Obel Award Given to the 15-Minute City

John Hill
4. October 2021
A street in Paris (Photo: Søren Bang Clemmesen)

The 15-Minute City, the urban theory and global movement defined by Professor Carlos Moreno, is the winner of third Obel Award, the international prize for architectural achievement presented annually by the Henrik Frode Obel Foundation.

Following awards given to a garden and a building, the third €100,000 Obel Award recognizes an "urban model" that says "cities should be (re)designed, so that all residents are able to access their daily needs (housing, work, food, health, education, and culture and leisure) within the distance of a 15-minute walk or bike ride." Adopting the 15-Minute City model "greatly reduces car traffic and CO2 emissions and increases the health and well-being of residents," per today's announcement from the Obel Award. It has been carried out most notably in Paris, through Mayor Anne Hidalgo's extensive network of bike lanes, as well as in Chengdu and Melbourne, among other cities around the world.

Martha Schwartz, chair of the jury*, said this about the award: "The 15-minute city is a powerful, clear, and simple idea that piques our curiosity and imagination. It has enough impetus and enough openness that many cities are willing to take it on to suit their own city. In fact, one of the reasons we chose this for an award, is that cities, such as Paris and Barcelona, are already implementing the 15-minute city. This concept is persuasive. It’s inspiring. It supports leadership and people who have a willingness to try something different, to take a risk and move our society forward."

By selecting the 15-Minute City for this year's award, the jury hopes "this year’s winner will inspire architects, other professionals, politicians, and local citizens alike to work together towards a better urban future for people and for the planet."

The 15-Minute City, Paris (Drawing: Micael)

Although it recognizes an urban model that is far from proprietary and is based on concepts dating back to at least Jane Jacobs's Death and Life of the Great American City, the Obel Award singles out scientific director and professor Carlos Moreno, who reportedly coined the term "15-minute city" back in 2016. Although he started his career in robotics, worked in a computer sciences lab, and then started up a company on the intelligent control of complex systems, in 2006 Moreno shifted his focus to cities, developing the concept for the "sustainable digital city" before defining what would become the 15-Minute City.

On receiving the award, Moreno said in a statement: "In my opinion, [this award] is in fact a triple recognition: On the one hand, it is a recognition of my academic work, but secondly, it is a recognition of the international movement generated by the 15-minute city. And thirdly, it is a recognition of the commitment by different mayors around the world in embracing the 15-minute city." In regards to the last, it is worth noting that Moreno was the Mayor of Paris’ Special Envoy for Smart Cities starting in 2015 and was a scientific advisor to Mayor Anne Hidalgo during her re-election campaign in 2020.

Moreno will receive the 2021 Obel Award on October 21 at the Salle des Fêtes of the Hôtel de Ville of Paris.

Carlos Moreno riding a bike in Paris (Photo: Mathieu Delmestre)
*2021 Obel Award Jury:

  • Martha Schwartz, Chair (founder, Martha Schwartz Partners, USA)
  • Kjetil Trædal Thorsen (co-founder, Snöhetta, Norway)
  • Louis Becker (design principal and partner, Henning Larsen, Denmark)
  • Dr. Wilhelm Vossenkuhl (professor emeritus of philosophy, Germany)
  • XU Tiantian (founding principal, DnA, Beijing, China)

The Obel Award trophy by artist Tomás Saraceno

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