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A model for sustainable communities


5 May 2020
Article

White Arkitekter is working with ReGen Villages in Sweden to develop a pilot scheme for the first ever circular, self-sufficient community. An operating system which is designed as a potential means of meeting the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, ‘Village OS’ could act as a model for new self-sustaining and resilient communities to be built in and around cities all over the world. 

We are living in a time of climate crisis, heavy population growth, urbanisation and housing shortage.  It is widely acknowledged that new solutions are required to meet these fundamental challenges, and governments worldwide have committed to reductions in energy and carbon emissions.  But how this can be achieved in reality, is still an area for much discussion and debate.

White Arkitekter has been considering this quandary for many years.  One of the largest architecture practices in Northern Europe, it has the network across academia, politics, municipalities and the private sector to make things happen.  Aware of the potential impact of their leadership, the practice set the goal of ensuring that by 2030, all of its projects are climate neutral. Sustainability is the bedrock of White Arkitekter’s ethos, and through its own research programmes and the partnerships that it cultivates, the team is constantly looking for innovative solutions to complex problems such as climate mitigation and adaptation. 

This initiative with ReGen Villages is one such enterprise. The concept is based on a circular system of water management, renewable energy, waste management and food production.  It combines high-yield organic food production, locally produced and stored energy, comprehensive recycling and climate neutral buildings to facilitate a community which can operate self-sufficiently with minimum impact on the environment. The need for food is largely met by new technologies such as vertical farming and aquaponics, a closed system in which fish farming and crops are combined symbiotically. Energy is secured through solar panels and biogas produced from local waste. Water is collected, cleaned and reused. These technologies are then combined in an unprecedented way into a single circular system. White’s role will be to focus on site planning and the design of climate neutral buildings. 

ReGen Villages’ founder, James Ehrlich, is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur with a background in gaming.  The idea for Village OS is that you should be able to operate the whole community as you would in computer games such as SimCity. Reminiscent of so-called “smart homes” in which several home amenities are online and can be controlled from a central hub, all neighbourhood systems can be run and balanced digitally, and controlled by the local housing co-operative. The difference is that Village OS uses AI and machine learning to make automated interventions, operating more independently and at greater scale than ever before, allowing residents to continue with their normal everyday lives without having to spend vast amounts of time maintaining the systems.

A global concept that is being explored in several different regions around the world, Village OS is an exciting new way of building sustainable communities at scale. Benefits of the system could be far reaching – from the environmental advantages of climate mitigation that come with building climate neutral buildings, to the decentralisation of populations, reducing pressure on cities and opening up new possibilities for land use around the world.   

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