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SWITCH!: (Re-)activating Urban Space in an Autonomous Future

SWITCH! is a six-piece set of unique, interlocking elements flat-packed into a 10’ x 6’ x 3’ volume. The surfaces of the eccentric sculptural shapes are rendered in two shades of color, the lighter one of which is also visible at night. Components are configurable in a surprising variety of combinations, within an individual set and among multiple, so they are adaptable to different settings. Image © Gensler

Much is made of the promise of technology for the future of cities, but this has for the most part focused upon efficiency, convenience and public health. The latter is as much a social issue as a physiological one—related to how well a “smarter” city also spurs increased and unexpected forms of interaction. With this goal in mind, we developed SWITCH!, a revolutionary street furniture prototype designed to provoke new narratives and activities that will be unlocked by the advent of the autonomous vehicle.

SWITCH! offers one approach to how our urban spaces and infrastructure—once designed around the automobile--might harness the rapid advance of technologies of mobility and connectivity in favor of the pedestrian. Autonomous vehicles, the sharing economy, and mobility as a service are revolutionizing the way we travel, access services and goods, and inhabit the city. SWITCH! previews how such changes might prompt an alteration of the use and appearance of the street, and the ways buildings might interface with pedestrians and driverless vehicles in a new fashion.

As designers we have a stake in leading this conversation, so that the physical space of the city does not become irrelevant as technologies of communication evolve, but rather a new territory for their development, regulation, and deployment. Digitally-supported, SWITCH! is intended to demonstrate to technology companies, real estate developers, city officials and the general public how as a result in the decrease in traffic congestion forecasted to result from a driverless future, our streets might be reclaimed for new and surprising forms of human activity—what L.A. Department of Transportation chief Seleta Reynolds terms "playstreets."

SWITCH! in the making. Image © Gensler

More than a passive public amenity, SWITCH! is an instrument of urban activation: an in vivo platform to attract the unscripted forms of exhibition and performance that increasingly occur online back to the forum of urban space and the visceral experience of the city. Its design prompts "functional futures" without prescribing them—suggesting new possibilities and modes of interaction between nextgen vehicles and pedestrians, and the norms, codes, signals that might accompany them.

Such technological advances hold tremendous potential to reimagine and reinvigorate public life. It is only through experiments and playtesting new prototypes such as SWITCH! that the regulatory hurdles that currently inhibit these can be unlocked. That process begins at LACoMotion, a conference/event/happening on the future of mobility, where SWITCH! will debut this week (November 15-19, 2017) in L.A.’s Arts District.

The different configurations of SWITCH! support a wide range of activities, without overtly suggesting any use in particular. They include: lounging; magazine shelves; work stations; bars; ping pong; planters; water basins; bike racks; passenger pick-up/drop-off platform; projection surface; disabled access ramp; fashion runway and more. Image © Gensler

Gensler (Design), with generous support from: Los Angeles Dept. of Transportation (LADOT), Arup and LACoMotion

Design Team: Roger Sherman, Melanie Freeland, Michael Volk, Grace Ko, Joyce Sin Ying Ip, Lynn Mastandrea, Matt Hogan, Michael Neuman, Hans Neubert, Claudia Carol, Ashi Martin, Dema Hajmurad, Julian Ma (Gensler).

Special Thanks to: Rob Jernigan, John Adams (Gensler); Seleta Reynolds (LADOT); Katherine Perez Estolano (ARUP); Greg Lindsay; Ashley Hand (CityFi); John Rossant (LACoMo); Andreas Froech (MKH); UCLA Department of Architecture and Urban Design.

Roger Sherman, AIA, is senior project director of Urban Strategy at Gensler Los Angeles. Previously, he founded Roger Sherman Architecture and Urban Design, and was co-director of cityLAB/UCLA, where he is an adjunct professor. His work has been exhibited at international venues, and featured in Newsweek, Fast Company, CNN and The History Channel. A graduate with distinction from the Harvard Design School, he has taught and lectured widely, including at New York's MoMA and TEDx. For more information about SWITCH!, Contact Roger at roger_sherman@gensler.com.