The European Urban Knowledge Network has published an interview with Belinda Tato (Ecosistema Urbano):
Many people, organisations and governmental bodies would agree that cities play an important role in reducing the negative effects of climate change. In the past few years, this role has been actively debated at conferences, summits and informal meetings. Some organisations have a very clear and progressive image of what cities can do to tackle climate change related issues and strongly believe in large-scale transformations. An example of such an organisation would be ‘Ecosistema Urbano’, a Madrid-based architectural research and design institute that is strongly committed towards ecology and sustainability. Belinda Tato, architect at Ecosistema Urbano, believes that far more can be done to make cities more sustainable. “In the last few decades cities have grown considerably, but nothing has been done to explore new urban models to improve their efficiency, especially in relation to the management of resources.” According to Ecosistema Urbano, the ideal sustainable city can become a reality if more creative and holistic solutions are sought.
How does Ecosistema Urbano see the modern European city?
“Cities are complex systems that are very inefficient in some aspects, for example in relation to the management of resources. Nothing has been done to explore new urban models to improve cities’ efficiency in the past few decades. We believe this is a lost opportunity. After all, cities are both the problem and the solution. As the famous Brazilian architect and urban planner Jaime Lerner said: ‘it is possible to change or transform a city in just two years with an alternative approach.”
What is the role of Ecosistema Urbano in the city?
“We are very much interested in working in urban contexts, where small proposals are able to generate big transformations and improve the urban complexity. Many things can be done in big cities to implement new solutions for mobility, waste management, water treatment, energy or environmental education; all these aspects can be improved within the existing city and set a new standard for a very different future. We take an active role in creating such a new future.”
How can a more sustainable form of architecture be achieved?
“Sustainability deals with all human activity. It is not just a concept of energy but it has to do with environmental, as well as social and economic issues. Therefore, a responsible design from an energy point of view – a ‘bioclimatic building’ – is not enough.
Nowadays we know that a high percentage of environmental problems are produced by cities and their uncontrolled expansion. We are also convinced that cities form the appropriate level to deal with the problems and to achieve solutions. We should work to create more compact and intense urban developments, instead of dispersed, low density models. The more compact, mixed, multicultural and diverse a city is, the more efficient and sustainable it becomes.
What kind of role do you think architecture can play in reducing the negative effects of climate change?
“We already know that 45 percent of the energy generated worldwide is used to heat, illuminate, and ventilate buildings, and 40 percent of the water consumed in the world is used in building facilities. Sustainability should therefore be included in the very concept of architecture, it should not be optional anymore. Buildings should be as sustainable as they are structurally safe, secure and healthy.
Within the sustainable criteria to be applied in a building to make it more efficient, there are active systems – such as the implementation of new technologies and materials – as well as passive ones, which are based on the design criteria and don’t require a budget increase. That means that by only using the passive systems, we are improving the energy efficiency of the building already. There are multiple examples of such solutions in traditional architecture throughout the world. However, in the last few years it seems like we have forgotten about the most basic and elementary concepts. Buildings do not respond to their environment and context in an intelligent way anymore. A good building design guarantees a better life for its users and lower maintenance costs for its whole life. This makes sustainable buildings more economically efficient as well.
There is also a very close relationship between architecture and the quality of public space linked. This relationship impacts the quality of life for citizens, as well as social sustainability. An energy efficient building is unsustainable if it is not thoughtfully situated within its urban context.”
What would the ideal city look like for Ecosistema Urbano?
“It would be a city in which citizens are conscious and concerned about their environmental responsibility. A city in which all individuals and institutions participate and in which citizens play an active role in the creation of public space. We like to see the city as a playground. As an enjoyable experience of children and adults; a surprising catalyst able to generate new responses from users and able to stimulate creativity. The city should be an open network of professionals who share experiences and knowledge on creative urban sustainability.”
EUKN, Simone Pekelsma