by Liane Angerman, Associate Editor

    The Swarm Concept

    Imagine the life! You wake up in a penthouse suite, a downtown vista spreads wide before you. As the city below yawns and wakes, you sip your coffee quietly, reading the morning paper. You glance at your watch; in two minutes you are expected at the office. Calmly, you fold the paper, pick up your coffee mug, and carry it with you to the elevator.

    Fifteen floors below you, the doors spread wide; just like that you are at your corporate office! Your entire suite of corporate, residential, and commercial, plus access to global transportation are all contained in one building!

    This is the SWARM life.

    SWARM is the award-winning design by the team at Riddell Kurczaba Architecture Engineering Interior Design Ltd., located in Calgary and Edmonton, AB. Together with a team of enthusiasts, lead architect, Brook Melchin, designed this state-of-the-art and arguably “futuristic” center with a matter-of-fact sensibility and reams of creativity, while James Kurczaba, communications designer and marketing strategist, teamed with Trevor Ramage, communications designer/front-end developer, to formulate the visual media and marketing content.
    Together, they used the latest technology to prepare a presentation that won the 2013 Distribution/Fulfillment Center Design of the Future from NAIOP (Commercial Real Estate Development Association), with the criteria to “submit concept plans for utilization trends, sustainability elements, and new building technologies of a distribution/fulfillment center to be opened in 2020.”

    In a private presentation for The OGM, Melchin introduced the SWARM concept. What initially seems to be a far-out concept, somehow manages to create some very impressive and

    equally practical notions about this single urban complex, functioning in multiplicity—it serves as an all-encompassing residence, commercial center, corporate space, and a distribution and transportation hub sharing the same street address.

    Paradoxically, the inspiration for this futuristic structure was derived from the practical seeds of the past. Melchin explains how so many large urban centers throughout North America have become “urban wastelands” with notions that “urban sprawl” will bring opportunity and advancement. Many North American cities today, particularly larger centers, have rail transportation systems already in place, which are widely underutilized and highly beneficial to this concept of rejuvenation and maximization of city centers.

    Here’s how it works:

    The building, located above an existing subterranean rail system, is designed with a center core, equipped with vertical transporters, very similar to those hydraulic urban parking lots where cars are stacked vertically.

    These systems move the world’s most popular cargo container—sea cans—efficiently from beneath the ground to the very top floor of the building within minutes, with access to every floor in-between.

    These same sea cans readily transform into retail displays set out on a commercial market space, or move into a storage platform on demand, or transport goods on the rail lines, or move pretty much anything to a nearby vicinity along the rail line.

    Melchin points out how light rail lines, such as subways and above-ground systems, are typically underused during off-peak times. Often commercial rail lines reside near these systems. Utilization of both can and would become the next best way to reduce carbon footprints, maximize movements of people and goods, centralize business, retail, and housing, all the while rejuvenating existing infrastructure.


    Commercialization today relies highly on the Internet. A large percentage of retail and commercial purchases are made online, with numbers increasing rapidly.

    Consumers quite easily order goods online, but the return process is so much more onerous and complicated. Melchin points out that one of the biggest challenges to ordering goods online is the return process if the product is deemed unsuitable for some reason. While the general population no longer relies on surface mail to deliver correspondence, everyone still continues to rely on ground or air transportation to return the unwanted product back to the seller. A major concern about placing more trucks on the road and more planes in the sky points to the obvious carbon impact this has to the major questions about sustainability as well as the congestion on the travel ways, to time consumption, to lost business, etc.

    SWARM centers are designed to be situated along or above existing rail infrastructure, and help alleviate many, if not all, these issues. Goods can be ordered, delivered, displayed, purchased, and consumed within a 24-hour time period! And, without adding extra trucks to the freeways to meet these demands.

    The commercial market floor is a revolving center of consumer-dictated content. Under the direct influence of streaming trends, reports, demands, and demographics dictated by live Internet, the retail space transforms and delivers exactly what its consumers demand, with the option to replace any and all of its sea-can display cases within minutes, if required and as required.

    This exposure is situating Canadian architects on the map as super-creative trendsetters and high achievers. They are simplifying the notions of a complicated world within these centers, where its improvements yield a less stressful lifestyle and are unrelated to the outside world’s growing distances, increasing challenges, and expanding complexities.

    SWARM is the antithesis of all those obstacles by its very nature, yet, somehow, it surpasses all the requirements by managing to simplify what could be conceived as an “out-of-the-box” notion, but really is all inclusive—in a futuristic sort of way.

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