I believe densification is an important aspect of sustainable development, or at least mitigating a large part of the built environment’s effect on climate change. And currently it is a stumbling block because throughout the 20th century, the density of our cities has dropped. What do I mean by density? At the base level it means the number of buildings in a given area. But even more importantly, you can start thinking about the intensity of human activity in a given area.
Is it used all throughout the day? The 20th century paradigm has been that there's a place where you work and a place where you live and a place where you do certain other things. During daytime some parts are used and during nighttime other parts are used. So we need to build different buildings for all these different needs, and maintain and supply all of them with energy.
How can urban densification become part of the solution to climate change?
I recently read a report by the Berkeley Cool Climate Network where they studied around 700 cities in California and various climate mitigation policies, and found that urban infill (or urban densification), is by far the most impactful strategy to reducing cities’ carbon footprints. That's significant.
I think it could be a relatively easy change to effect because what we need is a change in social perceptions that density is a good thing. Now people have these romantic ideas that we need to be in our own private garden and the pandemic exacerbated this.
It’s up to architects to keep investing, digitizing and developing new exciting design proposals for denser urban areas. They need to be exemplary, they need to be best practice and they also need to promote a new aesthetic because that's what is needed to move public opinion. It is also important to consider developing civic awareness, engagement and participation in the built environment which has also been dropping throughout the 20th century. So denser cities could help societies live communally, and people having a voice in the built environment becomes important. Architects and experts can help develop both design solutions and give people a participatory voice.
That’s why it’s good to see companies like Holcim taking the right steps by engaging with architects like Prof. Dr. Philippe Block to create new pathways that enhance traditional wisdom, but also augment it with computational technologies.