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Solar-Powered Parasols Might Be Answer To Parisian Cafe Fumes

Winter in Paris is chilly and damp and that means people don't want to go outside — except to smoke. But since smoking in indoor public spaces was banned, patrons of sidewalk cafes have been crowding outside to light up.

Aired 1/23/14 on KPBS News.

A new sustainability initiative in Paris comes from a cross-border effort in Tijuana and San Diego, where people are designing a different kind of parasol.

Amorphica shows the way it imagines it's solar parasols becoming part of the landscape of Parisian sidewalk cafes.

The solar parasols look more like awnings than umbrellas, and the prototypes are designed to be light, colorful, and sturdy.

Aaron Gutierrez Cortes is founder of Amorphica, an "architecture and urban design provocation-laboratory" based in San Diego and Tijuana. And Cortes says that change has caused some unforeseen problems.

“There's usually mixed-use buildings in Paris, which means that there's a cafe at the bottom and there's living units, a living area, on top,” he said. “So the smoke always gets on the nerves of people upstairs.”

That's not to mention the fumes from the gas heaters that allow the people to keep warm while seated outside.

“They just banned the used of gas outdoor heaters in Paris, because of all the emissions they cause, so they were looking for something that was more sustainable,” Amorphica associate architect Julia Cerrud said.

Introducing... the solar parasol.

It's the result of a new sustainability initiative in Paris that's inspired a creative solution from the folks at Amorphica.

These parasols look more like awnings than umbrellas, but the prototypes are light, colorful and sturdy. They feature heaters, LED lights and air filters all powered by solar panels embedded in the parasol. They're also responsive to weather and the proximity of people. It's all part of Amorphica's stated mission to make underutilized public spaces more usable.

In recent years, Paris has shown a willingness to experiment with sustainability to combat climate change. It put out a worldwide call for solutions to its issues of gas fumes and cold smokers. Amorphica's solar parasols were the winners.

"The urban activation aspect of it comes through its responsiveness, since it will be a more comfortable space to sit or stand under," Cerrud said. "It can also act as a wifi spot... people can interact with it."

Amorphica is spending 2014 designing the prototypes. If they're what Paris needs, they will order more for the entire city. In the meantime, cities in Mexico, Brazil and Portland have expressed interest in the urban parasols project.

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