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ANR funded project

Bâtiments et villes durables (BVD)
Edition 2011


Networked symbioses adapted to sustainability-oriented urban contexts

Network Symbiosis and Decentralized Utilities: A Path towards Urban Sustainability
This programme aims at examining the most promising technological innovations in the field of urban utilities, mainly around issues of symbiosis, convergence and decentralization, and a.t attempting to create an instrument of evaluation of their degree of pertinence according to the context

Individuating solutions likely to be implemented beyond the scale of experimentation and creating instruments of decision-making assistance.
The aim of this programme is to combine the skills of researchers originating from the field of the social sciences and those of engineers working for urban and infrastructure engineering expertise consulting firms, in order to assess the environmental pertinence of a series of technological innovations aimed at improving urban sustainability. 10 case studies have been chosen by the team, as well a typology of technological solutions to be examined. One of the main goals of the study is thus to built an instrument of decision-making assistance which would help determine which solutions are pertinent in which context and notably when decentralized utilities might be more environmentally efficient than centralized ones and when solutions pertaining to network symbiosis might go be worth generalizing.

Reconstructing the water, energy and waste cycles in order to ass the pertinence of each configuration
Researchers in this programme are combining the methods and approaches typical of the social sciences and quantative assessments and calculations provided by engineers in order to be able to reconstruct for each case study the water, energy and waste cycles as well to be able to provide data for a more general computerized instrument of decision-making assistance.


After 18 months of preliminary work in the programme, the starting hypothesises have been refined and the first tests on the method have been implemented. Most of the technological solutions under study have been chosen as well as all case studies. In the fall of 2013, field research should be finished and the first graphic reconstitutions of the main cycles should be available and constitute the basic typology for the conception of the general computerized instrument.


The main perspective offered by this project is that of the conception of a decision-making instrument aiming at assisting the planners of sustainable towns and neighbourhoods in their choices as for the implementation of innovative symbiotic solutions for utilities or of decentralized off-network water production, energy production or waster treatment solutions. In terms of social sciences, it is also to add to discussions on sustainability precise quantitative data for each of the case study under examination.

Scientific outputs and patents

The first results of the research have been presented in the framework of the Green Cities series of the 'Petits Déjeuners de la Chaire Ville de l'Ecole des Ponts' in the spring of 2013. Most of the academic production however is expected for the year to come. First publications: Denis Bocquet, « Utilities, Casinos and Condos : The Great Singapore Waterfront Convergence and its Stakes », Proceeding of the International Skiathos Conference on Changing Cities, 2013; Dominique Lorrain, «Vers une Chine dépolluée et économe en énergie ? Enquêtes à Shanghai«. Séminaire SeRVeD, AFD, Paris 21 décembre 2012: 12 p.; Rémi Curien, «Le mode opératoire de planification et de fabrication des villes chinoises - L'impossible environnementalisation d'une machine hyper-fonctionnaliste«, Petit déjeuner de la Chaire Ville de l'Ecole des Ponts ParisTech - «Green cities : expériences en Chine« (Rémi Curien et Dominique Lorrain), 27 mars 2013, 31 p.


Divers public



PACTE Laboratoire Politiques Publiques, Action Collective, Territoires

LATTS Laboratoire Techniques Territoires Sociétés

Entreprise autre que TPE ou PME

Entreprise autre que TPE ou PME

ANR grant: 733 309 euros
Beginning and duration: janvier 2012 - 48 mois

Submission abstract

An important element in sustainability concerns the material and energy flows implicated in societal functioning. It is widely recognized that there is now a need to increase as much as possible the level of sobriety in the consumption of energy and natural resources and in the production of waste products and pollution of all forms. The notion of local autonomy at different scales (building, plot, block, neighbourhood, town, agglomeration, urban region…) is often strongly associated with the challenge of sobriety, reflecting an implicit or explicit idea that consumption and waste can be better controlled and reduced through a more or less self-sufficient organization at the local level.

Urban services (water, energy, waste) are strongly implicated in this increasing concern for urban sobriety. These services occupy effectively a function of organizing an important part of the urban metabolism. They are also placed within the competence of public authorities, which can make them an instrument of local public policy. These sectors are however undergoing major changes which broadly take two forms: forms of decentralization with the creation of local, more or less autonomous, nets; the development and use of physical and economic relations between services. In this way, there emerges the idea that symbioses between urban services, based on emerging forms of sociotechnical organization of these services which are susceptible to lead to alternative configurations to the inherited large centralized networks of the 20th century, may allow important progress to be made towards a more sober urban metabolism.

The project aims to study the action systems guiding the emergence of urban symbioses and the physical (energy, materials) and economic (costs, financing) flows implicated in their functioning. We explore the exchanges and interactions between sectoral systems for water, energy and waste, between these systems and the buildings which are connected to them, and between urban symbioses and their environments at different spatial scales, with a focus on defining as clearly as possible the ‘limiting conditions’ of the systems under investigation.

Our perspective combines a functional (physical material and energy flows) and a techno-economic (financial flows) study of urban symbioses and a sociopolitical exploration of action systems and actor relations. The proposed methodology closely articulates a number of in-depth case studies and modeling work leading to the progressive development of a physical and economic model of urban symbioses.

This is a basic research project over 48 months, conducted by an interdisciplinary consortium of social science researchers (from two CNRS units: LATTS in Marne la Vallée and PACTE in Grenoble) and engineering and environmental sciences (from Cirsee, the main research centre of the Suez Environnement group, the engineering consulting company Safege and Explicit consultants). The project concerns primarily axe 1 of the call for projects, and sub-axe 1.4 in particular. It will also shed light on axe 2 (sub-axe 2.2 in particular).

The project is distinctive in its willingness to analyse together the sociopolitical and physical dimensions of transformations in urban services, which are usually studied separately. Reconciling urban and environmental policies and the challenges of sobriety effectively demands such a detailed understanding of the interdependencies between technical, urban and financial choices and the ‘metabolic’ properties of the systems developed.


ANR Programme: Bâtiments et villes durables (BVD) 2011

Project ID: ANR-11-VILD-0008

Project coordinator:
Monsieur COUTARD Olivier (Laboratoire Techniques Territoires Sociétés)


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The project coordinator is the author of this abstract and is therefore responsible for the content of the summary. The ANR disclaims all responsibility in connection with its content.