Power to the people

Bringing new life to old places through design for people can simultaneously regenerate neighbourhoods and reduce emissions. Two decades ago, Vastra Hamnen  or “Western Harbour” , a neighbourhood in Malmö , was polluted and abandoned after the Kockums shipyard closed in the’90s: now the neighbourhood is packed with striking architecture, filled with visitors touring the cutting edge designs, and brimming with people and bikes, even on a snowy day.
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We saw one car unloading some bags on our tour but otherwise the streets were for people, as this photo shows. 

Putting power in the hands of the people- literally- is an audacious new building experiment now underway. The energy company E ON , sponsor of the Thinking Energy Smart Homes Initiative, believes that making energy usage visible to residents can transform our relationship to energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Hundreds of applicants vied for the opportunity to live in this groundbreaking development. Along with the expected solar panels on the roof, each unit includes rent of an electric or gas-powered car and an electric bicycle. Residents monitor and control their intelligent homes, minute by minute, using the iPad that comes with each apartment, equipped with an app of visualization and control options based on over 50 meter readings per apartment. Using your handy iPad, for example, you can start or stop car charging when your electric vehicle is plugged-in.

Linda people power 0248Here our tour guide from E ON explains the company’s motivations in this photo in the sunken living room of one of the units, which conceals masses of cables needed for the smart design. 

Striking architecture abounds. The Turning Torso skyscraper, designed by Santiago Calatrava, anchors the neighbourhood. Here it looms behind the “space” playground, one of the theme playgrounds that dot Malmö.
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Daniel Skog from Malmö’s Environment Department was our guide for our site tour of Västra Hamnen and pointed out sites such as the pipes from the neighborhood’s very cool refuse suction system, explained on the city’s website Organic waste is collected by waste disposal units and sent to collection tanks for biogas production.
Even the architect of the Smart Homes himself, Cord Siegel, lives in Västra Hamnen, in this lime green house , one of the ‘Urban Villas”, awarded Sweden’s top architecture prize in 2009. Note the bikes in the snow- Danes and Swedes take their biking very seriously.
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In the end, would you want to live there? The apartments are gorgeous. Everyone in our group said they’d jump at the chance to live in one. Me too.