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ECOlogical building enveLOPES: a game-changing design approach for regenerative urban ecosystems

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ECOLOPES (ECOlogical building enveLOPES: a game-changing design approach for regenerative urban ecosystems)

Reporting period: 2021-04-01 to 2022-03-31

Urbanization constitutes a major environmental issue of the 21st century. Within cities, densification, the decrease of green spaces, and a continued reliance on grey infrastructure approaches result in urban biodiversity loss, increasing the separation of people from nature and decreasing their access to ecosystem services, with negative consequences for human well-being. Current architectural approaches fall short in providing breakthrough solutions because they perpetuate the human-nature dichotomy due to anthropocentric design.
In ECOLOPES we propose a radical change for city development: instead of minimizing the negative impact of urbanisation on nature, we aim at urbanization to be planned and designed such that nature elements - including humans - can co-evolve within the city. We envisage a radically new integrated ecosystem approach to architecture that focuses equally on humans, plants, animals, and associated organisms such as microbiota. ECOLOPES will provide the technology that will help to achieve this vision.
In ECOLOPES, we focus on the envelope, the building enclosure. We will transform the envelope into an ecolope, a multi-species living space for four types of inhabitants, humans, plants, animals, and microbiota. ECOLOPES will develop the core technologies for designing ecolopes in a systematic way, considering the needs of humans, plants, animals and beneficial microbes. To do so, ECOLOPES will make biological knowledge available for the architectural design process, to find architectural solutions that enable synergies and limit conflicts between the inhabitants. The ecolopes designed by this multi-species approach will support urban biodiversity and restore the beneficial human - nature relationships in cities.
In ECOLOPES we develop a design approach that is supported by a computational framework that includes a range of expert data-bases, an information model (EIM Ontology), and algorithmic processes and tools, to result in a data-driven architectural design recommendation system. A tailor-made computational framework will make the knowledge embedded in the information model available for the user. This includes the front-end tools for design, modelling, and visualisation, and a computational simulation environment that enables iterative design development integrated with multi-criteria decision-making strategies. The ECOLOPES design approach will be validated through design cases, located in different urban environments.
The ECOLOPES consortium has reached a number of major achievements during the first year of the project.

The ECOLOPES project has set up a communication strategy. ECOLOPES has now a distinct logo. The ECOLOPES website presents the ECOLOPES project, news, partners, and publications, to a wide audience. The project is present and can be followed on main social medias and networks, such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and ResearchGate.

The ECOLOPES project has set up a preliminary dissemination and exploitation plan and has started to communicate regularly outside of the project. ECOLOPES studios have very successfully taken place with students from TUM, TU Vienna, and TECHNION and provided valuable outputs to the project. A monthly online ECOLOPES TALKS series has been created, inviting prominent people in fields related to the ECOLOPES project. These talks will be made freely available online on the Vimeo platform.

The design workflow of ECOLOPES has been developed. This workflow describes the steps in the design of an ecolope from the user perspective, e.g. a team of architects and ecologists (Figure 2).

The computational workflow of ECOLOPES that supports the design workflow has been elaborated.

The general approach and important elements of the ecological model have been developed. The ecological model will assess the consequences of architectural design for the dynamics of soil, plants, animals, and microbiota.

A knowledge generation framework has been set up to create knowledge on the relationships between architectural design and the ecological community that can live on an ecolope.

The conceptual and methodological approach for the EIM Ontology and its place in the computational workflow have been detailed. The project has started to gather the relevant datasets and relations.

The principal approach to the algorithmic design process has been outlined, including the identification of an adequate conceptual approach and related types of data sets, as well as approaches to the generative algorithmic design process.

A first conceptual and initial technical understanding of the multi-criteria decision-making strategies to integrate the multi-disciplinary information of ECOLOPES was developed.
In architectural practice examples exist that propose individual solutions to integrate nature into buildings (Ants of the Prairie, Biodiversity school by Chartier Dalix) or promote local biodiversity at the urban scale (Terreform), but there are no systematic approaches or design algorithms. Conversely, in natural sciences theoretical concepts exist, such as biodiversity-sensitive urban design, but these concepts lack the link to practical urban planning and architecture. Finally, there are also individual technical solutions to place plants or animals on buildings, but these have not been fully integrated in design strategies. Thus, while there is a worldwide movement for biophilic design , and green architecture, there is no underlying technology available to systematically design the new types of buildings required for the vision of a regenerative city and biophilic design. A systematic approach is needed to be able to consider the interactions between the abiotic environment including architecture and the biotic inhabitants of the ecolope, and between the different inhabitants themselves. ECOLOPES tackles the challenge by simulating the ecolope ecosystem and its various sub-systems, in space and time, from the micro-scale (building blocks) to the macro-scale (urban quarter). ECOLOPES modelling includes the projection of ecolope development after initial building completion. This includes ecological succession, e.g. how soil microbiota will develop, generating positive feedback for plant development and colonization of animals. It also includes modelling the effects of human management, such as trimming of vegetation.

The ECOLOPES consortium pursues a twofold breakthrough: (1) the creation of a novel ECOLOPES Information Model (EIM Ontology) that will integrate ecological and architectural knowledge, data and models into a data-integrated design recommendation system, which will radically advance our understanding of the feedbacks between building design, the ecology of species in cities, and consequences for human well-being; (2) the creation of the ECOLOPES Computational Modelling and Simulation Environment, which will make knowledge available for design. It will facilitate a radically new level of interaction between architecture, urban planning, and ecology. The proposed data-driven design recommendation system will assist architects and planners in the design of ecolopes, aiding decision making and facilitating systemic coordinated action in the planning of multi-species environments for regenerative cities.
The Ecolopes project logo
The ECOLOPES design workflow