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Designing (with) the climate at TEDxUNIR Conference

posted Mar 6, 2013, 6:45 AM by Patricia Martin   [ updated Jun 1, 2013, 5:40 AM ]
Last February I had the opportunity to participate in the TEDxUNIR conference in Logroño. Here is the video of the talk followed by the text in English.


Yesterday, I arrived from London, where I’ve been living for three years. When we decided to move there, we had the mental image of London as a very big city, with lots of people on the streets, very diverse and intense... However, the idea that our friends and relatives have of the city was another. When we told them we were going to live in London, the most common answer we received was: "really? The weather is quite bad there, isn’t it?" And yes, they were right, it is very bad.

But they were right in giving importance to the climate too, because climate is a fundamental part of the city. It exerts great influence on the image of the city and it can form an essential part of its identity. For example, it is impossible to think on any of these cities without associating them with a specific climate, temperature, light or moisture. I would even say that the city is climate.

Moreover, the weather is also part of us. Climatic conditions are pervasive aspects of our routine and define many actions and decisions we make every day. We think, feel and talk about it constantly. Climate can even define our mood and personality.

Climatic conditions have a great influence on the way we perceive our environment. Any change in the weather, time of the day, the point of view or the viewer's mood influences their understanding and perception. The same scenario can be completely different depending on the atmospheric conditions. Even a seemingly solid object like a building may look different, depending on the moment in which we look at it. Therefore, our relationship with the environment is totally dependent on the weather. Or putting it in another way, the weather allows us to multiply the experiences of the city and make it different every time we look at it.

However, in recent decades we have tended to make city through spaces like this, isolated from the outside and ignoring the weather. In this way, we protect ourselves from unfavourable climatic conditions, but we also isolate ourselves from the good experiences the weather offers.

By including the weather in the city again, we increase awareness of the place and the planet on which we live. We can take advantage and use changes in light, temperature, humidity to create more stimulating and enriching spaces.

So, can we create cities where the weather is another urban element, such as streets or buildings? Can we create spaces for the rain, sunrises or cloudy days, so as to generate richer and more stimulating urban spaces?

Interest on the climate and the weather has grown significantly in recent years. This is an image of the CLOUD experiment being conducted at CERN in Switzerland. It is a camera which reproduces atmospheric conditions to better understand the clouds. With it we can now understand how clouds form and maybe reproduce them in the future.

The interest on weather and the experiences it offers is also growing in the world of art. For example, this frozen dusk inside the Tate Modern by Olafur Eliasson. Oddly enough, everybody—including myself—sat or lay down on the floor to watch it, as if we were on the beach admiring a real dusk. Similarly, The Rain Room exhibited now in London recreates the rain. It consists on a room where it rains, but when people walk through it, the rain stops just above oneself (unlike the famous cartoon cloud that was put over the character and pursued him wherever he went). Experiencing the rain from a different perspective—in an enclosed space where you can only see and hear the rain but not feel it in your skin—force us to reflect on this phenomenon so common in our lives and so important for the preservation of our environment.

At the moment there are only occasional experiments and there is still a long way to explore. By introducing elements like sun and shading, water in all its forms, moving air and consider seasonal variations of each place, we are creating more comfortable and attractive spaces for people. We will also be helping to create a more sustainable environment by emphasizing the importance of the atmosphere to global sustainability.