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Madrid is a fast-growing city, with population growth resulting largely from immigration into the urban area. The city is expanding in particular to the south-east, with the development of the Vallecas area. 26,000 new apartment dwellings are being built, ranging from small units to larger, upmarket developments. The city authorities hope this will result in a diverse, mixed population.

Nevertheless, in one area of the new development, primarily low-cost housing units are planned. At the same time, the trend in commercial development is for large-scale shopping centres separated from residential areas. Madrid's Municipal Housing and Land Authority (Empresa Municipal de la Vivenda y Suelo – EMVS) was therefore concerned to develop eco-friendly facilities in the low-cost housing area that would benefit quality of life and help prevent any future “ghettoisation” of the district.

This was the basis for the LIFE-Environment project Mediterranean Verandahways (LIFE02 ENV/E/000198), which ran from September 2002 to August 2005 with an EU contribution of €601,000. The objective was to evoke the Mediterranean spirit of outdoor public life through a contemporary urban design project for an open space in the newly developed district of Madrid.

A key issue for beneficiary EMVS was the heat of summer in Madrid – how to encourage residents to use outdoor public spaces in temperatures that can reach 40 degrees. A design competition was held and won by the studio Ecosistema Urbano, who proposed to line a semi-pedestrianised boulevard with pavilions that would act as “air trees”, providing shade, ventilation and vegetation, whilst functioning as “social activators” - bringing people outdoors – in the yet-to-be-built neighbourhood.

The prototype pavilion consists of 17 metre tall steel cylinders (using 80 percent recycled steel), with inner surfaces overgrown with ivy. At the top, funnels draw air into the cylinders. When temperatures reach 27 degrees, ventilators activate and propel the air down into the cylinders and through dampened cellulose panels, creating a cloud of water vapour and reducing the temperature of the falling air by 8 to 12 degrees. The pavilions therefore offer both shade and cool air. Because the design functions best at high temperatures and low humidity, it is ideal for – and transferable to – most Mediterranean cities. The designers expect the temperature under the pavilion to be 10 to 15 degrees cooler than the surrounding area.

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