“I realise we are going to live in an experiment,” Moerkerk said. “Some ideas might not work out the way we expect.” In the city of Helmond, the Brainport Smart District, which will include a business district and plenty of green space, is not just a new neighbourhood but “a new type of living environment,” said the architect Ben van Berkel, the founder and principal architect of UNStudio. The Dutch firm, which has offices around the world, designed the district’s master plan.
The mixed-use district, set on 380 acres, will use technology to create an environmentally and socially sustainable community. “We want to support positive things with technology,” van Berkel said. “Especially community building.” A living lab where new ideas will be tested and adapted, the district will not be built according to a set design plan but developed in response to the needs and habits of its 4,500 future residents and what is learned along the way.
“We made a framework of how these ambitions can hopefully work very well in the future, but it is fully unpredictable how it’s going to operate and what it will look like,” van Berkel said. The project is led by the Brainport Smart District Foundation, a partnership among the municipality of Helmond, Eindhoven University of Technology, Brainport Development, the Province of North Brabant and Tilburg University.
The district, which encourages self-sufficiency and self-organisation among its residents, is being financed through a public-private partnership, with individual projects funded privately by the project developers. Costs have not yet been determined.
“One of the key elements in realising this district is that we have future inhabitants participating in the project from the very beginning,” said Cathalijne Dortmans, a member of the City Council of Helmond and head of the foundation’s board, “We also want them to feel co-responsible for the social cohesion and the community when the district has been finalised.”
The seed for the project was planted by a foundation member, Elphi Nelissen, a professor in the building sustainability department at Eindhoven University of Technology and the chairwoman of the district’s quality team. “My dream was to create a district with a better quality of life regarding health, circularity, mobility, energy, participation, data, safety, inclusivity that can be an example for the rest of Europe and the world,” Professor Nelissen said in an email. “With an open innovative character, so everyone is able to copy our findings. In a flexible way so that we can implement new knowledge/products into this area and keep on learning from it.”
Professor Nelissen selected Helmond from a host of interested Dutch cities that she had invited to present their ideas. Part of the Brainport region, which also includes Eindhoven, Helmond’s population is a little over 90,000. “The whole region there is almost like a small Silicon Valley,” van Berkel said. It is home to companies like Phillips, Tesla and ASML.
“So I thought, this is not just a somewhere location, but a very innovative area where I understood that a new type of people would like to live, people with another background, also having that tech background,” van Berkel said. UNStudio worked with a multidisciplinary team of partners to design the district plan as a flexible grid that can be easily adapted to the agricultural lines of the landscape.
Joann Plockova is a design and travel writer based in Prague. NYT© 2020
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