With a fast population increase and a high housing demand projected to continue in the coming decades, Geneva encounters a profound challenge. Since decades, the city has been spilling over across the national border. Urban growth and land consumption in the Canton and in the French part of the Genevian agglomeration continue to put pressure on settlement areas and to erode agricultural and natural landscapes. The social fabric across the region is increasingly uneven. How can thus designers offer design and planning strategies, not only for the city of Geneva, but for the entire region?
Can design help mediate among different cross-border interests and governance arrangements, to create transboundary solutions? Can it help promote a common vision for the region, beyond the city-centric conceptions, and beyond the national border? And can design and planning respond to the urgency of social and environmental «transitions», facing up to the climate crisis and biodiversity loss?
The city of Geneva and its region have always represented a diverse territory and a unity of perceived opposites – the Swiss-French, the protestant-catholic, international-local, and urban-rural qualities and conditions, all come together in the Genevian cuvette, framed by the Jura and the Alps. In 2008, the French and Swiss municipalities around Geneva formalised a decade-long process of negotiating regional cooperation by creating a new territorial entity, the Grand Genève. Ten years later, in October 2018, the public Consultation Grand Genève 2050 launched by the Fondation Braillard Architectes, gathered seven international and interdisciplinary teams around a task to propose design and planning visions for the future of the Grand Genève, based on the necessity of «ecological transition» and in line with the principles of sustainable development. In this framework, the team of the ETH Zürich Architecture of Territory, the UNI Luxembourg Master in Architecture, and Raumbureau A+U elaborated Grand Genève et son sol, a territorial strategy for a more self-sufficient and polycentric cross-border region.
The project approaches socio-ecological transition through the problematic of land, understood in its manifold expressions – as ecological structure, as appropriated and regulated surface, and as a place of identification. The central hypothesis is that the future of the region should be recast through the notions of the built and the unbuilt. The built-up and the unbuilt lands throughout the region ought to be harmonized with each other, and any further competition among land uses avoided. Thus, a new urban figure, which balances social and environmental needs and qualities, becomes possible.
The project is organized in the form of a charter, which operates along two axes. The first axis elaborates five urban strategies that can be deployed at various scales, from architectural to urban and regional: Cité naturelle, Cité agricole, Cité de proximité, Cité partagée and Cité cyclique. The second axis describes seven territories of potentials in the region, that should serve as basis for future land-use decisions. Derived from fieldwork, and elaborated through urbanistic and cartographic studies, the seven territories of potentials are: Bi-natonal metropolis, Global-local territories, Post-fossil infrastructures, Agri-landscape rooms, Metropolitan countryside, Vital streams and canopies, and Mountain parks (see illustrations).The charter also offers a programmatic outline with agendas for design and governance at various scales.
The new urban figure – in effect, a new kind of city which emerges at regional scale – dissolves the centre-periphery dichotomy, giving shape to a more equitable, polycentric, self-sufficient and regenerative landscape, composed of both built and unbuilt lands. In contrast to a master plan, the proposed territorial strategies are flexible, and able to respond to various and unpredictable scenarios of growth and shrinkage. While the external boundaries of the future city-region would be demarcated by the silhouette of cuvette genevois, its development would take place internally, within the figure, through the synergy and consolidation of specific potentials of the built and the unbuilt.
The Consultation Grand Genève 2050 concluded in September 2020, with a final dialogue and participants’ presentations. Since the fall of 2016, design and research studios and diplomas at ETH Zürich Architecture of Territory and UNI Luxembourg Master in Architecture, informed and inspired the project. More than 30 concrete designs for various sites throughout the region have been created by the students.
Grand Genève et son sol: A Charter for the Socio-Ecological Transition of a Cross-Border Metropolitan Region, September 2020
Prof. Milica Topalović, ETH Zürich DARCH, Chair of Architecture and Territorial Planning
Project team: Karoline Kostka, Ferdinand Pappenheim, Charlotte Schaeben, Jan Westerheide
Muriz Djurdjevic, Teaching team: Karoline Kostka, Ferdinand Pappenheim, Metaxia Markaki, Jan Westerheide, Nazli Tümerdem
Prof. Dr. Florian Hertweck, University of Luxembourg FHSE, Master in Architecture
Project team: Prof. Markus Hesse, Nikolaos Katsikis, Ivonne Weichold, Teaching team: Nikolaos Katsikis, Philippe Nathan, Ivonne Weichold
Rolf Jenni, Raumbureau A+U Zürich
Project team: Tom Weiss, Giacomo Ambrosini
Consultation Grand Genève 2050
Fondation Braillard Architectes
Karoline Kostka is a landscape architect and research assistant at the Chair of Architecture and Territorial Planning, Institute for Landscape and Urban Studies (LUS) ETH Zürich. Since 2013 she has been collaborating with Prof. Milica Topalović on research in Singapore’s cross-border metropolitan region at the Singapore-ETH Centre Future Cities Laboratory (FCL). In 2015, Karoline joined the teaching team in Zurich, coordinating design studio cycles in Arcadia, Belgrade, and Geneva. Since 2018 she has been part of the Consultation Grand Genève 2050 where she has contributed as researcher and project coordinator.
Milica Topalović is an Associate Professor of Architecture and Territorial Planning at the ETH Zürich Department of Architecture. Her work is concerned with territories beyond-the-city and urgent transformation processes they are exposed to, through the movement of capital, social restructuring, and environmental change. She undertook a range of territorial studies around the world, in remote regions, resource hinterlands, and countrysides, in an effort to decenter and “ecologize” architect’s approaches to the city, the urban, and urbanization. In her recent work, she looks at regions whose social and environmental qualities have been degraded through unsustainable agriculture and resource harvesting practices, with intention to design their transformations on the principles of agroecology.