Urban Metabolisms: Combining Complex Approaches

  • Publish On 18 November 2017
  • Philippe Chiambaretta

Beyond the debates surrounding the Anthropocene—dating it, taking responsibility—the need to combat the disastrous effects of human development on the planet is beyond doubt. Acknowledging that these consequences are specifically incarnated in cities, architect Philippe Chiambaretta points toward a paradigm shift—moving from a mechanical vision of the world to an idea centered on the living—that reactivates the notion of a metabolism. The concept of the living allows us to go beyond the dualism and anthropocentrism introduced by modernity, driving us toward a symbolic and practical idea of the city as an urban metabolism and pointing toward an approach that takes the ecological challenge into account in order to “manage” the city. Flying in the face of the formal pride of the architect, the figure of metabolic planner emerges, able to combine complex visions and approaches, notably by moving beyond the traditional rifts between urban protagonists, working toward an intense diversity of uses, opening up temporal dynamics, and by reintegrating the living.

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Mathieu Arnoux, Professor at the University of Paris and Director of Studies at the EHESS, Isabelle Bensidoun, economist at the CEPII, Vincent Charlet, economist and founder of the Fabrique de l’Industrie and Liliana Doganova, sociologist and researcher at the CSI des Mines de Paris. This concluding conference looks at the social and economic dynamics associated with the exploitation of materials on a national and global scale. The war in Ukraine has revealed our dependence on our neighbours and reopened questions of sovereignty and self-sufficiency. France has been less affected by the Russian gas embargo than Germany, but the transition to renewable energies will not happen without the rare earths that we import mainly from China. The limits of globalisation seem to have been reached. What does this mean for our industry, our sectors and our economic policy? What role will the markets play, particularly the carbon market, in encouraging national and European materials?

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Elissa Al Saad is an architect and laureate of the 2023 Palladio Fellowships for her thesis on soil as an environment. By comparing different possible forms of land appropriation, she raises the issue of preserving land resources in relation to ownership. The aim is to think of property as a support for a way of inhabiting that considers land as a common good.

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Aurélie Mossé

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Aurélie Mossé is a designer, researcher and head of the Soft Matters research group at the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs. Using micro-organisms, she is experimenting with the manufacture of innovative materials that are less costly in terms of fossil fuels or non-renewable resources. By producing calcite, bacteria could become allies in the creation of solid building materials.

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A symbol of the industrial revolution, the rise of metal in construction accompanied the renewal of Paris under Haussmann. Its origins in blast furnaces is associated with a high carbon footprint. Yet it is still widely used in facades, and seems promising for circular economy, as it is easy to dismantle. But is this enough of an advantage? As part of the City Metabolism Chair supported by the Université Paris Sciences & Lettres.  

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Soil

Although soil is used as a building material in many parts of the world, it has often been regarded as a waste product in France in recent decades, with little use being made of excavated soil. However, its thermal and hygrometric properties, its extremely low carbon footprint when used raw, its abundance and the natural variations in colour that it offers in every region make it a rich and inspiring material for today’s architects and designers. How can we adapt our building techniques to bring this material into line with contemporary requirements, and get rid of the vision of primitive housing that it still evokes for many people?

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AI is a new form of intelligence whose development is stirring up concerns and dystopian fables. Far from replacing human intelligence, AIs are emerging as new tools to be trained, controlled and shaped to achieve the desired result. For the artist, photographer, architect, film-maker, musician or illustrator, AIs become an agent with which to collaborate, resulting in co-creation. Inaugural lecture of the “AI and Creation” series at the Stream Innovation Center.

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