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Climate of innovation

Towards a sustainable future: Aritco talk takes a fresh look at sustainability

No time to spare

High-rises inspired by medieval cities? Getting rid of cars? Rooftop agriculture? In a roundtable discussion organized by Aritco, architect Jan Knikker and journalist Roddy Clark say that innovative solutions, individual and collective action, and an overall economy that works better are needed to meet the challenge of climate change. And there’s no time to spare: The decisions we make in the next ten years will affect generations to come.

Jan, please tell us about how your firm is changing how we work and live.

Jan Knikker: You see this with “The Valley.” On the outside it has almost a business facade because it’s in central business district of Amsterdam. On the inside, it has human scale. It has lots of balconies it has lots of plants and greenery.

But this is the most important thing: you can be outside on the terrace, you know the human neighbors above, and you know the neighbors from the other towers. This is like living in a vertical village in the middle of Amsterdam.

Some of your projects involve taking away space for cars. Tell us about that.

JK: It’s not only good for the environment and for humans, it’s also good for business. We noticed that if you take out the cars, you bring back more business activity. For example, in Madrid when they took out the cars from the city center, they had almost 10% extra turnover.

To our great surprise, during the Covid pandemic, we were asked to take the cars out of a small shopping street in Rotterdam so that the stores could extend into the parking spaces. The street then became a pedestrian zone. It’s a small project, and we did it in three weeks but it was really important that entrepreneurs asked us to get rid of cars.

How far could you go with this? Could you turn a city into a park?

JK: This is the question that we asked the city of Eindhoven in the Netherlands, and we made them a wonderful vision for the future, where city center becomes a National Park.

It’s also important to look at distribution centers outside the city. They have very big roofs. Of course, you can put solar cells on them but you could also have agriculture on top of these roofs. This is what we’re trying to do in Taiwan. And again, people said you can never have the trucks downstairs and the edible landscape upstairs. But it’s under construction and it’s actually happening.

And in Rotterdam we have a forest on top of a cultural building with 151,000 art works. You can visit there, and on the roof, you find the forest that we had to remove from where the building was constructed. Basically, we just moved the forest up.

How has the pandemic affected your thinking, Roddy?

Roddy Clarke: Pandemic world 2020 has been a year like no other. I think many of us have found a renewed sense of purpose that has affected everything that we do in our lives from our personal lives to our businesses.

Whether we are a business owner or an employee, we’ve all seen what a renewed sense of purpose can bring.

Do you think is a sustainable future is still within reach?

RC: I think we have to remain positive despite the pandemic causing certain setbacks. I think if we responded to the climate crisis with the same urgency as we’ve responded to the pandemic, we’d reach solutions at a quicker pace.

One positive thing is that we as humans have the solutions. There are so many creative minds out there, so many visionaries, and so many changemakers. We can all be one of these, in our own small ways. I think that’s is the crux of how we will reach a brighter and better future ahead

How important is it to act now?

RC: We need to constantly be aware of the impact that we’re all having as individuals and as businesses. When you have a community that comes together, that’s when real change can take place. To fight this climate crisis that we’re in the middle of, that’s what needs to happen.  And the pandemic has made us realize how entwined we are with the environment around us.

When we look at the decade ahead, the 2020s are set to be one of the most pivotal decades that we have ever known. What we do in the next 10 years will shape the world for generations to come.


Our Aritco panel

Jan Knikker is a partner in Rotterdam-based MVRDV architects, where a human-centered approach to urban density is a key focus. Its solutions include spectacular combinations of mixed-use construction, greenery and sustainability that minimize automobile traffic.

 Roddy Clarke is a contributor to Forbes, Financial Timesand other publications, a creative director, and a consultant. Much of his work is focused on the social and environmental impact of design and what they mean for consumers and businesses today.



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