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Climatic Islands in Port Vell, Barcelona

Award category
Reconnecting with nature
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NEW EUROPEAN BAUHAUS AWARDS: existing completed examples
Project title
Climatic Islands in Port Vell, Barcelona
Full project title
Climate Islands Public spaces in Port Vell, 7 pioneering projects sharing common landscape criteria

Seven architectural-landscape interventions (climate islands): a pioneering initiative in the creation of inviting, green urban environments, capable of mitigating the impact of climate change. A perimeter route including 3,000 sq.m. distributed along Barcelona’s Port under shared landscape criteria: ribbon of pearls or patches of ecological significance which together form stepping stones (R. T. T. Forman), providing meeting, resting and recreational nodes while improving urban biodiversity.

What was the geographical scope of your project?
Barcelona, Port Vell. Gerència Urbanística Port Vell. Autoritat Portuària de Barcelona
Does your project address mainly urban or rural issues?
Mainly urban
Does your project refer to a physical transformation of the built environment or other types of transformations?
It refers to a physical transformation of the built environment ('hard investment')
Has your project benefited from EU programmes or funds?
Has your project won an EU prize?
Your project is fully completed?
When was your project implemented?
How did you hear about the New European Bauhaus Prizes ?
Social media
On whose behalf are you submitting the application?
As a representative of an organisation
Please provide a summary of your project

"Climate Islands" is an urban intervention initiative that underlines the existing identity of the territory where it is located. An operation of “urban acupuncture” that adds new layers to the pre-existing territory. The strategy is to identify the seven critical points of the sea-city perimeter and place design efforts there to improve the quality of the environment and its reconnection with the city.

It is a pioneering intervention, with a common landscape criterion to deal with the effects of climate change and designed for public enjoyment; creating meeting places for rest and recreation that combine vegetation, water and trees to provide shade and climate comfort. The action has a global socio-environmental focus, aligned with the C40 Cities’ (ICA) pilot programme "inclusive climate action", and other international initiatives.

It also reflects Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), “Climate Islands” contributes to improving the mental health and well-being of citizens and to creating more balanced cities and communities by working to make a more environmentally sustainable planet and providing life to land based ecosystems.

The proposal sets up seven climate shelters based on 3 colour-coded concepts: green (vegetation), grey (shade) and blue (water). This approach helps improve urban biodiversity; reduce the ‘heat island’ effect; lower pollution and provide spaces that encourage social interaction. The idea is to establish guidelines to make it easily reproduced elsewhere.

These areas, which occupy a total of more than 3,000 sq.m., have a low thermal index paving capable of attenuating the ambient temperature, the vegetation selection is based on autochthonous plants from different Mediterranean climate regions, with low water consumption and resistant to saline environments; a water vapour system, activated sequentially during intensive heat and provision of wooden benches to sit and enjoy the surroundings.

Please indicate the main themes of your project with 5 key words
Please give information about the key objectives of your project in terms of sustainability (including circularity) and how these have been met.
Please highlight how the project can be exemplary in this context

An urban proposal is considered sustainable when it is capable of contributing towards and not undermining the three requirements of sustainability (economic, social and environmental). "Climate Islands" combine a number of different factors: the environment, quality of life, energy efficiency, service delivery and social cohesion. It does so through small scale interventions but exemplifies a way of understanding urban environment that can be reproduced.

The intervention highlights those locations that already have optimum existing conditions. Where elements such as a flyover, continuity of urban street pattern, established trees and the most favourable shade are combined, to become the focal points. This is the most practical option in order to minimise the changes that need to be made to provide environments for improved social exchange and mental wellbeing, which is the ultimate goal of the "climate island".

Implementing specific technical solutions, such as the design of posts equipped with a a water vaporisation system activated sequentially to cool the air during periods of intense heat, or the use of low thermal index paving capable of attenuating the ambient temperature. The design of modular ad hoc furniture, low budget, cheaply reproduced and adaptable in character, designed under the precepts of ‘cradle to cradle’ (materials can be up-cycled without losing value that can be separated easily into their constituent parts). In this way the project constructs a sustainable and recognisable design language that opts for inclusive neutrality as a shared backdrop for a changing reality.

In addition, these interventions reflect initiatives such as the "Metropolitan Climate Shelters Networks", "Barcelona, shaded spaces", "Greenery and biodiversity Plan for Barcelona 2020", "Climate Plan 2018-2030", "Leisure in Public Space Goals for Barcelona towards 2030", among others already mentioned.

Please give information about the key objectives of your project in terms of aesthetics and quality of experience beyond functionality and how these have been met.
Please highlight how the project can be exemplary in this context

This urban intervention requires a strategic urban vision and careful control of small-scale architecture. As part of this transformation, the aesthetics and quality of the user experience is achieved through managing the micro-scale, focusing in on each of the islands.

Recognising, in order to emphasise, the existing shade and climatic comfort of specific areas, the visual relationship with the water and the places that are already used for relaxation and observation, contribute to the contemporary urban environment that the residents have been demanding for this place over many years. This attitude towards the existing built heritage provides a significant improvement to the quality of the experience of inhabiting a place but with minimum intervention.

Interpreting the project from the point of view of urban landscape, we find that the Moll de Bosch i Alsina and the Passeig Joan de Borbó act as a conduit for the flux of daily life. In this way they become part of a strategy that incorporates the individual character of each place to the sum of a more complex system of relationships that acts as a catalyst for biodiversity. And as a result, the relationship of people with nature improves and the benefits of biophilia can be enjoyed.

In aesthetic terms, the project language is austere and yet recognisable. New forms and ergonomics that encourage new social relationships are introduced and other ways to inhabit the public space, through designs based on how people currently use these areas. How they circulate, where they sit and relax, how they dialogue with the landscape...

The ultimate goal is to improve the quality of life for residents, bearing in mind that social interaction in public spaces is essential for the development of humans as a species. Different generations will find a social environment and space of interaction in these areas that improve mental health. Stopping this basic need from being "neglected, eliminated or ignored" is crucial. (J. Gehl)

Please give information about the key objectives of your project in terms of inclusion (equal opportunities, public participation, citizen engagement, co-design, universal design, accessibility, affordability, etc.) and how these have been met.
Please highlight how the project can be exemplary in this context

The proposal aims to turn the seven locations into a living environment with an intensive use of public space, where social interaction is central, the "ballet of the sidewalk" (Jane Jacobs). In contemporary societies characterised by individualisation, the civic sense of public space is inseparable from the experience of diversity inherent in our societies. Through these new meeting places, design provokes a confrontation with this diversity that at the same time creates community.

Through greenery, shade and water these seven areas become attractive nodes for locals who will mingle with tourists and visitors from all around the world. By making them welcoming and neutral, these new meeting points encourage interaction in a pleasant and enjoyable way. It is also true that they could be an attraction for the skating community and that is also part of city life. Sometimes unexpected uses of a place can come about, but civility and respect is gradually imposed when the user identifies with, and makes the space their own.

In terms of equal opportunities, it should be noted that performance spaces provide playful scenarios. A city that encourages play is a city that helps even out social inequalities. Problematic shortcomings in housing are temporarily eradicated within these outdoor spaces that provide an infrastructure for exercise and play, an activity that is essential for a good quality of life, especially for children.

The total investment is €309,259.77 (excluding VAT). For more than 3,000 sq.m., this means a spending ratio of € 99.28 / sq.m. (excluding VAT). This figure is below similar initiatives carried out in Barcelona’s public space and is considered reasonable. The key is to make the most of pre-existing conditions so that the total sum of this new outlay represents the very best value for money.

Please explain how these three dimensions have been combined in your project.
Please highlight how this approach can be exemplary

Sustainability is achieved through understanding that actions at the local level have an impact on the global fabric of initiatives aimed at reversing climate change. A climate island is an opportunity to address the gap between the desire to improve biodiversity in cities on one hand and the need to provide suitable environments for social interaction on the other.

This approach is crucial in scaling up planning efforts. The relationship between spending and return must be viewed from the widest possible perspective and projected towards future viability. The low maintenance cost of this intervention is noteworthy.

The aesthetics are all about improving visual and tactile comfort. Using a common language rooted in local customs in terms of both materiality and vegetation. The project language includes several elements for each node:

1 / The furniture features chestnut timber in the form of slats. This finish is user friendly and makes for a cosy "island" place. 2 / The modules are made of galvanised steel sheet. The light grey colour of the finish means that the new elements are integrated into the established existing urban context. 3 / The planting recreates a private garden, providing a unique image, which helps to reinforce the identity of the route, using plants from similar Mediterranean climates, adapted and resistant to the saline environment.

Inclusion is a concept related to gender issues that today incorporates an inter-sectional approach that includes ethnicity, class as well as sexual orientation, interrelated with gender. To ensure a non-discriminatory response, the focus must be on urban vitality. One of the tools of the project is the incorporation of a new continuous paving of white resin with low thermal index together with red asphalt. It reduces the thermal sensation by several degrees while reflecting more light, making the "islands" safer and therefore more inclusive.

Please give information on the results/impacts achieved by your project in relation to the category you apply for

The impact of the proposal will become visible in the medium to long term. It is important to keep in mind that all the operations of re-naturalising the spaces and recovery of biodiversity require a longer time span to be properly evaluated. In addition to the incorporation of vegetation, actions such as the application of water vaporizers and low thermal index paints will be verified during the summer of 2022 in Barcelona. However if we take as a reference similar places where similar interventions have been undertaken, at the very least we are guaranteed a reduction in temperature of the order of 4 degrees. Finally, the level of use and acceptance of these island nodes by a large number of people to date, from different generations already enjoying these spaces can be confirmed.

Please explain how citizens and civil society were involved in the in the design and/or implementation of the project.
Please also explain the benefits that derived from their involvement.

Citizens and civil society have made a tangible contribution to the development of this urban project. Although they may not have participated directly, the socio-economic profile of the neighbourhood was studied while planning the interventions. Understanding the urban fabric of the adjacent neighbourhoods, Barceloneta and Gòtic Quarter, as well as the profile of the residents has been important in connecting the interventions with the rest of the city. On the other hand, data on tourism and the flow of people who pass through the Port of Barcelona daily has been taken into consideration when scaling the spaces and deciding where to direct the available resources. The benefit of the "Climate Islands" is clear: to turn the sea/land periphery into a real public space of interaction.

Please explain what kind of global challenges the project addressed by providing local solutions

The project helps to reverse the effects of global warming through local solutions such as the design of vegetation based on a selection of plants from other, similar regions of the Mediterranean, adapted species that add uniqueness to the interventions while also establishing relationships between them. All are low water consumption and resistant to saline air. The contribution made by these types of shrub and trees improves comfort, increases biodiversity and the exchange of carbon dioxide (CO2) and helps to regulate the temperature through evapotranspiration.

"Climate Islands" is also an example of how to democratise public space with its neutral and inclusive approach, helping to improve mental health by providing green spaces in the port and promote social interaction between all sorts of users. All this within a reasonable budget that can be reproduced elsewhere. The "Island" exemplifies a way of understanding the urban habitat of the future.

Please highlight the innovative character of the project as compared to mainstream practices in the field of the project.

“Climate Islands” is innovative based on its integrated cross-sectional approach. The project was initiated through an ordinance to improve street furniture and lighting. A more holistic vision transformed it into something more substantial, of global impact, framing it under other, similar initiatives everywhere. The proposal shows how a small commission can become a key opportunity for improvement if it is understood on a larger scale.

Amongst the innovative aspects of the project are: the rereading of terrain as landscape before making any intervention, using professional criteria to decide on which points to act in order to make most impact, understanding what’s happening in other parts of the world and incorporate lessons already learned, the study of the socioeconomic profile of the people who will use the space.

Some of these innovations are converted into technical solutions such as the search for a low thermal index paving or the incorporation of water vaporisers. Solutions that are already being used in other countries that have come together here to create the "Islands", spaces to avoid excessive heat together with others.

Please explain to the potential of transferring the projects’ results or learnings to other interested parties and contexts.
Please provide clear documentation, communication of methodology and principles in this context.

The initiative will collect, in the medium to long term, data on how the spaces are working. How the street furniture is used will also be reviewed, whether it’s being used as intended, whether the temperature really can be attenuated through the applied tools, how the planted vegetation evolves, what the monthly cost of maintenance is and how much water is being used. Based on these parameters, and more subjective ones such as user profiles, the relevant corrections will be evaluated and learned and applied to future "Islands" located elsewhere. When the data is available, the results of these follow-ups will be published.

Is an evaluation report or any relevant documentation available?
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