What will be the future of ring roads when self-driving cars – individually or shared – become mainstream and vehicles virtually emission-free? Mecanoo architecten, together with Abel Delft and Arnold Reijndorp, participated in the design study Highway and City to envision a future for Rotterdam’s Overschie neighbourhood, which is currently divided by the A13 highway.
The highway causes noise and pollution. Obsolete dwellings, unpleasant walkways, insufficient public transport facilities, and non-marketable properties have created a disjointed, socially segregated neighbourhood. Pedestrian and cycling circulation through the neighbourhood is blocked by the highway, whilst inadequate water storage is causing a third of the building foundations to sag.
Francine Houben, Creative Director/Founding Partner at Mecanoo:
“The introduction of self-driving cars may act as an impetus to redefine the relationship between highway and city, but only when combined with the other challenges at hand in Overschie. An integrated approach to mobility, infrastructure, housing and the environment requires all stakeholders to share responsibilities and to combine financial resources. The result will be a strong and coherent plan. This is an example of the ‘next economy’ in which value is created through collaboration between national and local governments, the water board, business owners, housing corporations, and – above all – the residents of the neighbourhood.”
Mecanoo proposes a two-tier transformation. The first phase, until 2030, leaves the highway untouched, allowing the technology for self-driving vehicles to develop and become mainstream. In this period, space for the highway is created by relocating dwellings and introducing a new ‘highway park’ at the heart of Overschie. The urban structure is repaired, preparing the area for (un)predictable changes in the future.
The second phase will start in 2030, which is expected to be the tipping point in the introduction of self-driving vehicles, as well as the moment when major works will be conducted on the A13 highway. In this phase the structure of the highway will stay intact, but within the road profile self-driving lanes, exit stations, transfer points, and even a bicycle highway will be introduced. Removing the sound barriers reinstates a visual relation between the highway and the surrounding park landscape. Ultimately, the A13 will be transformed from a negative influence into a new type of integrated urban feature, providing a new frontage for Overschie.
The Highway and City research programme is a joint initiative of the Royal Institute of Dutch Architects’ Research Department, Delft University of Technology, the cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht, the province of Utrecht, the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, and Rijkswaterstaat. The design study was comprised of seven multidisciplinary teams focussing on five separate locations in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht.