EPFL Year Book

How to Design Futures with Cities?

This book collects part of the academic results of the two visiting seminars held at the School of Architecture, Civil & Environmental Engineering from EPFL (EPFL-ENAC) during the academic years 2021 and 2022. The seminar ‘Designing Futures with Cities’ (directed by Mar Santamaria and Pablo Martínez) aimed at updating the toolbox to observe, analyse, anticipate, simulate, design and evaluate urban strategies.

Today, our capacity to work with the inherent complexity of urban systems is proportional to our ability to describe them. In the last decades, this complexity has evolved along with the tools and information we use to analyse and interpret urban matter. Indeed, our capacity to address urban complexity is mainly fueled by the unstoppable datification of the world. Today, big data sets provide information about buildings, inhabitants or the characteristics and uses of public space -collected by networks of sensors, administrative procedures or the use of mobile devices.

In this context, we invited the students to embrace this way of describing the world, organising theoretical and practical knowledge acquisition to recreate realistic case studies in the city of Geneva. The seminar was organised in three main phases. Starting from the data-gathering process (including digital collection and on-site observations), the students have developed a quantified analysis and a subsequent proposal that explores a transformation scenario.

Marked by COVID-19, this period forced the students to make the home a refuge, looking abroad with a desire to socialize. At the same time, this impasse has catalysed discussions about the city and its future. This same period has fostered the construction of a critical point of view on the part of the seminar’s students, which they have evolved and grown until creating inspiring proposals for the future city expressed through cartographic and quantitative scenarios that support the yearnings for a new desired urban environment.





Unscrambling Madrid

When we describe a city, we usually talk about its boundaries, the elements that compose it, the organization of its uses, the depletion of its land and the flows that take place within it. This description of anatomical nature becomes more complex and precise the more detail it can incorporate. It is an explanation that is impossible to complete, faithful to the constant changes that occur in the object being described. Therefore, in the attempt to achieve a perfect description, we are at risk of generating an exact reproduction of the city we are trying to explain – just as complex and incomprehensible.


Madrid Diversa

Madrid is a dense city with a complex urban fabric, from the center to the peripheral areas with their varying intensities. This map describes the different granularities of the urban fabric based on the variability of the size of the plots, the combination of small and large dwellings, and the combination of different building qualities resulting from the coexistence of historic buildings and new constructions in a single neighborhood.


Modelling Urbanity

No. 19 (2022)- Form and Behaviour

The second volume of Ildefons Cerdà’s Teoría General de la Urbanización —a work that defines urban planning as a science for the first time— includes an extensive set of statistics and property registers of Barcelona that served as a basis for the design of the city extension plan and made it possible to establish relationships between urban conditions and their impact on mortality and to argue and justify the need to expropriate a generous amount of land to make new roads. Years later, under the motto ‘survey before planning,’ Patrick Geddes introduced in Cities in Evolution the need for observation and profound knowledge of the city and the territory prior to any urban planning action. This view accepting urban planning as scientific knowledge was conditioned by the method. Later, in 1970, Manuel de Solà-Morales emphasised in La ciudad y los juegos that ‘urban planning, as a social science, suffers from the difficulties of working with an ambiguously defined body with minimal testing capacity’. The aim of this statement was to establish the need to build abstract city models based on logical and mathematical formulations that would act as laboratories of reality where acting principles would be validated and not just the result of ideological apriorisms. Although this line of work was clearly identified by Solà-Morales, he did not continue it; instead he focused his activity on the knowledge of city

Unscrambling Madrid: Describing the Urban Mix

Probably, today the idea of diversity is what best reflects European cities and, above all, large capitals like Madrid. Cities that concentrate a diversity of urban fabrics, with buildings of different characteristics, various uses, multiple ages, qualities and densities. A diversity that is the result of complex urbanization processes that are difficult to reproduce, the result of half-applied theories, political tensions, individual ambitions or collective impulses.

Related projects


Quaderns 273

This issue, guest-edited by Josep Ferrando and Marta Poch, aims to reflect on the role of the architect in the construction of the habitat and architectural thinking through its project processes. With a scientific approach and articulated in five methods, the publication analyses the design process of up to 25 architecture studies. Each of them shares how they have to face the current context from the architecture discipline. The studios featured are: 300,000km/s, Aixopluc, Arquitectura–G, Arquitecturia, Barozzi Veiga, Anna & Eugeni Bach, Bosch Capdeferro, Carles Enrich Studio, DATAAE, Albert Faus, Flexo, Goig, Grau Casais, HARQUITECTES, López Rivera, MAIO, Mendoza Partida, Mirla, Lluís Ortega, PERIS+TORAL, Núria Salvadó, Unparelld'arquitectes, Jorge Vidal, Ferran Vizoso and Vora.

Preventive Urbanism

Throughout this long emergency period, urban and territorial pilot projects in different countries have shown how Covid-19 has been an accelerator for those cities that already had structurally questioned livability, urban and environmental quality, quantity and quality of public space, sustainable mobility, accessibility to services and territorial welfare, acting accordingly and experimenting with new strategies, tools and interventions. It is clear now that we need to rethink the concept of what we consider “healthy,” reinterpreting that cyclical relationship between the person, the city and the environment in order to overcome different ideas of health. However, challenges in the field of urban planning and health have changed: from poor ventilation and organic waste disposal capacity as the primary reason for the spread of epidemics, to contemporary issues of air and light pollution, overexposure to noise, sedentary lifestyles, chronic diseases, overweight, stress, extreme socioeconomic inequalities. Many of these issues are directly related to urban and spatial development patterns: the auto-centric mobility paradigm, poor-quality food accessibility, excessive urban density (or extreme fragmentation), energy production and supply systems, new forms of consumption and distribution, tourism, all dynamics exacerbated by climate change, the digital revolution and possible pandemics. Today more than ever, it seems relevant to ask how cities and territories can finally address the health issue in a structural way, shifting from a curative to a preventive approach, from an idea of individual health to a collective health.


Affordable Housing Atlas

The Affordable Housing Atlas aims to look into the issue of housing access on a global scale. The approach to the issue is supported by data provided by multiple sources, making it possible to describe the planet on a global scale using the criteria of the Affordable Housing Activation (AHA) scientific committee, which has defined different barriers contributing to housing inaccessibility.

Dynamic Atlas on Access to Housing

In the framework of the UIA 2022 International Forum "Affordable Housing Activation: Removing Barriers", the Consejo Superior de los Colegios de Arquitectos de España (CSCAE) has launched a useful tool developed by 300.000 km/s: the first dynamic atlas on access to housing. This atlas brings together on a single platform more than 4,000 financial, urban context and development indicators from the main international organisations, from official and non-structured sources, making it easy to understand, read and interpret. These organisations include, for example, the World Bank, the Ibero-American Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Health Organisation, among others.


A+U “Urban Science and New Design Tools”

How technology transforms urban planning and governance?

This September issue of A+U is devoted to new technologies in urban science and their applications in settings that range from the aesthetics of urban spaces to participatory democracy and public health. Edited by Yuji Yoshimura, It includes some of the projects developed by 300.000 Km/s such as Mercè, Geographies of the Lockdown, Nocturnal Landscapes, Ciutat Vella Land-Use Plan and Air/Aria/Aire -that explore how these technologies will change the ways in which architects shape urban spaces.

These and other projects from Barcelona, which has been at the forefront of using these new tools at the municipal level, are presented alongside recent efforts in the United States and Japan, covering not only “the physical aspects of cities”, but also “the systems and public-private platforms that have made them possible, and how cities can consider the issue of privacy.” We discover how information can be gathered, visualized, and used as a communication and design tool to plan a livable city, often with the government and citizens in partnership.



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