global resilience

© Vincent Callebaut Architectures

Vincent Callebaut defines himself as an “archibiotect”, a neologism combining architecture, biotechnology and information, and communication technologies. Famous for its eco-neighbourhoods futuristic, he imagines biomimetic, vegetable and sustainable cities capable of coping with disasters to welcome a more resilient civilisation. SUEZ went to meet this visionary who is seeking to reconcile the human being with his ecosystem.

Repairing the climate and regenerating ecosystems

In a society undergoing a deep-seated revolution that is looking to reinvent itself, I keep thinking that the sustainable reappropriation of the world consists of transforming towns and cities into ecosystems, neighbourhoods into forests and buildings into inhabited trees. I dream of fixing the climatic machinery and of imagining resilient urban planning that could restore the balanced symbiosis between human beings and their environment.

In contrast with our energy-consuming civilisation built on a linear economy that extracts limited resources from a finite territory, that produces and consumes on a massive scale while generating debt, pollution and endless waste, my architectural philosophy is to design urban systems that use a circular economy. A circular economy where everything we produce and consume is recycled in closed loops, using exclusively renewable energy sources.

This new “regenerative” economy is bio-inspired by the symbiosis that exists in the heart of the Amazonian forest. This mature ecosystem does not produce any pollution or waste that is not considered as a natural and reusable resource. Moreover, the Amazonian forest mainly uses natural photosynthesis as its only energy source, it always adapts the form to the function, it calls on cooperation between species and always limits excesses from the exterior. Proof that nature is our best ally when it comes to building a desirable future together.

Taking inspiration from nature to innovate and think out of the box

A new post-carbon, post-fossil, post-nuclear and even post-insecticide civilisation is made possible by drawing inspiration from ecosystems.

Our Paris Smart City 2050 project shows how biomimicry can be incorporated in a sustainable civilisation of architecture. A resolutely imaginative architecture that attempts to break out of the box by proposing an alternative to standardised construction. A more inclusive and resilient Paris that is less exposed to flooding, to islets of urban heat and other climatic vagaries. This project shows what the French capital would look like if we sticked strictly to the Paris city council’s Climate Air Energy Plan to the letter, with a view to slashing greenhouse gas emissions by 75% by 2050. Together with my multidisciplinary team, I developed a master plan to build a city on the city by reintroducing biodiversity and keeping the best of each period to build our future. Eight prototype of vertical villages1 are built on the existing fabric of the city for greater density and to fight against the gentrification and museumisation that threaten its heritage. A form of energy unity is created by the enveloping shapes and nature-inspired structures of the modern architecture of these eight prototypes, which produce all the energy that the Haussmann-period buildings require, from renewable sources and urban agriculture.

As part of this plan, the orbital motorway becomes the 21st  “arrondissement” of Paris 2. At every motorway exit, vertical urban farms grow organic produce according to the principles of permaculture and agroecology3. This healthy food would be sold locally to restore the ties between farmers and conscious consumers. As the focus shifts back to pedestrians, the old circular railway line would be reopened to the general public to install communal allotments and orchards. Finally, the high-rise tower blocks in the 13th “arrondissement” would be renovated with new façades, on which vegetable gardens would be supported by a dual-skin frontage made of woven bamboo. On the Rue de Rivoli in the historical centre, “mountain tower blocks” would be planted with the best grapes from France’s vineyards around social housing units, whose photovoltaic panels would point towards the Tuileries gardens for optimal energy efficiency.

From the lab to the building sites

My company of architects operates like a permanent think-tank, where architects, scientists and industrial manufacturers build international bridges between the R&D in the lab and the application of research to building sites.

Ten years ago, I imagined and designed floating villages inspired by the giant Amazonian water lilies, which I called “Lilypads”: these structures would be designed to shelter the future 250 million climatic refugees. In 2009, I also collaborated with the MIT on the development of the first vertical farm concept, Dragonfly, to study the future of vertical agriculture, in which floors of communal fields, orchards and vegetable gardens produce organic food that is locally distributed to the people of New York. The greenhouses on this gigantic farm are stacked on top of one another between two huge glasshouses that are bio-inspired by the microcrystalline structure of a dragonfly’s wings, capable of carrying as much weight as possible with as little material as possible

In 2019, I will deliver a 50,000 m2 Feng Shui tower in Taipei that is directly inspired by the DNA spiral, a symbol of harmony and balance. This carbon-absorbing and depolluting architecture is a genuine vertical forest, capable of storing 135 tonnes of CO2 per year in the atmosphere of the Taiwanese capital. It is equipped with wind shafts for thermal self-regulation without consuming a single kilowatt, just like a termite mound. Also, the photovoltaic and thermal roofing meets a large share of the building’s energy needs.

 

© Vincent Callebaut Architectures

 

In the Philippines, we are currently developing the Nautilus Eco Resort, a zero-emissions, zero-waste and zero-poverty hotel complex, which also acts as a biophilic4 learning centre. This project aims to illustrate what resilient tourism, capable of revitalising ecosystems spoilt by mass tourism, could look like: self-sufficiency in energy, rainwater harvesting, travel by electric or sailing boats, etc. The goal is to help the local populations, in all humility, to take urgent measures to set up marine areas protected against fishing, to protect them against severe flooding, landslides and typhoons, to restore waste management and to revitalise biodiversity.

These examples of ongoing projects or developments show that nature can provide important services to architecture and vice-versa. Modern architects no longer build against nature, but together, using it as an essential ally in the protection of resources and ecosystemic services, and the conservation of biodiversity. Instead of being inert, architecture is now metabolic.

 

This article was published in the sixth issue of open_resource magazine:Towards a bio-inspired future

 

1The “vertical village” refers to a new type of collective housing in which each floor houses, in addition to housing, collective spaces with specific functions (urban farms, community gardens, vegetable gardens, etc.) that make it possible to restore agriculture in the city.

2The city of Paris is divided into twenty administrative districts, called “arrondissements”.

3A set of theories, scientific realities and agricultural practices intended to improve the integration of agriculture into society.

4The incorporation of input from the natural world into our urban environment in an effort to improve our well-being.

 

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