Revolutionary urban planning model-turned-movement the 15-Minute City, as created by Franco-Colombian scientist Carlos Moreno, has scooped the 2021 Obel Award. The prize, awarded annually and now for the third time, went to the concept, which advocates for a more liveable and sustainable future in our cities. Moreno, who is an associate professor at University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, has not only been made a Knight of the French Legion of Honour for his impressive theory, instigating thought and discussion in the architecture realm; but his model has actually started being implemented in cities including Paris, Chengdu, and Melbourne.

The 15-Minute City concept seems disarmingly simple – yet is in practice quite complex. The brief outlines the redesign of urban hubs in a way that all residents can have access to all facilities and resources to cover their main daily needs within a 15-minute walk or bike ride. This covers anything from housing to work, food, health, education, culture and leisure, and aims at greatly reducing car traffic and CO2 emissions in cities. 

‘We live today in unbreathable cities, cities with stress that are totally unsustainable. We need to transform our mobility. We need to change our urban lifestyle,’ Moreno has said.

Carlos Moreno on 15-Minute City and Obel Award

portrait of architect Carlos Moreno
Portrait of scientist Carlos Moreno. Photography: Sylvain Leurent

The award jury was made up of leading figures in the architecture industry, including landscape architect Martha Schwartz, architects Kjetil Trædal Thorsen, Louis Becker and Xu Tiantian, and academic Dr Wilhelm Vossenkuhl. Apart from the Obel Award’s international recognition, which helps advance the cause of the improvement of our built environment worldwide, Moreno is also presented with a bespoke trophy created by artist Tomás Saraceno, as well as a prize of €100,000. Previous winners are Anna Heringer in 2020 and Junya Ishigami in 2019

‘I want to thank the jury for giving me this award,’ says Moreno. ‘In my opinion, it 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.’

The model was first proposed about five years ago, and while it may initially have seemed a near-utopian concept, given the complexity and sprawl in modern cities, it has received a growing, international following – with the public, but also crucially among mayors around the world who sat up and took notice, incorporating it into their plans. Now, especially in the current pandemic context, where many of us are striving for a finer work-life balance, which can be achievable through technology and good design, and in the light of the climate emergency of the 21st century, projects like the 15-Minute City seem more relevant than ever. §

artist’s impression of The 15-minute city Paris
The 15-Minute City, Paris. Image: Micael