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C.E.U. Climate Change and Urban Design Conference

posted Nov 15, 2009, 11:08 AM by Claus Zapffe   [ updated Dec 9, 2010, 6:29 AM ]
13 - 16 September 2008
Location: Oslo, Norway
Organizing affiliated organization: C.E.U. Norway
Funding frameworks: ESUA and EDUAC

The ESUA Phase I results, including the ESUA curriculum for a five year education in architecture and urbanism, and a publication of ESUA documents, were presented at two events in Oslo, September 2008:
  • 13 September, ESUA held an open afternoon seminar to present and discuss the project.
  • 14-16 September, the key recommendations from the project were presented at the international "CLIMATE CHANGE AND URBAN DESIGN" congress, arranged by CEU - Council for European Urbanism, in collaboration with ESUA and other strategic partners. ESUA moderated the "Education" conference session, and present its proposals for reform in urban design education.

The EDUAC project co-financed together with the ESUA phase I project the Third International C.E.U. Congress with the topic “Climate Change and Urban Design”. The Council for European Urbanism (C.E.U.) presents many of the same values as ESUA, and hence the conference was an excellent opportunity to create a solid platform to launch the ESUA curriculum: 

Following successful Congresses in Berlin 2005 and Leeds 2006, the Council for European Urbanism held its third international congress in Oslo, Norway from the 14th to 16th September 2008. 

The congress discussed the rapidly-evolving topic of “Climate Change and Urban Design”. Papers were invited on the latest implications in science, policy, education and best practice. What is the latest science telling us? What are the consequences for urban development internationally? What are the practical solutions available to reduce climate gas emissions from urban settlements and transportation? What strategies are available to adapt to changing conditions? Many of these papers are presented in the conference reader, available at the website. 

The congress saw participation by 71 professionals and students: government officials, planners, architects, social scientists, ecologists, developers, local community activists, and other development stakeholders who felt a responsibility to contribute to more sustainable urban development. 

Background for the conference topic: 

The climate change agenda has clearly reached a world-wide tipping point. Yet while there is growing consensus that the phenomenon poses a major threat to future human well-being, legitimate debate remains about what is to be done to reduce atmospheric carbon levels, as well as to adapt to changes that already appear likely. In particular there is ongoing debate about how the cost of various options correlates to potential benefits. Debate also continues about how the issue of climate change relates to the larger agenda of sustainable development. 

The built environment is well known to be one of the largest current contributors to greenhouse gases. Therefore those who work in the planning, design and building professions have a key role in working to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide. While much work has been done to decrease contributions from individual buildings, the role of urban design in addressing climate change remains more obscure, and more contentious. 
To be sure, buildings are not passive emitters of greenhouse gases. They shape the patterns of activity and consumption of their occupants, which in turn profoundly affect emissions. Must occupants drive between scattered locations, perhaps for long distances? Do they spend large percentages of time in buildings isolated from a functional public realm, with high patterns of consumption and emissions? Are those buildings sited in remote new developments where significant areas of existing vegetation have been replaced with paved or reflective surfaces? How does the urban street and block pattern contribute? What about the mix of uses, and the distribution of daily activities and needs? 
There has been much discussion of the dramatic carbon reductions possible per person in a higher-density urban morphology, particularly in comparison to automobile-dominated “sprawl” development. But what are the factors to be teased out? If we are to pursue such a goal, what are the issues to be addressed in economics, market dynamics, project permitting, legal regulation? How are these issues being addressed successfully, and what further challenges and opportunities remain? 

What about the preference of some consumers for lower density neighborhoods, or the argument that it is more sustainable to accommodate a settlement distribution or “transect” from the highest human use to the most pristine natural environment, including lower-density agricultural settlements? Does the new agenda imply, as some argue, that only very high densities will be viable? Or can a mixture that includes some lower-density morphologies be sustained in combination with other forms of mitigation? Is such a range of densities more economically sustainable, as some argue? 
Even at high densities, a wide range of morphologies is possible. What are the benefits and tradeoffs of the alternatives? For example, are dense high rise cities the inevitable best option? What about the negative energy impacts of tall buildings that may feature extensive curtain wall glazing, or require other high-energy conditioning, maintenance or repair? How do tall buildings perform across socio-economic classes, or in promoting social diversity and economic sustainability? How do they perform in repairability, adaptive re-use, or typical life-cycle? 

What about the advantages of “green” retrofits of existing buildings, in comparison to new green buildings? Since roughly half of the energy use of a building is in its construction, is there credible evidence to suggest that adaptive re-use of heritage buildings should be a greater priority? Are there examples of traditional urban fabric that offer better models of sustainable morphology, such as medium rise “liner” buildings, or high-density terraces? And do traditional buildings offer any significant morphological benefits for the sustainability challenge? 

These questions remind us that emissions are a cumulative phenomenon, and must be considered over whole systems and whole life cycles. Clearly a reduction in one targeted parameter is of little use if it results in the increase of another parameter by an equal or greater amount. Moreover, greenhouse gas emissions are only one parameter of sustainability that must be considered in balance with others. 

The Climate Change and Urban Design conference encouraged papers that discussed the inter-disciplinary nature of this challenge, and the need for a more “joined-up” approach. The conference particularly encouraged discussion of effective new diagnostic and prescriptive tools to optimize performance across whole systems and whole life cycles. 

Conference Themes: 

Climate Change and Urban Morphology - The Evidence 
What is the scientific evidence for or against particular links between urban form and contributions of greenhouse gases? What are the interrelationships? What are the pitfalls in research, and in its application? Papers may survey previous literature and/or present new research. 

Climate Change and Best Practice in Urban Design 
What are the implications of climate change research for standards of best practice? What does the evolving evidence suggest about the relative importance of such parameters as density, transit modes, mixed use, building height, social diversity and others? What about the relative benefits of retrofit versus new construction? How can best practice address issues of market acceptance and consumer choice? 

Climate Change, Urban Design and Public Policy 
What are the steps being taken to address the contribution of urban design on climate change through public policy, and how well are they succeeding? What steps are being taken to mitigate initial diseconomies, create new incentives, ease regulatory restrictions, and shift market behaviour? 

Climate Change, Education and Research 
How should academic institutions respond to the climate change agenda? What are the implications for inter-disciplinary and inter-institutional research? How should design schools respond to the challenge? What alternative curricula are implied or required? 

Case Studies of Urban Projects and Their Impacts 
Papers in this category presented one or more case studies with detailed assessment of success in mitigating greenhouse gases, or adapting to the consequences of climate change. They discussed challenges of entitlement, market acceptance, economic performance, and other project requirements. 

Innovative New Strategies 
Papers in this category discussed new theoretical or pragmatic approaches, such as certification schemes (LEED-ND in the USA, BREEAM in the UK, et al.), trading schemes, new coding approaches, and other innovations. 

For more information on the C.E.U. Council for European Urbanism please go to and

Claus Zapffe,
Dec 9, 2010, 6:18 AM
Claus Zapffe,
Dec 9, 2010, 6:22 AM
Claus Zapffe,
Dec 9, 2010, 6:15 AM