Max Schwitalla, architect and founder of interdisciplinary Studio Schwitalla, about the link between architecture and mobility, and rethinking mobility on a human scale.
GPSM: As an architect, the way people move is essential for you. How does it influence your work?
Max Schwitalla: Urban Mobility is literally the driving passion in our studio: The way how people move three-dimensionally through urban space is the fundamental and underlying approach in our research and experimental design. And maybe because I was a street skateboarder in my youth, I started to read cities differently, always on the move off the beaten paths. Today our research partners include multinational mobility experts like the Swiss elevator company Schindler Aufzüge AG and the German car manufacturer Audi AG.
As urban designers we want to ask ourselves if we should keep designing cities according to the needs of a car and as architects we want to rethink if our job is to wrap the elevator with a nice facade – we believe we should first of all set the focus on people again! With Schindler we are working on a scale in-between these disciplines: neighbourhood prototypes as three-dimensional organised landscapes based on micro mobility and designed around the needs of smart citizens!
GPSM: Thinking about public space and human scale planning, how do you think our cities need to improve to be future-compliant?
Max Schwitalla: A high quality city is characterized by the inclusion of differences in class, ethnicities and lifestyles. The public space as the place of diversity, accessibility and personal freedom becomes the most valuable space in urban environments. However, we can observe an increasingly unbalanced ratio of urban public and privatized space based on economic mechanisms and the typology of the generic high-rise, propelled by mobility technologies like the car and the Elevator.
With our neighborhood prototypes we actually want to invert this process: instead of the insular stacking of privatized disconnected space (in high-rises) we want to stack public space as a continuous human-scale landscape. Human-scale micro mobility technology that is silent, CO2 neutral and shared will enable these prototypes that we call the “Urban Shelf”.
GPSM: How do you define sustainability in your own work?
Max Schwitalla: First of all we try to radically change the way we think in our studio: We want to break with the common ways of planning and designing urban and architectural spaces, to develop truly novel approaches to the problems. As we know the car or the elevator will not solve the problems they created (like vast horizontal urban sprawl or the social isolation of people stacked on top of each other) we are looking for different ways to create dense urban environments. For example, the idea of the Urban Shelf is to provide the basic infrastructure like a stable floor and roofing, water supply etc. that allows maximum flexibility within the structure. As nobody really knows exactly what kind of spaces we will need in the future, flexibility guarantees sustainable utilization of space! And as we are shifting towards the Sharing Economy we need urban environments that bring people together in order to foster innovation, the most important ingredient for a sustainable future.
GPSM: What trends and developments are you facing when working on sustainable mobility?
Max Schwitalla: Most importantly we need to get over the concept of car ownership, because if you don’t own a car you start to choose according to your individual needs every day: bike, subway or shared car. The second big trend is certainly autonomous driving technology. In order to achieve true system innovations we need the combination of both: product innovation and the innovation of how we use them.
Of course the megatrend Digitalization is the main driver in both: App-based free floating carsharing is a great example, but we believe we should go even further! Together with Audi we asked ourselves whether the car needs to be adapted to urban environments and we developed the “Flywheel”: a shared autonomous, silent and CO2 neutral vehicle that is much smaller because it’s a one-seater that can be extended modular to allow multiple seats. The “Flywheel” is a collective mobility concept that combines the best of both: the freedom of individual and the sustainability of public transportation. It enables novel human scale urban environments with high quality of life!