Colombian firm Jaramillo-Azuero Architects (J-A) have proposed a plan to transform a series of obsolete Italian viaducts into a network of state-of-the-art, sustainable energy education and research centers. The brilliant design was showcased in the “Solar Park South” international competition, which sought solutions that repurpose the viaducts instead of spending 40 million euros to demolish them. The J-A proposal features a wave-powered rail line, community-centered parks and sustainable energy research facilities, but the cornerstone of their proposal is the assertion that the most sustainable form of energy in the world is education.
A remote section of highway along Italy’s Sicilian coast—Autostrada del Sole (A3 Salerno – Reggio Calabria Highway)—has been slated for decommission for over ten years. Several impressive viaducts from the 60s and 70s are located along this section of road, which offers breathtaking views of the rural countryside and dramatic seascapes. The local municipalities of Scilla and Bagnara, in conjunction with newitalianblood.com, created the “Solar Park South” international competition to “stimulate concrete ideas and revolutionary proposals for the reuse of the soon to be decommissioned highway sections…”
The brief was actually pretty simple. Come up with a way to creatively reuse the old sections of highway, the viaducts in particular. Be bold. Be original. Be sustainable and environmentally conscious. There were dozens of beautiful and even visionary entries in the competition, but what set the J-A entry apart was the simple idea that education could be a sustainable form of energy — one that could form the very foundation of a world-class environmental research and education center.
According to J-A, “Among all known renewable energies the most efficient and the only one of its kind capable of regenerating infinitely producing “zero environmental harm” is EDUCATION. This type of energy is an inexhaustible supply of knowledge that spreads from person to person covering vast extensions of area resulting in massive social, environmental and economical progress.”
Utopian? Certainly — but it’s a bold statement, and one worth pursuing. While it is often said that education is the energy of change, it clearly does not follow that education produces “zero environmental harm.” Countless “educated” decisions have had catastrophic effects on our environment. But what if education actually were an infinite, indestructible, quantifiable unit like energy — what if we could objectively measure it, harvest it, stockpile it? Would we have an education Manhattan Project? An education A-bomb? An education arms race? Or would we conserve it, sustain it, and find ways to compound it, transport it and distribute it equally for the benefit of all mankind?