An increasing number of brownfield remediation interventions is taking place in urban contexts, and related challenges are posed by the combination of reclamation processes, building reuse and adaptation. Following the real estate crisis of 2007-2008 and the consequent reduction of the demand for buildings, abandoned industrial sites have increasingly become an environmental, social and financial burden for urban communities. Compared to those sites located in active industrial areas outside cities, brownfield regeneration in an urban context poses additional constraints, e.g. restrictions on site morphology variations – even temporary ones – and restrictions in the area use, also connected to the landscape characterization and the overall perception of the place. Nevertheless, these areas patently represent a potential resource, since they are often embedded in the urban fabric, generally well-connected through infrastructures, and equipped with a dense network of sub-services. In addition to environmental restoration and human health protection, activating a transformation in contaminated urban brownfields can offer relevant advantages, including exploiting the existing infrastructure, preserving the so-called green-fields producing positive social and economic effects for nearby communities, including higher property values and reduced crime rate and all in all contributing to environmental, economic and societal sustainability. In such situations, urban regeneration and the planning of remediation interventions are two potentially very interconnected practices, but still today they struggle to interact.
The critical issues related to remediation, when it occurs in a dense and complex urban fabric, are numerous. The reclamation operations usually produce large quantities of waste, sometimes dangerous, with disposal costs that often lead the cost of the works to exceed the real estate value of the area. In addition, a sound interaction between the professional figures who manage the recovery of the area – that is, the engineer with regard to remediation operations and the architect with regard to architectural restoration – is not easily accomplished, resulting in a fragmented design process and knowledge and potential dispersion. On the one hand there is the need to redevelop and reuse large former industrial areas, now incorporated into the city fabric, which have been gradually abandoned as a result of the progressive development of the tertiary sector to the detriment of the productive sector. On the other hand, the past presence of productive activities has led to an alteration and, most of the time, a contamination of environmental matrices due to the release of contaminants of various origins and nature that have compromised the free reuse of sites, exposing subsequent users and, more generally, those living in the vicinity of the old plant to potential risks.
The remediation process, needed and required by law to use these areas again, is commonly understood as a “transition between two phases regulated by urban planning and building regulations”, isolated from previous and subsequent actions, whose objective is to “clean the site completely from the residues of past use, to deliver it as a clean site for future use” (Robiglio et al., 2014). In the proposed alternative, adaptive remediation concepts are involved, which define two different approaches that should be included in operational practice. The great complexity in the management of the reclamation procedure and the potential offered by the site in the field of adaptive reuse pose the need to create a tool that relates the different requests coming from the professional figures involved by presenting a range of possible alternatives, comparing them among all those potentially effective, in order to generate a range of realizable possibilities from which the professional can choose. In this perspective, the AdRem (Adaptive Remediation) approach has been defined, aimed at integrating the different disciplines (in particular, environmental engineering and architecture) involved in designing the reuse of brownfields, specifically applied to urban contests. As part of the project, a prototypal decision-support toolkit is being developed to help quantitatively screening and prioritizing viable design alternatives. The toolkit takes part in the inter-disciplinary design phase by processing sets of remediation techniques and architectural/urban solutions, following surveyed data and user-defined constraints. Remediation/re-use scenarios are computationally generated and screened by comparing remediation alternatives and design needs; viable scenarios are then prioritized based on costs and timing. The outputs of the toolkit inform the last design step in the AdRem framework, when environmental and architectural designers identify the optimal integrated project, eventually using the toolkit in a recursive manner by changing the input parameters and constraints, based on new design solutions.
Future developments of the tool will aim at a better interoperability, in input and output, with existing software and formats used in risk analysis, architectural design and geo-information.