The conference Alliances for a Resourceful City — the second held by European architecture platform LINA, on the 9th and 10th of October —positioned the city as site to fundamentally question how we can “effectively transform contemporary urbanity into a sustainable, post-extractivist metropolitan area.”
The urban focus comes at no surprise: around 4.4 billion people or 56% of the world's population live in cities, and this population is set to more than double by 2050.1 The selection of the adjective resourceful is no accident either, but rather a direct reflection on the attitude that our cities, and us as citizens, might take in the face of ever-greater exposure to natural and man-made disasters. The devastating floods which hit LINA’s hometown of Ljubljana in August, sweeping away entire villages and infrastructures, is unfortunately not an isolated disaster but rather emblematic of more frequent occurrences around the planet. It is within this landscape of uncertainty and crisis that LINA’s conference aimed to create a fertile ground for new alliances, between the twenty-eight selected fellows and the thirty-three member institutions, which might, through their multiplicity, point towards the reshaping of our environment.
LINA’s conference aimed to create a fertile ground for new alliances.
If you’re wondering about the definitions of “contemporary urbanity” as opposed to “post-extractivist metropolis”, consider the fitting, if not serendipitous location of the conference. Copenhagen has managed to radically transform its identity from a post-industrial city on the brink of failure in the 1990s to a world capital of architecture — even hosting the UIA World Congress earlier this year. Beyond the sanguine indices of "liveability” and glossy awards, (Copenhagen has topped the Monocle list for most liveable city five times) and the iconic edifices strewn along the harbour like so many seashells, the city’s municipality has, for the past 30 years, worked relentlessly to ensure the creation of a metropolis which is not only environmentally more sustainable but also socially more diverse.
Although it will not quite reach its goal of climate neutrality in 2025, Copenhagen is working towards this goal by ensuring better mobility, greater reliance on renewable energy and better distribution and access to green spaces, as well as adopting an urbanisation strategy which does not rely solely on erecting new structures but importantly, on the retrofitting and adaptation of existing building stock. The city’s technical and environmental administrator, Camilla van Deurs, reminds us that the car remains the principal mode of transport, with 12600 parking spots in Copenhagen. However, as the glass is never half empty in this part of Europe, this frightening statistic is simultaneously read as an enormous potential resource — the “most precious that we own,”2 even — which will be activated and converted, through conversations with local citizens, into more interesting and open public spaces.
One cannot isolate the urban environment from considerations at the scale of the landscape — rather, one needs to acknowledge, think and act upon these conditions as entangled physical and social territories, in constant flux.
Far from the Bella Centre — the site of the UIA World Congress Sustainable Futures – Leave No One Behind earlier in the year — the LINA conference was aptly hosted within the context of the Royal Danish Academy. As one of the first institutions to integrate the United Nations’ 17 sustainability goals within its curriculum, the agenda of the Academy could not be more attuned to LINA’s goal of steering “design and building processes towards regenerative practices and principles of de-growth.”
Banking on the fact that designers (in addition to designing more “stuff”) may offer solutions for the environmental crisis, Professor Phil Ayres presented researchfrom the Department of Architecture and Technology, rethinking the application of pre-industrial technologies for more inclusive and efficient futures. In alliance with disparate fields of research (like microbiology, for instance), and working between analogue and digital techniques, the department has been grappling with practices like weaving vand fermentation to open up diverse arenas for material and structural innovation. From the (pickle)spoon to the city, Ayres does not see scale in terms of industrial economies, but rather through a deeper understanding of the notion borne from the social sciences: he looks to scale “deep and out” to ensure an approach which may empower across all species that inhabit the planetary environment.
On show at the neighbouring exhibition Planetary Boundaries or at the Louisiana museum within the context of Cave Bureau’s ongoing exhibition, research champions out-of-the-box thinking, challenging the contemporary monoculture of architectural and design production. Indeed over the course of two days and umpteen conversations, what came across clearly is that one cannot isolate the urban environment from considerations at the scale of the landscape — rather, one needs to acknowledge, think and act upon these conditions as entangled physical and social territories, in constant flux.
Each discussion also embraced this interdisciplinary entanglement, observing and analysing material practices even as they investigated and unveiled the physical and social margins where these dimensions might — and do — collide.
Throughout the conference, the twenty five LINA fellows of 2023 presented their projects in five panels (namely Exploring Coexistence, Cycles of Transformation, Beyond City Limits, Progressive Cityscapes and Materials Matter). Each discussion also embraced this interdisciplinary entanglement, observing and analysing material practices even as they investigated and unveiled the physical and social margins where these dimensions might — and do — collide.
LINA Fellows focused on the need to unveil the complexity and often the sneaky shadows of materiality, ensuring systems for re-use and considering entrenched colonial and extractive histories whilst looking for more sustainable bio-alternatives.
Considering the fact that in order to accommodate that projected urban population for 2050, we would need tobuild about 241 billion m2 of new floor area — to put this incredible weight in vaguely relatable terms, that would mean the equivalent of adding an entire New York City, every month, for 40 years. Unsurprising, then, that throughout the projects presented, one perceived the “overwhelming concern with our material practices”.3 LINA Fellows focused on the need to unveil the complexity and often the sneaky shadows of materiality, ensuring systems for re-use and considering entrenched colonial and extractive histories whilst looking for more sustainable bio-alternatives.What would happen if we looked more closely to the murky waters which conceal the origins, economies and policies of these 241 billion m2 of materials?How might these point to the transformation of entire territories and the subsequent “effects on human, nonhuman and more-than-human bodies?”4 In 2018, more than 530 million tonnes of excavated soils were generated across the EU alone — this was then reported as waste and therefore negated its potential for tonnes and tonnes of potential carbon sequestration.What would happen if we looked to “excavations and demolitions in the cities, not as a waste, but as a valuable resource for raw earth construction”?5 What kind of jobs could cities planned for this materiality yield?6 Likewise, considering that Italy alone has more than 7 million abandoned buildings and 5,300 abandoned towns,7 what would happen if that 241 billion m2 of new build could be halved, or even eliminated, through reassessing the condition of the extant urban fabric as a crucial component of resilient development?7 Could we, asked the fellows,“ignite emancipatory conversations among stakeholders about non-growth urban futures?8
Within this spectrum, the emerging practitioners recognised the importance of embracing both a multidisciplinary attitude and one that looks outwards to other industries. Not shying away from expanding the architect’s toolkit and fuelled by the ambition of reaching an audience beyond the insular professional community, LINA fellows proposed media like radio and film, participatory performances, interventions in public spaces, explicit political activism and workshops, amongst others, to gain momentum and support for design-led innovation. In his State of the Architecture address, editor and academic Nick Axel reminded us that every format carries a set of responsibilities; that actions should not be treated as means to an end but that the performance of meaningful actions is an end in and of itself.
“singular solutions or right answers are weak positions in the face of political superbugs”
- Keller Easterling.
Encompassing these sentiments, and to quote the inspirational words of the esteemed architectural academic Keller Easterling “singular solutions or right answers are weak positions in the face of political superbugs”. Within the alliances and projects nurtured by the LINA community, there may be no perfect answers, no outright mistakes — and being “right” is never a good idea. Rather the organisation thrives as a continuously expanding network (this year’s new member institution was the Ukraine-based urban laboratory Meta Lab), engaged in mutual stimulus and incessant research. Looking ahead to the upcoming year, we are keen to see how its fellows attempt to counter an existing “homogenised and pasteurised” architectural landscape through multiple and necessarily messy modes of exchange. Hold your nose and let’s dive in!10
Federica Sofia Zambeletti is the founder and managing director of KoozArch. She is an architect, researcher and digital curator whose interests lie at the intersection between art, architecture and regenerative practices. In 2015 Federica founded KoozArch with the ambition of creating a space where to research, explore and discuss architecture beyond the limits of its built form. Parallel to her work at KoozArch, Federica is Architect at the architecture studio UNA and researcher at the non-profit agency for change UNLESS where she is project manager of the research "Antarctic Resolution". Federica is an Architectural Association School of Architecture in London alumni.
1 United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 68% of the World Population Projected to Live in Urban Areas by 2050, Says UN, 2018, [online]
2 Quote by Camilla van Deurs from her intervention at the LINA Conference 2023 Alliances for a Resourceful City, October 9, 2023.
3 Quote by Nick Axel from his intervention at the LINA Conference 2023 Alliances for a Resourceful City, October 10, 2023.
4 From the project “Cosmic Undergrounds” by Margarida Waco [online].
5 From the project “Cycle of materials” by Tiago Lopes, Joana Marques, Luis Seixas, Nuno Vasconcelos [online].
6 From the project “Invisible jobs in the city” by Océane Ragoucy, [online].
7From the project “Miniera” by Giulio Galasso/studio continentale, [online]
8From the projects “The Grafted City Project” by Alberto Roncelli, [online] and “(De)Growing the Rural Village of the Future” by Dérive, [online]
9From the project “The Degrowth Institute” by METASITU, [online].
10 Quote by Keller Easterling from her intervention at the LINA Conference 2023 Alliances for a Resourceful City, October 10, 2023.