Biophilic Urbanism Studio

Vitoria-Gasteiz Biophilic Urbanism Studio

In June, 2012, five UVA graduate Planning students traveled to Vitoria-Gasteiz (capital of the Basque country, Spain) to participate in an important collaborative biophilic design and planning studio. Over ten days, Tim Beatley joined several other instructors, including Anne Spirn from MIT and Emanual Carter from SUNY-Syracuse, among others. The focus of the studio was exploring different design and planning options for day-lighting a major stream through the heart of this city. This is a key initiative of the newly elected mayor, and part of a larger effort to green the interior of the city—what the city is now calling its “interior green belt”.










Learn more about the workshop and green belt here

Biophilic Urbanism Studio Blog

Ideas for a Greener Vitoria

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012 | Vitoria-Gasteiz 2012
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Our time in Vitoria has come to an end, but we have produced quite a few creative solutions for each axis and node assigned to our design groups. It has been a great experience working with students and young professionals from across the country of Spain, as well as our American colleagues from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Below is a compilation of images and descriptions of each team’s final design proposals from the charrette.




The proposal for the north axis of the inner green belt in Vitoria-Gasteiz looks to create a new urban forest and meadow landscape that will act as green infrastructure for the city.  Urban meadows would reduce maintenance costs from mowing, help mitigate stormwater runoff, and provide urban wildlife habitat.  An urban forest would reduce air pollution, reduce urban temperatures (thus saving energy needed to cool buildings and making it more pleasant to walk along streets), and provide wildlife habitat among other benefits. Both would improve the quality of life and personal health of residents by adding color, texture, and natural character to the city, which has been shown to provide psychological benefits for citizens. (Chelsea Dewitt, UVa MLA & MUEP Candidate 2013)


The proposal for the east axis of the interior green ring involves 1) widening the axis to provide parallel corridors, one for vehicles along the proposed axis and one for pedestrians and cyclists that follows a historic rail line 2) building on the existing green space on the axis by expanding on the typical park landscape of canopy and lawn to include urban farms as well as denser vegetation to support biodiversity and 3) developing a diverse set of strategies for storm water, from canals to bioswales, that also reference the regional-scale topographical and hydrological systems and their influence within the city of Vitoria-Gasteiz. (Rachel Stevens, UVa MLA & MUEP Candidate 2014)

For the southern axis, we focused primarily on two issues: providing a missing link in the line of parks along the axis, and developing ways to capture and infiltrate rainwater while creating useful public spaces.  For the missing park connection, we proposed a raised park over a railway that currently divides two sides of Vitoria, allowing pedestrians and bicyclists to move along and across the former barrier.  For an area near the city’s bull ring, we developed a series of water-catchment areas that would fill in during storms, potentially bringing more residents to a currently underused plaza while performing important ecological services.  Lastly, we proposed a series of lookout towers along the axis, which could help residents locate the green belt from other parts of the city and also be used as habitat for birds. (Jack Cochran, UVa M.Arch & MUEP Candidate 2012 & Carla Jones UVa MUEP & MPH Candidate 2012)

The proposal for the west axis along the major arterial of the Avenida Gasteiz focuses on introducing the Rio Batan into a dense, urban environment while utilizing an ecological habitat to address stormwater quantity and quality control issues. At the southern gateway of the corridor, an opportunity exists to introduce a physical and metaphorical form of the river and to connect a historic park to the busy avenue. Two schemes were proposed – the first being a more basic pedestrian pathway through the existing retaining wall supporting the regional train bridge. In this scenario, paving materials will symbolize the river where it cannot be brought to the surface because of transit priorities, and the path will redirect bike and pedestrian traffic to an urban nook that celebrates nature rather than the automobile at this node. The second scenario proposes a monumental pedestrian bridge with a sculptural form that mimics the river moving through the space above the chaos of the cars, buses, and trains. The bridge would also give priority to the experience of the bicycling or pedestrian users at this busy node. (Holly Hendrix, UVa MUEP 2012; Renderings by Lindsay Perez SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry MLA Candidate, 2013 )


Previous Posts

Greening Vitoria’s Urban Corridors

20 June 2012 | Vitoria-Gasteiz 2012
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In this second week of our workshop, teams have each taken on one of the four axes of the proposed interior green belt or anillo verde. After two days of visiting the axes, recording observations and analyzing the existing conditions, each group presented their research to the workshop. Though each axis of the anillo has […]

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Getting to Know Vitoria Gasteiz

13 June 2012 | Vitoria-Gasteiz 2012
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Our first few days here in Vitoria Gasteiz have certainly been a whirlwind! We’ve spent most of our time getting to know the city with help from a series of presentations from local professionals. We are also starting to understand the importance of the political landscape here – Vitoria has a progressive new mayor who […]

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Gearing Up for the 2012 Landscape Urban Forum

04 June 2012 | Vitoria-Gasteiz 2012
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This Saturday, Chelsea, Carla, Jack, Rachel, and I will depart Charlottesville for Vitoria-Gasteiz, a small city in the Basque Country of northeastern Spain. Vitoria is already renowned as a green city for its perimeter green belt, and has been honored as the European Green Capital for 2012. This conference will bring students and professionals from […]

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