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Public Space for the Extreme: Shading

Category: ⚐ EN+architecture+city+networkedurbanism+research+sustainability+urbanism

Manama Souq - Photo courtesy of Emilio P. Doitzua

Manama Souq – Photo courtesy of Emilio P. Doitzua

Sha·ding, to cover or shield from direct sun exposure […]

Direct solar radiation has the largest impact on the comfort in open spaces, the enormous energy of the sunlight can be useful in certain seasons and cold climates but is generally excessive and certainly unwanted in hot and arid climates. Sun shading, and sun protection, has been, and still is, the fundamental way to improve a public space bio-climatic behavior. Reducing the solar radiation that reaches the people or gets reflected by the ground, both by the means of vegetation or shading artifacts, is the most efficient way to reduce temperature and it is widely used at all latitudes from temperate areas to arid ones.
In this short post we are going to present some projects that we consider interesting because of their use of shadow or shadowing devices, we tried to stick to projects that make use only (or mainly) of the shadow leaving other mixed projects for later.

A milestone project in the use of shading devices to create a bioclimatic space in the gulf region is the Hajj Terminal part of the King Abdulaziz International Airport, designed by the NYC based firm S.O.M. architects. The use of tensile structures, wasn’t surely something new at the time (i.e. Frei Otto tensile structures for the Olympic games in Munich date back to 1972) but the scale and the effectiveness of this project made it one of the best and most replicated examples of open shaded spaces. Although not being a true public space the Hajj terminal is quite peculiar, designed to host the massive flow of pilgrims that pass by during the ritual pilgrimage to the Holy Mecca it is composed of two parts, the first is a fully air-conditioned terminal where the offices, customs, and luggage claiming areas are hosted and the second, and far more interesting part, is the famous open space tent-like structure that hosts the pilgrims until their departure to the Mecca (the waiting time can be up to 36 hours).

Hajj Terminal, S.O.M. Architects, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 1982. Image courtesy SOM. Image © Jay Langlois | Owens-Corning

Hajj Terminal, S.O.M. Architects, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 1982. Image courtesy SOM. Image © Jay Langlois | Owens-Corning

The whole structure covers more than 42 hectares (60 football fields), and it’s composed by 210 tent-shaped cones made of Teflon coated fiberglass fabric arranged in modules of 45,72m (150ft) with an oculus on the top to allow the heated air to escape. Published data demonstrate how effective the design is, reflecting roughly the 76% of the solar radiation, the structure can maintain a notable 27 ºC temperature under the tent even with temperatures reaching up to 54ºC outside providing also a soft diffused light to the whole terminal.

In the late 80s, for the International Expo that took place in Sevilla, the Spanish architect José Miguel de Prada Poole designed the main pavilion for the events in the exhibition area. The “palenque” although resembling the Hajj terminal for the shape of its tensile roof is a much more advanced piece of bioclimatic architecture, Sevilla’s climate can be really harsh during summer and the designing teams put a big effort on the climatic comfort of both the pavilions and the open spaces. The palenque sits in between a pavilion and an open space, it was the main arena for shows and other events and it was, substantially, a covered open space filled with finely designed mechanisms to guarantee a high degree of climatic comfort even during hot summer days. The design used both natural (the pavilion had no walls at all, only vegetation enclosed it a bit) and forced ventilation and air conditioning to ensure the best possible conditions to its visitors but in this case the most interesting part it’s its cover.

The "palenque" during the Sevilla EXPO in 1992

The “palenque” during the Sevilla EXPO in 1992

In this project the bioclimatic design of the Hajj terminal was substantially improved, at a smaller scale indeed, the oculus was substituted with an improved ventilation topping cone and to decrease the temperature of the fiberglass fabric under the Andalusian sun hundreds of watering nozzles were installed around the cones. The water vaporizers were computer controlled activating only when the temperature and humidity rose over a certain value, their function was to continuously wet the roof with a fine mist, the quick evaporation of the water subtracted heat from the fabric and contributed to lower the transmitted heat to the underlying arena.

But shading can also be declined at a temporary and smaller scale. An extreme example, in this sense, is Asif Khan’s Public Space Shadow Canopy Kit, a portable kit that can be easily distributed and installed in any place without any tool or machinery, it can be moved, can be dismounted and installed in another place or can create a successful temporary public space.

Public Space Shading Canopy Kit courtesy of Asif Khan Architects

Public Space Shading Canopy Kit courtesy of Asif Khan Architects

Public Space Shading Canopy Kit courtesy of Asif Khan Architects

Public Space Shading Canopy Kit courtesy of Asif Khan Architects

This extremely low-tech and inexpensive piece of design is particularly meaningful for informal areas, unused or temporary spaces that can easily be converted in playful shaded spaces.

The Bab al Bahrain pavilion is a temporary public space designed by Noura Al Sayeh & Leopold Banchini in one of the most symbolic and historic sites in Manama, Bahrain. The pavilion had an extraordinary success during its permanence and it was constantly used and visited, it held events and even workshops. It’s success can be attributed to a good mix of factors, the first one surely being the special value of the place and the second one the it’s good bioclimatic design based mainly on shadowing.
Bab al Bahrain square was one of the main public spaces in the city, very close to the main historical souk and still connected to a natural pedestrian network, it is a privileged place but it slowly lost its status and it has been converted in a roundabout often crowded with cars and very unfriendly for the pedestrians. The first good virtue of this project is the creation of the public space itself, closing the crossing to the traffic and giving back this historical place to the citizens, although it was only for a limited time this demonstrated the power of this kind of intervention and the need for quality public space that this city has.

Bab al Bahrain Pavilion, image courtesy of Eman ali

Bab al Bahrain Pavilion, image courtesy of Eman ali

The second important virtue was the design of a comfortable public space using only the perks of the site, a minimal light structure and a low tech element to protect from the sun. Based on a regular grid of thin steel columns the project is basically made by its “canopy”, a light sun-reflecting fabric (generally used in greenhouses) that reflects most of the energy of the sun giving to the place a nice diffused illumination. To make this design really effective the architects took advantage of a large fountain already existing in the site, the fountain with its fresh water contributes to lower the temperature of the air crossing the pavilion and also generates a cooler spot in the middle of it favoring the creating of a light breeze.


Previous posts of the series:

Public Space for the Extreme: Defining the Extreme
Public Space for the Extreme @ GSD-Harvard
Do you want to contribute to our research about public space for extreme climate? Have a look here.

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Public Space for the Extreme: Call for Papers

Category: ⚐ EN+architecture+city+networkedurbanism+research+sustainability+Uncategorized+urbanism+work in progress

Woody Allen starring in The Front, Martin Ritt, 1976. Copyright of Columbia Pictures.

Woody Allen starring in The Front, Martin Ritt, 1976. Copyright of Columbia Pictures.

The Book

As you may have noticed from our last posts, it has been a while since we have started researching on the possibilities of designing better public spaces for those cities and regions that have to deal with extreme climate conditions. Extreme heat, very often combined with extreme humidity are conditions that, more or less seasonally, affect wide areas of the world. These regions, classified under the Köppen-Geiger climate map mainly as Equatorial and Arid (although with many sub-classifications) comprise various densely populated areas that all face a common problem: the harsh climate, combined with a generic design of the city, results in a scarce and difficult relationship of the citizens with the public space. Our goal is to publish a book that will serve as a design manual and reference for architects, urban planners, public administrators, decision makers, and citizens. This book, containing good practices examples, technical solutions and theoretical essays, will help designers imaging and designing better public spaces considering the local climate, the bioclimatic-comfort needs of the citizens and the responsiveness to the changing environmental conditions.

The Call

We would like to announce a call for papers inviting authors (architects, urban planners, designers, sociologists, engineers, scholars, etc.) to submit an abstract, no longer than 250 words, for a paper that will be published in the book. The content of the paper must necessarily be related with the topic of the book that can be summarized in the“design of bioclimatic responsive public spaces under extreme climate conditions” and can be either about a general original investigation on the topic or related to a more specific field within the main subject, like for example specific bioclimatic control techniques, technologies or principles, specific open air comfort conditions, the relationship between climate and public space usage, etc. Any other idea, even loosely connected with the main topic, that offers an original and innovative point of view is welcome and will be considered by the editors.
The abstracts will be blind reviewed by the editors: prof. Jose Luis Vallejo, prof. Belinda Tato and Marco Rizzetto; they must be written in English and be the result of an original and high quality research. Selected abstracts will be then discussed with the authors to develop the final paper according to the indications of the editorial board, the publication of the paper(s) will, in any case, depend on the quality of the final work.

The Deadlines

Deadline for the submission of the abstract: November 12th 2016
Notification of acceptance: November 19th 2016
Deadline for final paper submission: January 20th 2017


If you are interested please send your abstract to sorry you have to write it down with the Subject: “Extreme Public Space CFP”

A street in Bahrain, photo by Emilio P. Doitzua

A street in Bahrain, photo by Emilio P. Doitzua

All submissions will be treated as confidential prior to publication in the proceedings; rejected submissions will be permanently treated as confidential.
The final book will be both digitally published under a CC-NC-SA licence and made available for download and physically printed, a limited number of copies will be distributed to key institutions related with design and planning all around the world, especially in regions directly interested by extreme climate conditions. The author, or authors, of the selected essays will be credited and acknowledged. For any other information or doubt please do not hesitate to contact us at the address provided below.

If you want to know something more about our current ongoing research you can take a look at the previous posts belonging to this same series:
01 – Defining the Extreme
02 – Public Space for the Extreme @ GSD Harvard
and stay tuned for upcoming updates.


Bonus link

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Public Space for the Extreme @ GSD-Harvard

Category: ⚐ EN+architecture+city+networkedurbanism+research+sustainability+urbanism+work in progress

Breathing Streets, courtesy of Nan Liu and Adelene Yu Ling Tan

Breathing Streets, courtesy of Nan Liu and Adelene Yu Ling Tan

During 2015 spring semester Ecosistema Urbano principals Jose Luis Vallejo and Belinda Tato taught a studio at the GSD in Harvard, focused on the design of socio-environmentally responsive public spaces for the city center of Muharraq, in Bahrain. During the semester the students worked to develop ideas and designs to improve the few remaining public spaces in the city, almost completely wiped out by the continuous transformation of the antique city fabric into a contemporary -and rather generic- one, that basically followed the “wide car street + housing block” development pattern, during the last 50 years the city has completely lost its contact with the water, substituted by a wide belt of highways and also its interstitial, small public spaces, almost completely transformed into parking lots. Always considering the climatic conditions that can be easily defined harsh and extreme, the aim of those projects was to foster the use of public space, in a city where public space is not only often abandoned and absent but also where the right to meet and gather is strongly discouraged.

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The heart of Asunción starts beating

Category: #followcreative+⚐ EN+architecture+art+city+creativity+news+publications+urbanism+work in progress


Mural de Guache en el Hotel Armele, sobre Palma llegando a Colón / Foto: @marcosalonsophotography

A few months ago we ended one of the longest, intense and complex projects our office Ecosistema Urbano has done so far, the Masterplan of the Historic Downtown of Asunción, awarded in an international competition and developed with a multidisciplinary team between Madrid and the Mother of Cities, Asunción.

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Public Space for the Extreme: Defining the Extreme

Category: ⚐ EN+architecture+city+networkedurbanism+research+sustainability+urbanism+work in progress

Manama, Bahrein. Photo: Emilio P. Doiztua

Four years ago Ecosistema Urbano held a workshop in Manama, Bahrain, to revitalize and improve the public space around the Bab al Bahrain souk, an area that is historically important for the city but that it is nowadays a mere street crossing rounded by parking lots, without any tree or shadow. The workshop was held in a remarkable temporary pavilion that for a few weeks converted a roundabout into a vivid and often crowded space, a light textile roof offered shadow and protection to the participants contributing to the success of the workshop. The workshop has been also the occasion for us to start a long term project on Bahrain, under the auspices of the UNESCO Arab Regional Center for World Heritage we started a research project mainly focused on the city of Muharraq, its antique public spaces and how could we revive and improve them. This research has been carried on during 2014 and 2015 spring semesters with the GSD-Harvard students and it emerged immediately that one of the main conditions to make use of the public space in Muharraq was the improvement of the extreme environmental conditions that, combined with a low quality design of the space, prevented and discouraged the people to go out and live the remaining public spaces.

Bab Al Bahrain Workshop 2012

Bab Al Bahrain Workshop 2012

Following this same path of research we are now working on a publication to finally release all the knowledge we have accumulated during these years of work, teaching, and research in the form of a book. Our objective is to address the problems that the designers have to face every time they are called to design a public space in an area with a particularly extreme climate (make it extremely hot, arid, tropical, etc.), we would like to provide decision makers, designers and citizens with a solid base of knowledge to help them consider new technologies and concepts to design public spaces optimized for a certain climate, responding to bio-climatic needs and site specific conditions making it more livable, comfortable and accessible.
Beginning today, we start a series of posts dedicated to the design of bio-climatic public spaces, we will periodically publish part of the content we have produced for the book exposing the problems and the good practices that we have found, our concerns, the work of our students, etc. We would like to foster a debate around these themes that might help us developing our book but also raise the awareness around the climatic comfort in public spaces which is a true challenge for architects and designers in many areas of the world.
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Ecosistema Urbano finalist of 2016 Taipei International Design Award

Category: ⚐ EN+competitions+Cuenca Red+design+espacio público

We are very pleased to inform you that Ecosistema Urbano is one of the finalists of the 2016 Taipei International Design Award

With the aim of enhancing the image of the capital of Taiwan as an international leader in design and innovation, Taipei City Government organizes this award, which is divided into three categories: Industrial Design, Visual Communication Design, and Public Space Design.

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Ecosistema urbano working for the urban transformation of Grenoble

Category: ⚐ EN+architecture+competitions+ecosistema urbano+news+sustainability+urbanism+work in progress


We are proud to share our success in the competition for the Master Plan for ZAC Flaubert in the city of Grenoble. It is the result of a collaboration with Sathy, TN Plus,  OGI (Engineering), Res Publica, and VPEAS. Our candidature has just been selected to lead this great urban transformation and revitalization process in the very center of Grenoble city.

The project deals with the urban transformation of an underused area: ZAC Flaubert. This is currently a 90 hectares transition area at the crossing of a North-South axis and an East-West one, both important for the city. Being a strategic part of the city and its inhabitants, this huge project has various stakes and raises one question: How to give an identity to this area which is now a cluster of micro-identities?

The mayor, from the Ecologist party, wants to integrate citizens in an ambitious co-construction process that would start with Flaubert to spread across the whole city. He is committed to involving residents, shop owners, citizens at each step of the co-construction project. In addition, various other stakeholders are to be involved in the process thanks to different formats such as debates and discussions to exchange points of view and possible visions for Flaubert’s future.

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New email subscription system

Category: ⚐ EN+ecosistema urbano+eu:live+news

We write this short post to tell you that we have slightly changed the way email subscription works in our blog. The system that sent every published post directly from our blog to your inbox has become outdated, so we have reconfigured the whole thing through a new, more powerful service.

If you were already subscribed, you don’t have to worry about anything: you are (hopefully) already getting this very same post in your email, and you’ll be receiving every new one from now on… just without the ocasional errors and in a much more attractive format :)

For those of you not yet following the blog by email, this is a good chance to do so. Many people are following it through social media (Facebook and Twitter) or RSS services like Feedly or Inoreader (which are still one of the best ways of following any blog out there). However, email is still a universal and easy-to-use format, allowing you to read any content in your inbox without having to visit a different site.

Subscription is done within seconds by using a form, and you can choose whether to receive posts in a specific language or in several of them.

Subscribe now to!

Once subscription is done and activated, new articles will be sent when they are published. We hope this channel keeps being useful for many of you!

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Stortorget Square in Hamar is an incredibly lively place, even Sting says so !!

Category: ⚐ EN+dreamhamar+ecosistema urbano+events


Do you remember those drawings of our preliminary design for Dreamhamar project? And how Stortorget Square, the main public square in Hamar, was represented as a flexible and dynamic place for public events, concerts and gatherings? one-thousand-squares-01

Well, as many of our readers may know, after that initial phase we developed a complex participatory process (narrated in detail in our publication Dreamhamar – a network design process for collectively reimagining public space), that led to the urban design we finalized in 2012. The final spatial configuration of the main public space of Hamar is characterized by the presence of the Social Ring, an arena used as an ice skating area during the winter and as stage/meeting area/urban beach during the summer.


Since its construction was accomplished, Stortorget square fulfills its role as the main center of the urban life in the city. The Social Ring has truly become a landmark for Hamar and we are so pleased to discover at Stortorget’s Facebook page a great number of pictures showing so many different uses and users enjoying this reconquered public space.

Picture: Thomas Tapani Härkönen – from Facebook

Even if during last years Stortorget square hosted events of different kinds targeted at different social groups, satisfying the interests of many (kids playing gymnastics, classic music passionates, bikers, ice-skaters, Christmas tree lovers, etc…) without any doubt one of the most acclaimed event took place last August, gathering more than 8.000 people and completely filling the square at its maximum capacity.

Pictures from Facebook. Authors from top right: Glenn Sætre, Morten Aspeli (3 pictures), bottom: Torfinn Kringlebotn

On August 6th 2016 the concert of the world’s famous musician Sting took place at Stortorget. Local newspapers reported that it was a great success, and honestly, looking at the pictures it really seems so. We are so happy that one of our most loved public spaces, conceived with locals to be transformed into an icon of new ways of making urbanism, gained this visibility, not only because of the features of the place itself, but also for the importance of the event it hosted, becoming known to a larger audience.

Stortorget Square on the day of Sting’s concert. Source:

Sting performing in Stortorget Square. Source:

Further information (in Norwegian, of course) at here, here and here.

We hope many other events will take place at Stortorget, and that it will continue to be a great and liveful place!



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Workshop ASF-UK Resilience by Design | Nepal 2016

Category: ⚐ EN+architecture+design+humanitarian architecture


Today we are happy to spread this call to Resilience by Design Workshop, organized by the Architecture Sans Frontières Uk, that will take place next september in Nepal.

ASF-UK, in partnership with ASF-Nepal and UN-Habitat are very excited to launch the next installment of Resilience by Design: Nepal 2016 – Reactivating traditional urban settlements through integrated design, planning and building strategies.

If you are a built environment practitioner, researcher or student, join us for a 12 day workshop 10th-23rd September 2016, details below.

Where? Kathmandu, Nepal / When? 10th – 23rd September / Who? Architects, engineers, planners and related built environment practitioners and researchers.
Application deadline: 4th July 2016 / How much? £800 [includes meals, accommodation and travel during the workshop. Flights and airport pick-up not included]
The workshop Resilience by Design Nepal 2016 counts towards Challenging Practice Stage B accreditation.
To apply: Application Form

ASF-UK’s RbD programme, ASF Nepal and UN-Habitat are launching a call for a multidisciplinary* group of volunteers to support the ongoing post-earthquake reconstruction process in Bungamati, a badly-damaged historic town in the Kathmandu Valley with a wealth of traditional architecture, public spaces, heritage and cultural legacies.

Temple in Bungamati – foto:

During this workshop, volunteers will learn and work alongside the residents and 15 community architects and engineers, by co-designing reactivating strategies for three neighbourhood clusters in Bungamati, focusing on design, planning and building techniques. Each cluster is composed by distinct housing typologies, social and spiritual public spaces, as well as cultural practices. The strategies will then be discussed with the municipality and the different stakeholders involved in the larger reconstruction programme of the Kathmandu Valley.

Join us for 12 days to support an inclusive, safe and sustainable reconstruction process rooted on community empowerment and the safeguard of the heritage and cultural wealth of the Kathmandu Valley.

Resilience by Design 2016 is an initiative by Architecture Sans Frontières UK in partnership with Architecture Sans Frontières Nepal and UN-Habitat, as part of a larger long term reconstruction and recovery collaboration for urban settlements in the Kathmandu Valley.

The workshop is part of RIBA CPD Providers Assessed Material and RIBA CPD Core Curriculum.


We are opening a selection process for 3 Volunteer positions in Nepal available after the workshop, working with ASF Nepal and the RbD team to develop the projects towards implementation. Accommodation and meals will be provided! More info and application process: