Design innovation:
Resilient cities learning from science

The pandemic crisis that has brought the world upside down is much more than just a health crisis.

Overcrowded cities, long distance transport of goods and people, as well as an increased number of people with respiratory weaknesses due to ambient or indoor pollution, have been the major “carriers” of the novel virus in its exponential growth. At the same time, the search for high density in cities and higher possible real estate profit put before quality of space, has brought a plethora of “sick” and overcrowded buildings. Domestic units, buildings or entire urban blocks that lack appropriate orientation, sun exposure, and natural ventilation result in an additional effect of the virus: that of mental and physical unhealth driven by being confined and isolated in entirely indoor and minute houses.

This type of built environment, today, seems to have become the norm in cities, which, in turn, are planned in ways that require their citizens (or products) to commute large amounts of time via either public or private transport, to get to destination. Cities of which the economy is based on economies of scale, and its production often centralized and through remote outdated factories.


Rather than just a health crisis, what we are experiencing today is a design crisis.


The unforeseen social and health related issues our world faces today and the further (probably heavier) social and economic challenges we will face through and after recovering, urge city and building design to rethink and shakeup many of the traditions, and basis upon, which it operated for the last decades.

Rethinking design by combining it with multidisciplinary science to prioritize peoples’ quality of life, are powerful paths for architecture to revolutionarily innovate, and therefore bring a positive impact and change to the built environment and the society that inhabits it.


Learning from sciences such as biology and nature itself, architectural design can innovate by redefining the built environment and cities as living organisms. Buildings and cities that are fractals of hyperconnected cells, able to produce and provide resources, such as food or energy, locally, and distribute these resources among the cells. Organisms that are able to filter air, self-regulate their temperature or provide high levels of oxygen and quality ventilation.

Considering that approximately seven million deaths per year are attributed to the joint effects of household and ambient air pollution, architectural design is urged to redefine building and city metabolisms, driving a positive change, not only in spatial quality but also on the physical well-being of its inhabitants.


Learning from material science, architectural design can promote the creation of healthier indoor environments, avoiding plastic, lead and other toxic materials traditionally used in indoor construction. New or renewed bio, natural and organic composites, including earth, biochar, ceramics or certain types of wood, can enhance indoor air quality and reduce respiratory diseases while contributing to passive cooling and heating, reducing,therefore, the need for increased airtight interiors that can furthermore result in dust mite concentration.


Learning from data science and social sciences, architectural design can not only predict phenomena, including epidemics or natural disasters, but additionally “be trained” to integrate the continuously changing societal needs and desires. Big data and crowd wisdom open up unique possibilities for human-centered and informed planning, or real time adaptive designs that serve both the people, as well as resilience strategies for the environment they inhabit.


We are now urged to start dealing with the current health crisis as a design one, placing, for once, design creativity and innovation in its epicenter: our built environment and cities. The cities and buildings we plan and build today in turn shape their citizens and our society.

Rather than just exploring technologies to predict outbreaks, or to surveil society, design and planning is urged to innovate by posing the appropriate questions for a radical positive impact in the way we live and interact today, for tomorrow. Multidisciplinary design and technologies, here, become allies in an unprecedented battle for restoring the effects of our building impact in a world that in its turn is changing at unconceived speeds.

Areti Markopoulou.