On 2 December 2020, the ESE Florence centre had the pleasure to host two very influential figures on Sustainability worldwide, the American architects and academics Mr. John Sandell and Mr. Bruce Tomb, for a digital guest lecture on Sustainability in Urban planning and Architecture.


The first speaker was John Sandell, an Associate Professor at the School of Architecture in Florida, where he teaches in the areas of theory and design. His general area of research encompasses the interaction of natural, human and built domains in site-specific situations. Particular emphasis is given to phenomena that draw out hidden properties and create conspicuous shifts that inform and shape the design project. His research and studio pedagogy investigate topics such as city allusions and theater, human fragility and the abandonment of place, the role of metaphors in revealing unforeseen perspectives in visual work, projecting retreat and adaptation: new urban morphologies for the design of South Florida’s future environments.

Sandell focused in his talk on visioning and how to model future scenarios in urban planning. He specifically referred to the rising sea level in South Florida and about re-wilding those urban areas that will be submerged in the years to come: ‘The cost of maintaining and improving infrastructure across the country is economically unfeasible. The new challenge is to envision public spaces as a function of a changing natural environment: this requires ecologically and financially sustainable strategies favoring the restoration and proliferation of the natural environment.’

One of the most interesting innovations Mr Sandell talked about was “floating housing”, little stilted housing hamlets with boats mooring and pedestrian walkways cluster at the eastern edge of the Atlantic Ridge. This system would protect against storm surge.

The final message from the guest speaker was very enlightening: healthy ecosystems create atmospheres that shape our natural and cultural identity.



Then it was Bruce Tomb’s turn to take the virtual stage. As an architect and academic in California, he has been engaged in a wide range of architectural projects with technological, material and environmental concerns. His unique work approach is developed with perspectives taken from art and industrial design: prototype and production furniture, and installations in galleries and public places reflect his ideas and attention to detail. Collaboration informs all aspects of projects, from conception through realization, whether it be with the client, builder, fabricator, engineer or supplier.

The strength of his work has been recognized with numerous grants and awards, from organizations such as Center for Cultural Innovation, ID magazine, Architectural Record, and the San Francisco Arts Commission.


In his lecture he focused on sustainable architecture and specifically on the minimal ecological footprint house he is building for his family in the Nevada desert: Tomb and his wife moved from San Francisco to Reno in the Sierra Nevada due to the rising prices of the bay. He had the pleasure to take part in the famous Burning Man Festival where participants build a temporary city in the desert. This experience inspired him and lead to the idea of transforming a seemingly inhospitable place like the desert into a home.


The biggest lesson Tomb gained from this experience was to adopt a new attitude in front of a possible shortage of resources. This new way of thinking led him to wonder: what can I do with what I have?

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