Interdisciplinary Research Program – TUDelft Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment
Transdisciplinary Lecture Series—5 Conversations on the Present (state of)—Session 11 (Project)

Within the framework of:

Section of Urban Design
Delta Futures Lab
Delta Urbanism Research Group
Graduation Studio—Transitional Territories
(Joint Studio with AA, Diploma Unit 9, Third Territorial Attractor)

Dalhousie University
Faculty of Architecture and Urban Planning
Graduate Design Studio—Facts or Fictions: Cities on the Sea

Hosted by:

Taneha Kuzniecow Bacchin
Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, Section of Urban Design—Delta Urbanism, TUDelft

Catherine Ann Somerville Venart
School of Architecture, Faculty of Architecture and Planning
Dalhousie University

Luisa Maria Calabrese
Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, Section of Urban Design—Delta Urbanism, TUDelft

Isabella Coutand
Department of Earth and Environmental Science, Faculty of Science
Dalhousie University

Image: Taneha K. Bacchin



Two view points on the subject, followed by a short discussion on overlaps, differences, provocations, oppositions.


17:00—19:00 CET / 12:00-14:00 Atlantic
Hosted on Zoom by TUDelft, to register please write to Taneha K. Bacchin: t.bacchin[at]



Telmo Pievani
The role of exaptation in biological and cultural evolution
Palaeontologists Stephen J. Gould and Elisabeth Vrba introduced the term “ex-aptation” in 1982 and 1986 with the aim of improving and enlarging the scientific language available to researchers studying the evolution of any useful character, instead of calling it an “adaptation” by default, coming up to what Gould named an “extended taxonomy of fitness”. With the extension to functional co-optations from non-adaptive structures (architectural “spandrels”), the notion of exaptation expanded and revised the neo-Darwinian concept of “pre-adaptation” (which was misleading, for Gould and Vrba, in suggesting foreordination). Exaptation has been adopted by many researchers in evolutionary and molecular biology, and particularly in human evolution (namely in the application of T. Fitch to the evolution of language as a “cascade of exaptations”). Recently, exaptation received a strong confirmation in biochemistry as well, and has very fruitful inter-disciplinary applications (mainly in linguistics and evolution of technologies). We will explore the different influential implications of exaptation: the role of constraints in evolution; the interplay between structures and function; the redundancy of the most innovative and resilient systems in evolution. Exaptation is also an evolutionary strategy when organisms actively change their environment, doing “niche construction”, another evolutionary process with interesting inter-disciplinary applications.


Telmo Pievani, is Full Professor at the Department of Biology, University of Padua, where he covers the first Italian chair of Philosophy of Biological Sciences. He also teaches Bioethics and Science Communication. Since October 2016, he is Rector’s Delegate for Institutional Communication, University of Padua. Researcher in the field of Philosophy of Biology, after Ph.D. researches in USA, he has been Professor of Philosophy of Science at the University of Milan Bicocca (2001-2012). From 2017 to 2019, he has been President of the Italian Society of Evolutionary Biology. He is Fellow of several academic Institutions and scientific societies: Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, Class of Sciences, Venice; Turin Academy of Sciences, Class of Biological Sciences; Accademia Olimpica in Vicenza, Class of Sciences and Technique; “Umberto Veronesi” Foundation for the Progress of Sciences, Milan; Istituto Italiano di Antropologia, Steering Board, Rome. He is member of the editorial boards of Evolution: Education and Outreach, Evolutionary Biology, Rendiconti Lincei Sc. Fis. Nat., Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana Treccani, and Le Scienze, Italian edition of Scientific American.

He is author of 267 registered publications, included several books: “Introduction to Philosophy of Biology” (Laterza, 2005; Portuguese edition 2010); “The Theory of Evolution” (Il Mulino, 2006, new edition 2010); “Creation without God” (Einaudi, 2006; Spanish edition 2009); “In Defence of Darwin” (Bompiani, 2007); “Born to Believe” (Codice Edizioni, 2008, with V. Girotto and G. Vallortigara); “The Unexpected Life” (Cortina Editore, 2011); “Homo sapiens. The Great History of Human Diversity” (Codice Edizioni, 2011, with L.L. Cavalli Sforza), “Introduction to Darwin” (Laterza, 2012); “The End of the World” (Il Mulino, 2012); “Homo sapiens. The journey of humanity” (Atlas, Istituto Geografico De Agostini, 2013; French edition 2014); “Anatomy of a Revolution. The logic of scientific discovery in Darwin” (Mimesis, 2013); “Evolved and abandoned” (Einaudi, 2014); “Freedom of migration” (Einaudi, 2016, with V. Calzolaio); “How we will be. Stories of genetically modified humankind” (Codice Edizioni, 2016, with L. De Biase); “Imperfection. A natural history” (Cortina, 2019); “The Earth after us” (Contrasto, 2019; with Frans Lanting’s photos).

He has been fellow of the Scientific Board of Genoa Science Festival (2003-2011), now he is fellow of the Scientific Board of BergamoScienza, and since 2014 he is fellow of the International Scientific Council of MUSE – Museum of Sciences in Trento. He is Director of “Pikaia”, the Italian website dedicated to evolution ( He is Director of the University of Padua web magazine, Il Bo LIVE ( With Niles Eldredge and Ian Tattersall, he was the Curator of the Italian edition of the International exhibition “Darwin 1809-2009” (Rome, Milan, Bari, 2009-2010; With Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza he was Curator of the International exhibition “Homo sapiens. The Great History of Human Diversity”, hosted in Rome, November 2011-April 2012, at the Palace of Expositions (then in Trento, Novara and Milan). In 2014 he curated the permanent exhibitions of the “Garden of Biodiversity”, inside the historical Botanical Garden of Padua. In 2017 he co-curated the International exhibition “DNA. The book of life from Mendel to genomics” (Palace of Expositions, Rome, February-June 2017). Since 2017, he is a scientific and communication consultant for Parco Natura Viva, Italy.



Alessandro Melis
“Architectural Exaptation”
The lecture focuses on the climate crisis and its consequences on urban fabric.  Deterministic planning as the main cause of greenhouse gas emissions will be described as an evidence of the failure of the heroic phase of the Modern Movement. It is now time to counteract deterministic planning with a revision of the architectural taxonomy based on a “deep time”, and, therefore, transdisciplinary reading.  Inspired by the taxonomy revolution of the biology of evolution, due to the pivotal researches of Stephen J. Gould and Elisabeth Vrba, on exaptation,, we could explore the possibility of a reviewed architectural taxonomy based on functional co-optation which is the essence of the consolidated compact cities, as well as the most effective model of a resilient community. More than defining planning methods, today it is a priority to focus on diversity and inclusiveness to increase the resilience of communities, outside of ideological and political reasoning.


Dr. Alessandro Melis, RIBA ARB AOU, is a professor of architecture innovation at the University of Portsmouth and the Director of the Cluster for Sustainable Cities in the UK. In 2019, he was appointed by the Italian Minister of Cultural Heritage (MIBAC) as the curator of the Italian Pavilion at the 17th International Biennale of Architecture in Venice 2021, and in 2020 Ambassador of Italian Design on behalf of the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Previously, at the University of Auckland, he was the head of the technology area and director of postgraduate engagement at the School of Architecture and Planning. In the period 2010-2013 he has been the Director of Urban City Lab at the Institute of Architecture of the university of Applied Arts Vienna (Die Angewandte, Vienna) and visiting professor in Germany (Anhalt University, Dessau).

He holds a PhD in architecture design from the University of Florence. He has been an honorary fellow at the Edinburgh School of Architecture. He has also been invited as a to speak at the China Academy of Art, the University of Cambridge, TED, Foster Foundation, the MoMA New York, the Italian Institute of Culture in London, and the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris.

In 1996, he founded Heliopolis 21, a multi-awarded architecture practice based in Italy, Germany, and the UK. The SR1939 Institute of the University of Pisa, the Stella Maris Hospital, and the Auditorium of Sant’Anna, inaugurated by the president of the Italian Republic, Sergio Mattarella, are acknowledged both in scholar publications and in popular magazines as examples of excellence in sustainable design.

The recognition of Alessandro’s research is corroborated by a record of over 140 peer review journal publications and by as many citations, including in popular periodicals such as Wired, the New York Times, the Independent, Reuters, and the Conversation. His work was the object of several exhibitions and of a recent monograph (Rome, 2020) edited by Giuseppe Fallacara Chirico, titled “Alessandro Melis, Utopic Real World.”

After Territory Symposium / Inland-Seaward End-of-Cycle Exhibition – Transitional Territories Studio and Research
Section of Urban Design/Transitional Territories Lecture Series—After Territory—Session 3