In the research project The Urban Metabolism, Atelier Rotterdam developed and tested a still largely unexplored method for spatial design and planning. By implementing it the Atelier has helped to uncover a new field of work for urbanists. The method is an innovative interface between different policy areas, such as environmental and spatial development, and it productively connects agendas for local economic development and greater sustainability.
The metabolism approach assumes that every city is a complex, sprawling and active system that is unceasingly working to provide for the needs of its occupants. We can describe this system not just in technical or purely physical terms, but also in organic terms. Just as a human body breathes, drinks, eats, uses its senses, and excretes waste, so vital material flows can be identified and analysed in the "body" of the city, its metabolism.
What happens when we project this ‘naturalistic’ view on the city of Rotterdam? Where better to research, analyse and test the upgrade of the urban metabolism as a tool for its future sustainable development than in Rotterdam, one of the largest port cities and centrally located in the Rhine-Meuse Delta, one of the most bustling in the world?
The design offices .FABRIC and JCFO have mapped the material flows moving into and out of the city of Rotterdam and the Delta, analysed how these flows interact with the territory and space and explored how they can, individually and as system, have a positive impact on the (environmental) performance of the city. Based on this extensive research by design, specific proposals for pilot projects have been developed.
The Municipality of Rotterdam makes use of the results of the Atelier in working towards a sustainable and circular economy, and they were essential input for the next Atelier Rotterdam, developed as part of IABR 2016.
The results of the Project Atelier Rotterdam were presented in the main exhibition of IABR 2014. They were also discussed in the symposium Tinkering with the Material Flows which took place on June 25, 2014.