With flood risk being the primary danger to waterfront homes across the UK, Baca Architects has won the go-ahead for two new houses on Christchurch waterfront in a decision that not only reflects the firm’s exemplary approach to flood resilient design but also overcomes an inherent flaw in national planning policy on building within floodplains.

The houses feature the latest in sustainable architecture. Designed to be manufactured off-site, these highly insulated homes will have low carbon footprints and can be assembled quickly. The interiors will be bathed in sunlight and generous balconies will provide shade to full-height glazed windows that afford panoramic views out over the estuary. Importantly, all bedrooms are located above ground level while the living room, kitchen and dining room are approximately 2.5 feet above the external ground level and outside the flood plain. All electrical services will be brought in from the first floor and all electrical sockets will be raised. Windows and doors will allow water control and safe egress at multiple locations around the building. In the event of a flood, and should water enter the ground floor, the internal construction is designed to be resilient to water and to enable effective cleaning and fast recovery.

The successful scheme – the first of its kind under the recent changes to National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) – challenged the effective prohibition on homeowners, developers and local authorities to re-build innovatively and safely on sites where pre-existing housing stock had already suffered, or was likely to suffer, flooding. The site in Christchurch is currently designated an area of low flooding risk but is calculated to progress to one of high risk over the next 100 years and the client wished to replace two dilapidated bungalows with two flood resilient homes. Whilst the proposal offered significant betterment in terms of safety on-site, improved on-site drainage and no net increase of development in the flood plain, the project ran into a major obstacle due to changes to the NPPF in 2018. These aimed to put an end to new waterfront housing developments but in so doing also posed a direct problem for owners of existing waterfront or flood plain homes seeking to protect their properties.

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Richard Coutts, Principal of Baca Architects, explains:

“This is a huge issue for waterfront and floodplain homeowners.  If they wish to upgrade pre-emptively or rebuild in the wake of a destructive flood event, they may well be stalled by the policy phrasing and ultimately rendered homeless. In the context of increasing flood plains and worsening flood events, building innovatively and safely needs to be embraced, marrying the best in architectural design with a focus on flood resilience and the protection of the environment. Flood resilience does not have to compromise design aesthetic or budget so long as it’s designed in from conception.  The planning success of the Christchurch application sets the precedent of safeguarding such schemes where they are on sites of flood risk and where development already exists”.

Baca’s scheme was granted planning consent earlier this month and is expected to be on-site in summer 2020.



The Kingspan OPTIM-R Balcony and Terrace System has been installed as part of the award-winning Here East development, a stunning repurposing of the press and broadcasting centres at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Situated in a picturesque canalside location, Here East provides over 110,000 m2 of flexible studio, work and retail spaces. The design adds warmth and creativity to the once windowless, monolithic façade of The Broadcast Centre. The building has been opened up with a new projecting unitised curtain-wall system and recessed balconies helping to add depth and interest to the building.

Lakesmere, now owned by Kaicer Building Envelope Solutions, were appointed to deliver the curtain-walling which wraps three sides of the building. The design called for three large recessed balconies running up to 13 metres in length. A pedestal floor construction was chosen for these areas and to ensure the space below was effectively insulated, whilst also maintaining a level transition from the adjoining space, the Kingspan OPTIM-R Balcony and Terrace System was chosen.

Unlike conventional insulation materials, Kingspan OPTIM-R panels feature a vacuum insulation core with an innovative microporous structure. This design allows them to achieve a declared thermal conductivity of 0.007 W/m∙K – up to five times lower than commonly used insulation materials. Rigid insulation infill panels of the same thickness are also included within the system. These are fitted around the perimeter of the balcony and can also be cut to allow for penetrations through the insulation layer or to fill spaces between the Kingspan OPTIM-R vacuum insulation panels (VIPs).

Chris Oatridge, Managing Director at Kaicer, discussed the specification:

“The recessed balconies are an important element in the exterior design, not only adding outdoor spaces but also helping to soften the overall appearance. By using the Kingspan OPTIM-R Balcony and Terrace system, we were able to insulate the balcony floor to an exceptional level with an insulation depth of just 85 mm.”

Operatives from Kingspan Insulation’s OPTIM-R design service developed detailed system layouts for the three recessed balcony areas – ensuring the optimal ratio of OPTIM-R VIPs to infill panels. Onsite, a vapour control and protective rubber crumb layer were first laid above the concrete deck. 25 and 30 mm Kingspan OPTIM-R panels were then laid above this in two layers followed by a 30 mm layer of Kingspan Styrozone. The floor pedestals were then fitted over the insulation layer – ready to receive the balcony floor layer.

Kingspan OPTIM-R panels produced at Kingspan Insulation’s Pembridge manufacturing facility is certified to BES 6001 (Framework Standard for the Responsible Sourcing of Construction Products) ‘Very Good’. This contributed to the award of credits within the responsible sourcing section of the BREEAM assessment.




Imagine a road with no asphalt, no concrete, just post-consumer plastic waste. This is possible in the Netherlands!

Smart City developments are rapidly advancing the way we live, work, and commute in our daily life. Smart City infrastructure is currently seeing a high-level of innovation toward a more sustainable future in the Netherlands. Using post-consumer plastic waste PlasticRoad builds sustainable roads of plastic reducing plastic pollution along the way. 

From plastic pollution to recycled plastic smart roads 

Consumer plastic waste represents a serious problem that is damaging the environment and many species on the planet. Globally, more than 40 species of fish are known to consume plastic. Eventually, that plastic reaches human plates.

Packaging alone generates 141 million tonnes annually of single-use plastic waste, being responsible for almost half of global plastic waste. This is the sector which also uses the most plastic: 146 million tonnes per year, representing 42 percent of the global total.

The innovative and unique concept of building roads made of plastic contributes to solving the overwhelming problem of plastic pollution. The idea of plastic roads was conceived by looking at the problems that municipalities, provinces, regional water authorities and contractors deal with on a daily basis including societal problems such as plastic waste, extreme precipitation, consolidation of the subsoil, an increasing need for mobility, and a crowded subsurface as well as the increasingly stringent requirements for future roads.

The increasing demand for more functionality from roads began to raise the question of whether the traditional asphalt is still the answer to these increasingly stringent requirements.

If roads in smart cities should have an increasingly longer lifespan, shorter construction and maintenance time, be more sustainable, achieve ever-higher noise reductions, and also be financially competitive then roads made of plastic is what ticks all the boxes and what inspired the idea of the PlasticRoad initiative.

Zwolle: Historical, trendy, and home of the world’s first plastic road

Zwolle is a city west from Amsterdam, reachable by train in just one hour. Zwolle is both historical and trendy. The city hosts one of the biggest markets in The Netherlands with 450 stalls. Art works from Dutch painters Vincent van Gogh and Piet Mondriaan delight art lovers who visit the Museum of Fundatie.

It is here, in Zwolle, where the world’s first plastic road prototype was built using recycled single-use plastic.

The first internal trial was ready in 2016. For over a year, cars and small trucks drove over the small plastic road every day without presenting any difficulties. Finally, in 2018, Zwolle became the first official city in the world to have a truly plastic road. 

The Netherlands is well known for its heavy use of bicycles that populate the Dutch cities contributing to the promotion of clean and fresh air, daily exercise, and less general pollution.

On September 11, 2018, a 30-meter bike path opened to the public in Zwolle. The road includes sensors which collect data proving information for further development, space for services to run underneath, and its own stormwater management system.

Building the plastic road presented many advantages including cheaper materials than traditional road-building materials and less time required for complexion before the road was fully installed.

The video below shows how the plastic road was installed:

After the success of the first plastic road, a second one was installed in late 2018 in the city of Giethoorn, also in The Netherlands. In this occasion, the goal was to test how the plastic road responded in weak soil conditions.

PlasticRoads plans on building more bike paths, pedestrian areas, and car parks around other cities in The Netherlands. Looking into the future, the three PlasticRoad partners are planning on building urban highways made of plastic.

In the future, single-use plastic might become a thing of the past. Presently, consumers use 500 billion single-use plastic bags per year with 75 percent of post consumer plastic waste being sent to a landfill.

It takes 10 years to 1,000 years for a single-use plastic bag to decompose. Plastic bottles take 450 years, in many cases it could take even more than that. Think all the plastic bottles you have discarded in your whole life will still be around polluting the planet centuries after you die.

Building plastic roads the LEGO way: Advantages

  • It is a lightweight prefabricated construction that can be built pretty much the LEGO way. It is four times lighter than a traditional road structure
  • Faster construction (months shorter) and less maintenance time
  • Higher quality and a longer lifespan. It is homogeneous and prefabricated. The lifespan is two to three times longer than a traditional road paving
  • Little to no maintenance required. The material is virtually impervious to conditions such as the weather and weeds
  • The innovation is considerably more sustainable. The goal is to make the PlasticRoad out of 100 percent recycled plastic and to make it fully reusable. It is perfectly in line with the Cradle to Cradle philosophy and the principles of the circular economy
  • Double use of space. The hollow space in the design can be used to store water or as space for cables and pipes
  • The possibility of constant traffic safety and water drainage
  • Everything on and around the road can be prefabricated including road markings and guardrails
  • It is scalable. The concept offers opportunities for further innovation. Examples include solar heated roads, light poles, and traffic loop sensors
  • A great added advantage is the contribution to the global social problem of plastic waste in an innovative and sustainable way

PlasticRoad is an innovative concept initiative of KWS, a Royal VolkerWessels company and market leader in road construction and the production of asphalt in The Netherlands. KWS partnered with Wavin, a company which operates within Orbia, and is a market leader in the recycling of plastics as well as specialist in making recycled plastic products for drain water drainage, and also with Total, to improve the properties of plastic, the recycling of plastic, and the available production techniques.

It all started when leading road builder KWS’ engineers came up with a smart solution to build more sustainable roads: Using plastic. Since then, the group has grown with partnerships that join forces to make cities smarter and sustainable.

Orbia is a purpose-driven company that aims to advance life around the world by focusing its business solutions on addressing six of the world’s biggest challenges aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. One of them is to make cities more livable, lovable, resilient, and regenerative.

By  Susan Fourtané


Source: Interesting Engineering



More than 30 studio apartments for young people who struggle to find good quality, affordable homes have been created in just 12 weeks by one of the UK’s leading modular building companies.

Integra Buildings manufactured the innovative, self-contained apartments in its production facilities in East Yorkshire, using cutting-edge modular building techniques.

The units were then transported by lorry to Bristol, where they were assembled to create Launchpad – a modular pilot project designed to help address a growing housing crisis in the city.

The single-person apartments, which left Integra’s site fitted out with high-quality, fully bespoke interiors will be available to young people aged 18-30 who are looking to leave student rentals, supported housing or over-priced accommodation.

Bespoke modular buildings specialist Integra is now completing the on-site installation of plumbing, power and high-speed broadband, with the homes expected to be ready to move into this autumn.

The rapid turnaround on the £1.4m project was achieved by utilising modular building methods that allow project times to be cut considerably when compared with traditional bricks and mortar methods, with no compromise on quality.

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United Communities, the housing association leading the pioneering project, believes it could be the forerunner for new housing solutions locally and nationally, with key workers among those who could benefit from the modular communities of the future.

Integra Technical Director Mike Marriott said: “Everyone should have access to good quality, affordable accommodation and this project has enabled us to be part of meeting this basic need for young people in a city where housing problems are acute.

“It brings together our expertise and capability in designing and manufacturing robust steel shell units and modular internal fit-outs. That combination has created comfortable and appealing homes, with the desired industrial external appearance.

“The apartments are constructed and equipped to very high standards and comply fully with domestic building regulations. We’re very proud to have played our part in such an innovative and inspirational project addressing a fundamental social need.”

Launchpad is backed by a partnership of United Communities, 1625 Independent People, which supports young people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, and the University of Bristol.

Last year, a report by Bristol City Council showed that more than 11,000 people were waiting for council housing in the city, where the average house price had reached almost £300,000.

The initial concept for Launchpad was to convert shipping containers, but it was decided these would be too small and restrictive. Instead, Integra was commissioned to design and manufacture a bespoke version of the shipping container concept, including a larger floor space and higher ceilings.

Integra has delivered a wide range of flagship projects across the UK, in sectors as diverse as sport and leisure, education, healthcare and commercial operations.

Building the Launchpad apartments combined two of the award-winning company’s key areas of expertise – steel fabrication, normally employed in the manufacture of secure anti-vandal units, for the container-style exteriors; and innovative modular methods to create high-quality living spaces.

A ready-made modular kitchen was slotted in, alongside an en-suite shower room, and each apartment has room for a bed, sofa, desk and wardrobe. Light floods in through large windows, with stylish blinds and laminate flooring completing a relaxed, contemporary look.

Integra has also built communal shared spaces, intended to encourage the development of a supportive and sustainable community.

Integra Design Technician Sam Treadaway said: “Shipping containers are very restrictive – instead we’ve created a bespoke product. It’s much larger, with higher ceilings and big windows, to bring in a lot more light, and to meet stringent building regulations, including insulation standards.

“Because it’s fully bespoke, we’ve been able to design the interiors to a much higher specification. These units are self-contained studio apartments, ready for people to move in.

“This has been a very positive project to be involved in and demonstrates the potential of modular construction in tackling important social and welfare issues.”

United Communities Chief Executive Oona Goldsworthy said the reduced project times offered by modular construction had been an important factor.

“The speed of delivery means we’ve been able to do a deal on the land and will move people in within six months,” she said. “There’s a huge shortage of available land for housing projects, but modular gives us the flexibility to use what I call pop-up sites.”

Ms Goldsworthy added: “We’ve learnt a great deal from this pilot. We’d like to house key workers, such as nurses, perhaps using land owned by hospitals. There’s huge potential for creating aspirational modular housing communities.”


For further information go to integrabuildings.co.uk

Modular homes manufacturer ilke Homes has launched the UK’s first onsite academy to train house builders and engineers to make homes in factories, to help ease the construction skills and housing crisis.

The ilke Academy will hire people from all walks of life, including school-leavers, military veterans and ex-offenders. These groups are under-represented in traditional construction and manufacturing.

The ilke Academy will be based next to the ilke Homes factory in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, which currently has capacity to produce 2,000 homes a year. This will enable new recruits and existing staff to learn a range of vital skills including engineering, plumbing, manufacturing, carpentry and design.

The academy will also support trainees’ professional growth, with a leadership development course in place offering recruits internal progression opportunities and a clear career path in the emerging modular housing industry. The academy will welcome 162 recruits and further the training of current ilke Homes employees, with applications open to 17-year olds through to those extending their career beyond retirement.

The launch of the ilke Academy – the first ever on site academy focusing on homes built in a factory – follows similar measures undertaken by the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, who announced the Mayor’s Construction Academy, focusing on traditional construction, in 2018.

Through its academy, ilke Homes says it wants to train people typically viewed as unskilled or unemployable while also supporting the local economy.

Its management team hopes that by setting up networks with a local men’s and a local women’s prison, they can prevent re-offending and promote house building to a new generation of people, while providing stable employment opportunities in an emerging industry.

ilke Homes want to work with careers advisors to help change perceptions and address the considerable lack of young people entering construction.

In June, the business agreed the UK’s largest ever modular housing deal with Places for People for 750 homes. The company is currently working with private housebuilders, housing associations, councils and retirement community developers to supply high quality homes accredited by BOPAS and backed by the NHBC warranty.

Dave Sheridan, Executive Chairman of ilke Homes, said: “We have a responsibility to help people from all backgrounds find employment and for too long, the construction sector has sat on its hands while the skills shortage has hit crisis point.

“Creating local jobs and helping get more women and young people into the sector have to be priorities. The Government has ambitious targets to build new homes and only through investment in factories will this realistically happen. Investment will only flow if the right skills exist – and that’s why we are keen to collaborate with everyone in the industry.

“Offsite manufacturing gives people a genuine, clear career path together with the opportunity to play a part in disrupting UK house building.

“Anyone, be they a school-leaver seeking their first full-time job or a reformed offender, should have the chance to be trained – not least when they can help end the housing crisis by building beautiful, high-quality homes.”

Duncan O’Leary, Chief Executive of the New Futures Network, a specialist part of Her Majesty’s Prison Service, said: “This is a fantastic initiative that will benefit ilke Homes, the individuals involved and the families and communities they are part of.

“Training and work placements in prisons equip offenders with skills they can use to find employment upon release. Having a job helps them get their lives back on track and ultimately keeps the public safe. By offering ex-offenders training relevant to their business, ilke Homes are joining over 300 employers that already benefit from hiring skilled people from prisons.”

Nigel Adams MP, Member of Parliament for Selby and Ainsty, said:”It’s no secret that the construction industry has struggled to cope with the ongoing skills shortage. The launch of the ilke Academy represents a huge step in the right direction in teaching new skills for local people from all walks of life, creating new and exciting jobs, whilst boosting our local economy.

“I am delighted to see that Yorkshire has established itself as a hotbed of housing innovation. This will be vital as we continue to reverse the brain drain that the capital has swallowed up and ensure that we can attract top talent to the region.”

Gill Cronin, Director of Operations at The 5% Club, said: “The ilke Academy is a very welcome step to establishing a factory-focused workforce to build homes of the future.

“Ensuring that people are engaged, trained and educated in modern methods of construction is crucial if this nascent industry is to grow quickly. It’s vital that the private sector takes greater responsibility for equipping future employees with the skills and knowledge needed to create the homes of tomorrow.”


Source: The Business Desk

With the opening of its City Intelligence Lab (CIL), the Center for Energy, the Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT) is setting a new milestone in its research infrastructure.

“The City Intelligence Lab at the Center for Energy is bringing about a paradigm shift by using digital technologies to include user perspectives, making the lab an international model when it comes to urban planning processes of the future,” says Wolfgang Hribernik, Head of the Center for Energy, at the opening. Functioning as an interactive platform, the City Intelligence Lab combines innovative processes with the latest digital planning tools using big data and artificial intelligence (AI). It is therefore able to realistically simulate and run through scenarios such as the climate situation in different parts of the city.

City Intelligence Lab – an international model laboratory

The laboratory is an interactive platform designed to allow tomorrow’s urban planning professionals to investigate new methodologies and technologies and takes a co-creative development approach, enabling the joint creation of new knowledge. “In establishing this laboratory we have produced a platform and a space for experimentation, what you could call a sort of medical laboratory for digital technologies,” says Nikolas Neubert, Head of the Competence Unit for Digital Resilient Cities at the Center for Energy.

The laboratory applies key technologies such as augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence in order to develop complex simulations and parametric designs. “The innovative achievement of tomorrow’s urban planning will be to apply digital technologies in order to create diverse planning scenarios which offer a broad portfolio of solutions for cities and their inhabitants. We have created the infrastructure necessary to do this,” Nikolas Neubert goes on to explain. The laboratory is equipped with interactive projection screens and models which together provide an improved collaborative planning environment, as well as an AI-based urban planning model which combines real-time simulation prediction and generative design, enabling the experts to explore unprecedented situations.

By working closely with other research institutions such as the Future Cities Lab at the ETH Zurich, and through close links with the private sector, the CIL is designed to become an international hub which facilitates the development of new research approaches.

Climate change and digitalisation in cities demand new ideas for planning and implementation

Urbanisation is a modern phenomenon. It requires cities to intelligently manage their growth and find answers to the challenges of climate change.
“Again, this year, we experienced an extreme heatwave. The growth and increased densification of cities only enhances the problem of overheating during the summer months,” explains Nikolas Neubert. Overheating is understood as the growing number of very hot days which reach a maximum temperature of over 30°C, and tropical nights in which the nighttime temperature never falls below 20°C. This development poses a health burden for the population.

“In order to make cities more resilient to this situation, we can use machine learning in the City Intelligence Lab to simulate microclimates for summer days and heatwaves, both with and without adaptation measures, to run through different climate models, and to present the results in visual form. This allows us to immediately identify the measures which would be effective in helping to cool particular areas of the city,” Nikolas Neubert says.

Digital technologies shift the focus of urban planning to the needs of residents

The innovative achievement of urban planning will be to use digital technologies in order to create diverse planning scenarios which offer a broad spectrum of solutions for cities and their inhabitants. In the LiLa4Green project, for example, a research team led by the AIT Austrian Institute of Technology is working together with city residents in two districts of Vienna to develop ideas and solutions to counteract urban overheating in parts of the city. The Living Lab approach combines innovative social science methodology with cutting-edge digital technologies in order to involve citizens in Wien Favoriten and Matznerviertel (Wien Hietzing) as early on in the planning process as possible. The aim is to ensure that the measures have a significant social impact and are widely accepted. In September 2019 LiLa4Green was selected as a candidate for IBA_Vienna 2022. LiLa4Green is being funded by the Climate and Energy Fund – Smart Cities Demo.

Innovations for cities and the built environment 

In its Digital Resilient Cities research field, the Center for Energy at the AIT Austrian Institute of Technology blends urban planning expertise with state-of-the-art city management and planning solutions. The researchers combine innovative processes with cutting-edge digital planning tools using big data and artificial intelligence (AI). Although the research projects are based in Austria, a large proportion (60%) of them are international. Know-how “Made in Austria” is in demand everywhere, whether in Germany, Argentina or Uzbekistan.

AIT Center for Energy

At the AIT Center for Energy over 200 experts are developing sustainable solutions for our future energy system under the leadership of Wolfgang Hribernik. The Center combines longstanding experience and scientific excellence with high quality laboratory infrastructure and a global network to offer companies innovative applied research services, providing them with a competitive edge in this promising market. A total of 370 research projects were carried out in 2018, with European projects accounting for 41 percent. The thematic portfolio of the Center for Energy focuses on three key systems: sustainable energy infrastructure, decarbonisation of industrial processes and facilities, and innovative technologies and solutions for cities and the built environment. More information about the Center can be founc on this link

If you’ve ever wanted to live like a criminal mastermind in your very own oceanic lair—get set for your next six-figure purchase: This new eco-friendly floating apartment mimics a famous James Bond villain’s pad and could be yours for a neat $480,000.

Designed by French naval architect Jean-Michel Duacancelle, the fully autonomous pod takes creative cues from “Atlantis:” a deep-sea citadel and laboratory which belonged to the wicked webbed-fingered Karl Stomberg in the 1977 Bond classic The Spy Who Loved Me. If that reference is lost on you, it basically looks like a lo-fi aquatic UFO.

“The strange floating saucer in which the famous British spy was sailing in the 10th movie of the James Bond franchise started my obsession,” Duacancelle told Robb Report.

Dubbed the Anthénea, the luxury floating home has taken five prototypes—roughly 15 years—to complete, one of which is currently stationed off the coast of France. But unlike its muse, this lair is focused on doing good: The Anthénea is equipped with five solar panels atop the dome which renders it fully power autonomous.

“I am passionate about the idea that tomorrow’s habitat will absolutely have to be eco-friendly and be put at the heart of our natural environment,” Duacancellem said.

Composed of fiberglass, the Anthénea produces its own energy; it’s entirely self-sufficient and completely off the grid. In addition to the solar panels, it features six powerful batteries with the ability to recharge from the pontoon. And there’s no need to stress, a sensor keeps you informed about the level of energy and when it’s too low the generating set will take over. The pod is reportedly more stable than a boat: It can brave a cyclone—or a pesky secret agent—and the insulation allows it to cope with temperatures ranging from -22° to 104° Fahrenheit.

Inside, the futuristic home boasts an expansive glass bottom which affords epic underwater views. French fashion mogul Pierre Cardin—who invested in the company—designed the interior and thus it’s suitably luxurious. The Anthénea is split into three living spaces: a living room with plush sofa and minibar, a bedroom featuring a circular bed and relaxing tub and a relaxation area on the rooftop which accommodates 12. It also comes complete with a 360° solarium. The best part? Everything inside is crafted from sustainable materials—an eco-friendly touch that earned the Anthénea the coveted 2019 Innovation Trophy from French tourism magazine L’Echo Touristique.

If you’ve got an evil (or eco) streak and are keen to procure the Anthénea, you can visit the showroom off the coast of France, or head to Cannes Film Festival to see a pop-up pod.


Source: Robb Report

London’s reputation as a smart city is long established and well deserved. The capital leads the world in designing and implementing creative and ambitious civic innovations. ‘Tapping in’ with a contactless payment card has become second nature to thousands of Londoners every day, smart technologies and data-sharing help us improve the city’s air quality through the new Ultra Low Emissions Zone and smart districts across the city are already test-beds for connected and autonomous vehicles, aerial drones and 5G technology. 

Earlier this summer, I attended a New Statesman round table sponsored by Virgin Media Business. It brought together industry and local government leaders to discuss the implications of smart city technology and look at the opportunities opened up by digital transformation initiatives across the country.

‘Smarter London Together’, launched last June by Sadiq Khan, champions a new approach to the way data and technology serve those who live, work in and visit the capital.  It represents a three-year plan to build up our common capabilities across 32 boroughs, NHS Trusts and major public bodies, linking them with London’s major universities and mobilising our world-class tech sector for civic benefit.

It’s important to remember that most of the hard work that goes in to making our city smarter for citizens is the relatively unglamorous work of digital transformation.  San Francisco’s Chief Digital Officer Carrie Bishop describes it as this: “Not the sexy work of blog posts and talks, the unsexy work of integrating with legacy systems, redesigning websites, and consolidating infinite forms.” It’s a quiet revolution and one London is at the forefront of.

Too often talk about ‘smart cities’ focuses too heavily on technology and not enough on people. Therefore, we stress the importance of citizen-led design in everything we do. This approach has enabled us to innovate in areas such as community giving and procurement in very different ways.

The Crowdfund London platform allows anyone to propose and develop an idea for a neighbourhood project, then coordinate local support, resources and funding through a public campaign. The Mayor then pledges funds to live campaigns and supports local groups to make their ideas a reality. By understanding the needs of users across communities in London we’ve been able to lend additional support to areas where social capital needs that extra bit of help.

The Mayor’s Civic Innovation Challenge offers an opportunity for start-ups to work together with leading businesses and public bodies to develop innovative solutions to the big issues facing our city: climate change, access to housing, helping those with dementia and tackling isolation among vulnerable Londoners.  To make sure proposals always have the user at their core, the Talk London Platform – an online community of over 40,00 Londoners – is used to test ideas directly and provide swift feedback.

Tackling some of London’s big challenges requires major changes in data-sharing.   Our city has long been recognised as a leader in mobilising open data for public benefit. The London Datastore enables public bodies to tackle complex urban challenges, such as poor air quality, the housing crisis and inequality. And nearly half of all Londoners regularly use travel apps such as Citymapper, made possible with live data provided by Transport for London.

With the growth of the Internet of Things, transparency around how we use people’s data is paramount. This is why London piloted a new data trust with the Open Data Institute so we can share data while safeguarding Londoners’ privacy and security and developing an approach to data ethics across all public services.

We now want to see a step-change in data-sharing, with a new Datastore acting as the central register of open and secure data, not just for insights but to support innovation to tackle congestion, access to skills and the climate crisis.

Our Connected London Programme is London’s first strategic approach to improving access to full fibre in homes.  We’ve proposed major changes to the future planning system and work with each London borough to ensure they have a joined-up approach to fixed and mobile connectivity, supported by investments from City Hall.  TfL is set to roll out 4G mobile technology on trains and there is the potential for the Tube network to act as a huge fibre spine for London, lowering the costs for investment in underserved areas of the city. This will prepare the way for 5G, as will the hundreds of thousands of public assets, like lampposts and public buildings, which could carry the technology and infrastructure to make this a reality.

Through the Mayor’s Digital Talent Programme we’re providing support to the next generation of the city’s tech pioneers by enhancing the digital skills of young women as well as Londoners from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.

Finally, one of the big barriers local government needs to address is our limited history of collaboration and sharing best practice, meaning efforts are often unnecessarily duplicated.  Existing models, such as shared services, often suffer from too much governance and are rarely scaled beyond a handful of authorities.

Working with London Councils and several forward-thinking boroughs, we launched the new London Office of Technology and Innovation (LOTI) this summer. This is a new city-wide body which will build common capability and the opportunity to collaborate and scale digital and smart technology across the capital’s public services.

By focusing on our core capabilities first, understanding what technologies support our services and encouraging stronger leadership in data and service design we’re creating a fresh approach to smart thinking that enables us to better meet the needs of our citizens.

By Theo Blackwell


Source: The Newstatesman


As more and more people live in densifying built environments, the importance of spending time outdoor encountering natural phenomena and learning to live closer to the seasonal cycles of the weather increases. The everyday experience of being connected to nature is a key factor in long-term health and well-being. Spending time outdoors also presents opportunities to meet other people and have shared encounters.

Everyone does not necessarily need to have their own garden, but they should have access to a range of outdoor spaces and experiences, from a window box to a roof terrace, from a balcony to a public park, from a sidewalk café to a tree-lined boulevard. These spaces can bring them closer to nature and help them live better with the weather.

Bringing Nature into the City

Biophilia is the affinity humans have to connect with nature. There are also many health benefits that come with encounters with nature. International research has demonstrated the healing benefits of seeing trees for hospital patients, and the Japanese practice of forest bathing is becoming well-known. There may not always be natural landscape close by to connect with, so the experience of nature, or at least strong elements of nature, may need to be brought into the city. There are many ways to bring greenery and water back into the urban environment. Although vegetation is probably the most important aspect of nature in improving the environment of urban places, the presence of water may be the most special. The strongest sensory experiences are associated with water, in particular running water, with sound, movement and reflection.

In Freiburg, small and shallow channels of water run through the streets of the medieval core, reinterpreting a historical system of small streams. These Bächle are 20-50 centimeters (8-20 inches) wide and 5-10 centimeters (2-4 inches) deep. The water channels have multiple functions: cooling and cleaning, acting as a separator between pedestrians and trams, or defining a zone for sitting and staying. They reflect a dancing light in the narrower, dark streets. Perhaps best of all, they turn the streets into a giant playground, offering children of all ages temptation and opportunities to sail small boats, paddle and splash about. This very small feature has significantly larger consequences, allowing the streets to do more by increasing the intensity of use. The Bächle help achieve the balance between recreation (staying, sitting and playing) and function (multi-modal traffic corridors).

In Freiburg, Germany, small, shallow streams called Bächle run
through the streets of the medieval old town. (Photo by David Sim)

How Street Trees Transform Urban Spaces

Planting street trees is one of the most significant things that can be done to improve an urban environment. Beyond their inherent beauty, street trees do many useful things that help improve the look, feel and performance of urban spaces. Trees change the climate of streets (and whole cities) by providing buildings and street surfaces with shade from the sun and protection from the wind. This makes it more pleasant to spend time outdoors on the sidewalk and easier to move about on foot and bicycle or wait for transit. In this way, trees have an important role in supporting active mobility.

More than a mere green surface, trees help reduce the heat-island effect, which blights many urban places, through shading, reflectance, evaporative cooling and evapotranspiration. Trees act as privacy screens in densely built areas. They filter strong sunlight, reducing glare and can act as light reflectors, throwing a dynamic “dancing” light into buildings. Trees provide a hugely significant sensory experience for people in streets with their sounds, smells and movements. Their ever-changing appearance gives people an awareness of the seasons and the passing of time, and effectively turn streets into linear parks.

Trees absorb carbon dioxide. Since cities produce most of the carbon dioxide, it makes sense to place trees at the source of the problem and where people are most vulnerable. Trees are natural air filters, capturing dust and other particles from the air by trapping them on their leaves and in their bark, as well as absorbing unpleasant smells and pollutant gases such as ammonia, sulphur and nitrogen oxides. This is particularly significant in relation to vehicle emissions.

Connecting to the Nature That is There

Almost every town or city has some natural amenity, whether it’s some kind of water, topography or views. The way a place connects to its natural amenities and works to accentuate the best features, however modest, can have a significant effect on how much time people spend outdoors. Supports can be put in place to encourage people to spend time outside and encounter nature, and can also extend their comfort zone, making the experience feel easy, desirable and pleasurable.

This could include orienting new buildings to allow views of nature, uncovering a natural stream or river, planting street trees allowing microhabitats to bloom or simply placing furniture outside of a café, allowing people to sit in the sun.


All of these encounters with nature, as grand as a view of mountains and as subtle as the sound of a birdsong, are significant and provide us with a strong awareness of the circle of life. Being aware of nature is the first step to understanding it, living with it and learning how to adapt to the environment.


In Havana, street trees form a canopy that creates an outdoor room and softens

the climate for walking and lingering. (Photo by David Sim)

The simplest form of connecting people to nature is making what’s already there easily accessible. In Freiburg, Germany, the Dreisam River runs just outside the medieval core. In the summer months, people sit on rocks in the river and enjoy its cooling effect and the shade from the trees on the riverbank. The rocks make for an informal sitting landscape, offering encounters with people as well as with nature. Even a small water surface of a few centimeters/inches deep, such as the stream that flows through the center of Kyoto, Japan, can have a strong presence.

The huge significance and value of water has been recognized in cities like Århus in Denmark and the South Korean capital Seoul, both of which have gone to considerable lengths to reopen rivers previously hidden under road infrastructure. The results of these efforts have radically changed the behavior of the people and dramatically increased the amount of time spent outside.

An Outdoor Living Room for the Whole City: Västra Hamnen, Malmö, Sweden

The Swedish city of Malmö had historically turned its back to the sea, but with the redevelopment of the Western Harbor from industrial zone to residential neighborhood, the value of the waterfront was rediscovered. The flagship Bo01 housing exhibition introduced the Sundspromenad, a pedestrian waterfront, giving the area a resort-like feel. The pedestrian waterfront is probably the most important public space in the city.

The main feature is a multifunctional stepped wall, which functions as a storm barrier, a wind break, a seating landscape, a playground, a stage, a catwalk, a sunbathing deck and a viewing platform that marks and accentuates the spectacular view over the water toward the Öresund Bridge and Copenhagen.

Further along in the adjacent park, Daniaparken, enclosed, wind-protected areas afford a longer season of sitting outside and sunbathing while platforms, steps and ladders into the sea make sea-bathing easier. The removal of dangerous rocks on the seabed has made diving possible and the spectacular end of the promenade look-out point now doubles as a diving board.


At Västra Hamnen, in Malmö, Sweden, water features offer entertaining play

opportunities for children, while adults relax. (Photo by David Sim)

Sundspromenad and Daniaparken attract visitors from the immediate neighborhood, the larger city and even the surrounding region. Malmö has long stretches of beach, yet every day people of every age, ethnicity and socio-economic background come to the Sundspromenad, proving that an urban experience of nature can be just as attractive as a natural one.

Making the Most of Infrastructure: Taasinge Square, Copenhagen, Denmark

In recent years, Copenhagen has been hit by more frequent and more severe rainstorms, which have led to extreme flooding, causing extensive damage. In response to this new challenge, the City has developed a climate-adaptation plan, which calls for the creation of new soft landscaping in public places to absorb flooding.

Spaces that previously had hard, impervious surfaces are being landscaped to accommodate flood water and allow slower run-off during and after rainstorms. Instead of investing in expensive underground infrastructure that is invisible to citizens and unused most of the time, the City has leveraged the investment in stormwater management to create greater value. The 2011 plan includes “Cloud Burst Projects” for more than 300 parks, streets and squares to be implemented over the coming decades. The new landscapes improve the everyday quality of life for Copenhageners while increasing property values, increasing biodiversity and reducing the heat-island effect.

Being outside means having sensory experiences, actually feeling the weather on your skin. In order to get people who live their lives indoors to develop better relationships with the outdoors, to learn to live with the weather or become better neighbors with nature, we must offer options and opportunities, frequent invitations and occasional nudges, to move closer to nature, one step at a time.

One such new public space is Taasinge Square in Copenhagen’s first climate-resilient neighborhood, part of the City’s Climate Plan. The square that used to be covered in asphalt and parked cars has been transformed into a distinctive, green and sustainable landmark. The park’s response to stormwater is above-ground and therefore visible to everyone. The space promotes understanding of climate change in an active social context. When it’s not flooded, it’s a great recreational landscape for everyone to enjoy.

Repurposing Infrastructure as Public Space: Kizu River Waterfront Project, Osaka, Japan

The Japanese are accustomed to climatic disasters. Tsunamis, earthquakes, landslides, floods and volcanic eruptions are all regular events. Japan has invested in hardware (infrastructure) and software (training) to ensure the safety of its citizens. High flood-defense walls protect cities like Osaka from the risk of flooding, but the walls disconnect citizens from their living waterfront. The scale of the walls eliminates any communication with the water, and the citizens lose their awareness of the sea, forgetting both their fear of and their delight in the water.

Ryoko Iwase’s project from 2013-2017 repurposes the flood-defense wall, converting the hard, engineered infrastructure into public space, a terraced landscape with room for varied interpretation, inhabitation and appropriation by the users. There is a continuous footpath along the water’s edge to encourage people to walk by the water. There are big steps for sitting, inviting people to stay and watch the water. There is also a system of planters, which softens the concrete structure with vegetation. The citizens are invited to actively tend the greenery. By reimagining infrastructure as public space, people now have the opportunity to spend more time outdoors, connecting to the forces of nature both passively and actively.

River Swimming in Berne, Switzerland

Imagine leaving your crowded office or your tiny city apartment, hot and sweaty on a summer’s day, walking just a few hundred meters and then jumping straight into the cooling waters of a river. Swimming in the Aare River in Berne is an example of an activity that makes dense city life more enjoyable. It is the opportunity to connect, physically and mentally, to the natural environment in the middle of a city. The experience engages the senses: feeling your skin submerged in the water, putting your head underwater to hear the sounds of the stones on the river bed while hearing the splashing and voices of fellow swimmers and the sounds of birds and trees on the riverbank.






In Berne, Switzerland, swimming in the Aare River offers a new way to interact with neighbors: jump off a footbridge, let the current carry you downstream, then get out, walk back along the promenade and do it again. (Photo by David Sim)


In these exceptional circumstances, there is opportunity to meet and interact with your neighbors and fellow citizens. Since the current carries people downriver, there is a ritual of getting in at the concrete steps or jumping off a footbridge, swimming with the flow, then getting out, walking back along the promenade to where you started, and then doing it all over again.

It might seem like an unlikely activity for the reserved citizens of the Swiss capital, but this natural wonder brings people from all kinds of backgrounds together in extremely relaxed circumstances. The bankers and politicians shed their suits and enjoy the experience of meeting their neighbors in their swimming costumes. The river swimming brings a kind of holiday spirit to the everyday life of the city.

River swimming is free and it is socially inclusive for a diverse group of people—young and old, different nationalities and ethnicities, locals and tourists. Even some pets join in. Since this activity is easily accessible every day after school or after work, it means there are many and frequent opportunities to connect to nature and, at the same time, make new friends and acquaintances.

Beyond the daily enjoyment, the Aare River experience informs people’s broader understanding of the weather and the environment. For example, people better understand how the water temperature in the river is affected by the weather in the mountains, and take notice from year to year of the start, the end, the length and the consistency of the swimming season. These are relevant topics of conversation as this important annual activity is so directly affected by the weather. This feeds into a deeper understanding of the weather patterns, cycles and how it all connects to our own experiences and lives. Even for the spectator, swimming has a relevance, and the sight of river swimmers while sitting on a train or tram connects people to their place and climate.

The infrastructure that supports the river swimming is quite basic and intuitive to use. Along the riverside, there are simple concrete steps with brightly painted handrails to make getting in and out easy as well as buoys and some simple warning signs telling people when they should get out.

Living with the Weather

Living with the weather is about recognizing how the design of the built environment can influence our behavior, making it easy to move between inside and out, and making it comfortable to spend more time outdoors. At the same time, by taking small steps, we can move toward living more in harmony with the forces of nature in a time of climate change. Being outside means having sensory experiences, actually feeling the weather on your skin. In order to get people who live their lives indoors to develop better relationships with the outdoors, to learn to live with the weather or become better neighbors with nature, we must offer options and opportunities, frequent invitations and occasional nudges, to move closer to nature, one step at a time.

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Many newly built environments such as homes, institutions and workplaces seem to be oriented to staying indoors, and any mobility around them is based on driving. The internet age has spurred debate and research on the value of being outside and in contact with nature – especially related to the upbringing of children in an age of iPads. Spending time outdoors creates opportunities for socialization, for shared experiences of natural phenomena, which in turn can help build a common understanding and consensus of what’s happening with our climate.

Every city comes with its own set of climate challenges. But weather does not only have to be something that we endure. It is also possible to design outside conditions through designs to create better, simple details—such as the shape and massing of buildings and the spaces in between—that have the potential to create more comfortable microclimates. By letting the sun in, and sometimes keeping it out, by sheltering from the wind and rain, we have the potential to make our own weather or at least to extend the time we can spend outdoors. Low-tech, low-cost interventions such as shutters and stairs, balconies and arcades can bring people out of their normal, indoor comfort zones into a closer, more satisfying relationship with the natural and social environments outside.

There is a well-known saying in Scandinavia: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes.”

An excerpt of “Soft City: Building Density for Everyday Life,” by David Sim, published by Island Press. The author makes a case for a human-scale “soft city” that prioritizes the organization and layout of the built environment for more fluid movement and comfort, a diversity of building types and thoughtful design to ensure a sustainable urban environment and society. In this excerpt, Sim illuminates how outdoor space can enhance the experience of a city’s geography and climate, invite the community into the public sphere and mitigate the effects of climate change.


Source: Next City