Getting ready to design future cities

Members of top civil engineering bodies in India and the U.S. discuss possible scenarios down the line. By M.A. Siraj

If an app fails to function, it does not hurt anyone. But if a building collapses, it hurts or kills people, compromises public safety and dents the credibility of designers, planners, and engineers and host of other professionals associated with a city. Great responsibility rests on the shoulders of civil engineers as human civilisation is increasingly getting urbanised. They would need to plan future cities that would be safe, healthy, and sustainable.”

This seemed to be the focus of deliberations of top civil engineers from India and the U.S. who gathered in Bengaluru at an interactive conclave themed “The Future World Vision”. The conclave was hosted by the Association of Consulting Civil Engineers (ACCE), India for an interaction with Kancheepuram N. Gunalan, President, American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

Mr. Gunalan pointed out that American civil engineers are exploring possibilities such as mega city, rural city, floating city, frozen city and cities on other planets. “As more and more people move into cities through the current century, there is possibility of people living in skyscrapers and there being bridges connecting the high-rises, thereby eliminating the necessity to come down.” With oceans rising in the wake of climate change, several coastal cities would go under water, and planners may have to think of “floating cities.” One such project has been conceived with regard to Miami, Florida.

Mr. Gunalan said city planners may have to re-conceive the pavement for future cities. They may become an interactive space for future citizens and will increasingly be used to tap solar energy or for installing charging stations as mobility solutions are switching over to electric vehicles. “Rural cities would envision increasing induction of drones for movement of goods and services in place of surface mobility. This may lead to choking of corridors in the air, prompting further research into mobility.”

According to Mr. Gunalan a new material will have to be found as concrete is not green and steel has become a material of the past. Seattle already has glass bridges while bamboo could also be tried in future. “Some people are even talking of nano-material and researches are progressing to find newer material for future buildings,” he remarked.

Mr. Gunalan who acquired his bachelor in civil engineering and M.Tech in Soil Mechanics and Foundation Engineering from Guindy College of Engineering, Chennai (in 1981), was accompanied by Thomas W. Smith, Executive Director, ASCE; Elias Boutros Sayah, Director, Region 10 Board of Directors, ASCE; and G.L. Sivakumar Babu, Governor, Region 10 Board of Governors.

Ethical commitment

Mr. Gunalan however emphasised that ethics should come first among the priorities of civil engineers who are principally responsible for city infrastructure and buildings where health and safety cannot be compromised. He indicated that asset management has emerged as a $3 trillion to $4 trillion business across the globe and maintenance holds the key to health and safety of structures. “Attempt to minimise cost of maintenance by stretching the period has a bearing on safety of buildings and there needs to be an ethical commitment on such issues,” he remarked.

M.U. Aswath, President, Association of Consulting Civil Engineers (ACCE) (also Principal, Bangalore Institute of Technology), stressed the need for finding new materials as sustainability has acquired centrality in the new context of climate change.

Greenest Metro

Rohit Mane, Consultant, Nagpur Metro Rail, said it has emerged as the ‘greenest Metro’ in the country with the entire operations being powered by solar energy. The Nagpur Maha Metro Rail Corporation has deployed solar panels on all its platforms, rooftops of buildings and fencing walls. Out of the 38-km elevated tract, the Metro is already operational on half the length.

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