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Sunday, August 08, 2010

Book Review: Self Sufficient City

Self Sufficient City: Envisioning the habitat of the future edited by Vicente Guallart and Lucas Capelli
Actar, 2010
Paperback, 416 pages



The Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia's (IaaC) 3rd Advanced Architecture Contest -- following the Self-Sufficient House and Self-Fab House -- asked entrants for proposals "with a view to enhancing the connected self-sufficiency of our cities." Nearly 2,500 participants registered, submitting over 700 proposals from 116 countries, most from the United States, Mexico, and Spain. The 107 first-round finalists are compiled in this small-format book that groups the entries into themed chapters: Living Landscapes, Urban Green, Bio Infrastructures, Energy Systems, Parametric Urbanism, Social & Collaborative, and Theories & Strategies. Given the competition's goals, the proposals overlap among these themes, making the groupings fairly subjective but necessary to give some order to the presentation of the finalists.

In my review of Self-Sufficient Housing, I was perturbed by the lack of context in the entries, houses on tabula rasa planes, detached from the surroundings that contribute to any level of self sufficiency. That detachment obviously can't occur when considering cities or parts thereof, but there are still numerous entries that proffer individual buildings as solutions. Many of these proposals, towers mainly, then populate cities with the buildings, as if a supposedly self-sufficient building repeated ad infinitum equals sustainable urbanism. Are self-sufficient cities the sum of their parts? Or actually the careful coordination of systems that decreases carbon production, reuses waste, decreases energy demand, and promotes walkability, among other things? I think it's the latter, so the entries I found most appealing followed these broad principles, and didn't just replicate a thesis project for a green skyscraper.

It appears that the jury worked the same way, as the 28 second-round finalists--highlighted in the book with ribbons--are clearly the best at addressing the competition's goals. The front and back covers feature the two winners: Water Fuel on the front and HURBS (Hybrid Human Urban Re-adaptive Bidirectionally-Relational System) on the back. They respectively "transform salt water into energy" and have "citizens and experts work together to develop cities through solutions that optimize urban resources." Water Fuel addresses one piece of infrastructure and HURBS deals with the means of participation influencing urban morphology. Neither designs a building but both are architectural. While promising in the ideas they promote, and striking in representation, I'd recommend a different way of presenting the winners and finalists for the 4th iteration: Highlight fewer entries that strongly address the competition's goals, giving more space and attention to what makes the cut. Of course that makes me wonder, where does IaaC go from here, after the move from house to cities? The Self-Sufficient Region?

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