Author: Martin Walpot, acib GmbH
Sustainable spatial solutions today, especially in urban planning and urban research, must consider and incorporate the background of challenges such as climate, energy, technology, and society. A new interdisciplinary project named CELL | PARCEL combines architecture and biotechnology with the question of how future spaces can be made more resilient to these challenges – and attractive and livable at the same time.

Smallest building element, biggest potential for sustainable living space

With the right spatial embedding and scaling, added values such as identity and resilience can be generated as well as CO2 reduction can be achieved. The issues of identity, resilience or handling CO2 also concern the cell and its context. The questions the researchers and architects asked themselves were: What becomes visible when the smallest unit of all organisms, the cell, is analytically contrasted with the smallest unit of the city, the parcel? And: What functional or systemic relationships can be found? What does this mean for research? And what does the fence – as a basic urban element – have in common with the cell membrane? To answer these questions, an interdisciplinary approach was taken and a basic understanding of the connections between research, theory and practice in both spatial planning and biotechnological processes was needed. The project team captured the formal properties between cell and parcel, and made their structures, which are invisible to us, readable. This allowed them to convey the importance of the smallest structural element in the cycle of the urban or living being and the impact of contemporary challenges on them. This knowledge provides the opportunity to understand the role and potential of the parcel or cell in the creation of an ecologically, economically, socially and spatially sustainable living space.

Think of the parcel and its implications when you think of a cell

To enable these spaces, the architects and researchers took a closer look at the mechanisms of a cell: The cycle of cell development in biotechnology consists of four phases: Design – Build – Test – Learn. Cells are optimized until they perform at their maximum, e.g., best growth under harsh conditions and highest productivity in the biosynthesis of various fine chemicals or proteins, etc. Optimization of a cell often leads not only to the desired goal, but also to its complete exhaustion. Systematically transferred to the field of urban planning, a plot of land is also often optimized, but in many cases only from an economic point of view. Taking the example of conventional large shopping centers: here, many parcels are combined into one large area and often sealed with asphalt. The parcel is optimized and disappears. The cycle between the environmental context and the parcel itself is interrupted, leading to a loss of identity and resilience. The consequences of these processes are heat islands, soil consumption, CO2 pollution and exhaustion of rural/urban capacities. The researchers and architects emphasize that future urban developments will undoubtedly have their roots in current contextual conditions and influences such as climate change, resource scarcity, demographic trends, etc. At this crossroads, urban planning can learn a lot from cell properties: here, technology enables this cycle and lifecycle between parcel and context, as the properties of a healthy cell can be found in a sustainably built parcel. Therefore, the interdisciplinary group advises to always think about how cells evolved naturally to thrive in their respective habitats when optimizing parcels – because nature is the best teacher.
Picture credits: Image by on Freepik