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How should cities evolve? 4 ideas that will surprise you.

Building in a greener, healthier, and more efficient way are some of the most relevant ideas that we have heard from several renowned architects and experts during their interventions in the digital edition of the World Architecture Festival 2021, held from December 1 to 3. In this article, we focus on four interesting aspects in which prominent architects such as Vicente Guallart and Ben van Berkel, among others, have delved into their exciting lectures.

1. Nature must take over the public space

We all yearn for greener, friendlier environments. During the Tomorrow is Today talk, Rick Bell, deputy director of the Centre for Buildings, Infrastructure & Public Space at Columbia University in New York, emphasized the need to focus on green buildings, parks, plazas, and improving connectivity within New York City.

He also spoke about the integration of natural environments into the five neighborhoods. "New York and other cities around the world are transforming their public spaces inspired by green design principles, where issues such as resilience or water waste are key, as well as the need for safety and easy access," Bell mentioned the initiative of several NGOs and mayors across the country that has resulted in numerous green spaces within 10 minutes of the home, something that, according to Bell, implies that the citizen relates more with the environment and its community. Bell pointed out that in the last ten years, New York has seen how places previously allocated to transportation, commerce, and maritime transport have been recovered as parks, a success partly attributable, he said, to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

2. It is essential to rethink our eating habits.

Much of the food consumed every day in London come from places as far away from the UK capital as Kenya (green beans) or some Caribbean countries (pineapples). This is a small example of how eating habits significantly impact the environment.

Under the title, we are Growing in the city. Food & Ecology, Vicente Guallart, chief architect of the Barcelona City Council from 2011 to 2015, spoke in his talk about designing any project from the concept of self-sufficiency. "If we want to make a greener world, we have to go local and produce what we need in the city itself," he pointed out.

The architect stopped at a project carried out in Valencia in which numerous studios participated: Sociópolis. It is an ambitious, albeit failed, social housing plan on an abandoned plot of land on the city's outskirts that the government of the Generalitat is now trying to relaunch. Here, the idea of working the land of the urban garden is essential and forms an integral part of the landscape of this community. It is understood as a form of social interaction and self-management and self-production. Criticized by its neighbors for the lack of services, Sociópolis is an example of the need to "integrate agriculture as an element of the landscape" of which Guallart spoke, for whom the idea of planting, of working a small plot of land with one's hands, will be increasingly relevant as a tool for spending time together and building communities.

In addition, the architect also told how he was inspired by a large urban garden in Brooklyn, New York, in one of his most recent projects - the vegetable garden on the roof of the Mercat de la Vall d'Hebron in Barcelona - to achieve the local food production to which he attaches so much importance.

3. Communities must be improved by using data and technology.

"Technology will soon change the rules of the game by helping to design more social and healthy communities," commented Dutch architect Ben van Berkel, co-founder of UN Studio; during his talk, I am connected. According to van Berkel, technology should be used to optimize planning decisions.

Architecture has a long relationship with data. Back in the 1990s, architects used data from New York City planners on how tourists moved through and used parts of the Big Apple to revive certain city areas and make them safer spaces. "Data provides information about the dynamics of a city. For example, the social value of reactivating certain areas by bringing people together is much more relevant than the real estate value that a priori they may have," commented Van Berkel.

4. Architecture should encourage us to be more active.

Statistics show that 55% of Dutch men are overweight. "Through architecture, we must get people to be more active," said Van Berkel, who is passionate about bicycles and "the feeling of freedom you get on them."

The architect briefly explained one of his most outstanding projects: the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), a campus focused on urban planning, landscaping, and product design, "where the landscape guides students through the campus, encouraging them to walk through it." Van Berkel explained that each faculty is linked to stimulating exchanging ideas and interdisciplinary knowledge. "There is a sense of belonging to your faculty, but also the others. In short, of being part of a larger world," he said. In addition, the campus is designed for people to use the stairs. It's been proven that climbing stairs a day for just seven minutes cuts in half the chance of having a heart attack within ten years."

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