The Option Studio ‘Biospheric Urbanism’ explores how cities can be made more resilient in the light of the ongoing changes of climate. Conceived as a series of case studies, each Studio concentrates on one single city. New York City was the first subject of study in Spring 2023, Paris is next in Fall 2023.
All Studios follow a similar methodology, organized in three acts. Firstly, the Studio will jointly produce a new cartography of the chosen city, revealing its different microclimatic conditions. Secondly, the most problematic and urgent areas will be identified, for which, thirdly, pragmatic proposals will be developed. The main learning goal is to use science-based research to conceive solution-based design. Each Studio will inform the next one, resulting in a new set of solutions for the different climatic conditions encountered.
The climate crisis poses the urgent question of how to make our built environment more resilient to the challenging atmospheric changes such as heat islands, rising temperature, intensified rainfall, and longer droughts. Landscape architecture has a long history in using growth and transformation as its agents to better inhabit this planet. This unprecedented crisis represents an opportunity, and equal responsibility, for landscape architecture to radically rethink its field.
A City as a Myriad Microclimates
Cities account for over 70% of global carbon dioxide emissions worldwide, while only taking up around 3% of the land space. As such, cities present a crucial opportunity to combat the causes of climate change, while needing an urgent mitigating of its effects. A city can be understood as an imbrication of a myriad of microclimates. Buildings change wind patterns and sunlight exposure, while the streetscapes change soil permeability, runoff, and solar radiation.
For each man-made micro-climate, a comparable natural condition can be found. The study of their living organisms informs how to introduce vegetation and living agents into artificial environments with a similar climate. Using the logic of nature, cities can be transformed into complex urban ecologies, blurring the boundaries between the artificial and the natural.
Biospheric Urbanism is the study of the built environment as the interface between meteorology and geology. It aims at transforming the critical zone between the above and the below, to better cope with uncertain changes in climate, while better using its underground capacities.
Case Study Paris
The city of Paris is one of the most densely populated in Europe. Its stone buildings with their zinc-top roofs act as a ‘heat sink’ in extreme weather. Paris is on average 2 to 3 degrees Celsius warmer than the surrounding rural areas. During heat waves or ‘canicules’ the difference can grow to 10 degrees. The heat waves in 2003 and in 2019 have clearly shown Paris’ vulnerability to extended periods of high temperature.
The city of Paris has been a global leader both in the study of and the adaptation to climate change. It developed the ‘Climate Plan for Paris’ as early as 2007. The plan has been updated in 2012 and as of 2018 it fixes clear objectives, always more ambitious, to reach the Paris Agreement. The objective is to build a carbon neutral city by 2050. The Studio starts from the ambition of the Paris Climate Action Plan to develop proposals that could be implemented immediately.