Architecture student imagines a St. Louis drone facility
Amazon.com is testing drones — a fact that has inspired both media gushing and late-night amusement.
But for Rolando Lopez, who is earning a master of architecture degree from the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, the interesting question is not what but how.
“Drones have flight limitations,” said Lopez, who was born in Cuba but spent his teen years in Florida. “They can only go about five miles from a station. This implies that they would need several stations throughout a metropolitan area.”
In other words, today’s mega-warehouses, typically built on the metropolitan periphery, could one day evolve into networks of smaller-scaled facilities situated within dense urban contexts.
In “Fly the Mall,” his master’s thesis project, Lopez offers a fascinating vision of how such facilities might operate. For example, flute-like structures, situated on the roof, could allow drones to directly access sorting room conveyor belts.
“As architects, we’re trained to design for people,” said Lopez, who recently won the Sam Fox School’s 2015 Frederick Widmann Prize in Architecture. “This is a very different building type with a whole new set of implications. How do drones arrive and depart? What are the flight patterns? How are they recharged?”
At the same time, “these stations will be part of a city,” Lopez continued. “And any time you build in a city, you have a responsibility to think about context. How does this building fit in? How do people experience it? What do they see as they’re driving by?
“These questions should be thought about, and thought about well.”