Friday, June 1, 2012

EXPO 2012 Yeosu Vancouver Sun Homes away from Home

World’s fair offers visions of the future

Expo 2012 imagines underwater homes and self-contained communities in lakes and oceans

By MICHAEL GELLER, Special to the Sun June 1, 2012 3:02 PM
The Expo Town apartments do not have shared internal corridors. Instead, each pair of suites is served by an individual elevator and staircase.

The model of an underwater city on display in the Marine Civilization and City Pavilion at Expo 2012 Yeosu Korea seems too fantastic to ever be realized. But then, so did the prototypical automobile on display at the 1885 Antwerp Exposition and the television unveiled at the 1939 World Fair in New York.

Since the first world exposition was held in London’s Crystal Palace in 1851, many of the products we now take for granted around the home were showcased at world’s fairs. These included the elevator, the light bulb, the gramophone, the sewing machine and even the zipper.

Two years ago, more than 70 million people attended Expo 2010 in Shanghai. The theme was “Better City, Better Life” and visitors had the opportunity to witness future concepts in community planning and home design. They watched robots preparing meals in the kitchen and helping the elderly get in and out of bed in nursing homes. They saw community garbage being collected by robots and an underground vacuum system.

From now until August, a much smaller exposition is being held in the mid-sized town of Yeosu on Korea’s southern coast. The theme is “The Living Ocean and Coast” and the entire site is designed to form a model city that displays the low-carbon lifestyle we can expect in the future. Each of the theme pavilions demonstrates ways to achieve sustainable development by promoting an environmentally responsible use of the sea. Many of the international pavilions also present thought-provoking ideas, including the banning of non-biodegradable plastic bags in the United Arab Emirates pavilion and strategies for integrated waste management happening in Singapore.

If the ideas presented at Yeosu materialize in the same way as innovations from previous world expositions, we will not be dependent on fresh lakes and rivers for our water supply in the future. Instead, much of the demand may be met through the economical production of desalinated sea water. Energy needs will be satisfied in part by biofuels made from seaweed and other marine resources and new biodegradable plastics will be made from materials found in the sea.

Future town squares may be covered and animated by giant digital screens, similar to the spectacular 218- by-30-metre-wide LED screen located above the Expo site’s main street. The ever-changing colours and patterns include swimming whales comprised of photographs downloaded by visitors to the site.
We will travel in battery-powered low floor trams that do not require any overhead wires, similar to the Hyundai Rotem hybrid prototype on display. Cars will be powered by electricity or fuel cells.

Floating underwater houses will feature high-tech automation systems that adjust oxygen levels, air pressure and indoor temperatures. A desalination system will purify drinking water and a solar power generator will offer a self-supported energy storage system. Floating parks, harbours and resorts will result in entire self-contained communities in lakes and oceans.

While no one is living in floating communities at Yeosu, 6,600 people (1,800 from abroad and 4,800 from Korea) are staying in 1,442 apartments in the newly created Expo Town, which has its own temporary clinic, coffee shops, pubs, Internet cafes, fitness centres, laundry rooms and prayer rooms for Buddhists, Catholics, Christians and Muslims.

Expo Town offers Giga Internet, with a connection speed of 1Gbps, which enables download of a DVD movie in 10 seconds. The apartments also include a variety of state-of-the-art green features and will be converted into condominium, rental and time-share units after the fair.

The highrise apartment buildings at Expo Town are typical of Korean apartments, which generally differ from Vancouver highrises in that there are no shared internal corridors. Rather, a vertical module is formed by two suites served by an individual elevator and staircase. The modules are then linked together into large buildings and complexes.

As a result, every suite has windows facing in opposite directions, providing good light and cross ventilation. Moreover, residents can enjoy the sunrise in the morning and the sunset at night. While this arrangement results in additional elevators and stairs compared to the typical Vancouver building, the extra cost is offset by reduced corridor area and more efficient suite layouts.

Two Vancouver-area developments designed on the same concept are 1717 Bayshore Drive and One University Crescent at UniverCity. Many purchasers appreciate this arrangement since the suite layouts feel more like a detached house than an apartment. While one drawback is that only one elevator generally serves each apartment, I was told this is not considered a problem in Korea.

To make this design concept more economical in B.C., a Building Code modification would be desirable so that only one staircase need be provided for each vertical module, rather than separate staircases as required by current codes. Given the increased availability of fire resistant materials and sprinklers, this would seem a reasonable modification.

In addition to alternative building and suite layouts, the bathrooms in Expo Town apartments include two features generally not found in Vancouver developments. These are high-tech or “smart” toilets that offer heated seats, built-in bidets, and other features to enhance the bathroom experience. Fortunately, the first time I used one of these toilets, the instructions were in English; otherwise I would have had quite a shock! Apartment showers are also much more elaborate with multiple heads and adjustments, similar to what might be found in very high end homes in North America.

After enjoying Korean bathrooms for over a week, I wonder why these toilets and showers are not installed in new Vancouver area buildings. However, I suspect it is just a matter of time before a developer includes them in a project. Then we can expect them to become as commonplace as granite countertops!
Expo 2012 Yeosu is on until Aug. 12. 

More information can be found at
Michael Geller is a Vancouver-based architect, planner, real estate consultant and property developer. Additional information and photos of Expo 2012 can be found on his blog at
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun


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