Month: January 2013

Water (4) Lyon Confluence


confluence1The French city of Lyon has many reasons to catch your attention: its setting between two rivers that pretend not wanting to join their waters, so creating a long peninsula that has become the urban center, its hills giving you good views even of the Alps, some 100 kms away, and an ordered urban planning. You can also mention food, while you are…


The historical core is on the Fourviere area, on the Saone banks, and has expanded to the east. Th 1764 plan by Jean Antoine Morand shows a vision of the consolidation of the city on the river crossing. The junction of the Rhone and the Saone, whose position has changed over the centuries due to the fluvial dynamics and canalization works, has been until recent dates a haphazard suburb with industrial and rail uses.

Fonds Coste

In 2003 the City of Lyon launches the urban renewal operation, aiming to configure a space with a high quality of life, affordable housing, mixed uses and cultural activities, and the seat of the Rhône-Alpes Regional Government.

The area in 1972

The area in 1972


The project area covers 150 hectares, 70 of which correspond to lots and 35 to public spaces. The area is to reach a 16.000 population with 25.000 jobs, including high energy efficiency buildings and a reduced water use. Any part of the operation is less than 400 m from water and a public transit stop. The flood risk is reduced by minimizing the soil paving (less on-street parking, grass planted public spaces) and through a design that includes canals.

lyon-confluence-aerea Confluence-1a

Public spaces and buildings have been designed with water and built heritage in mind.

You can get more information at 

Water (3) The Delta Plan

809_fullimage_deltawerken zeeland.jpg_560x350In 1953 the Netherlands were subject to terrible floods. As a country located on the Rihne delta, with a large portion of its land under the sea level, the risk of flood is always high, but at that time a sizeable storm over the Northern Sea, touching also Britain, Belgium and Germany, made the sea level rise over 4 meters as related to its usual level. As this happened by night, many people were caught while sleeping, and there were over 1.800 deaths.

A coastal protection plan was implemented, creating one of the most abstract and impressing contemporary landscapes, with a figure as target: 4.000 years, the period in which, as a statistical average, there would be a flood large enough to overcome that barrier with the same effects as the 1953 flood (in Spain, for instance, a lot is deemed subject to flood risk if that time is 500 years). The giant cost of the works and their maintenance has been compensated, at least partially, by a Dutch- specific know-how that is exported. I have visited the Netherlands, but never this area; the upper image (taken from shows an entireley abstract and artificial landscape, in which every element has a logic.

The original calculations for the Delta Plan have been altered by the climate change forecasts and the knowledge derived from the 2005 Katrina disaster in New Orleans. The Netherlands are reexamining their flood protection policy, wich is the same as saying they have to rethink half their country.

Water (2) Waterless wc

The introduction of modern sewage in the XIXth century was largely related to the invention of the modern wc. This device had undeniable health advantages, but a clear problem: the need for a water volume that, combined at the scale of large cities, can become relevant. According to New York’s PLANYC, some years ago that city was considering a new reservoir to cope with a rising water demand; the final solution was a wc renovation program, with model whose water demand was lower, as to eliminate the need for the new reservoir. On the other side, the disposal of used water also requires a costly infrastructure.

The problem is where you have no water pipes, a common situation in many countries. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation launched in 2011 the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge, aimed at designing a toilet with no water needs. The aims where:

–           Remove pathogens and recover resources as energy, clean water and nutrients

–           Operate without need for water, sewage or electricity grids

–           Cost less than 5 dollar cents a day to operate

–           Promote sustainable sewage services in poor urban environments

–           Become an aspirational next generation product that everyone will want to use in any nation.

The result has been a series of grants to varied institutions to develop prototypes. A wonderful idea for developing countries, a chance to reduce infrastructure and environmental impact in any country.

Water (1) Desalination

What to do when there is no fresh water nearby? either you make a long aqueduct to bring water from a distant source, or you use a desalination plant if salt or brackish water is at hand. This has been done in some parts of the spanish southeast coast. The Bajo Almanzora desalination plant brings water to an intensive cultivation area without need for long aqueducts.

With a production capacity of 20 cu hm of water per year and a 75,9 million euros investment (23 of which come from European funds), the 150.000 people and the farmers in the area access a more reliable water source than what is normally available in this dry area. Using an inverse osmosis technology, the factory ensures the brine (water with a much higher salt concentration that is discarded as a result of the desalination process) is brought to an environmentally adequate discharge point through a 2,5 km pipe (the sea is close to the plant, as you can see on google maps). The plant takes no more than 5 hectares on the ground.

I don’t know the accurate data on this plant, but if we take an average efficiency of 4 kwh of electricity for each cu meter of desalted water (an usual value for such plants), the yearly demand of 20 cubic hectometers would be 800 Mwh of electricity. With wind farms usually beyond 50 Mw of installed capacity, this can be done on renewable energies (altough it is not always the case, and a connection to the grid is needed for those days in which the wind is not blowing). As an example, a specific publication on the issue. 

Biblio (25) Water policy in France

3- EAU FRANCE-world water forum

According to data from the World Water Forum (Marseilles 2012), in 2030 the per capita use of water in the world is set to rise by 40%, and 47% of the world population will be in areas under water stress. Agriculture will take about 70% of the resource, and industry and energy 10%. The amount of renewable fresh water that could be obtained by person will have dropped to less than a third of the 1950 figure, to be around 5.100 cu m (largely due to population growth). The UN website publishes interesting statistics.


In this context, the water policy in France is based on the 1964 Law on watersheds (eight large watersheds in the European French territory and five in the overseas territories), the 1992 Law that establishes the balanced management, and the 2006 law on water and water environments. The Grenelle 2 Law sets the measures to control losses in transportation and to reduce the use of phytosanitary products. The management of flood zones is based on the 2007 European Directive on the issue.

The French system integrates public participation in the definition of the Schémas Directeurs d’Aménagement et Gestion des Eaux (SDAGE).

Green (4) Good and bad

EucaliptusEach profession has its myths or realities, depending of its concern. Typography experts hate some fonts, dress designers find some apparel disgusting in some moments, mathematicians despise the asymetries in thought, and architects… well, we architects can dislike almost everything depending of the day, or just things other people find ugly (we cannot be redeemed…).

Environmentalists hug trees… but not every tree. For instance, in northern Spain (not the image you have of a sun-scorched stepe, but much closer to Britanny in France) it common to hear complaints about eucaliptus, as those on the image (Santa Cristina beach, Oleiros), as they are not from the region,are prone to displace native species and take high water amounts. As with other fast growth trees, environmentalists say that these are a mere speculative plantation with a poor ecological record.

Up until that it seems clear. But now enters the climate change issue. On average nearly all the wood species have the same content of carbon per weight, so the faster a tree grows, the faster it captures atmospheric carbon, which is a good thing… If wood harvesting is properly conducted: a fire would release the carbon, or bad soil management would also have the opposed consequences. As always in ecology, a complex system, there is no single factor that can tell you if something is good.

Anyway, walking under these trees I can sometimes understand those that love the buildings I find appalling…


Green (3) The California Academy of Sciences

The California Academy of Sciences is at the core of the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. It is a classical sample of a large representative civic building in a central spot of a public park. Loma Prieta earthquake in 1988 damaged the original building beyond repair, and italian architect Renzo Piano (co-author of the Pompidou Center in Paris) was called for reconstruction. The idea (that can be clearly perceived in the google map) is to bring back the building area to plants through an interesting planted roof. The building has received a high mark according to the LEED sustainable development rating system (10% of the energy used by the building is generated through its on-site solar cells, and the six inches of earth on the roof are a high insulation envelope). More information on this remarkable building at:
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Green (2) The Retiro

The Retiro Park in Madrid appears in the XVIIth century as a second residence for king Philippe the IVth. Gardens were in fact an element linked to a large built complex, showing a complex relationship between buildings and green, as so often in these urban recreation scenes, and of the progressive occupatio of the land initially free in the city.

Texeira Map

Texeira Map

Texeira’s 1656 map shows a Paseo del Prado (left) still largely flanked by orchards and a palace which is indiferent to its urban position. The current pond is already there, as well as a network of channels for the royal games. Trees extend to the current Paseo de Reina Cristina. Current Alcala/O’Donell streets and Avenida Menéndez Pelayo respond to the eastern and northern limits.

Image from the Biblioteca Digital Hispanica (

Image from the Biblioteca Digital Hispanica (

The following image (a litography by J.Donnon) shows the sketch for the blocks layout to be built in the Buen Retiro site, aproved by the Madrid Municipality and the Royal House in february 1865. The Buen Retiro Palace dissapeared during the Napoleonic wars, but some traces subsist, including Paseo del Prado. The project was modified, as some other traces where maintained (the current Army Museum) and the current Palacio de Telecomunicaciones (the new City Hall) occupies what was intended to remain green.

Image from the Biblioteca Digital Hispánica (

Image from the Biblioteca Digital Hispánica (

The following image shows the Historical American Exhibition of the fourth centenial (1892), occupying the area of the current Palacio de Velazquez and Palacio de Cristal, with a layout still existing. Despite the size of the buildings, their location in a lower ground and the growth of trees has allowed an integration that has become the historical memory.
The Gym Pavillion by Abalos y Herreros (2003) in the western part of the park is a fine contemporary adition that responds to its setting. Most of the uses are underground, but well lit and ventilated, and the upper volume is in fact transparent, diminishing its pressence.

Green (1) The Landes de Gascogne

The woods of the Landes from the Pyla dune. Ocean to the left

The woods of the Landes from the Pyla dune. Ocean to the left

The Landes de Gascogne are a part of France constituting the most of the littoral of the Aquitaine region, with an area close to 14.000 sq km. They constitute an example of the complexity of the large territorial interventions.

What today is one of the largest forests in Europe is really a human creation. The Landes where traditionally perceived as an unhealthy swamp, with poor soils and a subsistence agriculture and sheep cattle, that transformed a scarce vegetation in manure. After many unsuccessful attempts to develop agriculture with many alternatives from rice to tobacco, and under the threat of malaria and mobile dunes, the Law of June 19, 1857, mandates the draining of the swamps to plant pines, to be used for their resin and wood.

Draining and plantation last until 1914. In parallel there is a relevant privatization of land (until then largely public, facilitating the transit of cattle) and social tensions rise due to the transit form subsistence agriculture and cattle to wood harvesting.

The relevance of resin decays, to disappear at the end of the XXth century. In 2009 the Klaus storm causes a large number of windtrows, leading to measures to stabilize the wood markets and to a debate on the future of silviculture model.


Biblio (24) ECO2 Cities


The World Bank is an institution aimed to give technical and financial support to developing countries. As usually in this kind of institutions the financial operations are conducted taking into account internal and external reports on various matters. Urban development is among them, an unsurprising fact in a world in which the urban population grows in developing countries, set to see the area of their cities multiply by three from 2000 to 2030.

The Bank launched in 2009 its new Urban Strategy, in which the ECO2Cities strategy : ecologic cities as economic cities, is inscribed. The aim is to help the cities of developing countries to adopt sustainable urban patterns, as well in economic as in ecological terms, that are viewed as complementary and not as opposed. The book presented marks the end of the first stage of the strategy, having developed an analytical and operational framework that should be subject to adaptations to local conditions.

The book is structured as follows:

  • Part 1: description of the initiative, the challenges and the lessons learnt from various cities.
  • Part 2: presentation of a city-based decision support system. Different issues are integrated, as the participation of citizens and of private and government actors, flow and economic/environmental cost lifecycle assessments, forecasting workshops methodologies and climatic resiliency planning.
  • Part 3: field reference guide, with background literature, a detailed vision of infrastructural issues, and good practices.

The text is based on the classical sources on sustainable planning, as Ian McHarg’s Design with Nature (1969), widening the scope to introduce an economic perspective.

As with other products of the World Bank, it can be criticized from an ideological or technical perspective; anyway, it is a structured proposal with a wide vision on urban problems that occur in varied contexts.