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Sponge city principle for Smart Cities: Smart Soil for Healthy Trees and Urban C

Invisible foundation: The third winning project of the URBAN MENUS Smart City Calls (, announced by the Austrian-Argentine architect & urban planner Laura P. Spinadel, has been determined. In the Smart City Products & Services category, the award goes to the sponge city principle and the landscape architect Stefan Schmidt. He works to ensure that roadbeds are constructed so the trees grow optimally, and so people can live happily in a healthy urban climate – very much in the spirit of URBAN MENUS.


“We’ve never planted as many trees as we do today, and we’ve never had trees die so young,” says landscape architect DI Prof. OStR Stefan Schmidt of the Federal College and Research Institute for Horticulture at Vienna – Schönbrunn. The soil underneath the roads does not provide enough cavities for the roots, because it lacks air voids and water. “Therefore, the trees sit in a kind of small flowerpot and die after 20 years at the latest.”

However, trees are the city’s air conditioners and develop their effect with increasing lushness of the tree canopy – “without trees, there can be no bearable climate in the city. If we want trees that protect us in 2080, we must plant them today, and we must plant them to grow old.” This requires adequate underground utility systems that also carry water.

Stefan Schmidt brought the idea for a solution from Scandinavia to Austria: in a working group founded in 2018 under the aegis of the Austrian Society for Landscape Planning and Landscape Architecture, he is researching the “sponge city” system: according to this system, roads are given a substructure with a substrate that offers trees about 30% hollow spaces and can store water. Local rock types can be used as substrate. This promotes sustainable, regional material cycles.

In Scandinavia, this type of soil loosening has been in use for more than 30 years. In Austria, there is already an implementation of the concept: the “Sponge Avenue” in Graz. In Seestadt Aspern Vienna, an underground sponge structure is planned in the neighbourhood of Seebogen.

The project was awarded by URBAN MENUS as a symbol of how many essential structures for sustainable cities with a high quality of living and stay only exist in secret, and because it stands for the central aspect of foresighted planning. The potential for smart cities extends beyond the visible – it is precisely such approaches that should be called before the curtain.

Learn more about the sponge city principle in a video produced by URBAN MENUS available at

Initial spark for something big – the URBAN MENUS Smart City Calls continue to be open to all who are working on consensual visions and solutions for an urban future worth living.

In the upcoming months, more exciting products, services and cities/urban projects from around the world will be featured:

The Smart City Chief Call ( is open for mayors with special urban visions, the Smart City Products & Services Call ( for smart products and services. Submission is a chance for a presentation within the URBAN MENUS 3D smart city platform, an impact analysis, an exchange of experience and knowledge, and long-term collaboration.

What’s special: The calls are about collaboration at eye level. The URBAN MENUS team is committed to foresighted urban and regional planning and is looking for collaborators. A shared, digital workspace for smart city projects is growing.

The goals: To make actors & achievements visible, to facilitate national and international collaborations and to show new ways in which a collaborative vision can emerge by balancing different approaches, and implementation can succeed.

A new dimension of participatory, sustainable planning of our living space – resilient even in times of crisis and preventing future crises



Dr. Mag. Arch. Arq. Laura P. Spinadel


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Written by Laura P. Spinadel

Laura P. Spinadel (1958 Buenos Aires, Argentina) ist eine Austro-argentinische Architektin, Urban Designerin, Theoretikerin, Lehrerein und Gründerin von BUSarchitektur & BOA büro für offensive aleatorik in Wien. In internationalen Fachkreisen als Pionierin der ganzheitlichen Architektur durch die Compact City und den Campus WU bekannt. Ehrendoktor der Transakademie der Nationen, Parlament der Menschheit. Gegenwärtig arbeitet sie an der partizipativ und wirkungsorientierten Zukunftsplanung durch Urban Menus einem interaktiven Gesellschaftsspiel, um unsere Städte in 3D mit einem einvernehmlichen Ansatz zu gestalten.
2015 Preis der Stadt Wien für Architektur
1989 Förderungspreis für experimentelle Tendenzen in der Architektur des BMUK

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