The Postopolis event we hosted in NY a couple weeks ago was inspirational in many ways, and one of the highlights of the 5 day event was seeing Mitchell Joachim of Terreform (a non-profit philanthropic design collaborative) present a whole host of groundbreaking, uber-green projects that could revolutionize the way we live. Mitchell Joachim might be best known as the purveyor of the Fab Tree Hab – a living house built from a growing structure of trees and vines – but he’s got big plans for the world of transportaion and urban design as well. Along with Michael Sorkin, Terreform’s President and Founder, Joachim has conceptualized a new model for urban transportation called the “Soft Car,” a soft, safe, comfortable vehicle that responds to its surroundings, its driver, and other automobiles.

Think about it – there is no good reason that cars need to be made of such heavy, expensive and high-imact materials like steel these days. Not only is it extremely energy intensive to push a heavy steel blox around a city – but the weight and high-density materials of cars is also what makes them so dangerous in accidents. A “Soft Car” would be more eco-friendly than a steel car in many ways: not only would it be a lot safer and more energy efficient, but cars could interact with each other and move in flocks, and the whole parking conundrum could be turned on its head.

In his Postopolis presentation, Joachim described the need to wear a singular hat as an architect, urban planner, and transportation designer in order to design cars that work with our existing cities, not to design cities that are based on the car. The vehicle itself turns modern transportation on its head, making the car a shared commodity, a smart tool, and a system for sensitive urban design rather than object or personal possession.

“Let’s get smart,” he said in his presentation. And the Soft Car intends to do just that. By locating the systems and intelligence in the wheel of the car, the rest becomes simply a skin or envelope for the passenger. Additionally, the Soft Car is designed to be pedestrian-friendly through programmed speed caps and other technologies. The Soft Car could even negotiate with parking meters, offering, say, $5 for a highly-coveted spot, or free parking in low-demand areas. And when you’re done using your Soft Car, just return it to its storage location- think of it as car sharing to the 10th degree.

Joachim showed several different design concepts for the Soft Car – this one borrowed from the high-tech, high-strength plastic design of running shoes.

The thing we love about Terreform’s approach to the automobile issue is that instead of condemning traffic, their design for the Soft Car actually thrives off of it. When the cars move in “flocks” or “herds,” they are more connected to each other and can share information.

The Soft Car, in essence, simply makes cities more networked- creating connections between cars, between cars and architecture, between cars and people. And by giving our cars a bit more intelligence, we allow our transportation habits to be more responsive to changing conditions and the needs of drivers.

Watch a video of Mitchell’s presentation at Postopolis here.

About Terreform:

Terreform is a nonprofit organization (501c3) and philanthropic design collaborative that integrates ecological principles in the urban environment. The group views ecology in design as not only a philosophy that inspires visions of sustainability and social justice but also a focused scientific endeavor. The mission is to ascertain the consequences of fitting a project within our natural world setting. Solutions range from; green master planning, urban self-sufficiency infrastructures, community development activities, climatic tall buildings, performative material technologies, and smart mobility vehicles for cities. These design iterations seek an activated ecology both as a progressive symbol and an evolved artifact.

Terreform’s Fab Tree Hab – A Living Tree House >


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  1. jimagic July 4, 2010 at 8:20 pm

    As a consumer friendly baby step safety transition, even with IC powered cars, why not external airbags with very fast motion detector (and speed compensation) technology. I wouldn’t mind yellow and black diagonal stripes for visibility or at least scotch brite finishes. We need to get over the whole idea of our cars as extensions of our personalities and see them as tools. Comfortable, yes, safe, yes, efficient,yes. Conversly, ponder on Neil Young’s idea of using existing body styles and features, but design better engines for existing product lines or even older models. He has converted his land yaught into an eco friendly demo.

  2. rhuben50 May 2, 2010 at 11:26 pm

    This is all very interesting but what is the real agenda?
    The presentation sounds good and never mentions the Economic Social and Political effects; so do you think we’re all anti-capitalists and Treehuggers?

  3. fiberist July 31, 2009 at 5:15 pm

    Soft car, yes. Car share, no. Some care for property – others do not. Universal training in responsible sharing and consideration of property must precede property share.

  4. Erik van Lennep June 17, 2007 at 6:10 am

    I dunno, I like the idea of cars being able to negotiate with parking meters and with each other, I like the idea of dropping the heavy shell as well.

    I agree the presentation doesn’t address fuel, nor vandalism, theft. etc. But why not take iot a few steps further and see how these might be solved? It’s good to think outside the box, so rather than condemning designers for not being rooted in reality (whose?), I would prefer to say, “hey interesting direction, now what about factors _, or __? ” .

    I do think in Ireland the soft car would last as long as it takes the next yob to spot it sitting defenseless on the street. I wonder how fast it can be set on fire, robbed, sliced up, or otherwise mangled? But I am also willing to believe there may be communities where softcars would be respected and left undamaged.

    One of the concepts I think we really need to get away from is the silver bullet, the “one” answer that will meet all needs, or solve all problems. If we are to learn anything from natural systems, and apply this to sustainability, we need to get more comfortable with locally derived and locally applied solutions. They may not solve everything, but why not see wher they might fit into a more complex pattern of solution directions?

  5. Jack73t June 16, 2007 at 3:38 pm

    Perhaps it could be constructed of recycled tires. Being light weight would make it a prime candidate for electric power or maybe even pure solar power. I like the one that looks like a shoe.

  6. royalestel June 15, 2007 at 10:58 am

    I read somewhere about an experiment where University of Colorado at Boulder gave a bunch of indentical yellow bikes to the student population with the idea that you could ride one to class, drop it off, and just pick up another one on the way out.

    There began to be problems after wear and tear set in. A bike in good corking condition would be locked up and people started customizing them. Other damaged bikes were just dumped where they broke as the riders had no incentive to move them.

    I expect similar problems with a car system as you’ve described. An aggressive maintenance policy would be necessary, it seems.

  7. Clara June 15, 2007 at 7:04 am

    It’ll be nice if areas more prone to damages due to common road accidents could be helped with a rubber or soft covering the exterior car body.

  8. J June 14, 2007 at 4:41 pm

    “softcar” just sounds way too utopian. a fun exercise, cute drawings…but doesn’t address all the real problems with cars. the big big big issue with cars is how they operate – the combustable engine running on fossil fuels. there’s no mention in this article at all about how the softcar will be powered, and thats the major vice against cars. also, a car made of softer materials will be much easier to break into and looted or stolen. I like the ingenuity and the unorthodox thinking…but ultimately I think designers need to come back to reality at some point.

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