Researchers believe key to cooling cities lies in Naples’ ancient aqueducts
In the Italian city of Naples, some solutions to climate change could be as old as the coastal outpost itself, according to researchers studying how the region’s historic waterways could relieve extreme heat as the world heats.
Architects and design students in Italy and the United States are collaborating on an initiative to map ancient aqueducts and water systems in Naples. Known as the Cool City Project, the aim is to assess how this existing infrastructure – in some cases centuries old and hidden underground – could combat life-threatening heat waves in one of the regions most densely populated in Europe and one of the oldest cities. in the world.
“Naples is sometimes called the capital of the midday sun because of its location in southern Italy,” said Nick De Pace, architect and professor at the Rhode Island School of Design. “It’s a dense city in an area that’s already dealing with geothermal heating. And on top of that there’s climate change.”
Although the effects of climate change are being felt around the world, cities are particularly exposed to extreme heat due to a phenomenon known as the “urban heat island effect”. Densely populated areas tend to experience higher temperatures than more rural communities because buildings, roads, and other man-made structures absorb and retain more heat than natural landscapes.
In cities, studies have shown that those most vulnerable during heat waves are children, the elderly and disadvantaged communities who already bear a disproportionate burden of the consequences of climate change.
In many ways, Napoli sits at the intersection of these concerns, making it an inescapable laboratory to study potential solutions, De Pace said.
“Naples is historically a relatively poor city with high unemployment rates, and it’s also a place that’s expected to experience two to three months of extreme heat by the middle of this century,” he said. “It’s a city under serious threat.”
As part of the Cool City Project, De Pace and his colleagues attempt to exploit solutions that are hidden in plain sight.
To begin, researchers are using laser scanning technology to map Naples’ extensive aqueduct system and underground canals. The idea is to examine whether revitalizing these old waterways, or resurfacing them, could counter the urban heat island effect.
“Daylighting portions of a canal could have a cooling effect in the summer, much like how you might experience a cooling effect from basements,” De Pace said. “Then you can also divert some of that water to new green spaces in the city where you have plants and other things to cool things down.”
Naples is a great place to test such ideas because the city already has a rich history with water, said Naples-based architect and Cool City contributor Alexander Valentino.
Many of the city’s oldest aqueducts today lie underground, hidden under modern buildings and roads. These waterways and streams have been used throughout history to move water to and around Naples, Valentino said, but changes beginning in the 19th century have significantly altered the region’s waterscape.
As Naples modernized, watersheds were diverted for irrigation, some canals were built, and many properties along the coast were set aside for private development. These decisions changed the relationship the people of Naples had with water and had important cultural implications, Valentino said.
“It has become a city on the sea without access to the sea,” he added.
The Cool City project is designed to explore new uses for Naples’ abandoned or mismanaged water resources, but the lessons learned could be applied in different parts of the world, according to De Pace. A separate cohort of the Cool City project conducted research in South Korea, investigating innovative ways to use existing underground waterways in a traditional village in Seoul.
Although cities in North America may not have the same extensive network of ancient aqueducts, work in Naples and Seoul could help architects better understand how to design sustainable green infrastructure, including how to maximize the cooling effect of water in urban centers, De Pace said. .
Valentino and his colleagues have held workshops in Naples to raise awareness of the city’s water problems and how they could be exacerbated by climate change. Early next year, De Pace and a group of his students will join him on the pitch in Napoli to continue working on the Cool City Project.
For De Pace, that has been a long time coming. Fieldwork in Italy was originally scheduled to take place in 2020 but was derailed by the Covid-19 pandemic. He said he was eager to challenge his students to integrate climate solutions into architectural design – a lesson with applications that extend far beyond Naples and its unique circumstances.
“Some of the solutions are actually quite simple,” De Pace said. “It’s just about rethinking what you see in front of you and finding ways to invest more in green infrastructure.”