Urban Futures – Cultural Pasts Conference


Material Circularity


A track led by the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya

Track Call

The broad context for this Track is the problem of climate change, the role of the built environment in that and, more specifically, attempts to decarbonise our urban futures. Within this context we ask what will decarbonised cities look like? A key premise for this Track is that a large part of our current built environment infrastructure will still be in use in any decarbonised future we envision or build in the coming decades. One consequence of this is the need for a massive retrofitting exercise of our buildings and neighbourhoods as we make this transition. However, as identified by Alicia Valero, amongst others, the refurbishment required in this transition comes at a significant cost. It will itself represent major material investment that places additional strain on the planet’s resources and capacity.

We welcome case studies dealing with material cycles related to the built environment and seek to share strategies contributing to positive change in our material culture and to the ways we treat existing material resources. For example, we welcome papers that question current production and consumption models and essays that offer new insights into how the territory relates to the provision of material resources. We also welcome investigations into the existing city that highlight the dependence of architecture on the environment or analyse the socio-cultural and economic questions associated with material flow, and more..

An example project conducted here in Barcelona in relation to this is the Fabra & Coats & habitatge social i castellers project, by the architects Mercè Berengué and Miguel Roldán. Involving the refubishment of an existing industrial warehouse into social housing it integrates wood, as a circular material and engages with the concpet of circular building components and the re-use of buildings. It was the 2021 winner of the FAD Awards in Architecture, 2021. Images 1 & 3.

Key Words:

Material cycle, material flow, organic cycle, urban metabolism, local source, territory, retrofitting.

Key People:

Mariana Palumbo is PhD lecturer and scientist in the Vallès School of Architecture (ETSAV), Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya and a member of the Interdisciplinary Group on Building Science and Technology (GICITED). Her research has focused on the development and characterisation of bio-based building materials and she works on the analysis, diagnosis and intervention in energy and material flows associated with urban metabolism. Her work seeks to contribute to closing material cycles associated with the built environment and reducing its environmental impact. As a founding partner of the Map13 Barcelona studio she has also engaged in various examples of technology transfer and diverse modes of architectural experimentation.


Part of the Urban Futures – Cultural Pasts Conference


This track develops themes central to the Master’s degree in Sustainable Intervention in the Built Environment. MISMeC at UPC.

The programme is taught in two tracks. In English, open to students from all over the world, with a language competence equivalent to European B2. In Spanish/Catalan, as part of the double degree with the Master’s programme in Architecture, MArq,


Programme Rationale:

The city plays a fundamental role in a social strategy of progressive transformation of the social metabolism towards a carbon-neutral model to maintain or restore the productive capacity and ecosystem services of the territory and natural systems. On the one hand, because the city is a place of high-density material flows that define the social metabolism. On the other hand, because the city is a place of strong social perception to express public mechanisms of political participation. These two conditions make the city a key place of intervention to implement and develop social strategies for transforming the social metabolism towards sustainability.

The one-year MSc programme focuses on the city in order to identify, criticise and diagnose its metabolism – with specific tools for conceptualisation, measurement, and evaluation – and to propose sustainable transformative interventions. This process involves recognising material flows, spaces on which they act and conditions in which they operate to generate a critical discourse. The aim is to develop the capacity to intervene strategically in the city, to propose new socially acceptable models through responsible intervention in its spaces. This work is specific to the field of architecture, at the different scales of buildings, neighbourhoods, urban spaces, and territorial relations.

The programme focuses on a cutting-edge area of specialisation for disciplines dealing with the built environment in order to strategically transform the vision of professionals and guide future researchers in transforming our society towards sustainability. The MSc is practice-oriented and addresses real projects in urban contexts, through processes of social metabolism diagnosis and carbon-neutral interventions for climate change.


Urban Futures – Cultural Pasts Conference

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Other Tracks:  Community Design & User Autonomy >>  Governing the Ecosystem Commons >>  |  Material Circularity >>  |  Urban Intervention – Reducing Vulnerability >> | Sustainable Lifestyles – Impact & Reduction Scenarios >>

Main Image: Adolf Sotoca