Workshop Application of urban metabolism theory in energy landscape making: designing with flows

The proposal relates to the ongoing discourse on energy transition, starting from the consideration that the energy transition generates a landscape transition too, thanks to the long-lasting relationship between energy and spatial organization. In this context the research aims to study energy landscape from the analytical framework of the urban metabolism approach.

Urban metabolism defines the total sum of processes for which cities mobilize, consume and transform natural resources needed to make them work and develop, provoking consequences in terms of energy and material used and waste generated (Barles, 2008). Most urban metabolism studies applied quantitative methods accounting for the total energy and materials fluxes of cities. Nevertheless at present an increasing urbanization, combined with a progressive resources limitation, leads to consider urban metabolism as an approach to find new ways how cities and territories can be made more sustainable (Broto et al, 2012). At the same time, landscape designers and urban planners begin to embrace urban metabolism theory: when they incorporate metabolic thinking while design forms and processes, resources management and so the infrastructures that carry these flows are integrated in urban design.

The resulting landscape can so be read as a "Landscape infrastructure", referring to his ability to act as a supporting structure for processes of modernization (Perrotti, 2014).

The intervention wants to explore the urban metabolism approach of designing with and through flows (energy, materials, water, waste etc.) in urban planning, by focusing on his spatial and landscape configuration. The advanced hypothesis is that landscape medium has the potential to connect the inhabitants' scale with the urban project.

In order to do that,  case studies at metropolitan and district scale that apply urban metabolism strategies to improve material circulation (dematerialization) and transit from fossil fuels, towards renewable and carbon-free sources are analyzed and compared. The examples are chosen from the Netherlands, that since long time is thinking about energy transition with ambitious objectives for the future, linked also to landscape and spatial planning.

The first example analyzed is the project developed during the 2014 International Architecture Biennale in Rotterdam , "IABR-Urban by nature", that has studied the urban metabolism of the city and  mapped its flows of energy, water and goods through their infrastructure, to provide insight in what are key locations, to zoom in and propose interventions for. Different spatial projects have  been designed to improve flows within the city.

At the district scale the case study is Buiksloterham, a brown fields  area  in Amsterdam, that on the basis of a quantification of an "urban metabolism in project" has settled  guidelines for a sustainable planning and design for the 2034. At the moment two small neighborhoods within the district are realized: De Ceuvel (achieved) and City-Plot (in progress).

The comparison between  case studies and the different resulted landscapes  can put in perspective the processes and the issues faced during the application of urban metabolism theory in the planning and design of sustainable energy transition, highlighting the importance of landscape in this process.


Barles Sabine (2008), "Comprendre et maîtriser le métabolisme urbain et l'empreinte environnementale des villes", Responsabilité et environnement, n° 52, p. 21-26.

Castan Broto Vanesa, Allen Adriana, Rapoport Elisabeth (2012), "Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Urban Metabolism", Journal of Industrial Ecology, n° 16 (6), p. 851–861.

Perrotti Daniela (2014), "Landscape as Energy Infrastructure: Ecologic Approaches and Aesthetic Implications of Design". In: Revising Green Infrastructure: Concepts Between Nature and Design, D. Czechowski, T. Hauck, G. Hausladen (eds.) CRC Press, Boca Raton, pp. 71-90

Urban metabolism, landscape, flows, energy transition, the Netherlands