Sustainable Urbanization: New Designs for the Future City

Open to students entering grades 11 or 12 or freshman year of college in the fall
I - June 25–July 13, 2018
Days & Time:
Monday–Friday, 9:10 –11:00 a.m. and 1:10–3:00 p.m.
Richard Plunz, Petra Kempf, Aviv Bridge

“By preparing presentations for a real client, I felt that the course has prepared me for when/if I choose to pursue a career in sustainable urbanization.” — Mariana Bittencourt

Course Description

This course is intended for students interested in the fields of sustainable development, design, and engineering. Students are exposed to emerging trends in urban sustainability in an interdisciplinary workshop environment in which they explore new solutions for sustainable cities in the context of a real-world project.

The majority of the world’s population now lives in urban areas. As a result, cities around the globe are increasingly facing challenges related to the provision of adequate infrastructure (energy, water, transportation), the delivery of public services (education, health care, public safety), and the management of environmental quality (air, water, natural habitat). Course participants learn about these challenges through lectures, case study research, and guided group discussions that expose them to the interdisciplinary nature of sustainable development.

The course is conducted as a collaborative workshop in which students engage with an actual client and design a solution to a real urbanization challenge. The client is the Harlem 125th Street Business Improvement District (BID), which works with property and business owners, community and government leaders, and local residents to improve the experiences of those who live, work, visit and invest in the Harlem community. Students will work in teams with representatives of the 125th BID to propose designs that advance the organization’s mission to develop sustainable infrastructure, improve streetscapes, promote cultural projects, and coordinate building redevelopment while engaging with the public to address the complexities of sustainability in a dense urban setting.

The basic tools needed for sustainable urban design are introduced in a workshop environment in which students gain hands-on experience in geographic information systems, data analysis and visualization, architectural and engineering design principles, and 3D modeling tools.

Field trips to Harlem and other New York City locations offer real-world experiences, allowing students to explore new ideas and approaches to the problems of urban sustainability and resilience. Students are encouraged to be collaborative, think creatively, and explore non-traditional methods so as to generate new ideas and approaches to the workshop challenge.

At the end of the course, students present their final project ideas and work products to a panel of invited experts representing disciplines in the fields of government, research, and practice. The work will inform the students’ personal portfolios and thereby open the door to further design studies within the higher education context.

Participants are expected to bring laptops for this class.


Richard Plunz

Richard Plunz is a Professor of Architecture at Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (GSAPP), and he is the Director of the Urban Design Lab, the research center he founded in 2005. Plunz is also an affiliated faculty member of Columbia’s Data Science Institute, where he is part of the Smart Cities Committee.

A leader in the field of urban innovation and sustainability, Plunz’s research explores ways to enhance the capacity to understand, measure, and effectively propose new paradigms to address the modern day challenges of urbanization. His recent research seeks to integrate social media for a deeper understanding of green infrastructures in urban context.

Long a Columbia University faculty member, at GSAPP Plunz has served as both the Chairman of the Division of Architecture (1977-1980) and Director of the Urban Design Program (1992-2015). Under his leadership, the Urban Design program came to be considered one of the best post-professional academic programs for urban design in the country.


Petra Kempf

Petra Kempf is a practicing architect and urban designer based in New York City. Her background includes working with the public and private sector, such as the Department of City Planning in New York City, The Project for Public Space, and Richard Meier and Partner. 

In addition to her current teaching appointment at Columbia, Petra has taught at various universities in the United States and Europe - Rhode Island School of Design, Cornell University, Parsons School for Design, Pratt Institute, and the University of Dortmund, Germany.

Petra received a DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) Fellowship and the Architectural League of New York’s Young Architect Award, and she was a Grant recipient from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts.

Petra serves as a member on the editorial board for the Journal of New Frontiers in Spatial Concepts, and is the founder of Urbantransits, a research initiative with focus on the transient nature of cities.

Petra holds a Ph.D. in architecture and urban design from Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany; an M.Sc. in advanced architecture and urban design from Columbia University; and a B.Arch. in architecture from the University of Applied Science Darmstadt, Germany.


Aviv Bridge

Aviv Bridge is a practicing engineer at NV5, formerly the RBA Group, in New York City. His project involvements span the metropolitan area. He is an expert in urban street design with a background on public municipal projects for DDC, EDC, and NYSDOT. He has worked with Engineers Without Borders and assisted with international development efforts in Nepal.

Currently Aviv is transitioning from the engineering world to apply multidisciplinary expertise and will start law school in the fall. He hopes to use his understanding of engineering and law to establish new frameworks for public construction project procurement by utilizing public-private partnerships.

Aviv holds a B.S. in civil engineering from Columbia’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science and a B.A. in natural mathematics and sciences from Whitman College.


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Specific course detail such as hours and instructors are subject to change at the discretion of the University. Not all instructors listed for a course teach all sections of that course.