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 and staff

“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.

Project work is guided by researchers from the Urban Design Lab at Columbia’s Earth Institute and assistants from the Sustainable Engineering Graduate Scholars program in Columbia’s School of Engineering and Applied Science.

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 in Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation and has been director of the School’s Urban Design Program since 1992. After receiving professional degrees in engineering and architecture from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Plunz specialized in urbanism related to both urban history and application of cybernetic and information theory to urban development. Plunz has held professorships at Rensselaer, Pennsylvania State University, Columbia University, and the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium). He has taught and lectured extensively and internationally and is considered a leading figure in all aspects of sustainable urban design. In 2005, Plunz was appointed Director of the Urban Design Lab at Columbia's Earth Institute.

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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.