Build­ing the Fu­ture

Con­cor­dia Uni­ver­sity re­searchers are lead­ers in help­ing the world’s ur­ban com­mu­ni­ties be­come more sus­tain­able — and more re­silient


It takes more than good en­gi­neer­ing to make a city thrive. You have to con­sider the peo­ple who make their homes there, too. “You can cre­ate the smartest build­ing or city in the world, but if the com­mu­nity is not part of the de­vel­op­ment, then you may lose a lot of the ben­e­fits of these tech­nolo­gies be­cause of poor use,” says Carmela Cu­cuzzella, pro­fes­sor of De­sign and Com­pu­ta­tion Arts at Con­cor­dia Uni­ver­sity in Mon­treal. She and her Con­cor­dia col­leagues are tak­ing the lead in re­search into such nextgen­er­a­tion cities, part of the uni­ver­sity’s com­mit­ment to be­com­ing a fu­ture-ready in­sti­tu­tion that pur­sues tech­nol­ogy with­out los­ing sight of hu­man­ity. Tal­ented and pas­sion­ate fac­ulty and stu­dents from across mul­ti­ple dis­ci­plines are work­ing to­gether on in­te­grat­ing so­cial and nat­u­ral sciences, en­gi­neer­ing, de­sign, and cul­ture across the built en­vi­ron­ment. Their col­lab­o­ra­tions are help­ing give rise to smarter, more sus­tain­able, and more re­silient com­mu­ni­ties and cities. Build­ing En­gi­neer­ing pro­fes­sor An­dreas Athieni­tis, for ex­am­ple, is one of Con­cor­dia’s next-gen city re­searchers. He guided the de­sign of the Varennes Pub­lic Li­brary, the first so­lar net-zero in­sti­tu­tional build­ing in Canada — mean­ing it pro­duces the same amount of en­ergy as it uses, through a build­ing-in­te­grated so­lar sys­tem that cov­ers and is part of the roof. The Varennes com­mu­nity has em­braced this new leed Gold-cer­ti­fied build­ing, and the li­brary has seen at­ten­dance dou­ble since its re-open­ing in 2014. “It has be­come a point of ref­er­ence for the com­mu­nity and an ex­am­ple for other mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to fol­low,” says Athieni­tis. Con­cor­dia stu­dents are ben­e­fit­ing, too. Athieni­tis reg­u­larly takes his classes there so they may see and learn from the struc­ture, which pro­duces 302 fewer tonnes of car­bon diox­ide per year and con­sumes 78 per­cent less en­ergy than a com­pa­ra­ble non-net-zero build­ing. “It’s like a liv­ing lab,” he says. Cu­cuzzella, Athieni­tis and a group of other key cities re­searchers at Con­cor­dia have now em­barked on an ex­cit­ing new en­deav­our thanks to the Canada Ex­cel­lence Re­search Chairs (cerc) pro­gram, which has ap­proved the search for a new Chair in Smart, Sus­tain­able and Re­silient Cities and Com­mu­ni­ties. “We al­ready have a very strong group of peo­ple work­ing on a di­verse set of chal­lenges,” says Cu­cuzzella. “This new cerc will help us reimag­ine and rein­vent ways in which we dwell and de­velop in metropoli­tan ar­eas.” The tim­ing couldn’t be bet­ter. By 2030, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions, ur­ban ar­eas are pro­jected to house 60 per­cent of peo­ple glob­ally. That means the pres­sure to ad­dress cli­mate change is grow­ing, as these ex­pand­ing com­mu­ni­ties will wit­ness an in­crease in cli­matic in­ter­rup­tions such as hur­ri­canes and ice storms. How quickly — and cost-ef­fec­tively — can cities re­spond to such emer­gen­cies? With the help of the new cerc, re­searchers at Con­cor­dia are poised to make fur­ther head­way in find­ing so­lu­tions to these kinds of chal­lenges, with the ul­ti­mate goal of build­ing re­siliency into cities. Athieni­tis and other re­searchers are now work­ing on a ma­jor project in this vein, fo­cus­ing on in­fra­struc­ture such as tun­nels and bridges. “We are study­ing how to avoid the use of salt by us­ing a so­lar sys­tem or geo­ther­mal en­ergy for de-ic­ing,” he ex­plains. “This is so the in­fra­struc­ture can last much longer. If you don’t have salt, there isn’t as much de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of the roads.” “It’s a time of ac­tion,” says Cu­cuzzella, who re­cently led a Mon­treal-wide com­pe­ti­tion that in­vited de­sign­ers to in­vig­o­rate city bus shel­ters in crit­i­cal and mean­ing­ful ways. The aim: to en­cour­age cit­i­zens to use the bus rather than their cars — even dur­ing the hottest days of sum­mer and the lengthy cold snaps of win­ter. “Projects like these are re­duc­ing our green­house gas emis­sions and re­duc­ing the degra­da­tion of our nat­u­ral re­sources,” Cu­cuzzella says. “Cli­mate change is here, and Con­cor­dia’s nex­tgen cities re­search is help­ing to en­sure we mit­i­gate and ad­dress it as much as pos­si­ble, as soon as pos­si­ble.”

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