They’re fast. They’re efficient. They’re the future of nationalization & globalization.

This article is written as a prelude to an extensive list about the future of architecture. As I was crafting the list, I realized every item needed an exclusive in depth look. So let’s talk about Hyperloops.

Image by Groundworks

What is a Hyperloop?

A Hyperloop is a high-speed transportation system meant to be used for both passenger and freight transport. It is a sealed tube or system of tubes with low air pressure, through which a pod can travel free of air resistance or friction. The three major components are therefore a tube, a pod and a terminal. Through magnetic or aerodynamic levitation as well as electromagnetic or aerodynamic propulsion the pod can glide along the fixed path. This path will be laid out by the tube. The terminals would handle arrivals and departures.

Still Confused? Maybe Elon Musk’s description: “cross between a Concorde and a railgun and an air hockey table” is slightly more helpful?

Concept art of Hyperloop inner workings — Camilo Sanchez

Why hasn’t it existed before?

Technological hindrances, their subsequent costs, and the cost of maglev — to put it super simply. Maglev is a system of train that uses two sets of magnets, one to repel and one to move the train ahead. This system takes advantage of the lack of friction. The Maglev system, although researched through nearly a century, is currently only being used in China, Korea, and Japan.

Maglev is but one solution to the high speed problem, technically not considered a hyperloop and therefore not the whole story. It is important to mention it due to it being the hyperloop closest relative, so to speak. The hyperloop provides even more ground breaking benefits and speeds. For this reason the Hyperloop is currently an open source project with companies forming in the 21st century alongside research groups.

In essence due to the hyperloop’s ability to leverage pressure and electricity to achieve incredibly high speeds at sustainable energy costs are they main factors driving the bulk of the interest. It is the cost at every level (R&D, testing, eventual production, and construction, retrofitting urban fabrics to fit… the list goes on and on) that remains severe barrier. The idea first appeared in 1904 by Robert H. Goddard and then later depicted in the movie Genesis II in 1973. Elon Musk brought it back into the forefront in 2012. With its latest resurgence a lot of players are volunteering resources to generate feasible solutions.

Courtesy of Hyperloop One

What are the benefits of making Hyperloops?

It’s incredible speed capacities for relative low energy/ resource consumption are the main conceptual highlights for hyperloops. Every country struggles with massive passenger transport as well as getting goods from one side of their country to another (freight transport). The energy usage is a driving factor at a sustainability level, but also at an operational level. The relatively low cost easily allows for 24/7 access while still managing to reduce fossil fuel usage of both passenger and freight transportation substantially in comparison to current methods.

Comparative graph of energy consumption by HARDT

From a cultural perspective it can transform the way we enjoy our own and other’s countries. Imagine being able to live in Kansas but work in Connecticut. Imagine having a National Hyperloop Pass that would allow for families to travel across the U.S at a low cost. Imagine a transcontinental system of hyperloops. A hyperloop from New York City to Lisbon, for example. Hyperloops would transform the world. It would aid in uniting countries internally and externally due to higher accessibility to travel at a lower cost. The new hubs would be beacons of economic activity and development. Our understanding of our own country’s sub cultures would be more prevalent due to its cross nation access. Empathy might even thrive.

Who is Making Hyperloops?

Here is a list of companies and research teams with a brief description and link to webpage.

Companies:

Route Estimator within the Main Website of Virgin Hyperloop

Virgin Hyperloop
This is my favorite website of the whole bunch. Beyond having a plethora of amazingly fun learning materials that delves deep into all the points addressed in this article, it gives the visitor power over speculation. The route estimator is one of my favorite tools. It allows for people to entertain and compare their current access to transportation with the potential of Hyperloop Transportation. They also have a unique sense of transparency — showing their projects, and giving sneak peeks to stats and conversations being actively had. They do well in letting the visitors know that the Hyperloop is happening, how it is possible, and what to look forward to.

Diagram explaining the technology.

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (Hyperloop TT)
The first Hyperloop company created (founded in 2013). This website is full of amazingly detailed information about every aspect of Hyperloops. They go into the capsule, infrastructure, station, vacuum and levitation. The have information about the projects and partners they are currently engaged with as well. Their website is remarkably specific and informative, boasting the most concept images and diagrams of single website within this list.

Concept of their Test Track

TransPod
These guys are pretty cool. They share their feasibility studies, their progress and are even making low cost ventilators through the pandemic. They also focus on both passenger and freight experience. Their concept images are readily available as well as some of their recent feasibility studies for some of the commissions they’re working on around the world.

DGWHyperloop
India’s response to the Hyperloop, their focus is on freight and quick transportation for goods. They have a lot of press and enthusiasm, but their website is severely lacking and simple. Regardless, this is ground breaking work and has the potential to completely transform how India does business. They are very aware of this as well and are pushing hard to make it happen.

Arrivo Homepage

Arrivo
Their website is extremely lacking because they stopped existing. They are worth mentioning because their approach was slightly different. Beyond the passenger and freight experience, they explored the idea of getting into the hyperloop with your vehicle bypassing traffic at 200 mph sustainably. They are articles from 2017 that said they would start experimenting in Denver, Colorado, but that never reached fruition. They claimed to be “The End of Traffic” but they completely failed as a company. A reddit formed company called rLoop bought its scraps after Arrivo failed to acquire funding.

Concept design from rLoop

rLoop
This company is interesting in more ways than one. The whole concept of decentralized engineering is provocative and exciting, but their website doesn’t do well in showing their actual capabilities. They have a couple of really awesome concept designs and the explanation of their projects look promising. I am very excited to see how this group of internet strangers tackle saving the world through engineering.

Provided by Hardt Website, more details of their technology here

Hardt Global Mobility
This is an amazing company, and if my article was not enough, please check out their website for great educational material. They are excited about the ramifications of their products, the impact on people, and they are here to change the world. Their super educational website really showcases their dedication to make these projects work. HARDT, claims “We Help Industry and Governments Join the Future of Transportation”. They are currently in charge of developing a massive hyperloop project in Europe. The European Hyperloop Center is expected to open its doors as soon as 2022.

Provided by Zeleros Website

Zeleros
They claim to be the most scalable hyperloop system, combining technology from aviation, railways and maglev to “radically reduce infrastructure cost”.

Provided by Nevomo Website

Nevomo (previously Hyper Poland)
This particular company is developing phased implementation of hyperloop-inspired transportation. Basically they want to re-use existing railway corridors and regulations and retrofit hyperloop technology.

Research Teams:

Concept Images from their Gallery

TUM Hyperloop (previously WARR Hyperloop)
TUM Hyperloop is a program of the Technical University of Munich and NEXT Prototypes e.V. These guys won the Elon Musk Hyperloop Competition all four times. Then they developed a full-scale transportation system while they boast on holding the world’s speed record at 482 km/h. Their website is research heavy, information rich, and showcases very promising work. Their goal is to advance the technology as much as possible to hit the ground running and start transforming urban landscape through public access to hyperloops.

Provided by EuroTube Website

The EuroTube
These guys seem to be very focused and determined. Their website postulates a problem and the solutions in a very linear fashion. Their goal is to “accelerate the development of sustainable vacuum transport”. The way they do this is by encouraging R&D, providing facilities and getting communities on board with the idea. The cool thing about EuroTube is that they are looking at the problem holistically and evaluating different aspects of the hyperloop. Last year they published a video talking about EuroTube’s Beta Shell. This “shell” is presented as a high performance concrete solution for vacuum applications.

Hardt hyperloop hub rendering by UNStudio (Courtesy UNStudio)

How will this affect Architecture?

There are many ways this will affect the world of architecture. I will divide it into three simple tiers: direct, indirect, & global.

At a direct level it will generate a new building type. We have to remember that a Hyperloop is not a train and its specifications and complications are part of its formula. Architects will have to learn how to design along side hyperloops and its unique specifications. The hyperloop also has a space-age, hype with clear futuristic undertones which will most likely be reflected in the architectural style and form factor of the Hyperloop HUB building type.

At an indirect level it will bring about a whole lot of work for local architects within HUB distances. These HUBs will be economic powerhouses that might as well be dubbed as Midas Golden Touch. Wherever they are placed economic boom will follow. Where economic boom appears, gentrification, tourism, and attractions emerge. Renovations, hotels, hospitals, museums, monuments, restaurants, and retail spaces will be in high demand.

At a global scale, a large and stimulating conversation about architecture in a globalized stage will emerge. Do we want to hold to national styles and give a unique appearance to our HUBs? Or do we want to move to a global language, akin to modernism, and start thinking of globalized symbols? Housing will shift its current logic gate due to transportation access and the growing Work from Home movement. The world of the built environment will have to be asking itself a lot of ground breaking and difficult questions that will have remarkable cultural ramifications.

Hyperloop Criticism

As cool as they hyperloop is, it is not invulnerable to criticism. The big trifecta of criticism for this particular concept is cost, comfort, and understanding.

Let us start with cost. The early cost estimates for the Hyperloop are in constant debate. Some even wonder if its affordability will even be possible at the beginning. There is also the argument that the energy requirements for Hyperloops cannot be offset by current solar panel technology. There are substantially researched pushbacks and rebukes on all these concerns. Some of them are that as time passes these costs will be less and less and eventually the hyperloop will pay for itself in terms of passenger usage and the further advancement of renewable energy technology. The counter argument, in simple words, is that the hyperloop worth the cost in the long run, big time.

The subject of comfort comes from the science behind the hyperloop’s movement through space. Some people argue that the small profile and physics involved that the ride will be claustrophobic and uncomfortable. I can with almost 100% certainty that the army of industrial designers that would love to work on this won’t let discomfort happen. These hyperloops are going to be the evidence of humanity’s attainment of the future. While the goal is to normalize its use, when it first arrives it will be revolutionary. To support that narrative it has to be a reasonably comfortable mode of transportation. All industries have quality check, and this one will not be an exception.

Lastly, understanding seems to be the biggest kryptonite to most ground breaking projects. Many people don’t understand that this is not a train. A hyperloop is a step up from the train — its speeds remarkable, its potential nearly unlimited, and a great source for sustainable inter continental (and cross continental) passenger and freight travel. The last one of those three account for the second most of CO2 emissions at a global scale. Many within political and financial circles have the “why fix what ain’t broke mentality”. What they fail realize and acknowledge is how disproportionately lacking our transportation infrastructure is from an efficiency and sustainability standpoint. In a world of space travel, instant speed global communication, and cellphones — hyperloops need to exist.

Final Thoughts

Hyperloops are awesome and they are here to change the world as we know it. While some might consider the Hyperloop an engineering feat (rightfully so), its existence has major impacts on the built environment. From the singular residence to a Hyperloop Hub, the implications at a socio-economic-cultural level will radically impact the way we live and therefore how we choose to build. Generating a more sustainable mode of travel for both people and goods will increase our likelihoods to avoid extinction as a species. But whether that pans out or not, while we remain on Earth, hyperloops will increase of exposure to different surroundings. Doing so will begin to break those eco-chambers, and unites us as a species in very unique ways. This new exposure to rapid transit will have massive effects that will permeate the built environment at a fundamental level.

Hi! My name is Andrea Arias and I am an Aspiring Architect. I am an Aspiring Architect. My goal is to help design the sustainable cities of tomorrow, build in outer space & help people be successful. Naturally, these are the topics I enjoy writing about. If you’d like to never, ever miss my posts, consider following and subscribing! If that seems to be a huge commitment, perhaps consider joining Medium to have access to other informative articles within this incredibly diverse platform.