Motion Graphics: The Map Office

Sustainability has become an irreproachable form of power. As a global social phenomenon it has heightened our awareness of the processes of consumption and disposal in cities. It has sensitized us to consider the environmental consequences of every activity in urban space. It has even defined a clear ethics for our professional actions. While it is essential to the survival of the city as we know it, it has not been utilized as a means of power to conceptualize the future city. It has instead been an excuse for otherwise exceptionally poor urban design. Given the unimpeachable status of eco-friendly planning, sustainability also may serve as a platform for imaginative urban thinking far beyond the realm of environmentally conscientious design. Moore’s Law Meets Sustainability dramatizes a future moment when Sustainability possesses even greater power than today, and serves as an intellectual vehicle for producing new philosophies of urbanization. The story goes something like this …

During the first part of the 21st century, urbanization was assumed to be a “resource-intensive” process that consumed great amounts of energy and raw material, and discharged proportional quantities of waste. This cycle of large-scale intake and excretion was accepted as the necessary trade-off for development. Then, accelerated advances in environmental technologies miraculously transformed the urbanization process: it became a form of energy production rather than consumption, a mode of environmental remediation rather than a source of pollution. This change came about through a series of events that shortened the lifespan of buildings and reduced the permanence of cities— both as part of a dynamic, animate cycle to sustain the environment.

In this future moment in time, Sustainability is broadly embraced. Corporate investment fuels tremendous creativity in eco-technologies. Three areas of the sustainability sector blossom: (1) alternative energy generation, (2) building systems technology, and (3) land remediation. A period of research and development follows in which the rate of increase in these systems’ processing speeds approximate that of Moore’s Law.

Moore’s Law was the 1990s “Tech-Boom” observation that the transistor density of integrated circuits doubles every 24 months, resulting in the doubling of a computer’s processing power. First an empirical insight, it turned into an industry-wide time-line for companies to create and deliver processors of twice the speed, triggering an extended period during which advances occurred at an exponential rate.

Now that Moore’s Law Meets Sustainability, every 24 months the output of wind and solar energy systems double, the energy consumption of HVAC and mechanical building systems are reduced by 50 percent, and the remediation time of a brown-field site is halved. In the context of this continually accelerating rate of development, the lifespan of buildings is no longer a function of the durability of its materials. Rather, it is a function of its compliance with exponentially increasing standards for the generation of surplus energy and the reduction of energy consumption. At the end of ten years, a building generates 64 times less surplus energy and consumes 64 times more resources than a new one would. As a result, the building is destroyed, replaced by a new version, and its material is biodegraded through updated technologies of land remediation.

Environmental technologies continue to improve. Buildings provide more energy, impact the environment less, and the lifespan of architecture is reduced to even fewer years to improve the equilibrium of the environment. In this clockwork fiction the systematic “regeneration” of the city transforms the urbanization process into the management of energy production. Urban design shifts from an activity of densification and expansion, to one of resource harvesting.

Enabled by its high concentration of capital and motivated municipal leadership, Busan, Korea is the first city to implement this urban schema. Its aspiration to be internationally renowned like cities of similar size and resources (Basel, Silicon Valley, Malmo, Kitakyushu, Glasgow, Pittsburgh, etc.), motivates the local government to develop Busan as a sustainable city. The improvement rates in the efficiency of energy systems, building technology, and land remediation create the incentive to continually rebuild. Busan’s leaders decide to replace vast areas on an increasingly accelerated schedule to achieve a richer ecological environment. Other cities adopt the so-named ‘Busan Metabolism’ to stave off mounting energy and resource costs, and to mitigate the environmental impact of previous urban development.

As the story closes, municipalities throughout Asia and the world realize that the initial implementation of the plan was risky but necessary. It was already certain that the world could not have sustained the successive urbanizations of China and India were planners to follow the 20th-century logic of development and resource consumption. As Asia urbanized, surpluses of oil and iron ore (the main ingredient in steel) diminished, followed by the worldwide shortage of potable water. By 2050, more cities of one million inhabitants had been constructed during the 21st-century than during all previous centuries combined. The Busan experiment demonstrated one alternative for planners to meet the resource needs of cities. Like Moore’s Law itself, the Busan Metabolism became a self-fulfilling prophesy in the environmental technology industry, initiating a humanitarian course correction to the process of urbanization.