by Negin Akhlaghpour and Juan Caviedes


International Design Ideas Competition Prize!


RUNNER-UP: Garrison Creek Redux


HON MENTION: Delhi Manifests


HON MENTION: Exaptive Urbanism


HON MENTION: Farmer Empowerment


Jury Deliberations

After a brief review of the competition purpose and rules, the jury discussed the overarching themes that emerged in the competition. At the outset, a number of projects struck very positive chords with the jurors. Josh Taylor thought that the Economies of Swale entry “…took a very large problem and created a small manageable solution and really set out to answer the brief.”  Jeff Schnurr thought that the Regenerative Design appeared to be a fairly complete approach, and spoke to the principles of symbiosis. The Garrison Creek Redux entry garnered a fair bit of discussion.  Scott Torrance felt that this project “…explored some quite innovative storm water techniques, although was maybe a bit “out there” in creating a world underneath the steel grate.”  But Scott suggested that the key insight of the project was in understanding how you might actually create green space when everything else is completely covered over or built upon. This project also looked at a larger scale and tried to figure out how these things might link together, which didn’t happen to the same extent with Economies of Swale. 

Two interesting entries, Resilient Cities and Integrated Infrastructures, developed extensive and detailed analyses of the existing ecosystems of the sites they explored. Craig Applegath noted that “…more than any other entries, these two demonstrated extraordinarily comprehensive analysis of regional ecosystems and the impact of urbanization on them.” However, other jurors noted that, although their analysis was compelling, the proposed solutions were not as developed as some of the other entries.

Probably the most interesting discussion occurred around the Exaptive Urbanism entry. Rahul Mehrotra cautioned that, aside from the formal qualities of the entry, from the perspective of what the contest set out to do, actually keeping spaces like the proposed site adaptable and flexible is critical for cities in flux.  “Spaces like this in Mumbai, are really spaces that cushion the entry of migrants.  When a space like that is converted to real estate it becomes susceptible to all sorts of distortions. From the perspective of the competition, this move is a problematic one for this site.”  Craig Applegath argued that this might nevertheless be a worthwhile programatic approach, and that “… if the ownership of proposed facility was not private, and instead was owned and managed as a community asset, then this project might provide the necessary flexibility.”

The Farmer Empowerment Policies entry, although not right on target from and urban density point of view, was nevertheless thought by the jurors to provide some valuable insights. Scott Torrance noted that there was a lot of good work in this entry that reminded him of the ideas set out in the Responsive City entry.  “This entry does attempt to demonstrate a vision of symbiotic habitation, maybe what a slightly more rural community could look like – appropriate for rainwater harvesting, using local materials and then it goes back up to show how that scale could jump up again – a lot of work here; it seems to be some fairly well thought out work.” Indeed, as the discussion continued it became clear that the Responsive City entry included many of the best features of a number of the entries discussed by the jury. 

Overall, the jury thought that the quality of the submissions was very high, and represented a good cross-section of ideas, approaches and regional examples. A great deal of thought and work had gone into the submissions and in many cases, the entries had demonstrated very innovative thinking. The jury therefore wished to express its appreciation and compliments to the participants of the competition, and commend them for their thoughtfulness and effort.

Final Jury Decision

It was unanimously agreed by all the jurors that "Responsive City" by Negin Akhlaghpour and Juan Caviedes was the strongest entry and should be awarded the $1,000 DIALOG prize. It was also decided that given the very high quality of a number of the other competition entries the jury would award a Runner-Up prize to "Garrison Creek Redux", as well as three Honourable Mention prizes to: "Delhi Manifests", "Exaptive Urbanism", and "Farm Empowerment".

Jury Comments on winning “Responsive City” entry:

Scott Torrance:  “I thought that this entry was compelling because it explored increasing urban density without the use of towers. We need to look at existing cities and the idea of intensifying, but maybe in different ways other than towers. This submission does this using a new horizontal residential typology. How it could be adapted to other locations and also how it provides a vision of what a city could look like.  As most of our large cities are located on water, it does attempt to look at how those edges are broken down as well as integrated into the city and utilized and not just a seawall.  A stronger approach to biodiversity, living elements and open space would be important.” 

Jeff Schnurr:  “The real merit of this entry is the fact it could be replicated in other environments or similar settings.  If they were able to have developed it further, it would have been worthwhile for the designer to have provided more of a feeling of what it might be like to live in this city, to move through it, the scale of it. But it is nevertheless a very compelling scheme.”

Rahul Mehrotra:  “This is one of the few submissions that actually demonstrates systemic thinking, grappling with form, making an architectural proposition and tying it all together – it covers a lot of ground.  You could see this being located in other brownfields – giving you an idea of what a symbiotic city might look like.  It might be hard for people to picture this, so the projects visual representation is important to recognize too. One of the important strengths of the project is its ability to demonstrate a stretching of urban design - to make it a much more all-encompassing category in the way they have brought to bear within what is usually business as usual urban design thinking. This is a much more systemic approach weaving together the questions of energy and density and going beyond most of the other entries. It also demonstrates a more robust approach to urban design.” 

Josh Taylor:  “This is a detailed and also compelling vision for what a symbiotic city might actually look like. The designer was able to dive down into some really nitty-gritty details but also present a really interesting and accessible way to think about the symbiotic cities a city-wide scale. Again, as Jeff mentioned, if further developed, it could benefit from a more detailed exploration of the city fabric at the human scale. But saying this is a compliment to the designer because one wants to know more about the scheme.”

Craig Applegath:  “In addition to deploying a combination of a European low-rise high density typology in conjunction with a newly conceived elevated residential typology, the entry also very effectively integrates the key symbiotic city components of carbon-free energy, urban food, waste-water recycling and recycled materials in a very compelling manner. Indeed, not only has the entry provided a clear vision of what a symbiotic city could look like, as Josh pointed out, it has provided the reader with a clear framework for the kind of thinking that went into the project. This is clearly a winning entry. I think, as Rahul has pointed out, that this scheme could also be imagined in other contexts, and does not have to be a port city. It could easily be seen as a typology for colonizing brownfields. A very compelling scheme, indeed.”

Competition Jury

The following jury of distinguished planners, urban designers, architects, landscape architects, and engineers was brought together to review and select a winning competition entry:

  1. Craig Applegath, Co-moderator of SymbioticCities.net and Architect and Principal at DIALOG, Toronto, Canada 

  2. Rahul Mehrotra, Director of Planning and Urban Design at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Boston, USA 

  3. Scott Torrance, Landscape Architect at Scott Torrance Landscape Architect, Toronto, Canada

  4. Vanessa Timmer, Executive Director and Co-founder at One Earth, British Columbia, Canada [was not able to participate]

  5. Stefan Schurig, Climate Energy Director at the World Future Council, Hamburg, Germany [was not able to participate]

  6. Justin Ritchie, Co-Director of Extraenvironmentalist.com, UBC Institute for Resources, Environment & Sustainability, Vancouver, Canada

  7. Jeff Schnurr, Executive Director at Community Forests International, Pemba, Tanzania

  8. Josh Taylor, Program Coordinator at Catalyst Community Development Society, Vancouver, Canada

Thanks to the Competition Sponsor!

SymbioticCities Network would like to thank DIALOG very much for its generous sponsorship of this year's International Design Ideas Competition. DIALOG's generosity in creating the DIALOG $1000 Prize allowed SymbioticCities Network to launch this competition and attract the the kind of high quality competition entries that we received.  

Competition Brief

Welcome to the competition brief for the 2014 SymbioticCities International Design Ideas Competition: “Urban Transformations: Designing the Symbiotic City.”  If you are a planner, urban designer, architect, landscape architect, engineer, or ecologist, we think you may have some important insights to share with the world about how to transform our existing cities into more resilient, climate adaptive, regenerative, symbiotic cities. We have designed this international design ideas competition for you to explore and show the world your ideas. For more about how to register for this competition see the Competition Rules Page . Entries are due by September 21st, 2014. An international jury of planning and design experts will select the winning entry to be announced on October 21st, 2014. DIALOG, this year’s competition sponsor, has generously sponsored a grand prize of $1,000 CDN. We will also be awarding runner-up book prizes. Details of the competition are outlined below.

The Need for Transformation

Over the next 25 years, cities, and the ecosystems of which they are an integral part, face enormous challenges. The combined and interacting forces of climate change, fossil fuel depletion, deforestation, collapsing fisheries, and exponential human population growth will create unprecedented challenges for humanity, and the ecological carrying capacity of our planet. As MIT Professor John Sterman describes in his paper, Sustaining Sustainability: Creating a Systems Science in a Fragmented Academy and Polarized World, these changes will occur in parallel with a growing inability of existing municipal infrastructure systems to keep up with increasing demands for electricity, potable water, and human waste processing. 

Rising to the Challenge

We believe that success in meeting these challenges will have two important dimensions. First, success will require the transformation and redevelopment of existing physical and social infrastructure systems to meet the new and increasing demands of the future. Second, success will require the transformation of both our economic and political systems in order not only to reduce the harm that our species is now causing our planet’s natural ecosystems, but to facilitate the regeneration of these ecosystems.

Definition of a Symbiotic City

"A Symbiotic City has mutually beneficial relationships with its macro and micro ecosystems. It produces ecosystem services that are equal or greater than its net use of those services. The transition to a symbiotic city requires a cultural and economic recognition that we are embedded in and dependent upon our ecosystems. A symbiotic city enhances the natural environment, sustainable economic activity, and quality of life." 

The Purpose

We have developed the SymbioticCities International Design Ideas Competition with three purposes in mind:

First:  To generate critical thinking and discussion about the problems facing cities in a climate-changing world, and the changes required to transform the built environment to meet these challenges.

Second:  To challenge participants to develop creative and inspiring planning and design concepts that will help our species move in the direction of a more symbiotic relationship with our planet’s natural systems.

Third:  To connect like-minded individuals around the world who are passionate about positively transforming cities, and provide a platform for them to explore how they might transform their own cities into regenerative symbiotic cities. 

Competition Brief

Using some combination of diagrams, sketches, 2D and 3D drawings, and accompanied by an explanatory narrative, we would like you to explore and develop planning and design concepts, for transforming the city that you live in into a regenerative symbiotic city adapted to a climate-changing environment. Your design concepts should explore how you will address key environmental problems now associated with your city, and transform now ecologically destructive urban systems into regenerative, symbiotic systems. Please see the Transformations pages of SymbioticCities.net for more detail on what we think are the most important transformations required to facilitate the transformation of our cites from pathologically parasitic into regenerative symbiotic cities.

To attract as broad a range of ideas as possible, we invite you to approach your entry as an urban planning project, an urban design project, an architecture, landscape architecture or engineering project  - or any combination of these you think will best allow you to put forward your ideas most effectively. Most importantly, we are looking for you to generate smart, innovative, creative and inspiring ideas that will help move our cites and our species toward a regenerative symbiotic relationship with the ecosystems they are embedded in.

For example, you might wish to explore how to better reduce the per capita environmental footprint of urban habitation by increasing density in a manner that is not only environmentally regenerative, but increases the overall livability of the community and city of which it is a part. Or, you might explore how to create a local urban food supply that is both highly productive and environmentally regenerative. And beyond the urban centre, you might be interested in exploring how to transform the vast suburban expanses that now surround our contemporary cities from the ecological deserts they are now, into the biodiverse ecological oases they could be. There are many possible explorations you could make, but the judges will be most interested in entries that show a good understanding of how cities can be more integrated with their local and regional ecosystems, how cities can be more adapted to a environment stressed by climate change; and how you develop innovative and creative strategies for realizing that integration.

In developing your planning and design concepts you will want to refer to the SymbioticCities.net Transformations and the associated reference material outlined in this website. As part of the narrative you will be writing to explain your planning and design concept(s), we would like you to refer to the types of transformations that your proposed design concepts will employ to move your city towards a regenerative symbiotic relationship with your city’s local and regional ecosystems.

One of the most important of these nine transformations is the development of ecosystem infrastructure that will facilitate regenerating ecosystems and the ecosystem services they produce. For the purposes of this competition, we would like you to assume that in the future, natural capital and the eco-system services it produces are recognized and valued by society, both economically and politically. As part of developing your submission narrative, you should include an explanation of the eco-system infrastructure incorporated into your project entry, and the associated ecosystem services produced, and why these would be valuable to the neighborhood or city.

This is an open competition for ideas about planning, design and policy interventions that address two or more Transformations that we see as integral to our transition towards Symbiotic Cities. Submitted ideas must be based in the city the participant lives in, and should directly address at least two of the following questions: 

  1. How do your ideas move the city towards a zero-carbon economy?
  2. How do your ideas increase the ecosystems infrastructure?
  3. How do your ideas increase the mixed-use density of your city?
  4. How do your ideas provide for regenerative building fabric?
  5. How do your ideas increase the capacity of your city to produce its own sustainable food supply?
  6. How do your ideas increase the capacity of your city to provide for infinite water recycling?
  7. How do your ideas increase material and resource recycling?
  8. How do your ideas increase the capacity of your city to provide for zero-carbon mobility?
  9. What economic and political conditions will be required to implement your project?
  10. How do your ideas increase the capacity of your city to stabilize its population size?

Competition Prize!

The planning and design firm DIALOG is generously sponsoring a $1,000 CAN prize for our jury's selection of the best planning and design idea, and there will also be an additional book prizes for honourable mentions.