Issue #15 of ZARCH, Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies in Architecture and Urbanism
Essential to any form of life, water defines our blue planet. Historically, human settlements have managed this resource for both personal use and the development of all kind of activities. Old settlements and their hydrologic systems found at some point in time a balance, but with the industrial revolution, urban development and its relation to water systems and associated ecologies have drastically transformed. Today’s socioecological crisis is unprecedented. Humanity’s capacity for environmental transformation has come to define a new geological era, known as the Anthropocene (the era of men)1. Understanding the causes of this planetary transformation calls for alternative and more precise names such as Thanatocene (the era of war), Phagocene (the era of consumption), Thermocene (the era of global warming) and Capitalocene (the era of capital)2.
Amongst all the places of a watershed, riverfronts, deltas and coasts are not only the most densely inhabited and often polluted landscapes, but they are also the most vulnerable to climate change. Within these areas, the most floodable and polluted zones typically host the most underserved social groups, adding complexity to the problems in place.
A regime of increased frequency and intensity of storms, floods of extraordinary flows, and longer periods of droughts characterizes climate change. Global warming melts glaciers and icecaps provoking sea level rise. While adaptation to climate change is an urgent matter, it is no less important to pay attention to the causes, that can be summarized by both high energy and material consumption. Reforming our cities and the way we inhabit our territory can unfold at two speeds. Short term climate adaptation and resiliency will need social cohesiveness to deliver fair resettlements. Mid and long-term strategies to reduce energy and material consumption will act together to reverse global warming and pollution.
These short and long-term strategies will engage several scales and disciplines. Short term will touch on the reorganization of the urbanized territories engaging the fields of architecture, urbanism, landscape architecture, engineering, and public health. Long-term strategies of reform will engage the fields of economy, law, politics, sciences and the humanities. There is an urgent need to develop a holistic approach where transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary collaboration strives to reform the western way of inhabiting the planet at a time where this lifestyle is still globally exported.
Adaptation and mitigation are the main short-term objectives for climate resiliency. Floods are the most common catastrophic events affecting cities. For this reason, we must redesign cities and their public spaces for floods to become an opportunity instead of a threat. It is important to understand water dynamics as a means of establishing new relationships with water. Instead of walls, dikes, and impermeable soils, our rivers and cities will benefit from public spaces that can adapt to the change while recovering the ecological processes that have been lost. Buildings and landscapes must take advantage of water, river or delta as a resource. In addition to changing perspectives so that floods can be seen as a natural, instead of catastrophic cycle in public spaces, there is also the need to provide everybody with quality water, a vital resource for life. Adaptation will also require organized migrations to higher grounds. This calls for a revision of the entities that manage the territories, which is to be more trans-municipal, trans-national, or global.
In regard to the medium and long-term strategies, energy, and material consumption are central causes of climate change. Metropolitan reforms of the urbanization model and associated lifestyles can offer a path for reversing climate change in the long run.
ZARCH 15 creates this space to rethink urban processes to respond to the new water dynamics in the context of this triple crisis of climate change, environmental pollution, and social inequity. The issue is complex and requires crossing fields of knowledge as a means to provide global and holistic long and short-term strategies to the contemporary challenges. The space of reflection is organized in four scales, S, M, L, XL, and the themes bridge architecture, urbanism, engineering, and landscape architecture with other disciplines in the humanities, the economy, urban geography, public health, political and social sciences.
S- Architecture, Water, Energy and Biodiversity
Floods in riverbanks and sea-level rise in the world’s deltas and coasts present challenges to the current urbanization dynamics. How can architecture cohabit with floodable and flooded lands? On the other hand, to face the causes of these rising waters means to reduce energy consumption. Strategies might include improvements to thermal insulation, building reuse, and efforts to reconnect citizenry to production and consumption of energy. Which are the palliative strategies that look at consequences? Moreover, which are the regenerative strategies that look at the causes which understanding can allow to plan to cool down the planet? Can architecture promote biodiversity in the urban context?
M- Metropolitan Infrastructures, Water and Energy
The infrastructures of the Industrial city were designed to be monofunctional and apart from the city. Today these monofunctional and antiurban infrastructures are growing in size to increase their economic and technological efficiency. This tendency is detrimental to urban integration and resilience. This phenomenon occurs with water, transport, energy, or waste infrastructures. How can we reform urban infrastructures to foster better relationships with the hydrological systems? Concerning energy, what are the new models that combine decentralization, interdependency, scale reduction, and multiplicity of programs? And how can all of this contribute to the improvement of the cycle of water?
L- Urbanism and Urban Form
In the neoliberal context, the crisis of planning is a reality that has left the discipline of urbanism perplexed. Areas of study range from looking at urbanization as a phenomenon to the verification of obsolete tools with very limited power. What kind of urbanism will reverse today’s trend towards the Generic City3?, Can urbanism generate new legal tools for the planet to flourish, and with it, the societies that inhabit it? Can the history of urbanism illuminate the way? In which way is the discussion of urban form relevant and necessary today? What relation can be found between morphology and the promotion of biodiversity, energy consumption, social equity, and the water cycle?
XL- Urbanism, Urban Ecology and Landscape
The most advanced urbanism analyzes human settlements and its performance in relation to water, energy, society, and ecology. Today, cities should be considered human habitats with the conditions for promoting biodiversity, equity in the access of resources for life, and reduction in energy and material consumption. How can the ecological view affect the tools of the urban project? Which is the role of landscape infrastructure (water, vegetation, soils) to warranty urban public health?
- 1. Paul J. Crutzen and Eugene F. Stoermer, “The ‘Anthropocene’”, Global Change Newsletter 41 (2000): 17-18.
- 2. Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz, The Shock of the Anthropocene (London - New York: Verso, 2016).
- 3. Rem Koolhas, "The Generic City", in S, M, L, XL, Rem Koolhaas and Bruce Mau (Rotterdam - New York: 010 Publishers - Monacelli Press, 1995).