To save ourselves, we must transform cities into urban ecologies, says the landscape designer Bas Smets who will design the Grande MAXXI in Rome (which will be carbon neutral)

The landscaper Bas Smets - who together with LAN will design the Grande MAXXI in Rome - has no doubts: with global warming now a an established fact, it is essential to radically rethink our role as co-inhabitants and ask ourselves how we can reduce the impact of building and the emissions produced by our consumption.

From this point of view, designing the landscape in a different way helps. Very very much. Bas Smets' projects, for example, have highly innovative characteristics, based on a conception of greenery that is not only aesthetic but above all environmental which aims at the creation of microclimatic islands capable of mitigate the effects of climate change in cities.

We will soon see one in Italy, the Grande MAXXI - which Bas Smets won in a competition with studio LAN and after having designed the green area surrounding the cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris. A significant and ambitious project because it not only emphasizes the social role of the museums of the future, but sets ecological objectives: the achievement of carbon neutrality, a look at circular economy of resources and the creation of an energy community.

We interviewed him, asking him to accompany us in his working method and his relationship with the plant world.

Bas Smets, how can we teach cities to reduce their ecological impact?

Cities account for 70% of CO2 pollution, while occupying only a small percentage of the landmass.

If we want to think about changing course, we have to start from the cities. Our metropolises are artificial environments: we need to rethink cities as urban ecologies.

Through my work, I try to read cities as a set of microclimates in which to reintroduce vegetation to transform them from heat islands to cooler and more livable places. And it is plants that have the ability to change the climate around them: we human beings must give priority to making room for them.

Can nature teach us new ways to coexist and adapt?

Plants have always needed to adapt first to their environment and, secondly, to transform that environment to ensure their survival.

We can learn a lot from plants about adaptation and transformation!

Furthermore, plants bring together what is below, in the ground, and what is above, in the sky. We need to rethink our cities as the interface between a changing meteorology and an unexplored geology.

Rethinking landscape architecture: looking to the future, what is it urgent to learn as a designer?

It is urgent to think in cycles. Cycles of growth and transformation and cycles of the seasons.

Nothing is more stable. Nothing can afford to be solely consumed without regenerating anything.

A designer can help shape the future by understanding the value of being part of a whole and learning to think complexly and systemically. Compared to landscape architecture reverse thinking is needed: not looking only at a past of wild nature but understanding what we can bring to the future.

As designers we can accelerate the effects that nature would produce over time.

The Great MAXXI: what are the founding principles and opportunities of the project?

I want to think about the possibility of a community of plants reconquering the desert.

Today the Maxxi lies in a concrete desert. In summer, the outdoor space becomes a heat island by absorbing solar energy into the surrounding hardscape.

With our project, we propose to demineralize the public space, to remove parts of the concrete, to find the connection with the earth.

This will make it possible to produce effects of great impact: by reducing the impermeable surface of the concrete, it will be possible to store the precious rain water in the ground, while the planting of new trees will allow to bring that water back into the atmosphere through evaporative cooling.

This will help to lower the perceived temperature by more than 10 degrees. The museum will therefore have a square dimension where - thanks to the plants - the well-being, perceptible in terms of shade and coolness, will generate a new dimension of collective use of public space.

Given the inevitability of global warming, how many microclimate gardens should we plant?

Given the speed with which the consequences of global warming are manifesting themselves, it is no longer the time to think only about what we can do as individuals: we need change planetary.

Every city should rethink its relationship with nature, reverse its polluting and energy-consuming role and plant as many trees as possible.

Every leaf counts: if human beings will learn to co-create together with plants and transform cities into a new nature within the next decade, we can have hope.