The Crowd Farm
A Prize-Winning Plan to Harness Human Power
Two graduate students from MITís Department of Architecture have won an international competition for a proposal to harness human power as a source of sustainable energy.
Sponsored by the Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction, the competition was part of the Holcim Forum 2007, focused on the theme of urban transformation. Posters by students from six of the world's leading universities were exhibited at the forum to stimulate discussion on approaches to urban transformation; the winning poster was chosen by the forum participants.
MArch candidates James Graham and Thaddeus Jusczyk took first place with their plan to harness the everyday movements of crowds through the development of a Crowd Farm. Their proposal was based on the notion that sustainable energy production will increasingly reject monolithic power plants in favor of varied and dispersed micro-generation Ė from the sun, the wind, from water and geothermic activity, and even from ourselves.
As a demonstration of their idea, they created a chair that exploits the passive act of sitting for power generation. The weight of the body on the seat causes a flywheel to spin, powering a dynamo that lights four LEDs, putting to use some of the energy that is usually dissipated into our architectural surroundings.
With the help of their advisor, Associate Professor J. Meejin Yoon, Graham and Jusczyk then developed the notion of a Crowd Farm to harness the power generated by the simple act of walking. While the energy gathered from one humanís movements may be relatively slight, the energy to be gained from the movements of an entire population would be significant. One step, for instance, can power two 60W light bulbs for one second. But multiply that step by 28,527 and you have enough energy to power a moving train for one second. And if you multiply a single step by 84,162,203? Enough energy to power the launch of a space shuttle.
The Crowd Farm would harness that energy through a responsive flooring system made up of blocks that depress slightly under the force of human steps, absorbing vibrations of movement that would otherwise be wasted. The slippage of the blocks against each other would generate power through the principle of the dynamo; assembled into floor systems, the blocks could be easily replicated across a large site.
This tectonic system would then facilitate the creation of new urban landscapes in which human movement is used to generate architectural forms. The studentsí test case Ė a train station and public space in Torino, Italy Ė demonstrates the Crowd Farmís potential for shaping the urban environment by promoting human movement across the site at all hours of the day.
In addition to a regional train station, the site includes two subway stations, an athletic field with a spectator area, music halls, theatres, nightclubs and a large gathering space for rallies, demonstrations and celebrations. As crowds increase for large events, they have the potential to reform and merge adjacent spaces, creating temporary deformations of the surfaces that would increase the amount of energy produced and facilitate crowd flow.
The Holcim Foundation promotes such innovative approaches to sustainable construction mainly through awards competitions and the international Holcim Forum, a series of symposia to encourage discourse on the future of the built environment. In addition to renowned specialists from around the world, promising international students from leading universities are invited to represent the next generation and to share their visions.
Held at Tongji University in Shanghai, the Holcim Forum 2007 attracted more than 250 experts and scholars from over 40 countries. Five cash prizes were presented to students from MIT, Tongji University in Shanghai, Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City and to two teams from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich).