Bringing nature back to our cities

By August 3, 2018ecology, technology

One design firm's vision to bring nature back to our cities

Nature is made of many elements and sometimes, in our cities, those elements are missing. How can we incorporate those things that we miss about being outdoors into our buildings, infrastructures and cities? Our urban way of life?

Carlo Ratti Associati, an architecture and design firm from Torino, strives to play with and integrate in their projects all the elements nature has to offer.

In Singapore they’ve designed a skyscraper, deciding to put a tropical forest that opens and unveils itself in the heart of the building and in the heart of the city. 51 stories, the exterior façade consists of vertical elements that are pulled apart to allow glimpses into the green spaces in the base, center and rooftop.

Does the idea of locking yourself in an indoor gym for every workout give you pause? They designed a floating gym in Paris, where the idea is that people training in the gym, produce the energy needed to move the gym itself along the Seine. It investigates the potential of harnessing human-generated power, at the same time producing a new urban experience and envisioning ways to further integrate the river in the city’s mobility infrastructure.

One concern for humanity moving forward in urban environments is sustainable food production. Ratti explains “I personally don’t think we will ever be able to produce all the food we need in our cities, there isn’t enough space or energy from the sun. What we can do is use urban agriculture to connect with nature in a different way, the seasons, the magic of plant life that is renewed according to the seasons. This is what we tried to do at FICO Eataly World in Bologna, in the HORTUS pavilion, attempting to turn every visitor into a small organic farmer who can sow and follow the fruits of what they sow.”

Visitors enter the “Hortus” circular pavilion and follow a route that leads to a vast indoor hydroponic vegetable garden. Here, anybody can choose to plant seeds in a hydroponic tank and start monitoring their growth. People can engage with digitally-augmented farming and grow their own food on-site. The project pairs hydroponic practices with online data collection, paving the way for a new type of collaborative, in-store cultivation system in which anyone can become a food producer.

There can be instances of too much of a good thing, for example in Dubai, there is a surplus of sun, making it difficult to enjoy the summer months. “Solar energy is becoming more competitive than all other forms of energy and I think that for an architect this is an unavoidable starting point” says Ratti. Developed in collaboration with Dubai’s Museum of the Future, Sun&Shade is a digitally-controlled canopy that couples the cooling of outdoor areas with solar power generation. Based on an array of mirrors that track the sun, each mirror can move on a double axis and reflect the sun’s rays away from the ground – allowing the precise control of the desired level of shading and natural cooling underneath. Reflected rays, in turn, are concentrated on a photovoltaic receiver, located a safe distance away, that generates electric power.

These are just one firm’s visions of how nature can be integrated into our urban landscape. Hopefully in the coming years more and more architects and designers will bring these elements into our cities and our everyday lives.