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Issue #21

Sustainable urban development has to aim for a transformation of our cities, a shift towards better quality of life using fewer resources.

Thomas Auer - Transsolar

Thomas Auer Transsolar architect interview
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Thomas Auer Transsolar architect interview
Thomas Auer – Transsolar


Green building

Urban planning is the planning of the unfinished. In this respect, cities are always subject to the changing times; this, in a sense, is an imperative of urban development. A city is ultimately a reflection of the Zeitgeist.

Urban planning is the planning of the unfinished. In this respect, cities are always subject to the changing times; this, in a sense, is an imperative of urban development. A city is ultimately a reflection of the Zeitgeist, the materialisation of a society’s lifestyle and values. In the 20th century, our cities were shaped by industrialisation and the need for mobility (cars), among other things. And similarly, the tasks and new technologies of our time will shape our cities. The internet and the smartphone, for example, have changed our lives more fundamentally than our built environment. To shape the future of our cities – rather than just react to events – we have to recognise the challenges and potentials of the transformation ahead. As Mark Twain said, “Plan for the future, because that’s where you are going to spend the rest of your life.”

Place de la République Paris kid playing
© Transsolar

Probably more than ever before, the tasks to be undertaken differ widely from one region to another. Europe’s task will be to transform, but without surrendering its identity in the process: carefully, but also ambitiously. Topics such as climate change and the extreme weather phenomena it brings with it, a changed mobility, the ecological shift – the  EU’s  “Roadmap  2050”  calls for a reduction of CO2 emissions of buildings by 90 per cent by the year 2050  –  and,  above  all,  affordable housing in sufficient quantity for all segments of the population; all of these will shape the transformation of our cities over the coming decades. A clean slate is neither economically viable nor would it be met with acceptance. The oft-repeated reference to a “historic town plan” cannot be used as a blanket argument against change. Just because something is historic doesn’t mean it’s right – particularly as the circumstances have changed drastically.

The coming transformation will offer a great deal of opportunity and potential. The central issue is nothing less than a question of how we can achieve a better quality of life while using less energy. This quality of life will have to be materialised and manifested in our buildings and our cities.

Place de la République, Paris, woman on Bike
© Transsolar

According to US studies, so-called “millennials” (people born between 1977 and 1998) already drive 20 per cent fewer kilometres by car than the previous generation. Through self-driving cars and shared rides, the need for cars can be reduced by 80 per cent in metropolitan areas (Carlo Ratti, Senseable City Lab, MIT). This will create room in our cities, so that public space can be used for climate adaptation. Through a combination of shading, evaporative cooling through water surfaces and/or vegetation, reflective surfaces and other measures, we can not only regulate the urban climate or the outs- ide comfort in times of heat, but we also create a good climate in our buildings. “Rather than a park within the city, we need a city within a park” (Bruce Mau).

A transformation of our cities that takes the above issues into account will succeed and be embraced only if the quality of public spaces in- creases. Thus success or failure will hinge on the quality of public space. Similarly, an increased density of buildings will be accepted without issue in Europe’s cities, if at the same time public spaces remain (or become) liveable and loveable. Numerous European cities have shown positive developments in this regard. Particularly noteworthy are Vienna’s state-supported housing projects (the “Vienna Model”) and the city of Zurich, whose residents in 2008 voted by a large majority of 75 per cent in favour of sustainable development in accordance with the model of the 2,000-watt society, which calls for a reduction of energy use to 2,000 watts per person and a reduction of C02 emissions to one tonne per person – a tenth of today’s consumption, in other words – by 2050. In the context of this decision, the city of Zurich is working intensively on sustainable urban development and high-quality densification.

The new ideas are already being implemented on the Place de la République in Paris.