Data Center in the Future City

Human beings have always progressively shaped their planet, adapting it first to their survival needs, then to their desire for supremacy, in an era defined as Anthropocene. The human-centered system is progressively shifting into one focused on HUMAN PRODUCTS RATHER THAN HUMAN BEINGS, where data and machines play a fundamental role. We live completely surrounded by data, which tells about our life and the world we are in, in an age that we could define as Digital Era. Progressive automation, new emerging technologies, Artificial Intelligence are faster and more present, far beyond the human capacity to keep up with them. Every photo, message, user profile, research contain data collected in an ethereal container that we know as Cloud. We use the Cloud every day, a huge data storage system, but have we ever wondered about it? What is the Cloud? what are its shape and material? where are our data located?

Although the METAPHORICAL IMAGE of the cloud expressly refers to the IDEA OF LIGHTNESS AND ETHEREAL, the Cloud has a VERY PRECISE MATERIAL CONSISTENCY, made up of wires, satellites and data centers. The concept of the Could well contains the complexity of those spaces, where we can get in touch with the immaterial. As a writer visualizes in his mind a story (in the Cloud), which he writes down with the pen on the paper (Data Center), these places are the infrastructural materialization of virtualization, in a constantbalance between imagination and concreteness. SUSPENDED PLACES BETWEEN OUR PRESENT AND OUR FUTURE, STORING WHO WE ARE AND SUGGEST WHO WE ARE GOING TO BE. Their containers, the Data Centers, will outline new settlement and interconnection logics. Data Centers define new paradigms, both spatial and social, showing us A POTENTIALLY BORDERLESS WORLD, in which mutual interchange and connections are essential added values for strengthening the future community.
The concept of TIME itself is profoundly revolutionized, because communication and the exchange of information take place in the blink of an eye, before we can see it. They ARE PLACES OF THE FUTURE, of our future, WHICH ALREADY EXIST, which undermine what we know, which we do not fully understand. They are grafts, windows on the future of humanity that already exist because the technology that is advancing very quickly. DATA IS TOOLS WHICH CAN BE TRANSFORMED INTO KNOWLEDGE. The Data Center, therefore, rises to become the FUTURE TEMPLE OF HUMAN KNOWLEDGE AND HISTORY, resembling the role that Libraries have been assigned for centuries. Containers that keep our data and consequently our IO-Digital. Our virtual memory. The new typology, differently from the traditional library, do not need the presence of human beings, because the knowledge and memories might be consulted in remote, bringing information and knowledge to your smartphone. The ease of access, sharing and storage of huge amounts of data, thanks to the continuous evolution of data centers, is entrusting them with an increasingly important role in our society, that of THE GUARDIANS OF HUMAN LEGACY.

Nowdays the Data Center represents the BEATING HEART OF ANY COMPUTER ACTIVITY since it is the place that collects the servers, the storage, the continuity groups and the equipments that allow to govern all the processes, the communications and the related services.


It basically provides technical-scientific advice to the various structures in the field of digitalization of processes, electronic data processing, definition of the calculation systems, design and/or implementation of information systems, including the supporting applications and the interfacing with external systems. To do so, the MOST OF CONTEMPORARY DATA CENTERS SHOW COMMON FEATURES, which represent interesting insights for a deeper architectural reflection.


Data Centers are usually conceived as “human free” places, mostly unaccessible to people, although dedicated to their needs. This is due to different reasons, first and foremost security, which has made Data Centers places far away from the urban society.


Due to their human free dimension, Data Centers are often designed and built far from inhabited areas, to be more closely controlled.


The growing data production and the consequent need of its storage (the observatory of Digital Innovation has estimated that 35 zetabytes of data will be generated in the next 5 years), demand dimensionally adaptive Data Centers. The predicted growth of these systems will undoubtely continue the soil consumption.


All Data Centers require a huge demand of energy for cooling the internal spaces, ensuring comfortable temperatures for the stored servers and all the electronic equipments

We can define the DATA CENTER AS A PARADOXICAL PLACE, which contains the complexity of the information system and the world of Big Data. It is in fact the PHYSICAL CONTAINER of informations that define and constantly enrich our lives, CREATED BY MAN, BUT WHERE THE HUMAN PRESENCE IS ABSOLUTELY NOT CONTEMPLATED. However, information and its free accessibility are instruments of social equality and the overcoming elements of physical distances, which is why the Data Center, its container, MUST BECOME AN INTEGRAL PART OF THE COMPLEXITY AND HETEROGENEITY OF THE CONTEMPORARY CITY. The Data Center emblematically REPRESENTS THE PLACE OF THE CONNECTIONS, of the data synapses. It is the infrastructure that articulates the dense network of informations, which smoothly flow from one place to another. However, THEY ARE OFTEN LOCATED FAR FROM THE URBAN SOCIETY, in extremely peripheral, and sometimes almost inaccessible, areas. Instead, it is necessary to overcome the spatial obliteration, aiming to DEFINE THE FUTURE URBAN ROLE of the Data Center by involving it within our pulsating cities. It should not be relegated to the fringes of society, but must be an integral part of it. A system able to COEXIST WITHIN AN URBAN DIMENSION COMPOSED OF A HETEROGENEITY OF PLACES, FUNCTIONS AND ACTIVITIES.

The previous reflections led to new interpretations of the Data Center, helping to define a design strategy to RE-IMAGINE its main aspects and features, through four clear actions: THE FOUR AMBITIONS FOR THE NEW NAVER DATA CENTERS. As typically conceived as “human free” spaces, Data Centers need to become now “FREE TO HUMANS”, empowering people’s consciousness and helping them to RE-DISCOVER the importance of the information. In these terms, the progressive separation with human beings and the programmatic dislocation of Data Centers far away from the urban society, should shift to a progressive RE-LOCATION in the urban contexts, as FOUNDAMENTALS OF THE CONTEMPORARY CITY. The process of densification of the already urbanized areas, and a strategic RE-DIMENSION of the Centers would guarantee the LIMITATION OF THE SOIL CONSUPTION. Furthermore, the inclusive strategy of Data Centers in our urban system would ensure the possibility to REUSE the energy produced, in a circular process that would drastically minimize their effect on our Planet.

DATA AND INFORMATION REPRESENT NOT ONLY KNOWLEDGE TOOLS, whose use is essential to overcome physical and social distances, but ABOVE ALL OUR HUMAN LEGACY, which must be extremely protected. Due to the importance of the stored information, Data Centers are usually “human free” spaces, NOT ACCESSIBLE TO THE PUBLIC, and, as previously mentioned, located in the very remote areas,far from inhabited centers. BECAUSE OF THEIR LACK OF FUNCTIONS CONNECTED TO HUMAN NEEDS (EXCEPT FOR THOSE STRICTLY RELATED TO THOSE WHO WORK THERE), WHY SHOULD DATA CENTERS TO BE MOVED INSIDE THE URBAN BOUNDARIES? WHAT KIND OF ROLE ARE THEY GOING TO HAVE IN THE FUTURE CITY? DESIGNING A BUILDING NOT IN RELATION TO HUMAN NEEDS BUT RATHER IN FUNCTION OF THOSE OF THE MACHINES is one of the most interesting challenges of the new millennium. In fact, Data Centers are just one example of a moltitude of buildings (automatized factories, warehouses, etc.) belonging to a new architectural typology, designed by man but occupied by machines. The humancentered era is shifting into a completely new one, where what used to be a “HUMAN PRODUCT” IS NOW RISING TO BECOME CENTRAL IN THE PLANET SHAPING PROCESS. This should not be seen as a limit, but rather as an opportunity. An opportunity from many points of view. First of all, the chance of COMBINING THE “MACHINERY WORLD” WITH THE “HUMAN WORLD”. Avoiding such a clear distinction, in favor of a mingling of the two worlds, is what happened in the very famous COPENHILL project, by BIG Architecture, in which a power plant built in the city center was designed to also accommodate a ski slope open to all citizens of Copenhagen. Similarly, Urban Data Centers could be integrated with large public squares (1), urban parks (2), sports fields or recreational activities (3), common markets (4), commercial activities (5) and, moreover, thanks to the possibility of having blind facades (the servers do not need light) these can be exploited to communicate with the city through projections, videos, posters, etc. (6). But these are only some suggestions of the numerous possibilities that could be obtained. Furthermore, this STRATEGIC PROCESS might be seen as an OPPORTUNITY TO REFURBISH OR DEVELOP DEGRADED URBAN AREAS. A great investor with a long-term vision should promote the regeneration of large portions of the urban landscape!

The previous premise and analysis carried out the idea of reversing the paradigm that has pushed companies to build their Data Centers far from the urban context, PROPOSING A TRANSITION FROM DELOCALIZED BUILDINGS, TO A NEW ARCHITECTURAL TYPOLOGY STRONGLY INTERCONNECTED with the city and its inhabitants. This proposal has led to a series of further reflections about HOW OUR CITIES ARE GOING TO ORGANICALLY INCORPORATE THESE BUILDINGS, avoiding their rejection or their transformation into the famous “non-places” theorized by the anthropologist Marc Augé. Infact, they are places far from the dynamics of socialization and interchange, typical of the cities. For this reason, it is necessary to imagine these buildings as hybrid places with STRONG PUBLIC CONNOTATIONS, able to overcome and redefine the innate hermetic nature. The new URBAN DATA CENTERS might be NEWLY BUILT (1) or grafted in EXISTING URBAN SYSTEMS (3), so as to be able to TRIGGER PROCESSES OF REQUALIFICATION and transformation, aiming to connote and improve wide portions of the city. The new constructed ones can also be designed as HYBRID BUILDINGS (2), where the mixing of heterogeneous functions can generate completely new architectural typologies. In any case, however, Data Centers need to have specific characteristics, both architectural and technological, that led us to define a design strategy articulated into two parts:

The architectural approach aims not to define an architectural project (formal expression of the architect) but rather a set of STRATEGIC GUIDELINES to outline the main steps to build a Data Center within the urban boundaries, from its FUNCTIONAL PROGRAM, to its PUBLIC AIM and DIMENSIONAL SCALABILITY.
Due to the huge energy demand of the Data Center, it is clear that the technological approach should focus on REDUCING AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE ITS ENERGY CONSUMPTION. The main goal to achieve is to get as close as possible to a Net Zero energy building, proposing the self-production of clean energy using active and passive technologies.

RELATED: any design choice should be reflected in the technological one and vice versa.

We explained how the proposed DESIGN STRATEGY looks forward to moving future Data Centers within our cities, by hybridizing them with public functions to ensure the social inclusion of the citizens. Refusing the idea of an iconic building, which kind of approach would be able to encompass those required symbolic characteristics? The architectural approach of the Urban Data Center, not only due to the requirements of the Competition Guildelines (which clearly asks not to propose a traditional architectural project) but above all because of the proposed idea of a general-urban strategy, consists in a SERIES OF 5 POINTSTO THE DESIGN. The five strategic points do not outline formal aspects of the design of the Data
Center, but aim to define its essential features in order to be organically inserted within our cities. A MANIFESTO OF DESIGN INTENTIONS FOR A NEW CITY VISION, a “Data City 4.0” able to respond to the “4th Industrial Revolution”.

The future Urban Data Centres need to be organically integrated into our cities, becoming real public spaces for the citizens, thanks to an hybridation with common functions and activities. For this reason, they are going to represent new social and ethical values, easing socialization among people, and enhancing the strenghtening of the community, and becoming public attractors.

Data Centers are the tangible symbols of the technological progress and human achievements. The continuous adaptability to future technological needs goes hand in hand not only with the increasing human production of data and informations, but also with the growth of the city itself. So, to the Data industry growth will correspond the urban expasion. Furthermore, Data Centers should be characterized by a certain degree of flexibility, that will make them self-sufficient and “endless” in terms of technology, operations and management.

Data contain the informations of our past and present life, progressively turning into human future legacy. Consequently, Data Centers are rising to become the temples of our knowledge, assuming a fundamental role and an highly iconic value. Their recognition as urban landmarks is essential to show the importance of data to people in our contemporary society.

Data Centers result to demand a very high amount of energy for cooling the indoor and for the operational supply, nowaday. The main challenge is to reduce their impact on our planet, promoting a sustainable circular economy. All excess energy (including heat) will have to be reused and offered to the city and its inhabitants through specific systems.

The three components of the future Urban Data Centers should be clearly recognizable: the Servers, the Work Amenities and the Public Spaces. The first one, it is the “sacred” place of the Data Center, where human beings are not allowed to enter (except for supervision and maintainance activities); it is the real “brain” of the system. The second one, the Work Amenities, are mainly working spaces, or areas dedicated to collect the air circulation systems; the “heart” of the building. Finally, the Public Spaces, that are going to become the point of contact with the local context. These three parts will not necessarily have to dialogue with each other, being seen as separate volumes, but in any case
they should be present.

The technological and engineering approach moves from the awareness of the ENORMOUS AMOUNT OF ENERGY CONSUPTION by the Data Centers, mainly used for COOLING THE INTERNAL SPACES OF IT, ensuring temperatures conform to the needs of the serves and general equipments. The main strategy aiming to achieve future self-sufficient Data Centers, provides on one side to MINIMIZE THE TOTAL AMOUNT OF ENERGY DEMAND of the buidings, and on the other, to DRAW FROM RENEWABLE SOURCES. The balance between produced energy and consumed energy might be achieved through:

The energy demand must be PRODUCED FROM RENEWABLE SOURCES in a continuous and sustainable cycle, to protect our planet and also for economic reasons. For this reason, the future Urban Data Centers will have to try as much as possible to produce the energy they need, and to put it into an open grid consumption process that uses active and technologically advanced systems that can increase their efficiency. In addition to the solar and wind power, also the heat produced by the servers can be REUSED THROUGH COGENERATION PLANTS that will produce electricity and will distribute it to the neighboring houses through a district heating system.

To ensure a consistent reduction of the energy demand, it is essential to use a PASSIVE DESIGN APPROACH. The study of the environmental conditions of the chosen site area (winds, exposure, radiation, etc), for example, is fundamental to forecast the essential design solutions to reduce the building’s consumptions, as for the “GAK” project. However, as mentioned above, most of the Data Center consumptions result from the need of cooling the rooms where the main technological components are collected and continuously operate. We are going to focus on that. In the winter time, the cold outdoor air is taken and after specific treatments, it can be reused for cooling the indoor spaces. This simple process drastically reduces the energy demand for cooling the indoor air. The injected cold air should come from from the bottom, on the opposite site of the extraction system, so as to favor the natural ascension of the hot air, and require less operational energy. Furthermore, the hot air inside the rooms can be sucked up and introduced into a cogeneration process at the end of which a part of the electricity and heat produced would be used to heat adjacent functions. During the summer, on the other hand, the warm outdoor air cannot be taken and reused for cooling the premises. For this reason, the best solution would be the “internal circulation” mode, the hot air is extracted and cooled, to then be reinserted inside the server rooms. This process drastically reduces the energy demand for cooling the indoor temperatures of the Data Center.

HOLDING PERSONAL DATA, whether they are of companies or of individuals, is the key aspect of what is defined the “4th Industrial Revolution”. In recent years, the storage and management of these has become an INSTRUMENT OF POWER, perhaps even stronger than the monetary one. For this reason, the design and construction of new Data Centers is starting to become a fundamental issue for a country that wants to keep pace with technology and take the lead. At the same time, the important companies that store data cannot ignore the IMPORTANCE OF THE SOCIAL ROLE THEY ARE RISING TO ASSUME, not only as GUARDIANS OF OUR DIGITAL MEMORY, but also in relation to the PRESERVATION OF OUR PLANET’S RESOURCES. The soil consumption cannot go hand in hand with the increasing data production. This is why, in our opinion, a paradigm shift is necessary. Our proposal, in fact, starts from the idea of RE-IMAGINING DATA CENTERS AS SYSTEMS INTEGRATED WITH THE CITY, not as “cathedrals in the desert”. HERMETIC CONTAINERS, hybridized to functions and services dedicated to the community. ARTICULATED INFRASTRUCTURES that are grafted into the city, increasing its performance and the social relations among its inhabitants. A new function within the complexity of the contemporary urban fabric, able to generate new relationships, transforming the image of the 4.0 cities, the “DATA CITIES”, where INFORMATIONS AND PEOPLE WHO PRODUCE THEM CAN LIVE IN SYMBIOSIS.

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