URBAN SYMBIOTE Project

Competition: 5th IAAC Advanced Architecture Contest / August 2013
Result: Book publication pending

Should passive architecture grow to adapt to active environments ?

The following entry was created for the 2013 Advanced Architecture Competition organized by the Institute of Advanced Architecture of Catalonia. Themed on Self-sufficient habitats, the brief remained fairly opened to maximize the creativity of proposals. The scene takes place in the tight urban spaces of Hong Kong. The design agglomerates different ways to harvest atmospheric pollution to create usable resources.

An Idea-competition is the occasion to set free Utopian dreams. The difficulty may then lie in finding the correct proportions of pragmatic “grounding” and visionary concepts.
In this case, the ambition was to help remediate the toxic effects of urban air pollution. A completely free brief implied the possibility to reverse parts of the process. Indeed, a specific issue was found first and a site was chosen afterwards, instead of the usual opposite.
The place of intervention was picked to best stage a very robust design intervention, for its potential replication elsewhere. To make this decision, a few parameter were taken into account. The key factors however, were a country’s general affliction to airborne pollutants as well as its potential financial resources to intervene. Further research showed that other characteristics are closely linked to aerosols concentration, such as urban density and climatic specificities.

Chinese cities stood out in these areas, knowing fast growth and high level of toxicity throughout the countries. Furthermore, Hong Kong proved even more appropriate because of it’s high GDP, expensive square meter price and air trapping urban density.
Looking into the city’s infamous air quality issues,  2 important elements surfaced. First its pollution related losses are counted in the thousands of deaths and billions of dollars, every year. Secondly, pollutant levels go through complex intertwined cycles depending on the climate and human activities. This last characteristic was to spring the concept of a dynamic “smart” design, capable of adapting to a variety of situations.

The creative process began with the referencing of the most toxic airborne substances. These where subject to research for chemical protocols for atmospheric extraction, concentration and transformation into usable resources.
The aim was to create a structure that would both protect the locals and harvest the chemicals. Due to its very high density, Hong Kong has one of the highest development of pedestrian infrastructure, which know an important flow of people. Located above the traffic, they are a place of high exposure to pollutants. This is why the concept was to generate a new kind of pedestrian infrastructure harboring equipment to deal with pollution’s hazard locally. 
The structure features a cladding of robotic arms holding different standard sized panels designed to deal with different chemicals. The robotic arms can then change position to allow  different actions on the structure, such as to protect locals, ventilate or self-cleanse.