Monday, 15 November 2010

Book - Self Sufficient City - A Promise


The ecological footprint of todays cities around the world has been subject for debate for a number of years now. With the majority of the worlds population living in cities this is an obvious thing to do in order to to optimise energy consumption to reduce the over usage of recourses.

In the two discussion on the topic Ecological Urbanism here on urbanTick and in parallel on DPR and ULGC we have started to discuss several related topics. Mainly in the second instalment we put a strong focus on spatial implications of this topic.

The same spatial interest was the main focus of a recent competition, the third Advanced Architecture Contest AAC organised by the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia. The contest series started in 2005 with the topic of 'Self-Sufficient Housing' and has evolved since. The second one was run under the title of 'The Self-Fab House' in 2006 and was then run a third time under the title 'The Self-Sufficiant City'.

Water Fueld
Image taken from bustler / "Finalist “WATER FUEL” which proposed the development of technologies that transforms salt water into energy, generating hydrogen in urban environments, to be utilized for transportation systems and urban consumption. The jury acknowledges this as the integration of energy production systems into an urban context and it’s ability to transform civic environments and foment the generation of energy by means of self sufficiency. These structures have been well designed and are capable of urban landscape integration".

This third competition is now published in book form by Actar as 'Self-sufficient City: Envisioning the Habitat of the Future'. A small handy and compact overview of a selection of the 708 proposals received from a diverse 116 countries.

Clearly already the diversity of these contributions from such a variety of places makes this an interesting read. People with very different background, education and experience are developing idea related to the same topic.

The jury is a divers and prominent with for example Jaime Lerner on the panel. And the selected site is really one of the exciting cities, Barcelona. Here the argument is interesting and makes it very clear what the intention is: 'The competition coincides with the 150th anniversary of the Eixample Plan for Barcelona, drawn up by the engineer Ildefons Cerda, which did so much for the concept of urbanism that served to guide construction of cities throughout the 19th and 20th centuries'.
THere are multiple way to read this of course, but one assumes that the intention is no less than reinventing the way cities are planned and therefor to take on the ultimate modernist, rational and successful (to some extend) planning model, makes sense.

Sky City
Image taken from bustler / "'SKY CITY' designed by Victor Kirillow from Russia which proposed the construction of urban mega structures, in which the city is stacked vertically to protect it’s green spaces, giving access to each level through future transportation systems".

The proposals make for a great read and it is a very useful little book to have in the library to flip through, usually during these down times when the current project is just not moving forward, even though everything is in place and the concerns start to nag on the confidence with which the project was started. Exactly then this book might be of great help and inspiration. And who knows maybe it gives you just the kick to to takle these most pressing questions.

However there is a certain feel of architecture school project to it and of course as usual the projects you like will be documented a little to constraint by page limitations. Nevertheless of approaches and the wealth of different styles and visualisation methods make it very interesting and to me this was equally interesting as the actual title topic of the book.

To actually tacle such a vast amount of projects, the jury did a rather good job and the proposed winners and runner ups are definitely really interesting projects such as the 'Water Fuel' or the 'Sky City'. Not that we haven't seen anything like it before, but a new take on a tempting idea is still great.

Book Cover
Image taken from ayotdesign / The book 'The Self-SUfficient City' by the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia, published by Actar.

One of the nagging topics here is still not answered or maybe even got a bit forgotten about during the whole process. To me the title of the competition implies a certain reading of the discussion that is widely disputed and would probably be very hard contested as a concept and definitely as something worth archiving. The ide of the city as an independent unit, disconnected from everything else and in the sense proposed by the competition as 'Self-Sufficient'. Can the urban area really be thought of without its links to the surrounding countryside, the wider context of the region, the country or the global links, migrations and flows at least between cities? This sort of ultra localism is probably not very healthy and tries to defeat the systemic reality of the ecological discussion. As Colin Fournier put it beautifully in his contribution to the second Ecological Urbanism series: "one should not lose sight of the fact that it’s very existence has always implied, by definition, the opposite of sustainability. Historically, the splitting of the city from the country was the moment when, both symbolically and materially, the culture of non-sustainability became consecrated and took off".

Anyway, this is a crucial aspect of the current discussion and it is noted that to some extend this is absent from this publication. But maybe it doesn't need to be and maybe it is less noted and influential on an architectural level. The competition does contribute a wealth of thinking, practical thinking to the very theoretical current discussion and this is an very important contribution that needs to be moderated into a more complete, informed and in the end realised reality.


Guallart, V. & Capelli, L., 2010. Self-sufficient City: Envisioning the Habitat of the Future, Actar.

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