IABR–2014–URBAN BY NATURE–, the sixth edition of the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam (IABR), claims that we can only solve the world’s environmental problems if we solve the problems of the city.
Looking through the lens of landscape architecture, IABR–2014– redefines the way we deal with urban challenges by analyzing the relationship between urban society and nature, and between city and landscape.
This edition of the biennale argues that cities are an integral part of huge urban landscapes, complex systems that have become our natural environment. This perspective has many implications for the way we plan and design our urban environment. Perceiving it as an organism opens up possibilities to develop spatial interventions that make use of its metabolism.
With the use of new and innovative design strategies that effectively address the city as the bigger urban landscape that it is, we can make the city more resilient and thus truly contribute to a more sustainable future world.
Six separate exhibitions, still on display until Sunday, August 24 at the Kunsthal and the Natural History Museum Rotterdam, showcase almost one hundred projects that address these issues.
Photo 2: Opening Day Program © Maarten Laupman
THE URBAN METABOLISM
There are more ways than one to perceive a city. In THE URBAN METABOLISM the urban landscape is considered as a complex, vast and interactive system that continuously works to meet the needs of its inhabitants.
In URBAN METABOLISM, IABR– describes the urban system in organic rather than artificial terms by drawing a parallel to the human body. A key concept here is the metabolism of the urban landscape.
To reveal this metabolism, we focus on a number of vital flows: air, fresh water, biota, food, energy, transportation, cargo, building materials, waste, and, of course, human beings. These flows affect the everyday lives of individual urbanites and their basic needs; they even partly coincide directly with the needs of the human physical metabolism. They also touch on the functioning of large urban constellations in their entirety. Each of these flows is essential to the functioning and well-being of the city. In the coming decades, we will not be able to take any of them for granted. In many cases, it will be extremely difficult to realize decent and sustainable levels of these flows. This is a huge but quite concrete task, a task that challenges designers, planners, administrators, and involved citizens in at least four ways.
Photo 3: AKTINA (Cyber Index Lab and Energize) © Dimitris Sotiropoulos
Each flow has an infrastructure of its own: electricity grid, water supply, transportation network. Technically, there is room for improvement in the designs of the individual infrastructures; they could also do with more mutual coherence, and this complex of infrastructures would also benefit from a closer connection to the rest of the urban fabric. This is challenge number one.
If we think in terms of flows, we can interrelate things. We can create shortcuts for flows, connect flows, close flow cycles, or use the output of one flow as input for another. Doing so can improve the environmental performance of the urban landscape: challenge number two.
This will take some getting used to, especially for designers. City planners and landscape architects are used to thinking about space first. Flows are not especially spatial by nature, but represent the process side of the urban landscape. This is a different reality, but one that is just as tangible. Spatial designers are accustomed to figurative city maps indicating streets, houses, industrial parks, and green areas. Flows make an abstract map, like a Jackson Pollock painting, with lines intersecting, often underground, and with an infinite number of points that have no spatial significance as yet.
Creating a spatial design from the huge amount of data on flows and changing a matter of fact into a matter of concern takes a very different way of looking and thinking. City planners have traditionally learned to create cities on the basis of public housing needs; now they are being asked to design cities on the basis of the analysis of flows. Designers need to be both ‘general practitioners’ and ‘internists’. The two wield complementary approaches: general practitioners and internists fulfill their roles best when they collaborate.
Now that rapid growth has been supplanted in many urban landscapes by the need to redesign and optimize their present situation, the flows approach will gain credence. We believe that thinking in terms of flows will enable a good interaction between spatial policy and environmental policy.
It is generally felt that the ‘spatial order’ of the urban landscape is greatly influenced by the location of its infrastructure. The way that infrastructure is designed can be used to purposely control large urban expansions. In the field, the coordination between the construction of the infrastructure and urban growth is often flawed: a more intelligent infrastructure planning will contribute to better spatial planning and a better-functioning urban landscape. This is challenge number three.
Smart coordination is even more important given the magnitude of the upcoming infrastructural investment. Globally, hundreds of billions will be spent in the coming decades. This huge sum of money can be spent wisely or foolishly, informally or sustainably, it can yield high or low returns. Choices made today can improve the future environmental performance of the city, or in time lead to a catastrophe for the urban metabolism as a whole and for each urbanite individually.
What will happen is therefore not a matter of fate, but of wise decisions and political will, fueled by a new and effective arsenal of design solutions.
Photo 4: Havana's Gardens © Marcello Fantuz
The metabolism of the city has a technical dimension: How does it work, what are the components, what can you make, and how can you make it? But there are social and moral dimensions, too: What is the point of it working, what kind of life does it facilitate, how do the parts of the whole interrelate, in what kind of social and political context can it survive?
The fourth challenge is about the urbanites themselves. In fast-growing tropical cities, having access to the life-giving flows of water, food, and energy is literally a matter of life or death. Apparently, such globally urgent urban issues do not concern us in the Netherlands, or in the Western world in general. It is tempting to think that they do not really affect us, and that the water from the tap, the food in the stores, and the range of our phone will always be there. Yet if we want to sustain these amenities at the level we have become accustomed to, we will have our work cut out for us. We cannot keep over-consuming while, globally, the competition for scarce commodities is becoming stronger and stronger. Therefore we, too, should pay attention to smart, efficient and teamwork-based design strategies for flows and their infrastructure.
The metabolism of the urban landscape, fueled by knowledge and material flow analysis, can develop into a formidable planning tool for the cities of the twenty-first century. We can learn from the policies and plans that are made for flows elsewhere in the world. Entering into international relationships and exchanging knowledge and expertise are part of the IABR’s mission.
URBAN METABOLISM is arranged like a matrix.
Along the one axis run nine lines, each covering a single flow. These are air, sand clay and building materials, fresh water, food, energy, biota, waste, people and finally cargo. Using three levels of analysis, each flow is dissected in a separate pavilion. On the first level, the focus is on the design of the infrastructure itself. The second level shows the potential of thinking in terms of flows for solving environmental problems. The third level shows how the analysis of flows can be deployed as a tool for the design, planning, and control of our cities.
The IABR asked the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) to investigate on a global and national level what the separate key issues and bottlenecks for each flow actually are. The results are entered in infographics that form the anchors for the nine pavilions.
Along the other axis, the work of the IABR–Project Atelier Rotterdam shows all of the flows in context, presenting a first synthesis of the metabolic approach. At the request of the IABR and the City of Rotterdam, Dutch design practice .FABRIC and American landscape architects James Corner Field Operations (New York) examined how the substance flow approach can be deployed on the scale of the city of Rotterdam and the Southwest Delta, as well as at specific locations and in the form of concrete project proposals.
Photo 5: Waste Incubator: Makoko! © Fabulous Urban
IABR–2014–URBAN BY NATURE–
until 24 August in Rotterdam, the Netherlands
Kunsthal Rotterdam Tuesday till Saturday: from 10am - 5pm on Sunday: from 11am - 5pm closed on Monday
Natural History Museum Rotterdam Tuesday till Sunday: from 11am - 5pm closed on Monday
THE PROJECT PHOTOS EXPLAINED:
Photo 1: Cyber-Gardering the City by ecoLogicStudio
In a private dwelling in Sweden, nine strains of algae have been cultivated in a hanging
garden for four weeks. The algae garden, equipped with the latest lighting technologies,
was open to the public and visitors were invited to supply the algae with CO2 by
breathing into a tube. People could follow the experiment on the Internet and share
observations, data, and results via tablets and smartphones.
The experiment is part of a plan to offer the Swedish coastal region of Österlen, with its
declining fishery and its aging population, a new perspective: algae cultivation. Algae are
the raw material for food, fuel, and chemicals. Algae cultivation can employ local
fishermen and farmers, and can help the Swedish government fulfil its bioenergy
ambitions. Abandoned businesses can take on new meaning – port cranes can be used
as vertical greenhouses; tourists can sample algae-based food along the lakes and in
Photo 3: AKTINA by Cityindex Lab and Energize
A piece of street furniture to charge electric bicycles, computers, or mobile phones:
AKTINA is a mini power station that can be set up on streets and squares. Its roof
consists of six solar panels that, at an angle of 20 degrees, are positioned to absorb as
many solar rays as possible.
Constructed from a large number of separate cubes and featuring a digital information
point with a Wi-Fi connection, AKTINA can be used as a public meeting place and work
station. Single blocks serve as chairs or planters, and can be combined to form a bar,
desk, or projection screen.
The first AKTINA was set up in the Greek city of Elefsina. The mini-power stations are
meant to contribute to the promotion of cycling and the use of solar energy – feasible in
Greece, with its many sun hours.
Photo 4: Havana’s Gardens by Marcello Fantuz
The food supply in the Cuban capital Havana is not a thing to take for granted. After the
breakup of the Soviet Union, Cuba hit economic stormy weather. Its lucrative trade
relations with the Russians ended and the import of cheap food dropped by 50 per cent.
Under these extreme political and economic circumstances, urban agriculture was the
last resort for many of Havana’s residents. They desperately began to grow food and
keep cattle on every available square meter: among grim apartment buildings, on flat
roofs, in parks and courtyards. In no time at all, Havana was self-sufficient, with the
townspeople growing enough food to provide for themselves and their families.
President Fidel Castro was so proud of the community spirit among his people that he
rewarded the Cubans with partial land ownership when they took former industrial parks
into agricultural production.
Photo 5: Waste Incubator: Makoko! by Fabulous Urban
In Makoko, a poor part of the Nigerian capital Lagos, Fabulous Urban is, in collaboration
with local partners including the local university and a human rights organization,
developing a strategy for the transformation of the area’s massive waste problem into a
new economic engine.
Organic waste and human excreta are no longer discharged into the lagoon, but
processed into biogas for charging batteries that can provide a household with two full
days’ worth of electricity. The byproduct, manure, can be used in the cultivation of
tomatoes and peppers. The production of biogas is technologically straightforward: the
waste goes into rubber sacks, which are then placed in the blazing sun. Synthetic waste
like plastic is collected and recycled into new products or sold for reuse, for example to
the Coca-Cola Company.
Fabulous Urban believes that in time, the collection centers for plastic and the biogas
plants can become community centers that combine clean bathrooms, educational
facilities for women and girls, a manure outlet, and a battery charging facility.
Previously in this series: IABR–2014–URBAN BY NATURE– Part 1: A Planet Cultivated