“Sustainable Urbanism” These two words represent the biggest challenge and the biggest hope of our generation. The Institute for Sustainable Urbanism (ISU) seeks to explore, co-design, engineer, and promote all strata of sustainable development.

Cities play a crucial role in confronting the challenges of real sustainability in our collective future. By sustainability we mean the long-term viability of our society, encompassing factors such as the social and economic flourishing of people, responsible resource-consumption, livability of the habitat, and the thriving of the natural environment. By urbanism we mean all of the systems, members, and forces, visible and invisible, which constitute today’s interconnected, globalized society.

Cities, after all, are the biggest consumers of natural resources, including human, and also some of the most vulnerable places threatened by climate change. But they are the nexus of power, influence, human and natural resources, culture, ideas, and creativity. As such, cities are key sites of opportunity in making steps toward real sustainability.

In facing the various challenges in contemporary urbanism, the Institute for Sustainable Urbanism (ISU) seeks to 1) identify stable as well as newly emerging phenomena in contemporary urban development, and 2) come up with ways to explain and manipulate such phenomena, ultimately contributing to a better understanding of what constitutes sustainable development. In order to extend the catalogue of sustainable solutions, we use a highly cooperative inter- and trans-disciplinary approach.

Since October 2012, ISU is lead by Prof. Dr. Vanessa Miriam Carlow, within TU Braunschweig’s Department of Architecture, Engineering, and Environmental Sciences. ISU is part think-tank, part design laboratory, committed to promoting research and scholarship on sustainable urbanism in an international and interdisciplinary setting. Since its founding, ISU has worked with partners in Africa, Asia, South America, USA, and all over Europe. ISU has four themes under which its teaching and research projects fall: Space as Resource, City in Society, Impossible Sites, and Urban-Rural Relations.

ISUs research, teaching, and discourse focus on strategies and tools for sustainable urban development in the context of worldwide urbanization. In its continuous strive toward progressive research, ISU founded a state of the art, multidisciplinary research and competence center on urban research rooted in the digital realm – the ISU SPatial Analytics + Cross-disciplinary Experimentation Lab (ISU SPACE LAB).

Space as Resource

Space is a scarce resource. That is to say, space should be considered a valuable and limited resource that should be properly managed and used efficiently to optimal effect, just like other resources of limited supply. For some cultures with scarce land, this concept is already well-integrated into their building and planning cultures. For many others, however, this is not the case. As we face what some call the Urban Age, this idea will become increasingly true and imperative.

City in Society

Cities are where people are and people meet. We believe that at the heart of urban design is public space, accessible and open to multiple users and uses, connecting individuals, functions, and spaces. After years of privatization and deregulation, new actors have entered the urban arena. Worldwide, new techniques, processes, and practices of co-designing of the city can be observed. Urban design, both formal and practice-oriented, has a role in supporting sustainable lifestyles, such as by providing environmentally friendly forms of mobility, or by enabling innovative recreational or economic activities.

In the effort to strengthen the urban, social, and ecologically sustainable character of public space,
ISU studies the interface between urban design, culture and behaviour as well as the relationship between institutions and non-institutionally organised actors. The institute partners with planning authorities and bottom-up initiatives for the development of urban quality management strategies.

Projects: Open Call 2013, Bücherschrank / Niebelungenplatz, Braunschweig, Landakademie NS, ISU Talks 2013, 2014

Impossible Sites

With the theme “Impossible Sites,” ISU explores ways in which large, global-scale trends affect the local, urban-scale conditions. What was previously considered an uninhabitable or un-occupiable site, can, through a tilt in the equation of macro-political, economic, environmental, or sociological forces, become again possible, and vice versa. These forces produce particular observable and in some cases measurable phenomena that affect neighborhoods at the local scale, highlighting the inherent contradictions and excesses of globalization and its neoliberal forces.

Projects: Unmögliches Grundstück Bremen, Of Betongold and Schrottimmobilien – Bremerhaven; WOB 4.0, the Gowanus Challenge, Innovations- und Kompetenzcampus Remmlingen, Berlin I – LIBE, Hamburg /St Pauli, Paris Périphérique, 68% Riga (Microrayons), Berlin III, Rostock

Urban-Rural Relations

Where the city stops, the country does not begin. Cities must be considered in a broader context, encompassing their larger footprints. Cities today must be understood as more than compact urban settlements and downtown areas, but rather in terms of their hinterlands, water- and waste-sheds, their reaches of networks of transportation and human resources. Likewise, villages are not just remote, rural places, but also providers and consumers of various forms of urban capital. These new dynamics involve processes of proximity and distance between the city and the countryside. On the one hand goods, people and information are increasingly being traded between big and small cities. On the other hand, rural areas face particular challenges, i.e. depopulation, decay of public infrastructure, and services being phased out, threatening the quality of rural life. In the context of urbanisation it thus becomes important to stress that rural areas will not become less important than urban ones. Quite the opposite: the city and the countryside are becoming even more mutually reliant.

Projects under this theme describe and analyse the social, spatial, ecological, political, cultural and economic aspects of urban-rural exchanges. The aim is to improve the rural as a space of production, and define new chances for sustainable urban-rural development.

Projects: Landakademie Niedersachsen, Metapolis

Sustainability Criteria

While the goal of producing socially equitable, ecologically robust, sustainable urban conditions is paramount worldwide, the means to provide them are different. Testing sustainability criteria (City for Everyone, 5-Minute City, Blue-Green and Healthy City, Mixed City, and City of Distinct Identity) in different climatic, geographic, cultural and economic backgrounds of fast growing societies and young democracies broadens the toolkit of sustainable development criteria.

Digital Urbanism

The ISU Space Lab expands possibilities of progressing the digital realm of urbanism. With the lab we explore data, methods, processes and infrastructures routed in the digital. Transgressing the disciplinary limits of architecture, urban design, and planning we investigate a) better participatory planning processes, b) develop methods of anticipating, streamlining and optimizing the use of resources, including physical space and c) develop tools to understand the needs of urban space and infrastructure users better.

Goal of our work is to investigate inherited and „conventional“ methods of urban design to elevate them to today’s needs through an explorative and hypothesis-driven research into sustainable urbanism.