A project by Advanced Urban Design students suggests offices on wheels and bus stop work hubs could be the future of urban areas.
If a time machine could take you to a bustling city in the year 2030, what would you see there? More specifically, what would the mobility situation be like? Would buses fly through the sky? Would they drive through shopping malls, dropping you off at your favorite stores?
These were the exact questions that two masters students from the Advanced Urban Design program – a joint project of Strelka Institute and the Higher School of Economics – asked themselves when they decided to take part in a contest created by Volvo Buses and Sweco Architects. The competition asked architecture students to design the future of mobility in urban areas, specifically focusing on the role of Volvo’s electric buses.
For architects Oskar Simann and Daniel Roche, the future of mobility isn’t about vehicles resembling spaceships, or other futuristic luxuries. It’s about practicality, and working to adapt to a culture which involves remote employees who make a living outside of a traditional office.
It wasn’t about delivering something “shiny” or “spectacular,” according to Roche, even if that’s what the competition’s judges wanted to see. “We’re more interested in working with systems that actually work as networks, that actually improve people’s lives,” he said.
With that vision and a whole lot of creativity, the two students received the title of “most innovative” among all the entries, and snagged second place in the overall competition last June.
Their innovative idea merged Volvo’s electric buses with the concept that commuters could be more productive during their journeys if they were supported by the necessary environment and technology. Enter Volvo Cowork, a concept which involves a network of buses that are equipped with everything a remote worker might need. Imagine them as offices on wheels – all of which could be accessed by one simple bus pass.
“So, there’s this idea, this marketing sentence that comes from HyperLoop that they say ‘we don’t sell transportation, we sell time.’ And I think when we came up with the idea, that was the starting point,” Simann said. “So basically what if we look at transportation not as a way of getting from A to B, but to actually save time or to be more productive with time?”
“That’s where the Volvo Cowork idea came from ‒ that people, when day to day they just sit and wait, they could actually be productive and have the first half hour of work on their way from their home into the city.”
The concept, according to Simann, would see people paying not just for transportation, but for office space. “So, actually the traveling is a secondary part in people’s minds because people are more inclined to pay for other things than transport. You don’t want to spend a lot of money on transport, people don’t like that,” he said.
However, the innovative idea isn’t just about “riding the office” into Gothenburg, the Swedish city that Simann and Roche centered their entire concept around. Volvo Cowork would also support workers after they leave the bus.
That support would come in the form of an office situated right at the bus stop, where workers could hold meetings with clients and continue the productivity they began during their commute. Larger offices would exist for those who enjoy working alongside other professionals in a co-working space.
"The nature of how we work is changing,” Simann said, adding that “more and more people will be their own contractors” in the future and “less people will have a desk in an office space that is given to them by their employer.”
The bus stop offices would, ideally, utilize existing space. “There is a possibility to use the dimensions of the already existing bus stops” to create the small working hubs, Simann said, noting that almost all of the bus stops in Gothenburg are sized in a way which could be easily compatible with office spaces.
The network of offices, just like the buses, would accessible by the single bus pass. “We were the only group to propose something you could fit in your pocket. Everyone was thinking about spaces and buildings but we proposed just this bus pass,” Roche said.
Although the students chose to focus on Gothenburg for their concept, Simann believes the method could also be implemented in other European cities of a similar size. Larger cities like Moscow, however, would need their own customized plans. “You can’t take the example of Gothenburg and apply it to Moscow,” Simann said.
He noted, however, that a concept designed for larger urban areas such as Moscow could actually have more potential to improve people’s lives because “the challenges are bigger, the commute times are longer.”
For Roche, the system could be seen as an incentive for commuters to ditch their private vehicles. “The city wants to get cars off of the road. In order to do that, you have to give them something better than a car,” he said. "I would like to see public transport becoming more comfortable, more enjoyable commute than your car. I think that’s the most important thing that needs to happen.”
Simann is now focusing on further developing Volvo Cowork as part of his master’s thesis for the two-year interdisciplinary Advanced Urban Design program, which is aimed at training the next generation of urban planners who will shape the landscapes of cities across the globe.