World Cities Day 2018: Building sustainable and resilient cities

Convened by UN Habitat, World Cities Day promotes the international community’s interest in global urbanisation, enhancing cooperation and knowledge exchange to address the challenges of urban expansion and contribute to sustainable urban development. This year’s theme is ‘Building Sustainable and Resilient Cities’.

Architects and urban planners play an essential role in building sustainable and resilient cities. As masterplanners of many complex sites within cities, at the heart of all our approach is an appreciation of context. We look for what is worth preserving and adapting, and opportunities for effective intervention. As designers of new urban developments, a similarly contextual approach is required, one which works with the climate, geography and culture of each place.  A nuanced and wide-ranging understanding of ecological, social and cultural fit is an essential ingredient of successful city building.

Our work in this area takes many forms. There has been the long-term view taken by some of London’s key masterplans. A project like the masterplan for King’s Cross has involved the imaginative recycling of Victorian infrastructure and buildings and the careful knitting back together of the surrounding street pattern. Similarly, the practice’s Olympic Park projects are fundamentally about re-balancing a socio-economic division which has long divided east London from the west through the remediation of a once polluted, post-industrial landscape.

Carefully managing urban expansion is another important aspect of our work.  In recent years, the practice has been working in Britain’s fastest growing cities – Cambridge, York and Bristol – to help sustainably plan urban intensification through new neighbourhoods situated at the heart of the city or on its fringe. In Doha and Muscat, projects in two hot Desert cities have involved creating compact urban architecture that provides natural cooling benefits whilst being culturally-grounded in terms of its design.

Critical urban research also helps to inform what we do. A series of studies in London, both across the city and in-depth for boroughs such as Barking & Dagenham and Hackney are providing a comprehensive mapping of these places to help both the public and private sectors plan for less intrusive, more place-specific urban intensification. The Passivtower, an initiative of the practice, has designed a prototype for high density Passive housing which could help rapidly growing cities deal with both the issues of energy reduction and lack of housing supply. Through these efforts, we hope to contribute to the New Urban Agenda.


Image courtesy Argent/John Sturrock

Southwark, London, 2018
A diverse piece of city

Muscat, Oman, 2017
A sustainable urban extension

Singapore, 2017
Compact 'city in a garden'

Beirut, Lebanon, 2012
A Mediterranean neighbourhood

London, 2012
Healing a tear in the city

Doha, Qatar, 2010
Rediscovering urbanity

London, 2007
A work of urban repair