Design briefing: working on the moon and other out of-this-world ideas

In our regular survey of design ideas you shouldn’t miss, we round up the latest developments - from Denmark’s tall storeys to urban heat islands and intelligent parking robots

An office with a view

Topping out at 1,049 feet, planning is underway for the tallest skyscraper in Western Europe. Rather than being located downtown in a major metropolis, this tower will land in Brande – a Danish town with a population of only 7,000. Home to the clothing brand Bestseller, the tower will include offices, hotel facilities, educational spaces and retail.

Although it will be visible from up to 40 miles away, the skyscraper has only 45 storeys with a generous average ceiling height of 23 feet – a significant increase on the average 16 feet per floor across the world’s 100 tallest buildings, leading some to argue that the height is simply a headline-grabbing stunt. The satirical Danish paper Rokokoposten quoted Lord Sauron, ruler of the orc-filled wasteland Mordor in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy as saying ‘I have offered to finance a major interactive art installation in the form of a blazing eye at the very top of the building.’

It’s a long commute

Seamless mobility, connected clusters and accommodating future growth? Sounds like workspace to me. Part of a growing interest in developing the moon, architect Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) has released designs for the first full-time human habitat on the lunar surface. In collaboration with the European Space Agency and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, SOM are attempting to solve some of the space industry’s most complicated problems. The ‘Moon Village’ essentially outlines plans for humans to live self-sufficiently in an uninhabitable setting.

The settlement would be located on the rim of the Shackleton Crater to harness sunlight for energy and make use of the crater’s frozen water deposits to create breathable air. Around this, SOM has designed a series of inflatable modular units that include living quarters and workspaces. These are connected to enable people to move between them and can expand to allow for future growth. In addition to sustaining life and ‘industrial activities’, Moon Village would be a focus point for research on sustaining life on terrestrial planets other than Earth. First stop, the Moon….

Elephants do forget

Following recent data furores centred around large-scale players in social media, the question of online privacy has become a hot topic. Everyone would rather that potential future employers didn’t see that ill-advised late-night post but managing privacy online can be less than straightforward. With both work and life taking place across an ever-expanding digital platform, the average business user has as many as 191 accounts to keep on top of. In addition, data management procedures can (ironically) be less than transparent and we are often surprised to find that we’re sharing more than we thought.

A recent addition to the Appstore, Jumbo has been designed to create a single, simple interface which can manage social media settings, delete old Tweets, wipe Google search history and clear out Alexa’s voice recordings. Unlike most new tech, this is not cloud-based; processing is done locally to ensure data security. Jumbo has been likened to a digital lawyer, acting as a ‘data fiduciary’ that can manage privacy settings on your behalf.

Netflix, Birchbox, Hello Fresh, Workspace?

Workplace interiors are the latest entrant to the subscription economy. Knotel, an office design and operation company with a business model built around leasing space, has introduced a subscription service for office build and fit-out called Geometry. Available exclusively as a subscription rental, Geometry is a range of modular architectural and furniture pieces including desks, conference room setups, movable phone booths and free-standing wall systems. While renting office furniture isn’t new, an office furniture subscription is; where these would previously have been sold to clients as part of a package deal, individual pieces can now be rented for a monthly fee.

This reflects a move away from the traditional practice of companies finding office space and signing minimum 10-year terms in favour of quickly built, scalable space; it also moves furniture from CapEx to OpEx. It does raise the question of where this super-fast, super-flexible subscription provision sits in relation to the increasing importance of office space as a differentiating market tool in the war for talent. Will maximum flexibility see a return to homogeneity?

Too hot? We hope you like white

UNStudio (a Dutch architecture practice) and Monopol (a Swiss paint manufacturer) have created a white paint that’s more reflective than anything currently on the market. The team’s goal was to address the urban heat island effect; due partly to the widespread presence of concrete and dark materials, cities tend to be hotter than surrounding rural areas. The new paint, called ‘The Coolest White’, is an extremely reflective white paint that can reduce the amount of heat that buildings absorb, reducing cooling needs and cooling the surrounding environment.

Total Solar Reflectance (TSR) is a measure of the percentage of the sun’s rays that a material reflects rather than absorbing. White materials typically have a TSR of 70-75 on a scale from 1-100; the Coolest White has a TSR of over 80. It’s based on fluoropolymer technology to produce a hard-wearing surface suitable for external use on surfaces such as aluminium, steel and fibreglass. Certified for use, the paint is available for purchase and the team hope to use it to cover an entire district in South East Asia. Best visit soon if you’re hoping for some local colour.

Robot you can drive my car

Ever missed a meeting because you couldn’t find a parking space? The answer is simple; let the robots do it. The problem of parking is a major annoyance for most city drivers, plagued by tight spaces, under-provision and overcharging. Hikvision proposes an award-winning solution inspired by the computerised logistics of modern warehouses, essentially treating your car like a very large Amazon parcel. The Hikvision Parking Robot is a self-driving palette that operates your car from underneath. It sits underneath a metal platform – drivers simply have to position their car correctly and take a ticket before walking away. Using inertial and visual navigation and a set of wheels that allow the robot to travel in any direction (including rotating in place), the palette simply carries your car to the nearest parking spot and lowers the platform back down to the ground. Once summoned, it lifts the car back up and brings it back. Hikvision estimates that the system can deal with 500 cars at a time, increasing the availability of parking spaces by up to 40 per cent by optimising the whole area.

Imogen Privett is a Senior Research Associate in WORKTECH Academy. An architectural designer and researcher, she holds degrees in both History and Architecture. Imogen has worked in architectural practice focusing on workplace design with projects including UK headquarters for Barclays, Macquarie Bank and Reuters