Nature and city together: the ideas and innovations of Vincent Callebaut

The urban areas of the future according to the Belgian architect, where man is an integral part of a self-sufficient and sustainable ecosystem

Callebaut: Nautilus
The Nautilus eco-resort in the Philippines (Photo: Vincent Callebaut Architectures)

Oscar Wilde once said: “If nature had been comfortable, mankind would never have invented architecture”. In fact, although the concept of "living in nature" has fascinated poets and writers, activists and ordinary men over the years, the data say otherwise. Currently, 54 percent of the world's population (4 billion people) live in urban areas, and this figure is set to rise to 70 percent by 2030. 

From job opportunities to services, there are many reasons why people choose to live in the city. This choice brings with it a downside: pollution, noise and congested spaces are just some of the disadvantages associated with living in urban areas. What if there was another way? What if cities could be designed to welcome nature? This is exactly where the Belgian architect comes into play Vincent Callebaut, born in 1977, with his vision of a sustainable future for cities.

Through his works, Callebaut proves that this future is possible. His eco-districts include the use of sustainable and innovative technologies and the integration of large green spaces within the buildings and urban structure. In this way, cities can become pleasant and healthy places to live. Let's discover some of Vincent's works. 

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Callebaut: Dragonfly
The Dragonfly, designed to house a self-sustaining farm along with office and residential space (Photo: Vincent Callebaut Architectures)

A castle in the sky and a floating ecocity

It is called "Dragonfly", because it resembles the folded wings of a dragonfly and is inspired by the Japanese animated film "Laputa: Castle in the Sky". The project develops over two vertical towers: a large bioclimatic garden in the center, while offices and residential spaces are organized along the external part of each "wing". The towers are designed to house 28 different self-sustaining agricultural fields; management would be powered by solar and wind energy, and water would be recycled within the building.

Callebaut says his vision of the project is to allow a person to “eating a freshly picked apple from a collective orchard on the fourth floor, looking at New York from the window and returning to one's office on the upper floor”.

“To avoid asphyxiating the planet and feeding its more than 9 billion inhabitants by 2050, it is necessary to reinvent the traditional energy scheme between city and countryside”Vincent explains. “The ecological city aims to reintegrate the agricultural function at the urban scale, emphasizing the role of urban agriculture in the use and reuse of natural resources and biodegradable waste”.

Vincent Callebaut he then thought of those who will inevitably be overwhelmed by climate changes: the “climate refugees”, the climate refugees. For them, the visionary architect has in mind a completely self-sufficient floating eco-city, called "Lilypad", which seems to come out of a Jules Verne novel. An amphibious city, located in the middle of the sea, capable of accommodating 50.000 inhabitants and which will allow biodiversity to proliferate around a central freshwater lagoon that collects and purifies rainwater.

“One of the main challenges of the century will consist in inventing new international instruments to welcome environmental migrants, recognizing their rights and duties. This is a political and social challenge that requires a strong synergy between sustainable urban and human development globally”, explains the architect.

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Callebaut: Lilypad
Lilypad, the floating ecocity designed to support future climate refugees (Photo: Vincent Callebaut Architectures)

From eco-resorts to "virtual" parks for biodiversity

Vincent Callebaut's creatures have no boundaries: residential complexes, stadiums, urban farms, cultural centers… in the innovative vision of the brilliant architect, everything can become an eco-district. An example of this is the “Nautilus” eco-resort in Cebu in the Philippines. A country that has experienced important tourism, not without some downsides such as overfishing, pollution and loss of biodiversity. Tourism planet it is an opportunity for the Asian country to reconcile economic development and environmental protection.

“Nautilus” is a choral project, carried out with researchers, scientists and the local population, for truly responsible tourism planet. Built with 100 percent reused and recycled materials from the archipelago, the resort will be self-sufficient in terms of energy and food, will meet your needs thanks to renewable energy and permaculture and, thanks to a zero waste policy, will aim to transform resource pollution.

On the other side of the world, in old Europe, Callebaut worked with the European Commission on the interactive project “Pollinator Park”, to make citizens aware of the decline of pollinating insects, crucial for human survival. A virtual reality tool, accessible from the web or through Oculus, which shows what our life would be like (including supermarket shopping) in 2050, in a world without bees and other insects. A virtual architecture therefore, which hopefully will remain so, because seeing it materialize would mean having failed in the mission of protecting biodiversity.

According to the European Commission, “Vincent Callebaut's Pollinator Park puts into practice many of the principles promoted by the European Green Deal. It demonstrates what the city of tomorrow could look like by combining circular economy approaches, renewable energy, and agricultural and urban best practices aimed at protecting and restoring our ecosystems, such as agroecology."

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CallebautVincent Callebaut
Vincent Callebaut graduated from the Victor Horta Institute in 2000 and collaborated with architects Odile Decq and Massimiliano Fuksas before founding his own studio (Photo: Vincent Callebaut Architectures)

Not just buildings: space for green mobility as well

Vincent didn't just design buildings. The architect, who is headquartered in Paris, recently launched a collaboration with Renault to design five green and shared vehicle prototypes: Timber eCAR (car), eBIKE (electric bicycle), eSHUTTLE (bus), eVTOL (taxi steering wheel) and eHYDROFOIL (ferry).

They have in common ergonomic architecture, green food through clean energy and natural (vegetable fibers from agricultural waste, cross laminated wood and engineered bamboo) and recycled (recycled aluminum and composite fibres) materials.

From offices to accommodation facilities, from 3D printed public housing in Iraq battered by ISIS, up to ecological means of transport, Vincent Callebaut is demonstrating that the possibilities of imagining the cities of the future know no bounds.

A city that is truly inclusive and sustainable is possible. This is demonstrated by the commitment of companies such as Solid Earth in creating ecological pavements, the cities that, slowly but surely, get rid of the asphalt to make room for nature and institutional policies that are moving decisively towards real and lasting change. 

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Callebaut: Pollinator Park
Pollinator Park, the project created by the European Commission with Vincent Callebaut on the occasion of World Bee Day (Photo: Vincent Callebaut Architectures)