AV Automated Vehicles in Architecture

AV and Architecture

No, not ‘audio visual’ but ‘automated vehicles’. There’s plenty written on this topic that I’ve been reading about recently. The advent of a truly autonomous vehicular network is the stuff of science fiction movies, Minority Report, Demolition man and the like, and its final push will no doubt be determined by insurer premiums, but it seems destined to appear. What will the knock-on effects be? 

Maybe the most significant effect is the potential removal for the ‘necessity’ for car ownership. For the majority of its life (80%) our cars sit idle on a driveway or cluttering a street. The rest of the time they sit dormant in an office or public car park (16%), spending on average only 4% of their lives doing what they were intended to do, driving us about 1. That makes for a very expensive convenience. Cars are already becoming more and more about user connectivity. Will the next generation want to drive, or care, or will they want to use that time using mobile technology and access data? The automated vehicle will likely come to you when signalled by a mobile device, move on to its next customer following use and spend only a small amount of time in a centrally located, stacked storage centre, recharging. This could vastly reduce the maximum number of vehicles required and the space required to park them. How many people have a parking space both at home and at an office, for example?

Where front gardens have been lost to off street parking these could be reclaimed, to the benefit of both street and home.  Arterial routes could be reduced in capacity as autonomous vehicles will be able to use physical space more efficiently and safely, the reclaimed space providing for much needed buffer planting.

Our city centres sometime seem completely dominated by our love of the private automobile, to the detriment of our physical environment. AVs could automatically seek out local public transport hubs on the city periphery for your onward journey, or request rights to enter the city centre under specific circumstances. It would be possible for monitoring systems to consider, at any time, the number of vehicles entering, leaving and circulating around our city centres, smart controls sending them along their optimal routes, the ‘rat-run’ issue becoming a thing of the past. No need for speeding tickets or parking notices, the demise of the demonised Traffic Warden seems almost inevitable.

Development capacities are often determined by the capacity of parking that can serve them. Perhaps development could instead be shaped and determined by context, demand and forward planning? AVs will need to be electric to stay fuelled, hence their ultimate mileage, for now at least, will always be limited. This bring benefits in terms of noise and localised pollution, but for AVs to really work we will need to have accompanying public transport systems that are properly integrated, joined-up and affordable, otherwise the proposition lacks real credence.

One of my biggest bugbears, street clutter, is specifically generated by the perceived need to inform, contain and constrain the motorist. The automated vehicle needs none of this ugly paraphernalia in order to perform, hence rendering it all obsolete overnight. Its removal would open-up pedestrian routes, improve legibility and circulation, reduce light pollution and energy use and provide immediate visual improvement.

So, whilst I acknowledge the fact that I am a ‘petrol head’ I cannot ignore the many-fold benefits that relinquishing control of the private automobile could inevitably bring. I wonder when we should start planning for this future in the developments we design in coming years?1. Courtesy of RAC Foundation, see:

Dale's experience spans a wide range of project sectors, sizes and stages and has particular interests in environmental design and earth-sheltered construction. His favourite projects reuse and breathe new life into under-loved existing buildings.