Florence 2035

Our cities and their systems of energy, water, food, transport, shelter, and information are dependent on large flows of fossil fuel-based energy. This dependency must change, urgently, to deal with the impacts of climate change and peak oil.

Cities account for 75% of global energy demand – they are the structural engines of the form of economic growth that now threatens our future prosperity. Cities also have to deal with changes to the climate and extreme weather events – floods, droughts, heat-waves, storms – all increasingly beyond historical experience.

Cities are also a focus of great hope – their vitality and their diversity of social interactions can provide the creative force for the development of a post-fossil fuel future.

Historic cities, which preserve many layers of history in the physical form of their built environment, face particular challenges. In the coming period of transformation they will confront a tension between historic preservation and future-driven innovation and growth.

Florence is a ‘prime’ example of such an historic city – a global cultural resource – with a population of approximately 370,000 inhabitants (1.5 million including the surrounding area). The city is revered as the ‘birthplace’ of the Italian Renaissance; it became a major force for the modernization of Europe during the 14th through 16th centuries. UNESCO named Florence a World Heritage Site in 1982. Today it is an iconic tourist city-museum with tens of millions of tourists per year. Its challenging future is evident from its difficulties in dealing with extended heat-waves in summer and a long drought, unusual snow falls in winter and its perpetual vulnerability to flood. Innovation and transformation cannot be delayed.

Current mayor, Matteo Renzi, said: “In the relationship between the past and the future can we find a key that strengthens our innovativeness rather than feeds the pessimistic stagnation so rampant today?

Visions of Florence

The City of Florence invited the Eco Acupuncture program of the Victorian Eco-Innovation Lab (VEIL) at the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning to envision a “resilient, sustainable Florence in 2035” and to propose steps to get there.

VEIL took three staff members and 15 Masters students in architecture, building technology, urban design, and planning from the University of Melbourne to Florence in September 2102. They were joined by Masters students from the Technical University of Delft (the Netherlands) and undergraduate students and staff from New York University Florence, as well as some doctoral students from the University of Florence Architecture School. The city provided a design atelier space in the centre of Florence. Many of its most important buildings were provided as locations for a series of seminars about the city, opened by the Deputy Mayor of Florence Dario Nardella.

The design atelier became a hub for the study of Florence and its transformational challenges. Students and eco-design professors from Australia, Italy and the Netherlands, formed small design teams to focus on five sites within the city selected as ‘pressure points’ for the coming decades – from buildings to precincts, to larger elements of urban infrastructure:

  • San Lorenzo and the Central Market
  • The Florence tram network
  • The Arno
  • The Villa la Pietra (NYU)
  • “Ghost Buildings” (historic buildings currently vacant)

For each site a number of twenty-five year transformations were conceived and visualised and presented progressively to the city. Small scale Eco-Acupuncture interventions within the sites were then proposed as starting points for the longer term transformation.

Design projects