Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat
CTBUH Steers IIT Cloud Research Studio
November 21, 2013
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CTBUH Executive Director Antony Wood and CTBUH research associates Payam Bahrami and Dario Trabucco led a one-semester-long Research Studio open to graduate and undergraduate students at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT). The studio was part of a larger project developed by IIT College of Architecture Dean Wiel Arets to explore the metropolis through innovative activities involving undergraduate and graduate students in a “cloud” of 14 research studios.

The participants in “Sustainable Vertical Urbanism” – which shares a title and theme with CTBUH’s upcoming conference in Shanghai—received a challenge from Wood to respond to an apparently simple question:

“What contributes to the sustainability of cities?”

The students quickly discovered this was not a simple answer. “Sustainability” has many components, including environmental, economic and social aspects.
The professors and students gather in Crown Hall on final review day for a group photo
The study focused on 20 global cities, selected on the basis of their size, population and international stature, covering five continents.

The 13 students enrolled in the studio collected and analyzed data sourced from independent, primary sources such as The World Bank, The United Nations and local and national censuses, and described all cities under a given parameter, such as “Environmental Pollution” or “Welfare.” The data collected were weighted, so as to identify a city’s position or rank under each specific parameter. Through a discussion, all parameters were then weighted, in order to obtain a final score for all 20 cities.

The result: Paris turned out to be the most sustainable among the 20 cities investigated by the study, followed by Sydney and New York.

Students were also tasked with developing a graphical convention for representing their findings, so as to communicate, at a glance, the complexity of their work.
Students present their work at the final reviews
More interesting than the results themselves was the development of the process and the discussions each parameter initiated. Comparing cities such as Mumbai or Santiago to Tokyo or New York might be unfair, but it forced the students to think about urban problems from a different perspective. If in Paris the primary automotive difficulty is finding a parking space; in Mumbai, it’s affording a car. Many results met the initial expectations and common sense, confirming for instance Tokyo’s and New York’s economic supremacy and Johannesburg’s safety problems. Others offered interesting and unexpected results, such as Cairo’s leadership in the Construction and Settlement parameter, as a consequence of cheap labor, affordability of dwellings and availability of construction materials.

From a didactic perspective, students learned that research is often limited by the availability and reliability of data. They also improved their graphic representation skills, which will be fundamental in their future careers.