overlapped city

Year: 2012
Size: 40,000 ha
Type: research
Location: West Houston, Texas, USA

Partner in charge: Chen Chen

Energy production in the post-fossil era will be dominated by renewables. Even though renewable energy has a low power density that requires dramatically larger areas to meet our cities demand, it is more compatible with urban conditions and more flexible with spatial application than fossil-fuel-based systems. Furthermore, renewable energy production can take place at various scales and its distributed production pattern can take advantage of the micro-grid, a more efficient and resilient distribution mode.

Traditional cities, which are solely energy consumers, are facing both the challenge and the opportunity of accommodating energy production within their footprints. This challenge will be even bigger with the ambition of managing urban growth in more compact models of development. Historically, political, religious and geographic agents have defined our cities. In the new era, the logic of energy production and distribution will start having a significant impact on the spatial organization of the urban growth. This project explores the morphology of resilient post-fossil cities across three scales: redefining urban boundaries and urban clusters, energy infrastructure framework and a new set of urban codes. Our proposal tries to generate spatial synergies between energy and other urban parameters in the three scales.

The testing site is in West Houston, the fastest growing urban area in the US, with a rich potential for renewable energy production. Parametric tools help recognize the different energy potentials associated with various massing strategies. A series of dynamic relationships links the traditional parameters of density and height with the energy productivity of each block, as a way to motivate developers to maximize their local energy production. The design of urban typologies is articulated following the concept of “overlapped city”: maximizing active surfaces and overlapping multiple programs in compact urban areas.

A policy of inter-block energy balance incentivizes the citizens to maximize their local energy production and reduce their reliance on the centralized energy supply, making the new city work as a resilient ecosystem. In such context, different degrees of flexibility can be allowed in order to adapt to the market economy. New patterns of energy specialization arise, defining the blocks that are more prone to production and the ones that are more prone to consumption. Through a system of energy “trading” a cluster meets its overall energy production target through the compensation among the different blocks and the creation of additional energy sources within the green corridors. As a result of the new urban code, some new interesting and highly diverse spatial conditions and relationships arise, disclosing the potential of this approach to create new paradigms of urbanization. Thus a variety of radically different scenarios are generated, tested and evaluated.