Developing solutions for growing sustainable cities

Researchers from NUS Design and Environment and Yale-NUS College have joined hands with ETH Zurich and other Singapore universities to embark on Future Cities Lab Global (FCL Global) – an international, interdisciplinary research collaboration that aims to develop solutions to help cities and their surrounding regions achieve sustainable growth.

Launched in December last year, the five-year collaborative venture seeks to address the globally significant challenges of expanding urbanisation, where existing cities are fast growing and new cities are emerging in the face of rapid population growth. Tapping on the deep expertise of 120 engineers, architects, environmental scientists, economists and social scientists from Singapore and Switzerland, the collaboration builds on the work of the now-completed Future Cities Laboratory Programme which focused on cities and their development.

Supported by Singapore’s National Research Foundation (NRF), FCL Global expands the focus to address corridors and networks between cities and the surrounding regions – such as roads, ports, rivers, and airports, as well as their impact on land use and ecology. In addition, the collaboration will be co-hosted in not one, but two research laboratories: ETH Zurich, and Singapore-ETH Centre (SEC) – a partnership established between ETH and NRF at the Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise (CREATE).

NUS researchers are involved in six of the eight projects that are currently being carried out. These will focus on topics such as green buildings and neighbourhoods in dense urban areas, new technologies for recycling building materials, and solutions to aid tropical coastal cities in Asia that are distressed or at risk of flooding.

Expressing his support for the collaboration, NUS Deputy President (Research and Technology) Professor Chen Tsuhan noted that NUS adopts a systems approach to solving real-world problems concerning climate change and sustainability. He said, “Harnessing our deep and broad expertise in areas such as green technologies, design, engineering, sciences, social sciences and public policy, we aim to advance integrated sustainability solutions that are optimised and resilient for tropical, urban and Asian settings.”

Prof Lam Khee Poh, Dean of NUS Design and Environment and a member of the FCL Global Steering Committee, observed that Singapore is one of the most liveable cities in Asia and the world. Stressing on the need to focus on a holistic people-centric design to build a resilient city of tomorrow, he added, “NUS’ multi-disciplinary research in collaboration with FCL Global will develop future-ready solutions for sustainable and healthy cities. This will also help advance Singapore’s multi-ministry effort to achieve the Singapore Green Plan 2030.”

The research projects

Circular Future Cities
Principal Investigator: Assoc Prof Rudi Stouffs, NUS Design and Environment

This project examines new technologies for recycling building materials as global construction demand has more than doubled in the last 20 years, and a transition to a circular economy, in which used materials may become valuable resources for a new production cycle, is urgently needed. It addresses the questions of which contributions future circular cities can make to lower adverse environmental impacts and how to derive tailored, site-specific system solutions for sustainable housing.

Dense and Green Cities 
Co-Investigator: Assoc Prof Fu Yuming, NUS Design and Environment

This project will study green buildings and neighbourhoods in dense areas. The research will specifically investigate current and planned examples of sustainable integrated districts as a model for high-density, high-liveability future cities. These include Zurich-West in Switzerland and One-North in Singapore as main case studies.

The Sea-City Interface
Principal Investigator: Asst Prof Oscar Carracedo, NUS Design and Environment

Focusing on sea-city fringes in rapidly urbanising Asian cities, the project will study ways to mitigate climate change impacts through improved regenerative approaches such as to urban design and planning, and environmental science. It will also develop nature-based approaches for cities to adopt to mitigate the effects of rising sea levels. In addition, the research will look at how these areas can combine their historical manufacturing roles, with emerging hybrid developments for a creative economy supporting diverse industries and promoting liveability.

Resilient Blue-Green Infrastructures
Co-Investigator: Assoc Prof Michiel van Breugel, Yale-NUS College

The project aims to design and plan functioning blue and green infrastructures in cities’ hinterlands to not only improve urban water efficiency and reduce flooding, but also support local food production, mitigate heat island effects, increase water pollution control, recreation, biodiversity, and ultimately provide jobs and a higher life quality for citizens. Blue infrastructure refers to water elements such as rivers, floodplains or water treatment facilities, while green infrastructure refers to trees, fields, forests, etc. 

Agropolitan Territories of Monsoon Asia
Co-Investigator: Asst Prof Jessica Ann Diehl, NUS Design and Environment

This research seeks to develop an ‘agropolitan’ outlook to urbanisation, which foregrounds the inter-dependence of future cities and future agriculture. It will do so by developing transdisciplinary and multi-scaled approaches to data collection and analysis, dynamic planning support tools, and designs and prototypes for sustainable agropolitan territories.

New Urban Agendas Under Planetary Urbanism
Co-Investigator: Asst Prof Naomi Hanakata, NUS Design and Environment

While discussions on urban sustainability have focused on cities and urban regions, many agricultural territories are equally exposed to urban transformation processes with massive social and environmental implications. This research aims to develop large-scale urban-territorial design strategies and governance models for ‘agri-urbanisms’, based on the principles of agroecology and sustainable urban development.