urban breathing

Year: 2022
Size: 50 m2
Type: installation
Status: completed
Location: Shenzhen, Guangdong, China
Client: 9th Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism and Architecture (UABB 2022)

Partners in charge: Nicola Saladino, Chen Chen
Design team: Siqi Xiao, Javier Pelaez, Xinran Zheng, Chujie Lin, Zijie Tang, Yuhan Feng

Research Support: Energy Foundation Low Carbon City Group (carbon emissions); Meikang Li, Qiwei Song (Shenzhen urban landuse)

Carbon dioxide has always been a constant presence in human lives as we normally exhale CO2 while breathing, but in modern times we also emit more and more carbon as a byproduct of pretty much every daily activity and these emissions are the main cause of global warming.
Currently an average Chinese citizen produces 22.5 Kg of CO2 emissions per day and a mature tree roughly needs one year to sequestrate the same amount of carbon from the atmosphere. From this simple equation it is clear that no matter how energy-efficient our future cities become, only a massive green ecosystem can balance the emissions of the urban population.
Shenzhen is already among China’s greenest cities and its dense vegetation is not only beneficial for its urban biosphere, but it is also an efficient sponge for the CO2 emitted by its human inhabitants, thus allowing the city to breathe.
The installation Urban Breathing responds to a call from the 9th Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism & Architecture to explore “urban cosmologies”. Starting from a cosmological view on energy, the installation focuses on the city carbon cycle, visualizing in spatial terms the carbon emissions of an average inhabitant and relating them with the capture capacity of the urban green. The dichotomy human emissions / green capture is reflected by a constant alternation of two modes: inhaling and exhaling.

In a room of 7x7 m, four large balloons made of translucent membrane are constantly inflated and deflated by powerful fans. When they reach their maximum volume (11.5m3 each - corresponding to 22.5 Kg of CO2) they saturate the whole space of the room, virtually trapping the visitors in the center under the big stainless steel cone that reminds them of the industrial past of the venue.
Two projectors cover the visible surface of the balloons with an alternation of short clips of carbon-intensive human activities and a virtual journey through green systems. Electronic music with samplings of urban / natural noise and breathing creates an immersive multi-sensorial experience.
While the action takes place around the balloons, a map of Shenzhen on the main wall shows the duality of the carbon cycle: with normal lighting conditions the map highlights the population density, relating the individual scale of the room (one balloon = one person’s daily CO2 emissions) to the scale of the city, while under UV lighting all the green areas of Shenzhen start glowing with different intensities according to the capturing capacity of various types of vegetation.
The installation aims at solidifying something as intangible as a gas, and yet so critical for our future, into a physical presence that interacts with all the senses of the visitors, casting a light on our role as responsible individuals.