Conference “To a Vegetal City”

Vers une Cité Végétale

Speech of Luc Schuiten.
Durée 80 minutes

3.0 titre

  1. Towards a vegetal city.
  1. What cities will look like in 100 years? Anticipating is always taking a risk. Thinking 100 years ahead is imagining the world before 1914 when living under Napoleon’s era. It’s imagining the united and communicating Europe of today, when living on the eve of the First World War, the most terrible war ever known. And today, on the threshold of ecological challenges ahead, it’s conceiving that they can one day be resolved by a humanity that would have found solutions to the many problems that we have created now.
  1. We already know that most of our raw materials will have disappeared. At our current rate of consumption, in a century, iron, copper, lead, tin, nickel will have gone. We will no longer have gasoline, nor uranium and therefore no longer resources to feed the industrial civilization.
  1. What will be our new development model? Nature is 3 billion and a half years of research and development; it has retained the principles that have proven their sustainability. Anything that was not profitable or efficient was rejected. We are fortunate to have there an exceptionally rich mentor that we now call “Biomimetism”.
  1. The first urban dwellers of our planet are the social insects; termites built long before us fabulous tower-buildings. Extremely resilient, these buildings are air conditioned and provide a stable temperature throughout the year. A variation of less than one degree inside, when the outside temperature may vary more than 30 degrees.
  1. Even today, one can see in Yemen entire cities made of buildings of over 10 floors, built in local materials, without producing C02. A wonderful knowledge that we tend to forget.
  1. The concrete we manufacture is the world second responsible for emission of greenhouse gas, because it releases CO² into the atmosphere during cooking time at 1500 degrees Celsius. However, an alternative exists in nature: the shell. It has found the secret of making a great bio concrete much more powerful than its modern substitute, and in addition, it uses the available CO2 in the environment rather than producing it.
  1. Ongoing research in several laboratories and universities offer hope that soon we can learn from this little mollusk how to create an equally strong material and beneficial for the planet.
  1. The city of tomorrow might look like an ecosystem comparable to a coral reef system or a primary forest, i.e. a set of living organisms interacting with each other. It may be good to remember that we are living beings living on a planet alive. Designing our home on a model taken in nature is our best guarantee of sustainability.
  1. There are many examples of structures made from living materials, such as this meeting room in Iraq made from woven reeds.
  1. A living tree can be considered as a supporting structure consisting of beams and columns ideally suited to form a part of housing. The foliage of a large tree offers 1 ha of sensors that convert solar energy into photons. Currently research centres are working on process of photosynthesis for the production of electricity.
  1. J tried to express forms that might arise from the use of such materials derived from living matter to create new types of dwellings, “dwell-trees” unfolding in perfect harmony with their natural environments.
  1. Tree structures would then be closed by flexible sails made of organic textiles, transparent in some places, capturing solar energy from outside and very isolating. Their appearance would be in no way comparable to buildings produced by industrial machines. Coming from the living world, their shapes, colours and volumes would be are arranged in a natural harmony.
  1. These transparent membranes can learn from diatoms, these micro organisms found in coral reefs or dragonflies’ chitin. Many examples of organic glasses exist in nature. Their manufacturing processes are an endless source of information and inspiration for our future.
  1. Anticipating the evolution of a city over the next centuries can be understood more precisely if one starts from the past in order to establish what is the significance of the changes that can occur over a century. This watercolour, made from many historical documents, reconstructs the countryside around Brussels in 1800.
  1. Un siècle plus tard, les bouleversements sont considérables : la campagne est devenue ville. A century later, changes are considerable: the countryside has become a city.
  1. In 2000, the densification has increased but the quality of life has deteriorated mainly by pollution from transport, industry and consumption.
  1. In 2100, the projection of the next century is the assumption of a desirable future, that of a society that has firmly decided to build new and deeper relationships with all living beings. The roofs have become community gardens communicating with each other through some gateways.
  1. En 2200, ces principes se sont étendus : le canal a été couvert par une vaste serre qui le climatise. Les toitures jardins se sont développées partout créant ainsi un horizon paysager. In 2200, these principles have been extended: the channel has been covered by a large greenhouse that air-conditions it. Roof gardens have been developed everywhere creating a landscape horizon.
  1. With an objective of sustainable development, these “archiborescent” perspectives do not destroy the existing heritage but are, instead, the projection of the integration of innovative thoughts in urban history and in the continuity of successive changes that have marked its evolution.
  1. Slowly, step by step, this too urban and mineral city will decrease its surfaces of asphalt and cobblestone, will remember its streams, its valleys, its ponds and will recover a quality of life it had lost. The new city will gradually evolve into dwellings consuming no more than the energy they capture in their environment. Rather than demolish the worst performing buildings, the choice will fall on the creation of new envelopes made of a skin able to interact with climate changes while maintaining the relationship of people with their natural environment.
  2. In the streets, transportation will also evolve in order no longer to consume more than the available renewable energy. Many light and creative vehicles will be used for short-distance trips. For other trips, “caterpillars”, automatic carts, programmed to place themselves into convoy, will be a mix between private cars and public transport.
  1. Green roofs are a new landscape that provides access to a perception of the city as a whole and restore a horizon that was not visible before. Interconnected by small bridges, they form walks in an open area, free of visual barriers and let see the sky, the horizon and the landscape of roofs and gardens. These suspended parks are dedicated to the meeting of people, pleasure, playfulness of life. Consumption being released from its compulsive dimension, society has become able to develop a different offer that aims to promote personal autonomy and development.
  1. The addition of outer envelopes and grafts, made of vegetal structures and biomimetic materials, into existing frames, seeks to promote the transmission of the idea of a necessary change in the functioning of the habitat and habits consumption. These representations of terraced houses, typical to Brussels, confront the visitor to the vision of an alternative reality to familiar places.
  1. It is through the patient work of the “building gardener”, through grafting, layering, propagation by cuttings, that the city will regenerate into a group of residential villages. These are socially and naturally ecological processes that induce mild organizations, diversity, complex systems, coexistences, affinities.
  1. Most of our major cities have food reserves for a period not exceeding one week. What will happen when supply will stall, for lack of transport, lack of gasoline or for whatever other crisis ? The resilient city is a proposal to mitigate the risk of famine and popular drama, by a restructuring our vast unused or underused surfaces into gardens, orchards, greenhouses or even barnyards. It’s another way to reintroduce into the city a quality of life that is disappearing nowadays.
  1. In 2007, the city of Nantes invited me to present my work on “archiborescence”. This exhibition was marked by the presence in the city of very large posters of the panorama of Nantes in 2100.
  1. In its comparison with the existing one, the citizens of Nantes could discover their city turned into an inhabited nature where the past and new technologies come together in an unique organization of ecosystems putting man and nature in the centre of the city. Leaving the City of Congress, I invited people to have another look on their environment. Representing the city in 2100 was to give to the Fair “Utopiales” an optimistic rather than fantastic or dramatic anticipation as to the possible future.
  1. It’s an exercise I like very much. Later, I applied this same approach to the city of Lyon. I was invited by the “Museum of Confluences” to exhibit all my works at the cultural centre “la Sucrière”. At the same time, I was assigned the mission to think about the future of this city, especially the district of “La Part-Dieu”, to deliver a vision of what could be Lyon, on the horizon years 2100. I imagined to reserve the zero level to the access to the district, to the traffic and to consumer-related functions. The consumption is local, takes possession of an old shopping centre and transforms it into a lively market with local food, into a clearing-house, a centre of services, recycling, training in repair of machinery, bicycles or vehicles, also hosting workshops of production and information.
  1. In contrast, the floor of the upper slab is dedicated to leisure and to free and not directly utilitarian social and cultural life. This is the space devoted to meeting, to pleasure, to the playful dimension of existence. It is completely redesigned in order to communicate with the zero level by ramps that are all green spaces, forming a curvaceous landscape. There are training workshops to autonomy, places of social and psychological repair, spaces for reflection and learning. It is a space full of meanders dedicated to dawdling, to the enjoyment of human relations, of creation, but also that highlights what connects human beings to the living world.
  1. Today I am an artist in residence in Strasbourg for a year. I make proposals to the city for the inauguration of a new cultural centre. Along with these small projects, I lead a reflection on the desirable and sustainable development of the city. The medieval old town is so beautiful that no one would think to dislocate it. Many changes can be imagined that do not change -or very little- the external appearance of these, buildings full of history and so harmoniously diverse.
  1. In the outskirts of this Alsatian city, social housing has expanded rectangular and impersonal blocks, mostly made of concrete, plastic and aluminium. Above these locations I decided to plant my easel to sketch the vegetal city of tomorrow.
  1. The beginning of this research starts with the production of a photographic survey carried out from the roofs of the social dwellings, supplemented by a series of photographs made using a drone at 50 meters.
  1. Starting from these pictures I’ll make a large number of studies in the form of sketches, watercolours and prospects.
  1. An architect does not do anything else but to design buildings intended to be achieved later. The role of drawing is to prefigure the future, to anticipate it in order to better shape it. The architectural project is the anticipation of a new space to build; even if it is still only a wish, it is in the short-term perceived as a possible future.
  1. From there came to me the awareness that drawing the evolution of the city such as I wanted it, would lead to the idea that this project would shape a little bit the future and, as a result, would already be a first step towards a sustainable future.
  1. This study brings together several researches compiled into a final piece of the great panorama of the city.
  1. In order to better help the public to see the metamorphosis of the city, the design of the futuristic part will be in colour on a frame made with pencils and placed on the current part.
  1. In Shanghai, even more than elsewhere, the transformation of the city is permanent. Never stationary, the megalopolis is moving inexorably at high speed toward its future.
  1. Some days the air pollution may be such that the whole city is immersed in a thick yellow smog giving its river the colour of its own name.
  1. Most graphic, pictorial, or photographic creations are freeze frames; they do not incorporate the essence of life; the passing of time. Yet there are opportunities to introduce into paintings the notion of a past, of a present and of a future. My pictorial work is characterized by a constant search to make tangible the four dimensions of urban space.
  1. At the top and the bottom of the drawing, a cursor indicates scrolling years assuming a development of the city on a biomimetic model. The picture must be read like a text from left to right. It shows a city mired in pollution evolving towards a bright and clean air.
  1. Over the years, advances in biotechnology shape the new city, tower buildings made with bio-concrete frames, on the model of the shells, and organic glass membranes inspired by the radiolarian technology. The pervasiveness of plants integrated in all buildings ensures the proper functioning of many ecosystems.
  1. To conclude, let me quote the biologist Gauthier Chapelle, founder of « Biomimicry Europa»: “Once the schism between humans and other living beings is overcome, there remains but one single large family, strong of millions of billions of members, related within time and space. It remains a huge family tree old of almost 4 billion years, rooted on a very small planet.
Towards a vegetal city.
What cities will look like in 100 years? Anticipating is always taking a risk. Thinking 100 years ahead is imagining the world before 1914 when living under Napoleon’s era. It’s imagining the united and communicating Europe of today, when living on the eve of the First World War, the most terrible war ever known. And today, on the threshold of ecological challenges ahead, it's conceiving that they can one day be resolved by a humanity that would have found solutions to the many problems that we have created now.
We already know that most of our raw materials will have disappeared. At our current rate of consumption, in a century, iron, copper, lead, tin, nickel will have gone. We will no longer have gasoline, nor uranium and therefore no longer resources to feed the industrial civilization.
What will be our new development model? Nature is 3 billion and a half years of research and development; it has retained the principles that have proven their sustainability. Anything that was not profitable or efficient was rejected. We are fortunate to have there an exceptionally rich mentor that we now call "Biomimetism".
The first urban dwellers of our planet are the social insects; termites built long before us fabulous tower-buildings. Extremely resilient, these buildings are air conditioned and provide a stable temperature throughout the year. A variation of less than one degree inside, when the outside temperature may vary more than 30 degrees.
Even today, one can see in Yemen entire cities made of buildings of over 10 floors, built in local materials, without producing C02. A wonderful knowledge that we tend to forget.
The concrete we manufacture is the world second responsible for emission of greenhouse gas, because it releases CO² into the atmosphere during cooking time at 1500 degrees Celsius. However, an alternative exists in nature: the shell. It has found the secret of making a great bio concrete much more powerful than its modern substitute, and in addition, it uses the available CO2 in the environment rather than producing it.
Ongoing research in several laboratories and universities offer hope that soon we can learn from this little mollusk how to create an equally strong material and beneficial for the planet.
The city of tomorrow might look like an ecosystem comparable to a coral reef system or a primary forest, i.e. a set of living organisms interacting with each other. It may be good to remember that we are living beings living on a planet alive. Designing our home on a model taken in nature is our best guarantee of sustainability.
There are many examples of structures made from living materials, such as this meeting room in Iraq made from woven reeds.
A living tree can be considered as a supporting structure consisting of beams and columns ideally suited to form a part of housing. The foliage of a large tree offers 1 ha of sensors that convert solar energy into photons. Currently research centres are working on process of photosynthesis for the production of electricity.
I tried to express forms that might arise from the use of such materials derived from living matter to create new types of dwellings, “dwell-trees” unfolding in perfect harmony with their natural environments.
Tree structures would then be closed by flexible sails made of organic textiles, transparent in some places, capturing solar energy from outside and very isolating. Their appearance would be in no way comparable to buildings produced by industrial machines. Coming from the living world, their shapes, colours and volumes would be are arranged in a natural harmony.
These transparent membranes can learn from diatoms, these micro organisms found in coral reefs or dragonflies’ chitin. Many examples of organic glasses exist in nature. Their manufacturing processes are an endless source of information and inspiration for our future.
Anticipating the evolution of a city over the next centuries can be understood more precisely if one starts from the past in order to establish what is the significance of the changes that can occur over a century. This watercolour, made from many historical documents, reconstructs the countryside around Brussels in 1800.
A century later, changes are considerable: the countryside has become a city.
In 2000, the densification has increased but the quality of life has deteriorated mainly by pollution from transport, industry and consumption.
In 2100, the projection of the next century is the assumption of a desirable future, that of a society that has firmly decided to build new and deeper relationships with all living beings. The roofs have become community gardens communicating with each other through some gateways.

En 2200, ces principes se sont étendus : le canal a été couvert par une vaste serre qui le climatise. Les toitures jardins se sont développées partout créant ainsi un horizon paysager. In 2200, these principles have been extended: the channel has been covered by a large greenhouse that air-conditions it. Roof gardens have been developed everywhere creating a landscape horizon.

With an objective of sustainable development, these “archiborescent” perspectives do not destroy the existing heritage but are, instead, the projection of the integration of innovative thoughts in urban history and in the continuity of successive changes that have marked its evolution.
Slowly, step by step, this too urban and mineral city will decrease its surfaces of asphalt and cobblestone, will remember its streams, its valleys, its ponds and will recover a quality of life it had lost. The new city will gradually evolve into dwellings consuming no more than the energy they capture in their environment. Rather than demolish the worst performing buildings, the choice will fall on the creation of new envelopes made of a skin able to interact with climate changes while maintaining the relationship of people with their natural environment.

In the streets, transportation will also evolve in order no longer to consume more than the available renewable energy. Many light and creative vehicles will be used for short-distance trips. For other trips, “caterpillars”, automatic carts, programmed to place themselves into convoy, will be a mix between private cars and public transport.

Green roofs are a new landscape that provides access to a perception of the city as a whole and restore a horizon that was not visible before. Interconnected by small bridges, they form walks in an open area, free of visual barriers and let see the sky, the horizon and the landscape of roofs and gardens. These suspended parks are dedicated to the meeting of people, pleasure, playfulness of life. Consumption being released from its compulsive dimension, society has become able to develop a different offer that aims to promote personal autonomy and development.
The addition of outer envelopes and grafts, made of vegetal structures and biomimetic materials, into existing frames, seeks to promote the transmission of the idea of a necessary change in the functioning of the habitat and habits consumption. These representations of terraced houses, typical to Brussels, confront the visitor to the vision of an alternative reality to familiar places.
It is through the patient work of the “building gardener”, through grafting, layering, propagation by cuttings, that the city will regenerate into a group of residential villages. These are socially and naturally ecological processes that induce mild organizations, diversity, complex systems, coexistences, affinities.
Most of our major cities have food reserves for a period not exceeding one week. What will happen when supply will stall, for lack of transport, lack of gasoline or for whatever other crisis ? The resilient city is a proposal to mitigate the risk of famine and popular drama, by a restructuring our vast unused or underused surfaces into gardens, orchards, greenhouses or even barnyards. It’s another way to reintroduce into the city a quality of life that is disappearing nowadays.
In 2007, the city of Nantes invited me to present my work on “archiborescence”. This exhibition was marked by the presence in the city of very large posters of the panorama of Nantes in 2100.
In its comparison with the existing one, the citizens of Nantes could discover their city turned into an inhabited nature where the past and new technologies come together in an unique organization of ecosystems putting man and nature in the centre of the city. Leaving the City of Congress, I invited people to have another look on their environment. Representing the city in 2100 was to give to the Fair “Utopiales” an optimistic rather than fantastic or dramatic anticipation as to the possible future.
It’s an exercise I like very much. Later, I applied this same approach to the city of Lyon. I was invited by the “Museum of Confluences” to exhibit all my works at the cultural centre “la Sucrière”. At the same time, I was assigned the mission to think about the future of this city, especially the district of “La Part-Dieu”, to deliver a vision of what could be Lyon, on the horizon years 2100. I imagined to reserve the zero level to the access to the district, to the traffic and to consumer-related functions. The consumption is local, takes possession of an old shopping centre and transforms it into a lively market with local food, into a clearing-house, a centre of services, recycling, training in repair of machinery, bicycles or vehicles, also hosting workshops of production and information.
In contrast, the floor of the upper slab is dedicated to leisure and to free and not directly utilitarian social and cultural life. This is the space devoted to meeting, to pleasure, to the playful dimension of existence. It is completely redesigned in order to communicate with the zero level by ramps that are all green spaces, forming a curvaceous landscape. There are training workshops to autonomy, places of social and psychological repair, spaces for reflection and learning. It is a space full of meanders dedicated to dawdling, to the enjoyment of human relations, of creation, but also that highlights what connects human beings to the living world.
Today I am an artist in residence in Strasbourg for a year. I make proposals to the city for the inauguration of a new cultural centre. Along with these small projects, I lead a reflection on the desirable and sustainable development of the city. The medieval old town is so beautiful that no one would think to dislocate it. Many changes can be imagined that do not change -or very little- the external appearance of these, buildings full of history and so harmoniously diverse.
In the outskirts of this Alsatian city, social housing has expanded rectangular and impersonal blocks, mostly made of concrete, plastic and aluminium. Above these locations I decided to plant my easel to sketch the vegetal city of tomorrow.
The beginning of this research starts with the production of a photographic survey carried out from the roofs of the social dwellings, supplemented by a series of photographs made using a drone at 50 meters.
Starting from these pictures I'll make a large number of studies in the form of sketches, watercolours and prospects.
An architect does not do anything else but to design buildings intended to be achieved later. The role of drawing is to prefigure the future, to anticipate it in order to better shape it. The architectural project is the anticipation of a new space to build; even if it is still only a wish, it is in the short-term perceived as a possible future.
From there came to me the awareness that drawing the evolution of the city such as I wanted it, would lead to the idea that this project would shape a little bit the future and, as a result, would already be a first step towards a sustainable future.
This study brings together several researches compiled into a final piece of the great panorama of the city.
In order to better help the public to see the metamorphosis of the city, the design of the futuristic part will be in colour on a frame made with pencils and placed on the current part.
In Shanghai, even more than elsewhere, the transformation of the city is permanent. Never stationary, the megalopolis is moving inexorably at high speed toward its future.
Some days the air pollution may be such that the whole city is immersed in a thick yellow smog giving its river the colour of its own name.
Most graphic, pictorial, or photographic creations are freeze frames; they do not incorporate the essence of life; the passing of time. Yet there are opportunities to introduce into paintings the notion of a past, of a present and of a future. My pictorial work is characterized by a constant search to make tangible the four dimensions of urban space.
At the top and the bottom of the drawing, a cursor indicates scrolling years assuming a development of the city on a biomimetic model. The picture must be read like a text from left to right. It shows a city mired in pollution evolving towards a bright and clean air.
Over the years, advances in biotechnology shape the new city, tower buildings made with bio-concrete frames, on the model of the shells, and organic glass membranes inspired by the radiolarian technology. The pervasiveness of plants integrated in all buildings ensures the proper functioning of many ecosystems.
To conclude, let me quote the biologist Gauthier Chapelle, founder of « Biomimicry Europa»: "Once the schism between humans and other living beings is overcome, there remains but one single large family, strong of millions of billions of members, related within time and space. It remains a huge family tree old of almost 4 billion years, rooted on a very small planet. "