Climate change, the pandemic, and issues with supply chains and resources (energy, raw materials, etc.) are forcing a rethink in the way cities are being planned, constructed, and developed. Eco-friendly technological progress can offer solutions to make cities smarter, more resilient, and more sustainable. In this joint interview, architect Vincent Callebaut, and Delphine Woussen, Head of Smart Cities for Orange, discuss their visions of the city of the future.
Head of Smart Cities
Vincent Callebaut Architectures agency
The human population is forecast to grow to 9 billion people by 2050, with two thirds of them living in cities. To anticipate the future, and reduce the burden on resources, urban communities have to work out how to consume more efficiently with less. Cutting-edge technological and architectural solutions can help cities make this transition. Vincent Callebaut and Delphine Woussen answer our questions.
In these challenging environmental and social times, how can cities ensure sustainable development?
Vincent Callebaut: "We’re aware the earth’s resources are finite. Our challenge is to do better with less. Resilient and sustainable cities aren’t a kind of utopia, they’re an obligation. In terms of architecture, we integrate sustainability in the form of four pillars.
The first is energy efficiency. Using bio-based materials, renewables, and ICT, we can design buildings that produce more energy than they consume. These buildings can then be connected to an energy-efficient network or smart grid to optimize electricity consumption.
The second is to introduce more locally sourced, plant-based, and organic food. In downtown environments this translates to urban farms built in neighborhoods where the food will be consumed, so in community gardens or on rooftops for example.
The third is around soft mobility through a '15-minute city' concept where everyone can reach their workplace, public services, or leisure activities by bike or on foot within a quarter of an hour.
The final pillar is greening, creating islands to promote natural cooling and limit the effects of urban heat waves."
TAO ZHU YIN YUAN (Vincent Callebaut Architectures), Carbon-absorbing green tower, Taipei 2010-2018 – Taiwan
Can you explain the role of a smart city in your view, and how it contributes to modern life?
Delphine Woussen: "Yes, smart cities aim to be inclusive, sustainable, and resilient. As Vincent pointed out, new generations of architects and urban planners are very aware of the power of ICT. Digital technology provides solutions that are adapted to the needs of each neighborhood to optimize public service management in real time, boost well-being, and promote eco-responsibility, all of which increases the community’s appeal. At Orange, we firmly believe that controlling and enhancing public policy data is central to achieving this: better knowledge of the neighborhood and residents’ expectations, monitoring mobility, monitoring environmental impacts (air quality, carbon trajectory, hot spots, cool zones etc.) and climate risks (water levels, flooding, fires, etc.). There is a lot of data available that can contribute to public policy and decision-making, to introduce new solutions and increase urban resilience."
How do technology and innovation play their part in sustainable development?
D.W.: "Local authorities are frontline services in terms of implementing proactive policies and positive community engagement. There are a wide range of digital solutions available to accelerate the ecological transition: remote working, online administration, sensors, real-time supervision, and citizen applications based on network deployment and data analysis to optimize waste management, recycling, urban mobility, public lighting, and energy consumption, in conjunction with promoting shared spaces. The notion of a smart city has to be considered in its entirety, in a systematic way. From transport to pollution, energy, and opportunities for business, they’re all linked!"
V.C.: "All over the world, architects are trying to build sustainable cities, and the smart city is one of the models to achieve this. The aim is to ensure we transition from an oil-dependent economy that produces large amounts of waste and pollution to a circular economy based on recycling, renewables, and community engagement. This requires more efficient networks that can redistribute energy among buildings and neighborhoods. By mixing low-tech and high-tech passive natural systems, architects are designing more self-sufficient or even energy-positive buildings as part of an evolution in the construction industry that is already producing results. Since 2018, my firm has been working on the renovation of the National Baths in Aix-les-Bains, a 50,000 m2 Art Deco heritage building. We have introduced two vertical forests to produce a proportion of the site’s energy, the thermal spring provides heating, and biophilic vegetation enables passive cooling in the summer months."
With global warming and mistrust of technology, are we sensible to design ultra-connected cities?
V.C.: "In architecture, low-tech and high-tech should not work in opposition but in combination. Innovation has to look forward and also backward into history to discover the best natural resources, energy production, materials, and technologies. Natural ventilation was invented thousands of years ago. Home automation enables citizens to optimize their energy consumption in real time. The two should not be opposed."
D.W.: "It’s also evident you can’t develop smart and sustainable cities without trust. This involves transparent data management and better cybersecurity to protect the integrity of data and services and secure existing and new uses. By protection I mean services, data and equipment while raising awareness and offering training for businesses to respond quickly to crisis situations and therefore limit the impacts. Digital is part of the solution if used wisely."
Can you explain what is meant by eco-responsible architecture and how you integrate it into your designs?
Our new generation of architects are breaking from the conventions of the 'glorious 1930s' and basing designs on nature, which is always the best source of creativity and reciprocity.
V.C.: "Our new generation of architects are breaking from the conventions of the 'glorious 1930s' and basing designs on nature, which is always the best source of creativity and reciprocity. Nature doesn’t pollute or create waste. Eco-responsible architecture is based on sharing energy and resources. For example, in a historic city center, contemporary architecture (such as a vertical forest) can be grafted onto a heritage building to produce enough energy to power the entire site. We try to ensure unprocessed materials, renewable energy and recycled water and waste. The goal is to create environmental solidarity rather than debt."
D.W.: "I’d just add that we regularly work on these types of projects led by architects and urban planners. These multi-disciplinary developments to create resilient communities and renovate urban wastelands require targeted expertise and we support the digital and technological aspects."
How would this apply to an old city like Paris?
V.C.: "In some parts of the world, like Taiwan or the Philippines, it’s easier to innovate and build new urban prototypes on large virgin land. In Paris, this is trickier as the city is so built up: 95% of the land area is covered. The challenge here is to renovate existing buildings and transform our typical Haussmann buildings which are very inefficient. In consultation with owners, we’re trying to graft elements of contemporary architecture onto old buildings to balance the overall carbon footprint, such as our project on the Rue de Rivoli. 100-meter-tall green towers will produce electricity through solar panels and turbines running on rainwater.
PARIS SMART CITY 2050 (Vincent Callebaut Architectures)
In total, our ‘Paris Smart City 2050’ project offers 8 prototypes for redesigning the city, combining low-tech (passive technologies) and high-tech (connectivity) to create a dialog between hyper-energy-intensive classical architecture and eco-responsible contemporary architecture."
D.W.: "These notions of energy-positive buildings and thriving local communities, based on the '15-minute city' model that Vincent mentioned at the start of the interview, are essential for Paris to consider. All stakeholders – from citizens to retailers, entrepreneurs, and public services – are responsible for playing their part in the environmental transition. We also have to advance our networks and approach to reproducibility, two areas that are very prevalent in many of our international projects. Barcelona, London, and Copenhagen are all pioneering solutions and showing that sustainability development will create built networks rather than cities."
How Orange supports local authorities in smart city projects
Through partnerships with local authorities and town planners, Orange supports all sizes of community and city in their digital transformation. To help them meet public policy challenges, Orange offers multi-dimensional expertise (data, IoT, cybersecurity, connectivity, hosting) and a wide range of IT solutions to achieve more resilient, sustainable, and inclusive urban environments.