Located just 12 miles north of Madrid in Spain, the town of San Sebastián de los Reyes has a climate similar to what you would find in the rest of the country: seasonal weather, with winters that average 40 degrees Fahrenheit and summers that get up to high 80s. It’s not exactly the desert–and yet, right off the major A-1 highway, there are hundreds of cacti. Towering saguaro, squat golden barrel, and broad-leaved prickly pear sprawl out under an enormous greenhouse and outdoor garden.
This is Desert City, built by Madrid-based Garciagerman Arquitectos as a hybrid educational, sustainable, and ecological complex, whose grounds and interiors are riddled with cacti. Built on what was previously a wasteland, the new site consists of a greenhouse, exhibition space, restaurants, shops, office areas, and a cloister-like outdoor garden. It will be used for conventions and workshops, and it’s open to visitors to the city.
Desert City foreshadows a trend in landscaping and gardening as climate change heralds less water, hotter temperatures, and alarming droughts.
Madrid, like cities and regions all over the world, is experiencing increased temperatures–including blistering heat waves during the summer. Major droughts in 2005 and 2008 left the country reeling, and recently, when it does rain, the city suffers severe floods. Over the past couple of years, Madrid has expanded parks and green roofs, and has planted its riverbanks with trees to cool the city down and make it more resilient to extreme weather.
In nearby San Sebastián de los Reyes, the new Desert City is not a resiliency effort, but it does allude to some interesting possibilities in that vein. Green space is beneficial to cities and towns for multiple reasons–it can cool temperatures with shaded areas, for example, and absorb runoff as trees and plants store water from heavy rain. As the area’s climate gets more arid, and droughts return, the cacti will feel right at home. And as temperatures rise worldwide, cactus gardens offer a more sustainable solution than manicured lawns and gardens that require a lot of water and upkeep. Desert City shows that arid landscapes can be just as lush and beautiful.