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Greening the European City. (View).

As we become increasingly urban, living in rising densities, discussing how we collectively influence and are influenced by the built environment is unavoidable, Living in harmony with the planet is no longer a green-field issue limited to privilege for a few rural dwellers who can afford to focus on autonomy and self sufficiency. With brown-field sites and grey buildings to re-appropriate, notions of collective and responsible interdependency ought to prevail. Sustainability--which is after all the silent 'sssss' behind the green debate--should be understood at all levels of the development food chain, from client and contractor right through to end user.

So when gathering speakers for the Architectural Review's Greening the European City seminar last month, which was generously sponsored by Merk, it was essential that the complexity of the problem was clearly communicated. Collaboration throughout the briefing, design and construction phases must be pursued, and so a broad range of speakers was invited to contribute. Cosy conversations between a group of interested architects clearly would not have been enough, and this was appropriately reflected across the over 170 strong audience with contributors and observers including, engineers, landscape architects, ecologists and construction industry representatives.

Following a brief introduction by AR Editor Peter Davey, in which he stressed the need to find the 'strategy and tactics' of future urban generation, Nicholas Grimshaw got proceedings under way. As an appropriate starting point at the outset of the day, Grimshaw's EVA principle was introduced; with a commitment to developing an environmental system, Environmentally Viable Architecture, was, he argued, key to making 'greenness a reality in our minds', and as such he presented seven of EVA's 12 principles that specifically related to the European City: Flora and Fauna, Embodied Energy, Transport, Cleaner Energy, Waste, Public Spaces and Urban Icons were, he said, all essential. Beginning with his own AA diploma project, which read the city as a tapestry which was only ever to be reinforced, darned and repaired as a patchwork, rather than wiped clean as a tabula rasa, he reviewed some of his built work from Camden Town to his latest exercise in urban surgery with his Bath Spa now nearing completion.

Stefan Behnisch from Behnisch, Behnisch and Partners of Stuttgart continued the morning session with an equally broad overview, speaking with clarity and a quiet conviction about issues that went far beyond the technical limits of building skin. Should we avoid repeating patterns, he asked, where green design becomes just another novelty that fades away? Is environmental health a luxury unaffordable during times of recession, or should it be seen as a civic duty, a national sport, a category of high morals? How can environmentally appropriate design become a core discipline? Can we convince office workers to share printers, use flat screens or wear jumpers in the winter and tee-shirts in the summer?

With unrivalled wit, Belgian Lucien Kroll began simply by saying 'I have nothing to say', choosing instead to parody mass-produced high-rise living by showing images of rabbit hutches and bird cages, and by making parallels between sheep following sheep and Gropius' nonsensical notion of designing for standardized urban families. He dicussed how he chose to contrive disorder when creating homes appropriate to the individuality of human nature, which when seen beyond the apparent naivety of his architectural models had produced many successful and popular examples of reused and remodelled obsolete housing blocks.

In stark contrast to Kroll, Christoph Ingenhaven's crisp architectural drawings were iconic, engaging and immediately convincing. As one of the only contributors to address seriously the notion of truly Greening the City in its literal sense, he presented a series of seductive before and after images of Berlin's new Green Scape.

In response to the ludicrous plan to reconstruct Hohenzollern Palace, in Ingenhoven's mind's eye Berlin was seen transformed with a landscape that captured the ambition and power of New York's Central Park--an ambition also evident in his new landscape park in Stuttgart where the city's park will sweep above the subterranean Train Shed (AR April 2003), encapsulating his vision that Stuttgart will be beautiful, and easier and more healthy to inhabit.

A quieter, but equal ambition was evident in the work of Italian architect Mario Cucinella, with evocative examples of urban intervention, like his virtually invisible subterranean visitors centre in Bologna. Having recently returned to practice in Italy from France, he explained the conflict of pursuing sustainable design within the contexts of Italian law and cultural heritage, recalling one instance where to gain planning consent he had to convince the authorities that his simple passive ventilation rooflights were actually mechanical rooftop plant.

The ever enthusiastic services engineer, Max Fordham began the afternoon session with a pacy delivery of environmental facts, figures, and rule of thumb guidelines. Focusing on his collaboration with Feilden Clegg Bradley for their new National Trust Headquarters in Swindon, he discussed his latest theories: including a Personal Adjustment Graph--which plotted how dress should reduce from thick trousers and jumpers in the winter, to being naked with flip-flops in the summer, and his more plausible desire to convince the National Trust to accept ambient lighting levels as low as 250 lux.

Belgian Architect Philippe Samyn, and French landscape architect Alain Cousseran, drew the afternoon to a close with further examples of their innovative projects, such as Samyn's solution for erecting wind turbines in remote areas and Cousseran's work with Patel Taylor on the Thames Barrier Park.

The presentations were concluded after each session with questions that in many ways demonstrated that few of the speakers sufficiently addressed the issue of the city as public realm. Questions like how important are external microclimates that buildings create through their effect on sunlight penetration and wind patterns, and do architects give sufficient consideration to natural wildlife habits within urban contexts? Inevitably as is often the case when two or three architects are gathered together, the issue of detailed design also emerged, raising perhaps the most pertinent question of the day, which was, when considering energy efficiency, sustainability, and user comfort, should glass naturally be the architect's first choice when specifying materials?
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Author:Gregory, Rob
Publication:The Architectural Review
Geographic Code:4E
Date:May 1, 2003
Previous Article:Deco rationale. (View).
Next Article:Letters.

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