In the material world we live in today, it is becoming widely known and accepted that what we use to build our cities have a far-reaching impact. With this in mind, how can designers, architects and engineers find scalable solutions that adequately respond to the material problems we face? Questions such as this were posed by Stuart Smith, director of Arup Berlin, to the audience of his seminar at the Norman Foster Foundation.
By way of response, Smith’s seminar emphasised the argument that deploying circular building economies—which envision our cities as material banks within a system that allows continual use over time—may provide innovative approaches to construction and material usage that can, in turn, transform our built environments.
The seminar raised further questions about the ways in which we must urgently change construction to facilitate the recovery of materials, open-source designs for the making and remaking of our buildings and new building technologies along the way. As Smith noted, our health and wellbeing are fundamentally connected to our material environment. In considering the impacts of the materials we use and our interactions with them, we can thus improve our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of those around us.
Through his own practice at Arup, Smith has continued to build on this concept of an urban metabolism. In particular, he highlighted the importance of understanding the biological and technical processes of cities to identify and incentivise circular practices in local ecosystems.
Smith concluded his seminar by noting that blockchain technologies may equally serve as a ‘catalyst for change’ in seeking out waste solutions through the use of data visualisations and mapping of material streams, as well as the identification of stakeholders and the development of methodologies and tools for scalability and citizen engagement.