The south facing stepped housing “crown”

All units, at any floor, are open to a small garden or conservatory and keep therefore a door to the outside.

A variety of simple level or duplex units, maisonettes, as well as penthouses.

The generous glazing will efficiently integrate winter solar gains which will be used as an energy resource. This resource will constitute an important part of the limited total energy consumption, the buildings being equipped with external insulation and therefore devoid of  thermal bridges which would allow for energy waste.

The urban grid base, at ground floor, first and second floors

A close sequence of low rise buildings will shelter many necessary urban functions, such as food and non food shops, restaurants, coffee shops, workspaces, flexible office space, welfare and health service facilities, community halls and salons, etc...

The built sequence will establish a structured urban pattern, with streets, local roads, pedestrian walkways, piazzas, indoor streets and galleries...

The urban grid will offer a variety of possible paths which will promote social, cultural and economic intercourse.

The mixed-use WHOLE will achieve

a diverse, user friendly, ‘URBAN VILLAGE” which will allow the growth of community life, of a vibrant culture and economy, while protecting the environment and saving energy in two ways:

1/ The housing units will use solar energy for a major part of their heating  requirements,

2/ and the inhabitants will not any more be as totally dependant on their private cars since they will have walking-distance access to a wide variety of urban functions.

Far from being a negative constraint, life in the Sustainable City, while providing an effective and responsible answer to global warming, will also offer cultural integration and a most enjoyable and mind opening way of life.

The stepped housing of the Solar City will offer such quality of life to all city dwellers, which was previously reserved to a few privileged owners of rare penthouses.

A network of paths and cars

At ground level, local roads and walkways will meet at frequent intervals, since activities usually occur just where cars and pedestrians meet.


The Sustainable City should not be necessarily considered as a creation from scrach, on new land taken over from agriculture. The first effort should contribute to the enhancement of existing and neglected urban areas, whether remaining fallow land or dormitory housing projects.

It is a matter, among other things, of improving the quality of a fluid and lively public space, of introducing a proper mixture of uses, a sufficient concentration in order to attain diversity. Passive-solar design should provide clean and affordable energy. Rain water will be retained on the site, as much as possible, with gardens, planters, green roofs and terrasses.


We first presented our findings: "Le Bioclimatique en Milieu Urbain Dense" (Passive solar design in a dense urban setting), at a 1993 seminar organised by the International Solar Energy Society, and ADEME, in Sophia Antipolis, France.

They were illustrated by a proposal for the Seine-Rive-Gauche neighborhood in Paris, a railroad fallow land area to be developped.

"Seine-Rive-Gauche" district, 130 hectares of railroad fallow land, which were to be developed in Paris, in 1993. Passive solar design in a dense urban setting for Seine Rive Gauche in Paris (JL Msika)

In place of a succession of mono-functional buildings, all of the same height, and therefore denying each other access to winter sun, it is a fluid, organic and evolutionary configuration, designed to receive solar light and heat naturally.

By superimposing the diverse and simultaneous urban functions characterizing a living whole, and combining them organically, one can optimize their relation to public space and sunshine, and create a diversified urban environment on a human scale, with an effective limitation of air pollution.

Passive solar in a dense mixed-use setting will also definitely be a green city, with urban parks and gardens, tree lined avenues and streets, and stepped housing with conservatories and private gardens on all floors.


"Le Dock des Alcools", an industrial fallow land in Ris-Orangis, by the Seine river.

Sustainable mixed use urban design by JL Msika, with Wojciech Trzopek, landscape architect. Dorothée Carpentier and Hervé Richard, assistants.


Site for Northern Style Housing,

a competition for a mixed use sustainable development in central Aomori






A different and quite appropriate form of the Sustainable City  will be achieved by a restructuring of the housing project estates.

Most often, these low income "dormitory" estates totally lack social and functional diversity.

Their public space is neglected and unsafe, a dead end no man's land..

Joblessness and a feeling of rejection from mainstream culture and economy leads the inhabitants of such estates to despair, and sometimes violence and crime.

Inapropriate urban forms have a strong effect on people's lives.


Urban diversity and structure should therefore be introduced, at last, through an open community planning process, which will consider new urban grids, with a new local network of streets, avenues, urban gardens and squares

The new grid will restructure the no man's land between the housing buildings, create a defined and flowing public urban space where there are now only dead end alleys.

That grid will divide the land into new parcells which will be offered to investors to build a sequence of low rise buildings for townhouses, offices, shops, workspaces, services, community halls, etc...

The estate will gain diversity through concentration, mixture of uses and of new and old buildings.

On the schematic sketch above of a typical suburban housing project, the neighbouring suburban sprawl has its grid (in yellow) interrupted. Similar to thrombosis in the human body, the interruption is brutal and expresses painful seperation. The local schools, in blue, usually ground floor mediocre prefabs, are lumped and spread in the center of gravity of the neighbourhood, as if to further prevent passage and worsen the thrombosis.

In the schematic sketch below, we attempt to show, in yellow, how the existing neighbouring streets can be continued, even if we have to slice through some long slabs, resulting in small blocks throughout.

By dividing the no man's land into lots, along the new streets, we can provide an opportunity for a variety of investors of all sizes to create a large quantity of new buildings (in red) to house different uses on affordable land. These new buildings could include offices, shops, workplaces, service facilities, rebuilt schools, etc..

Mingling new and old buildings will introduce a mixture of uses and the missing diversity.

There will be as many trees as before, or more, but lined along streets and avenues.

Instead of an insecure and sloppy no man's land, we will then have a defensible urban grid, with safe and well tended urban gardens or squares.


Minutes away from Paris, the town of Bondy has a dormitory neighborhood in front of its town hall. It lacks diversity and urban structure, with slabs loosely scattered around dead-end alleys and parking lots.

The new urban grid will connect and open the estate to the rest of the city.

The new concentration will allow social integration to progress, provide jobs in the area, and limit somehow the daily commuting, to benefit the environment at large.



A large rally took place on May 3rd, 2008, on Pacific Avenue, Brooklyn, to demand a "Time Out" for the Atlantic Yards project.

The current "Forest City Ratner" project is questioned, through endless litigation, as it does not offer an environmentally or socially sustainable urban form.

(The Municipal Art Society of New York calls for reform of Atlantic Yards Governance.)

Many elected officials and community organizers have asked again and again for a whole new plan, which would be established with their input (a request that is indeed quite legitimate).

The alternative "Unity Plan" is considered as a first step in the right direction, which should be followed by a broad and sustained effort.

Here is an opportunity to inaugurate, in New York, an open and independant community-based planning process, with sustainability in mind, for one of the most basic new urban design issues in New York.

The SCP alternative proposal considers small bocks, a condition for urban diversity, as identified by Jane Jacobs.

The diagonal grid allows to turn all of the dwellings towards the sun.

In fact, the resulting South/South-East orientation is perfect for passive solar design.

The concentration can be the same as was considered by the current project.

Each block offers a mixture of primary uses, like commercial space, offices, services, housing, leisures, etc....

Vibrant streets are a caracteristic of New-York.

The piazzas and arcades will establish a pedestrian friendy scale.

This urban form integrates passive solar energy and offers a wide range of uses in a walkable radius.

The resulting carbon footprint will thus be much lighter.

In order to achieve diversity and the best economical feasability, the 24 blocks considered in this proposal could be handled by a variety of investors, developers and architects, in the framework, however, and along the guidelines of the Sustainable Urban Form.


The proposed redevelopment of the Javits site into a new urban neighborhood offers an opportunity to place New York City at the forefront of sustainable urban design, with a dense, mixed-use, pedestrian friendly neighborhood, which would also integrate solar energy efficiently and effectively.

The current “towers in the park” project for the Hudson Yards is not the ideal model. And neither is Battery Park City which lacks in diversity and is deserted by pedestrians, with its purely residential areas separated by a group of office towers.

Let’s have:

- a dense grid of vibrant streets, typical of NYC, instead of car oriented super blocks

- a real city park instead of  left over “green space” between towers

- passive solar design at an urban scale instead of some token photovoltaic panels affixed on a Platinum LEED certified building as we saw in Battery Park City: they were not facing the sun and the architect explained that they were there merely as a “statement”, not really to harvest the sun.


Every aspect of PlanNYC 2030, whether it be land use, transportation, congestion, energy waste or air pollution, is related to the general issue of the comprehensive urban form, to which much more attention should be devoted if we want positive results. That means rethinking the relationship of the city's structures to one another and to sunshine. It also means interlacing a variety of urban functions with private housing around a lively public space where people will walk and meet each other.


Developments in the Bronx or Queens usually take the form of dreary housing, with at best a few shops at the ground floor. Instead, if we created real secondary urban hubs with a proper critical mass—dense, mixed-use neighborhoods, with housing but also offices, light manufacturing, jobs, services and leisure—they would ease congestion in Manhattan without having to resort to pricing.


What kind of dwellings can be offered? Let's start with a door to the outside, so residents will no longer need to settle in the distant suburbs in order to keep in contact with nature. Let's offer stepped housing, with privacy and views all at high density (a type considered by Henri Sauvage, Adolf Loos and Paul Rudolph).

In our proposals for parts of Paris, Edinburgh or Aomori, we have endeavored to fit passive solar design into a dense mixed-use urban context, with a flowing urban grid and a "crown" of solar terraced housing facing south. Let us now experiment passive solar urban design in New York.