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A New Resilient Campus for a Resilient City: Insights from our workshop in Barcelona

By June 7, 2022Learnings, News

Barcelona is a role model city for infrastructure resilience, a Smart City, a sustainable city recognized for its green-block planning strategy, pushing urban living toward the “15min-city” concept, and recently announced to be also a Resilience Hub (UNDRR, Making Cities Resilient 2030). In this city, one of the major universities (Pompeu Fabra – UPF, henceforth) is expanding its campus and wishing to create a new hub of knowledge in the city center, near to the biggest park, 5 min walking distance to the seafront.

The question is: how a new campus could look like, in Barcelona, to reflect and foster sustainability and resilience?

We’ve actually been asked this question contributing to the UPF ambitions. They are indeed already planning in collaboration with other research institutes – namely the Center for Evolutionary Biology and the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology – to build 3 new buildings, LEED certified, fully inspired by sustainability. We had the opportunity and task to develop a conceptual framework inspiring how the new UPF campus should be not only sustainable, but also resilient (and what actually means to be resilient, for a campus, within a resilient city, beyond a climate resilience plan and a green agenda).

The recorded presentation of our proposal, as the full report which we will synthesize here, are available at the end of this post.

How could a “resilient campus” be conceived?

You just saw our answer to this question: our final report title was announcing “enabling Space and knowledge”. But why enable it when referring to resilience?

Thanks to different introductory keynote speeches, we’ve been exploring some examples of sustainable and resilient campuses, inspired by the Social-Ecological Systems Resilience approach, as the Albano Campus (in Sweden), the sustainable TU Delft Campus (in The Netherland), or the Politecnico di Milano one (Italy), among dozens of inspiring examples. After gathering more than 30 cases, we decided to step back, and look from outside this huge puzzle of examples.  Our question was: how could the fuzzy concept of resilience be grounded into a clear operational line to follow for architects and planners thinking of sustainability in a campus?

Our final answer was conceptual and easy: forget about “climate resilience”, “disaster resilience”, “community resilience”, and think in terms of capacities! Indeed, resilience is about capacities: to react, to adapt, to transform. This is how we want resilience to be conceived: as something enabling through capacities the changes toward sustainability to happen, facing any potential challenge, uncertainty, complexity. Thus, from sustainability of our current system, to a regenerative approach based on capacities to feed space and functions of the university: enabling spaces, enabling knowledge.

Enabling which capacities? Resilience Principles as conceptual framing drivers

It was time to step from concepts and meanings to operational frameworks. Resilience could be framed through different capacities, and many principles. Thus, since our goal was to provide a clear guide to planners and architects, we needed to ground and frame capacities within a consistent framework, for their implementation in a campus.

First, we started outlining the campus challenges (splitting them among “socio-cultural”, “Environmental/Ecological” and “Physical”) and thinking of which capacities could be identified as leverage points for answering those challenges. Simultaneously, another group of students reviewed and clustered few resilience characteristics (principles) that better fit the University campus needs (see below).

As shown in the image, the key resilience principles selected were: i) maintain diversity and invest in “redundancy” (having many different parts of the system performing similar roles, so that you don’t need to rely or depend from the work of few), ii) work on connections (think about how to integrate the local, the global, the virtual, being inclusive and engaging, linking the physical with the virtual within the campus), iii) try to decentralize structures and services (so that redundancy increase and more people or groups or department are engage and responsible for the running and management of parts of infrastructures and services) and finally iv) increase self-sufficiency (so that you don’t depend of few external services or infrastructures, but have in house the capacities to have also your own food, products, energy, water, complementing the outside resources that you buy).

How to apply them? Before jumping from resilience framing to the operational guidelines for the campus, we have to start introducing a bit about the campus, how it is today, and all its potential of implementation.

The UPF Campus of de la Ciutadella is the biggest campus of UPF university which counts 12,500 enrolled students in 30 undergraduate studies, 33 Masters (EHEA) and 9 PhD programmes with 1,800 international mobility students per year. This campus is  located on the eastern side of the Ciutadella Park just next to the historical center of Barcelona (see figure below) It bears proximity to the Barcelona Zoo, the Parliamentary building, and the Estacion de Francia, a major railway station that dates back to the mid-1800s.

map from:

Just next to the Ciutadella campus of the Pompeu Fabra University, a new project the “Mercat del Peix” is starting, it consists of a development of a new 45,000 m2 research and innovation complex composed of 3 new buildings and a central square, focused on biomedicine, biodiversity and planetary wellbeing. This project It is promoted by the Pompeu Fabra University (UPF), with the participation of three strategic partners, the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology (BIST), the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) and the University of Barcelona (UB), and is supported by the Barcelona City Council and the Government of Catalonia.

The new development site then sits in a spot full of potential that can be in the future part of the string of universities facilities and departments lining the parque de la ciutadella reinforcing the presence of the UPF campus as a Hub of Knowledge for the entire city. However regardless of the optimal location there are some barriers and challenges that must be addressed; transportation passages traversing the area and walls enclosing the Parc de la Ciutadella isolate the campus from two main arteries at the west and south. Access to the seafront is limited, with only one bridge at Passeig de Circumvallacio to cross the railway and highway Ronda Litoral. This labirintica infrastructure layout adds to a feeling of insecurity in certain surrounding areas due to lack of maintenance and landscaping around the rail tracks.

From these challenges begins our work, using resilience as said previously, to enable this space and to react, adapt and transform the site on many levels. From the built environment to the socio economic context there are many opportunities. Starting from opening up the site, reclaiming space creating a new linear pathway for active transit utilizing design that improves openness but also safety for women and children and other marginalized populations. Creating connections to existing alternative resources and networks, to diversify land uses and activities through multifunctional spaces and programmes that operate across different times of the day and week so to activate the space during the entire span of the day.

In order to reach UPF’s goal of creating an innovation and knowledge hub in the center of Barcelona, we looked at different ways to enhance the area through this framework of resiliency of the campus and surrounding area, hoping to expand the impact of the development of the Mercat del Peix knowledge campus. From here create a spark that can potentially affect the entirety of the city to create for it this hub that simultaneously fosters freedom of movement and freedom of thought.

Operational framework driving Resilience implementation for urban transformation

Going back to our university challenges and resilience principles, we conceived and organized 4 domains for actions (see image below) to guide the campus future transformation, which are: 1) Activating the Ground (merging the existing campus and the future new buildings by invigorating key outdoor areas), 2) Circularity (applying the concept of circular economy on the management of waste, food and construction), 3) Re-Energizing (connecting new and old campus buildings through an integrated decentralized smart energy and monitoring system, to be shared among different district’s communities and research centers), and 4) Connecting Ecosystems (creating ecological corridors and rewilding green spaces).


Activating the ground

This first domain has a key objective to work on connectivity and capacity building (among the resilience principles introduced), merging the existing campus and the new buildings by activating key areas. It wants to achieve this with 3 main projects; the Beehive, the Conversation Pit and the Release Space (see image below)

The Beehive aims to provide an innovative and inclusive hub in the heart of the new UPF campus. The building highlighted on the map below , formerly a residential building, incorporates inclusive uses bringing the neighborhood’s spirit to life while generating positive synergies between the students and the community. Its centrality and the historical connection makes it a key place to host innovative activities through the generation of a constant active flow and social mixture, aiming to reach inclusivity, innovation, and community building.

The Conversation Pit ,as it currently stands, the internal space between the new proposed buildings has been designed to include open green space with pathways throughout the area. This project proposes to supplement the design with the addition of a ‘conversation pit’ that will provide a multi-use, interactive space. Finally, the Release Space, a site space between the existing and new campus buildings, is meant to be the place where the knowledge produced at the campus gets to the street. A pedestrianized area here is proposed  that blends the campus and the public space. The use of moveable urban furniture provides a space for fairs, markets, concerts and living labs that facilitates social cohesion through dynamic and free activity. Permeability and accessibility of the Release Space opens the walls of the citadel of knowledge to the neighborhood and the city.


This second domain builds on the resilience principles of self sufficiency and redundancy, promoting through circularity as a systemic, restorative approach to enable space and sustainable processes.  The proposal incorporates circularity into waste, food and construction for both the development and management of the future UPF campus.

Applying circularity through a systemic approach has many ramifications and it is about resilience and systemic thinking, working on connections and feedback-loops. For waste this means closing the circle and going toward a zero waste policy.

For food, we want to empower students and local actors by increasing the diversity and redundancy of food producers, promoting the comanagement of a biodiverse and active green space. This, ideally, means enabling space toward capacities building and resilience, and could mean IBE Institute taking the lead of the comanagement of surrounding green space to ensure it is actively used in research and with people for everyday functional uses and must be exemplary and should be an integral part of its community’s educational experience.

The same, though more difficult to implement, is the question of construction. Instead of outsourcing materials, local resources could be used (or produced) on the existing development site (or at least locally), such as native trees or by planting hemp from which “hempcrete” could be easily created for UPC, BIST or IBE new buildings.


Re-energising the Campus 

In this third domain we look at infrastructures and ways of connecting new and old campus buildings through the application of decentralization, redundancy and self-sufficiency resilience principles. In order to decentralize and build a more redundant energy system, we proposed to deploy a microgrid with clean, renewable technologies that will increase the energy resilience of the campus through improved energy planning (ex. Energy efficiency upgrades), self-sufficiency (ex. Solar PV) and open grid connections to areas around campus.

The connection of the campus buildings to a microgrid, the development of an Energy Management Information System, and the deployment of renewable energy and storage systems will provide an opportunity for research to support the development of microgrids in surrounding and Catalan rural areas where these technologies could have greatest impact, solving remote areas and lack of infrastructures. A microgrid can provide further synergies with a distributed water management system too, through the supply of energy to water pumps through on-site renewable energy, and advanced monitoring of performance utilizing the functions of an energy management information system. This could enable the university to establish basic utility functions which can evolve to provide energy to the surrounding community through distributed energy systems, contributing to increasing self sufficiency and capacity building (for the feasibility, quantification and structure of the proposal please go the report linked below).

Connecting Ecosystems 

This last domain focuses on connecting ecological corridors and rewilding green spaces and blue spaces, maximizing ecosystem services within the campus.  Free movement for all living beings even in urban settings creates opportunities for transdisciplinary knowledge production on environmental and social interactions. Green corridors could be created contributing to a better runoff management, noise buffering, air pollution reduction, as well as urban water harvesting through rainwater catchment (fostering decentralized water management), groundwater connections, and wetland systems allowing for co-management opportunities between diverse actors (enhancing empowerment and learning). These arteries will have a double function, regreening the city space and providing social interactions with increased mobility, encouraging sustainable modes of transport, and pedestrian pathways.

The four resilience principles mentioned are addressed in this entire last domain on the project of social-ecological corridors, with design components ensuring diversity and redundancy, arteries managing connectivity and fostering learning, and co-management strategy encouraging a broad participation.

A resilient campus is a place feeding regenerative multiscale processes enhancing capacities

There are more than 60 pages of report available here (and at the link at the end of this post), explaining how to accomplish our proposal, with real-world examples showing how different ideas presented here have been already implemented.

What we learnt from this workshop is not only how resilience could be conceived to guide a campus toward regenerative multiscale processes, but also that the implementation of our ideas are not something the campus can do by itself. When you wish to boost transformation, work across scales, act across domains and sectors, you face the challenges of confronting your ideas and proposals with lots of silos, and external partners’ responsibility and plans (which could actually impede any transformation).

The implementation of our proposal should indeed be dealing with Barcelona Municipality plan (land uses restrictions vs flexibility of mixing them), the Ministry of Spain (managing some spaces occupied by rail infrastructures), private stakeholders (i.e. the BCN zoo coexisting with the UPF campus, although divided by a huge long wall) which have their robust business model already in place, or suppliers having their plan for managing infrastructures and services in a centralized way through public private partnerships (with long term contracts and agreements) as dozens of others potentially synergistic or conflicting interests. This is why we define cities as Complex, Adaptive Systems. It is a huge and difficult task to transform the city. A slow multiscale process.

However, usually, reflecting globally on the best practices we can find, successful transformations happen when there is a clear vision and a well structured framework guiding imaginaries through implementation pathways. In this way people can start sharing and believing in these pathways and visions, and work on implementation mechanisms. This is what we hope to have done and provided. A solid conceptual framework of how resilience can feed a regenerative process, transforming the campus and the Barcelona district hosting it. Now the ball is in the local actors field.

Ps: the report has been presented at UPF Campus on April the 8th, and will be presented to the Municipality, at different conferences and workshops. Please share this post if you find it interesting, and share with us your ideas, feedback, contributions if working on resilient campuses. Find below the complete report.

Report here: Students Report 6-07-22

Video Presentation Link: