A detail of a famous iron bridge.
The Kassandra approach is being applied to Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site. © Historic England Archive, image reference DP177958.
The Kassandra approach is being applied to Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site. © Historic England Archive, image reference DP177958.

Kassandra – an Integrated Decision Support System to Manage Climate Change in Historic Environments

A 'metabolic' approach to heritage

All organisms and their inorganic surroundings on Earth are closely integrated to form a single and self-regulating complex system. As humans, we have an inherited need to connect to nature and other biotic forms due to our evolutionary dependence on it, whether for survival, shelter, or personal fulfilment. The built environment is not separate from nature.

The challenge of architecture is primarily a fusion of context, function, and materiality. But it’s also embedded in human aspiration, cultural aesthetics, and a desire to demonstrate much more than durability and worthiness.

Architecture is a quest through time. William Morris said: “All continuity of history means is, after all, perpetual change, and it is not hard to see that we have changed with a vengeance and thereby established our claim to be continuers of history.” But that doesn’t mean architects have carte blanche. Change requires judgement. And we forget history at our peril.

We can certainly reinfuse historic environments with life through thoughtful interventions. But we also know that this new life will have a social and functional content that may be rather different to the architecture’s original intent. To intervene therefore is to tread carefully - even when the task might seem straightforward. We need to remember that it’s audacious to tamper with architecture that may already be a heroic demonstration of audacity.

Historic cities are complex systems and the multiple threats posed by climate change - such as flooding, increased temperatures, extreme weather events, or biological threats - require complex, carefully weighted decisions, based on the analysis of accurate and multi-dimensional data. This complexity needs to be managed, and ultimately embraced. But complex does not necessarily mean complicated. Data from different fields can be brought together and visualised in an Integrated Decision Support System (IDSS) to provide a powerful predictive management tool. Data, or better, the relationship between data, is key.

The questions are therefore: how do we rapidly analyse complex multi-layered data that may influence the impact of climate change? How do we prepare for what appears to be an inevitable future? How do we harness the power of this change to adapt and create a new sustainable partnership with nature? How do we couple this with the enhancement of natural and built heritage?

What is Kassandra?

Kassandra – named after Priam’s daughter in Greek Mythology who was cursed to utter true prophecies never to be believed - is the first IDSS that facilitates the creation, development, and management of a truly resilient cities. With Kassandra it is possible to improve planning and resource management, with the aim of enhancing the natural and built historic environments and the quality of life within them.

Our experience working with transformative projects within historic environments has meant that the required mélange of strategic understanding and detail knowledge has become a very familiar challenge. The methodology that Kassandra proposes is also invariably rooted in the consideration of the influence of layers of time and context. Our analysis is tempered by an alternative vision of architecture: one that focuses not on how to fix the built environment we have, but better on how to resume thinking about it in a metabolic way, assuming that it is possible to conceive the existence of an architecture that is intrinsically ecological and that cities and buildings are not static entities but are ever-changing forms with their own metabolic processes.

Currently, Kassandra is the only multidisciplinary and fully comprehensive IDSS that reaches high levels of geographical accuracy, essential in heritage contexts, and is the only system directly linked to internationally accepted Quality-of-Life indexes.

It is also the only system that allows for the prioritization of economic investments in areas where they will have the greatest impact on resilience and that includes the ability of measuring and visualizing positive actions by an individual and at the same time of an entire community.

The term ‘Resilience’, as defined by the United Nations, is “the ability of a system, community or society exposed to hazards to resist, absorb, accommodate to and recover from the effects of a hazard in a timely and efficient manner”. It is very different from ‘Resistance’, the ability by a system not to be affected by something, especially adversely.

How does Kassandra work?

Kassandra creates a virtual twin of the area or asset to be analysed – based on Building Information Modelling technology – and uses analysis and simulation tools that take a long-term and whole-system view of a historic urban environment. Building Information Modelling or BIM is a process supported by various tools, technologies and contracts involving the generation and management of digital representations of physical and functional characteristics of places.

The analysis of Kassandra is based on twelve main parameters, hundreds of sub-parameters, and, most importantly, the relationship between them.

Following the analysis of the existing condition, using an iterative process, Kassandra creates various scenarios until an optimum solution - in terms of resilience and cost/benefit - can be identified and the foundations of a truly smart, sustainable, and resilient historic environment can be laid, thriving in balance with nature. In its most sophisticated version, Kassandra can also use sensors and actuators – devices that turn data input into actions- as well as artificial intelligence.

The use of management software, applications, and widespread and interconnected sensors can also make individual citizens, local authorities, governments and designers responsible for the fight against climate change in a highly democratic and participatory process. Ultimately, Kassandra can become an invaluable tool for all those decision makers in public authorities and organisations that aim at improving the resilience of the built or natural environment they have stewardship of.

Applying the approach in the UK and beyond

Kassandra is a tool that is inherently scalable and versatile, it is being used for the following:

  • for projects to improve resilience in historic cities in Italy;
  • to provide guidelines for reconstruction in the nations of Dominica and Grenada in the Caribbean;
  • to increase readiness to the effects of climate change for a motorway operator in Northern Italy;
  • and, most recently, for the National Trust in Northern Ireland and for the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site for Historic England. For Ironbridge, Kassandra is analysing an area of over twenty square kilometres, which include the entire World Heritage Site and more than 2500 buildings.

Conclusion

Architecture, new or old, must face the inevitability of change – sometimes perhaps even audacious change. Significant architecture must, when equipped with meaningful data, interpret meaningful change. And the challenge posed by climate change can itself become an opportunity to engender a new sustainable design and conservation approach.

Historic cities can continue their dialogue with time, purpose, and aspiration. They are marks of life and place. And they can still have great possibilities.

About the author

Mark Cannata

Mark, a Conservation Architect, established Kassandra with Antonio Stornello in 2019. Mark founded his architectural practice, in 2013 in New Zealand and opened the Italian office in Sicily in 2015. He previously worked for several design and Conservation practices in the UK, where he was responsible for the delivery of a large number of projects that often involved careful interventions in historic contexts, such as London’s King’s Cross Station and the De La Warr Pavilion – one of Britain’s most important Modernist buildings. His focus is combining Sustainability and Heritage.

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