PhD R Pistoni - Application of urban metabolism theory in the planning and design of cities: New sustainable energy landscapes

The PhD study of Roberta Pistoni relates to the ongoing discourse on energy transition, starting from the consideration that the energy transition generates a landscape transition too, thanks to the long-lasting relationship between energy and spatial organization (De Pascali, 2008). In this context, the PhD aims to study energy landscape from the analytical framework of the urban metabolism approach.

This research is developed at the LAREP institute, École Nationale Supérieure de Paysage of Versailles Marseille (Doctoral School ABIES-AgroParisTech) under the supervision of Patrick Moquay and co-supervised by Sven Stremke of the Landscape Architecture Chair Group at Wageningen University.

Urban metabolism defines the total sum of processes for which cities mobilize, consume and transform natural resources needed to make them work and develop, provoking consequences in terms of energy and material used and waste generated (Barles, 2008). Most urban metabolism studies applied quantitative methods accounting for the total energy and materials fluxes of cities. Nevertheless at present an increasing urbanization, combined with a progressive resources limitation, leads to consider urban metabolism as an approach to find new ways how cities can be made more sustainable (Broto et al, 2012). At the same time, landscape designers and urban planners begin to embrace urban metabolism theory.

Through this research I want to explore and advance knowledge on the concept of urban metabolism, adding a qualitative dimension, by focusing on spatial and landscape configuration related to inhabitants perception. This is because energy transition affects inhabitants' living environment, social behavior and lifestyle. The landscape medium has the potential to connect the inhabitants' scale with the metabolic approach, reconciling it with the participatory design project.

The research includes case studies in France and in the Netherlands, cities that apply urban metabolism strategies in order to improve material circulation (dematerialization) and transit from fossil fuels towards renewable and carbon-free sources. Projects developed for the 2014 design competition to improve the urban metabolism in the city of Paris (France) and the Buiksloterham district in Amsterdam (The Netherlands) will be analyzed. The case studies will be developed through the analysis of the resulting landscapes and interviews of stakeholders and inhabitants. The comparison between countries can put in perspective the processes and the issues faced during the application of urban metabolism theory in the planning and design of sustainable energy transition.


  • Barles Sabine (2008), "Comprendre et maîtriser le métabolisme urbain et l'empreinte environnementale des villes", Responsabilité et environnement, n° 52, p. 21-26.
  • Castan Broto Vanesa, Allen Adriana, Rapoport Elisabeth (2012), "Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Urban Metabolism", Journal of Industrial Ecology, n° 16 (6), p. 851–861.
  • De Pascali Paolo (2008), Città ed energia: la valenza energetica dell’organizzazione insediativa, Franco Angeli, Milano.