Electric vehicles, transport design and the changing culture of sustainability

By Ann Graham

Here’s a thought: given the changing nature of transport and a growing trend towards electric vehicles, how might our cityscapes evolve?

Drivers behind the wheel of an electric vehicle (EV) currently need at least 20 minutes to charge their vehicle. What kind of experience does today’s typical EV charging station offer the driver? And, as more and more EV cars come into the market, what does this mean for the future of the common petrol station?

Shaping possibilities

As designers, these are the kinds of questions we’re interested in at Chow:Hill. Through collaboration and design thinking, we look at how we can shape the way people experience a space, whether it be your workplace, learning space or cityscape. We explore ways in which experiences can be enhanced by time spent in these environments, while ensuring they are future fit for the increasing rates of change in the way we live and work.

It’s this future planning that excites us, that encourages us to push the boundaries of design and, more recently, has resulted in the purchase of Chow:Hill’s first fully electric vehicle.

The newest vehicle in the Chow:Hill fleet is a Hyundai Kona and it’s already changing the way director Jane Hill views travel. “It’s like driving your iPhone – and it’s fast! It feels like a new transport experience,” she says. “There’s definitely some new things to consider, such as where’s the nearest charging station, and needing to give some thought to your route planning, but convenience of plug in/plug out and go is quite transforming.”

Designing for better solutions

Chow:Hill’s new vehicle comes at a time when the changing nature of transport and the growing autonomy of technology in our lives is a hot topic of discussion. Earlier this year at the in:situ New Zealand Institute of Architects Conference, ways to improve the quality of lives through architecture and design was a key talking point, as was supporting alternative transport choices and the contribution designers can – and must – make to the sustainability of communities.

But how does this look in practice here in New Zealand? And where does that contribution to sustainability stem from?

“How people move between spaces and how that movement is changing is something we, as designers, need to be aware of,” says Jane. “And the switch to electric vehicles poses another factor we need to consider: why are people moving the way they are?”

It would seem that for the majority of us, transportation is about convenience (and necessity). Hop in the car and drive from A to B. But how does the growing trend of sustainability, choosing eco-friendly options where possible and looking at ways to reduce our carbon footprint, now shape that?

Are people choosing sustainable options over convenient ones? As designers, what role do we play in helping to encourage sustainable considerations? And how can we shape the transportation landscape to achieve convenience sustainably?

Sustainability of communities

At Chow:Hill, we are aware that as designers we are in a privileged position to be able to contribute to the changing shape of sustainability, and that we can do this in collaboration with clients and industry peers.

An example of this is taking a first principles approach to sustainability where possible. “We enjoy working with an environment, rather than pushing against it and we endeavour to work with consultants to support this approach,” explains Jane. “For example, we’re currently doing a large number of refurbishments. Instead of knocking buildings down, we’re working with a client to help re-life these environments, repurposing a space and breathing new energy into it through creative design and collaboration.”

We are also aware that the approach taken to address the changing nature of transport and the growing autonomy of technology in our lives needs to be a holistic one. What do these sustainable choices look like for consumers, for us as designers, for future cityscapes? How will sustainability shape the design of our cities, our workplaces and our homes?

“When we talk about sustainability at Chow:Hill, it’s a broader conversation in which we know there’s still much to learn,” Jane says. “However, we’re seeing an increasingly exponential move towards sustainability in the sector and it’s exciting.”

Do those conversations take place at EV charging stations? Time and design will tell.

What sustainability conversations are you having in your workplace? We‘d love to hear about them, either below or over coffee – in a reusable cup of course!