Responsive Cities Symposium 2021: Design with Nature

Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia

11th-12th November 2021

The Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC) is conducting the final symposium of the BUILD Solutions Project in Barcelona to be held from the 11th-12th November 2021. Responsive Cities is a bi-annual international symposium on the future of cities organized by the Advanced Architecture Group of IAAC.

The 2021 edition focuses on “Design with Nature” and takes place within the framework of the Building Urban Intelligent Living Design Solutions (BUILDs) project, co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union and developed by the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia – IAAC- (Spain), Université de Lorraine -UL- (France), Vienna University of Economics and Business -WU- (Austria), Ersilia Foundation (Spain), ECONICK (France), Plant-e (Netherlands), City Facilitators -CF- (Denmark), and GreenTech Challenge -GTC- (Denmark).


Despite cities having strengthened their economy, efficiency, and liveability over the last decades, they are still facing major issues such as contamination, rising inequities, and unemployment, among others. These already harmful conditions for the environment and society are furthermore aggravated by crisis events such as the current pandemic. New planning paradigms that recognize the importance of ecology to respond to these challenges are being developed, by integrating living systems in urban environments aimed at improving cities’ socio-economic and environmental conditions.

Living systems integrated in cities are also known as Nature-Based Solutions (NBS), defined as “living solutions inspired by, continuously supported by, and using nature, which are designed to address various societal challenges in a resource efficient and adaptable manner and to provide simultaneously economic, social, and environmental benefits” (European Commission, 2015). NBS can help address several challenges through the provision of multiple ecosystem services such as life support (soil formation and oxygen production); procurement (production of food, drinking water, raw materials or fuel); regulation (climate control and tidal waves, water purification, pollination); and cultural values, including the aesthetic, educational, and recreational values. Intelligent design strategies can help reintegrate nature in cities by transforming urban spaces into liveable, productive, and biodiverse systems.

Advances in digital technologies open new opportunities to facilitate the integration of NBS in the urban environment and to increase the number and the quality of the ecosystem services provided. Digital technologies, for instance, such as simulation tools, open the possibility to test in a virtual environment how the system performs, while digital fabrication allows for the production of non-standardized elements (like green facades, floor tiles, public space furnitures, etc) for a tailored integration of nature in cities. The convergence among biology, ecological sciences and information technology applied to landscape and urban design can create powerful synergies to address the current socio-economic-environmental challenges.

The Responsive Cities Symposium: Design with Nature is organized around the following topics:

DESIGN – bio-design | environmental feedback | collective intelligence

BUILD – reintegrating nature | digital fabrication | new bio-inspired planning paradigms

ADAPT – nature-based solutions | biotechnology | black ecologies

PERFORM – living systems | increased liveability | ecosystem services

SHARE – participatory design  | novel virtual environments for co-design | symbiosis

LEARN – new educational models | applied research | making

As part of the Symposium, two calls have been launched:

  1. The Call for Papers
  2. The Design with Nature Contest

To find out more about these calls check out the Responsive Cities Website or the BUILD Solutions Website.


Keynote Speakers from around the world were asked to give a presentation of 12 minutes and then participate in a round table discussion. The speakers were divided into 3 sessions, each moderated by an IAAC Faculty and invited guest. The invited Keynote Speakers are:

  • Elora Hardy – Founder and Creative Director of IBUKU
  • Ana Coello – Founder of Ana Coello Paisaje y Arquitectura
  • Belinda Tato – Associate Professor in Practice of Landscape Architecture, Graduate School of Design, Harvard University // Director – Ecosistema Urbano
  • Mitchell Joachim – Associate Professor NYU // CoFounder Terreform ONE
  • Petra Gruber – CEO transarch, office for transdisciplinary architecture // Senior Researcher, University of Applied Arts, Vienna, Austria // Adjunct Associate Professor, The University of Akron, USA
  • Chiara Farinea – AAG Head of Building with Nature Based Solutions Research
  • Marcos Cruz – Professor of Innovative Environments at The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL // Co-Director Bio-ID
  • Brenda Parker – Associate Professor in Sustainable Bioprocess Design at the Department of Biochemical Engineering, UCL // Co-Director Bio-ID
  • Skylar Tibbits – Founder and Co-director of Self Assembly Lab at MIT // Associate Professor of Design and Research at MIT
  • Feifei Zhou – Artist and Architect // Co-editor of Feral Atlas: the More-Than-Human Anthropocene
  • Daniel Christian Wahl – Author of Designing Regenerative Cultures // Founder & Director of Daniel Christian Wah – Sustainability Consultancy Innovation Education
  • Jonathan Minchin – Founder of E.I. Ecological Interaction and Green Fab Catalunya. Manager of ROMI : Robotics for Microfarms and OSBH Open Source Beehives


Bringing together educators from around Europe, the main topic was how educational systems can include design with nature. Each participant was asked to give a short statement on the topic before participating in a round table discussion, moderated by Mathilde Marengo and Angelos Chronis. The participants included:

  • Anna Ramos – Director of Fundació Mies van der Rohe
  • Areti Markopoulou – Advanced Architecture Group // Director of IAAC
  • Claudia Pasquero -Founder & Co-director of ecoLogicStudio // Professor of Landscape Architecture, Founder of Synthetic Landscape Lab & Head of Urban Design at Leopold-Franzens Universität Innsbruck // Director at the Urban Morphogensis Lab, BPRO, The Bartlett UCL
  • Martha Thorne – Dean IE School of Architecture and Design, Spain Hon. FRIBA // Hon COAM // Board of Advisors Member, Black Spectacles // Member, Society of Architectural Historians
  • Mette Ramsgaard Thomsen – Professor at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture // Head of CITA
  • Jose Pedro Sousa – Faculty of Architecture, University of Porto // HLRT New European Bauhaus


All the BUILDs Partners were asked to participate in a Session dedicated to BUILDs. Chiara Farinea, gave an introduction to the BUILDs project and each of the partners was asked to present their work or on the topic of nature-based solutions. The session finished with a round table discussion. 

During the call for papers sessions, the BUILDs partners were asked to help moderate the sessions, bringing different perspectives to the discussions. 


39 Extended Abstracts were received and 26 were selected to write papers and present at the symposium, in addition to invited authors of papers. The topics presented were very diverse touching on all aspects of design with nature. If you are interested in the work presented, you can find the papers published in the Symposium Proceedings. 


As part of the Responsive Cities Symposium, IAAC hosted an exhibition showcasing the work of the startup as well as nature-based prototypes developed. In addition, the winning posters from the Design with Nature Contest were displayed. The exhibition was very well received by the public, students and faculty and even one of the winners from the design competition, travelled to Barcelona to see her work in the exhibition. 


With 50 participants joining us from around the world and over 200 people registering for the in person event, the symposium was an outstanding success. The participants greatly contributed to the discussions and shared interesting insights about their projects and research. The theme Design with Nature was very well received and the feedback from the attendees was very positive. 

The topics presented by the speakers covered all scales, from that of the organisms to the scale of the oceans. Furthermore, innovative research approaches were presented using computational design techniques, and on the other side of the spectrum projects of regeneration using the Miyawaki technique. The work presented demonstrated the opportunities available when designing with nature, as well as the importance of transdisciplinarity.  

In case you missed the event, the videos of the presentations will be uploaded on the Responsive Cities Website!

Check out the Report.




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