Cool design: Vincent Callebaut’s living, breathing architecture

“Having built the city on the landscape, and then the city on the city, it is now time for the landscape to rebuild itself on the city.” Vincent Callebaut


Belgian architect’s vision of an “ecopolis” fuels fantastical designs, some of which will sadly never see the light of day.

By Pierre Herman

Good architecture can build a city’s skyline, and in many cases, identity. But in Vincent Callebaut’s visions of the future, the game changes completely. Inspired by nature and the urgent need to turn cities into hubs of sustainable living, he offers these unbelievable designs that blend utopian fantasy with solutions to humanity’s most pressing challenges: climate change and environmental deterioration.  The common denominator in these projects? Growing food very close to home while making the buildings, and the agriculture, as self-sufficient as possible.

Let’s check out three of Callebaut’s most talked-about projects, even if the drawing room is where they will remain.


Imagine a 160-story glass dragonfly soaring over New York City’s East River. In this most outlandish concept of urban agriculture to date, set on an island to avoid use of limited land space, inhabitants and laboratory workers of this other-worldly, bionic structure tend the three-dimensional indoor gardens that feed the city. Designed as a self-sufficient, metabolic structure, the dragonfly requires not a single input of water, fertilizer, or energy, and Callebaut (not vegetarian) even promises space to rear animals for meat and dairy production.


Resembling a gigantic sea resort out of science fiction, the floating “Lilypad” was actually designed to house up to 50,000 climate change refugees. With a centre lagoon of soft water that purifies rain water, inhabitants would live in perfect harmony with nature, the entire structure eventually turning into a floating coral reef.

However as flood-wrecked Bangladesh or hurricane-battered New Orleans have illustrated so vividly, the poor are most often forgotten when catastrophe strikes. Just given the cost, this entirely photosynthetic and self-sustaining “organism” would more likely make itself home for some of the world’s more well-off citizens or nations.


The most recent concept, “Asian Cairns”, consists of six gigantic “farmscrapers” designed to look like stacks of pebbles. Each pebble houses both homes and farms, growing food not only for the inhabitants but for the entire region. The project has been proposed for the city of Shenzhen, China, located in a region already burdened with a population of 42 million and projected to grow rapidly with China’s frenzied pace of urbanization.

While Asian Cairns presents a completely feasible solution to the problem of unsustainable food production, the problem remains of how to overcome the entrenched interests of food conglomerates, made up of growers, distributors and sellers (our supermarket among them) who want nothing less than food grown very far from home indeed. Perhaps we could interest Tesco, Aldi or Carrefour in sponsoring one or two of the “pebbles”?

(All photographs: Vincent Callebaut)



Cool urban space re-use strategies from around the Americas:


Eco-buildings built with the automobile out of mind:

Bullitt Centre, 2

London’s bid to become cycling paradise:


5 comments on “Cool design: Vincent Callebaut’s living, breathing architecture

  1. Pingback: El Patio 77: an alternative B&B in the heart of Mexico City | Urban Green

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  5. Pingback: Should we ditch the “sustainable” label (and replace it with something meaningful)? | URBAN ReTHINK

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This entry was posted on September 17, 2013 by in Architecture & Urban Design and tagged , , , , .

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