RAW recently submitted an entry to Europan 12’s Groningen competition site. This project, completed in collaboration with Kevin Hutchinson (Canada), Max Fabris (Brazil), and Chris Zammit (Malta), was selected by the jury to advance to the second stage of the competition and ultimately placed in the top 7 of 31 projects. Results can be viewed at: https://www.europan12.nl/entries-groningen-images.html
With the shift from manufacturing to (global) service industries, the challenge is to sustain local benefits from this re-alignment while simultaneously marketing the city competitively. Telecommunication services and the infrastructure for supporting a digitally enabled society is a booming industry, at the core of which are data-centers. With a young, creative demographic and a forward-looking entrepreneurial spirit founded on a strong quality of living, Groningen is ideally suited to host data-centers. Sitting on an abundant and relatively cheap power source, in a cool climate, on pre-existing fiber-optic lines, and boasting an institutional framework supporting internet innovations1, Groningen is poised to expand its digital presence.
There is much to be gained by co-locating data-centers with other uses. By plugging other uses into the system, waste heat is capitalized upon, effectively creating a district heating system. In the first phase (DataSilosGEN1) the holistic approach to waste heat sustains a public thermal pool and greenhouse. Expanded as a model for re-branding the area over a 10 year period, DataIsland2025 shares its excess heat as an incentive for development on all sides. A vertical format for the data-center reserves ground level for occupied activities and ensures scalability of the servers above without compromising the configuration of the pools or greenhouse.
Initial investment is minimal as industrial-scaled power already arrives at SuikerUnie site, and a fiber-optic connection has recently been made as part of the community metro ring. The data-center could be operated by a private hosting firm (one which leases out server space), a proprietary firm (like Google or Amazon), or be government run (to support start-ups or support state agencies). The City has proven viability by three other data-centers in the area (the latest at Eemshaven). The economic viability and the much sought-after positive public profile of the project is improved by its re-use of waste-heat for which a monthly supply contract could be negotiated as an additional incentive.
On a more abstract level, it is a manifestation of the digital Cloud rendered in concrete and fabric, and builds on a long tradition of architecture learning from industry/telecommunications. With DataSilosGEN1 Groningen once again leads the way by demonstrating a future where digital culture is balanced against traditional civicness and communalism, invests in its competitive future on a global scale, and re-confirms its’ pioneering spirit. The first generation of a new building type; the urbanistically responsive data center.