Designing a Sustainable Paris

In the race to create a sustainable world, designers will be key players. I’ve always been a big design fan and I salute the new sense of purpose now apparent in every aspect of this industry. It’s becoming more experimental, more challenging, more ethical, and more exciting without losing its core functions – to stimulate ideas, change behavior, and offer help and hope.

Sustainability brings a whole new set of issues to the design table and a grandiose challenge was recently issued by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. In a blaze of publicity, Sarkozy invited 10 architects to project 20 years into the future and come up with some ideas for the world’s most sustainable metropolis.

The Italians, Bernardo Secchi and Paola Vigano, came up with an extraordinary idea that upturns urban conventions. Instead of starting with hard infrastructure (roads, subways, walkways), they started with the existing waterways of Paris. The Seine is an icon of Paris but there is a less well-known network of canals, rivers, and waterways. There are already efforts underway to renovate this 81 mile network, but Secchi and Vigano had even grander designs on it shaped by a fantastic metaphor: the sponge.

Sponges are living creatures that shift and change with conditions and survive on a constant flow of water through their bodies. What a beautiful idea. A city that flows, grows, and responds. A city that is more inclusive. A city that attracts ideas found in the natural world. So often designs founded on compelling metaphors are the ones to capture the public imagination.

“Renovate the canal system” or transform Paris into a sponge. No contest. Projects to improve sustainability, or based on sustainable principles, often fail the inspiration test. That’s one reason why at Saatchi & Saatchi we have bonded with Blue as a motivating spirit. As Japanese designer, Fumi Masuda has pointed out, the job ahead is not to “sustain society as it is, but change society for sustainability”.

That means inspiring people. The concepts of the 10 architects will be publicly displayed, debated, tested, and challenged in true French style. Paris to the Channel as a single city, Paris as archipelego, Paris as an eight-petal flower, a Paris of urban fields, Paris as sponge.

Photo credit: St. Martin Canal, Paris, by Jeff Polaski. Sourced from

Kevin RobertsKevin Roberts is the CEO worldwide of The Lovemarks Company, Saatchi & Saatchi. For more information on Kevin, please go to To see this blog at its original source, please go to

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