By Bjarke Ingels, Special to CNN
The infrastructure of the industry of the past seems to be inevitably appropriated as the framework for the social and cultural life of the present.
The old train tracks on Manhattans lower west side turns into the highline - the most popular park of NYC today.
The Tate Modern in London is an old power plant.
The most beautiful parks and lakes of Copenhagen are the old city fortress reinvented.
The world's first ski-lifts were repurposed mining lifts – as the silver dried out the flow got reversed - rather than bringing metals down from the hills they started dragging skiers to the slopes.
The Soho industrial loft with the tall ceilings, long spans and big windows becomes the most desirable place to live.
Somehow the pioneering of the infrastructure of industry or military paves the path for the main stream architecture.
In fashion work uniforms and sports gear invents features and engineers new and better, faster, stronger materials and fabrics. They then find their way into fashion through vintage and later through appropriation on to the cat-walk. The list is endless but some of the pillars of fashion today- the jeans and the sneakers – were invented for the mine or the running track.
Rather than waiting for the past infrastructure to get decommissioned and reborn with a new social program – could we conceive of our public infrastructures to come with intended social side-effects from day one.
Our public infrastructures for transport, industry, energy, waste, water, sewage etc. are major investments in our public budgets. However they always appear as grey areas on the city map. Like black holes in the urban fabric lost for the public realm – they are big ugly boxes that cast shadows on the neighbors or block the views.
What if we could harness those massive investments and imbue them with positive social side effects from the get go rather than in retrospect? What if we could turn a highway interchange into a man-made valley with a public park? What if the massive volume of a waste-to-energy power plant could become a mountain with ski slopes in a city full of snow but without hills?
By proactively cross-breeding the public infrastructure with social programs we can inject new urban life forms in to the heart of our cities – and we can seize billions of dollars to the shrinking budgets for urban social philanthropy.
Having tested these ideas for a handful of projects in Copenhagen and Stockholm – the STHLM SPHERE and AMAGER BAKKE – we are preparing to take them to the developing world. Where sudden growth and social inequality contrasts a small affluent population of key players in the economic development with large populations living in informal settlements. The infrastructural investments that cater to the few – high speed rails and highways – are necessary for the economic prosperity of the country while serving only a small part of its people.
What if these investments could be similarly cross-pollinated so that rather than merely having unanticipated consequences like when a highway cuts favela in half – separating one side from the other – they could have positive social side effects in the form of nested programs, parks and playgrounds – turning the investments for the few into the enjoyment the many. Pragmatism becomes hedonism in the social infrastructure for the city of our future.