SUS 7400A Case Studies in Sustainability

Spring 2019. Subject to refinement/updating.

Instructor: Hillary Brown, FAIA
Schedule: Wednesday 5:00 pm to 7:40 pm
Location: Spitzer Room 107
3 credits 3 hrs/week


Professor Hillary Brown FAIA
Office hours by appointment: Wednesday 3:30-4:30 pm; Thursdays 10:30 – 12:00, 3M15 Spitzer.


Through a case studies approach examining innovative multi-purpose, cross-sector projects, this course postulates a framework for the next generation of small and large-scale critical urban services, namely our energy, water, sanitation, transit and communication systems. Next generation projects must serve multiple functions. They must align with, and leverage, the workings of natural systems. They need to deliver services in a carbon-constrained world and be resilient in the face of climate uncertainties. And ultimately, as “distributed”’ or de-centralized public utilities/facilities, they must be beneficially embedded in, and connected to, communities. Overall, inventive design skills and “out-of-the-box” thinking will be critical to meeting these performance criteria.

Such a “future-proofing” of public works will demand pan-disciplinary collaboration among planners, architects, landscape architects and engineers and their clients. It will demand new visions and strategies, including ecological thinking or “whole systems design,” which builds on interconnections and dependencies among the diverse systems. Next generation systems need to achieve synergistic solutions that solve multiple problems – both within and external to the project boundary. Finally, not just the developed world, but more importantly, developing economies, need to put in place such post-industrial systems today to avoid many of the negative externalities associated with the energy- and chemically-intensive infrastructure of the industrial era. 

Through discussions on lectures and individual and team assignments, students will become familiar with principles that shape interdisciplinary design decision-making. The seminar course will include discussion of readings, participant presentation of assignment exercises. The semester’s work will culminate in a collective design project bringing interdisciplinary students’ skills to bear on a problem in the developing world.


1) Learn critical principles of ecological design and whole systems, integrated thinking

2) Understand the inter-dependencies of various urban infrastructural systems, with design implications for synergies across sectors

3) Understand and experience emerging practices in interdisciplinary design and develop teamwork skills in applied research

Course Requirements

Class Preparation and Participation:

Reading assignments and some questions to guide your thinking about these assignments are given in the class schedule for each class session. You are expected to come to class prepared to discuss the reading and respond when called on for questions. Your individual class participation grade will be based upon your in-class remarks during discussions.

Class Attendance:

Attendance is mandatory. More than two unexcused absences will lower your grade.

Written Assignments:

Turn in your written work on time. Late work will be penalized: the grade will drop one step for each class meeting that the work is late. Incompletes will not be granted except in the case of an extreme medical or family emergency, supported by a doctor’s note or other written proof of the serious situation. Please send assignments the night before or early morning of class to address TBA.

Read ACADEMIC INTEGRITY NOTICE: Written assignments must be your original work, including any short submittals, papers, PowerPoint and the final assignment. In your papers, cite all sources, using footnotes, endnotes, or in-text citations, and include a bibliography of references. For the correct format, see the Chicago Manual of Style. Be cautious about information posted online.  

Please prepare all submittals and assignments as ADOBE PDFs. Generally, these are due THE EVENING BEFORE THE CLASS by email to me or the teaching assistant by Tuesday at midnight.

There will be two short assignments and a third larger project.

The final envisioned project for Haiti, or another developing country, will be a joint class project.  It may entail student participation in developing conceptual design and visualization materials for an integrated system of critical infrastructure. The goal will entail develop a self-sustaining renewable energy system for a region, aligned with its multiple social, economic and cultural needs, and integrated with other critical infrastructure systems such as transportation, sanitation, water management, food production, flood control.

Students not wishing to participate in the class final project may prepare another topic as research paper.

Required Reading

Readings are mandatory. Students will be required to submit short reading critiques/summaries.

Some of the readings will be selected from Brown, H. Next Generation Infrastructure: Principles for Post-Industrial Public Works, (Island Press 2014) but purchase of the book is optional as a PDF for readings will be supplied. Other readings will be in PDF format and available on Blackboard.

Resources: Architecture Library - Spitzer 101  x 8766 or

Videos: In addition to readings, several videos will be included as part of weekly assignments.


Your course grade will be determined as follows:

20 % on the quality of your preparation for and participation in class discussions and written reading summaries

40 % on the quality of your short assignments (1 & 2)

40 % on the quality of final project/paper

Course Outline

Part I      Frameworks for Sustainability

(note: Ecological principles in bold noted below are adapted from Holmgren, David: Permaculture: Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability (2002)


  1. Overview (Jan. 30)
  • Course objectives
  • An infrastructure crisis?
  • Disaster/Response: Case Study: Minneapolis I35W bridge, old and new; Infrastructure in crisis
  • Environmental imperative and principles of whole-system, ecological design


1A. Edwards, Paul. “Infrastructure and Modernity: Force, Time, and Social Organization in the History of Socio-technical Systems” Technology and Modernity, T. Misa, P. Brey and A. Feenberg, eds. p. 1-10 PDF.

1B. The National Academies. Sustainable Critical Infrastructure Systems: A Framework for Meeting 21st Century Imperatives. National Research Council. pp 1-12 PDF

1C Brown, H. “Bold Endeavors Needed,” In Next Generation Infrastructure, Chap. 1 pp 1-11 (PDF)

1D NY Times article on Maintenance (optional)


Assignment # 1: Pre-industrial infrastructure: case study, due 2/12 (midnight)


  1. Design Principles; Preindustrial Precedents (Feb. 6)
  • Ecological Principles: * Observe and & Interact * Design from Patterns to Details* Use small and slow solutions
  • Overview of “permacultural” principles – integration across living and nonliving systems
  • Case studies – from bridges to water-harvesting infrastructures, and ancient urban sanitation systems.


2A. Holmgren, David. “The Essence of Permaculture.” in Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability. Preface and Introduction. pp 1-17. PDF.

2B Guttmann-Bond, E. “Sustainability out of the Past” World Archaeology pp 1-13 (PDF)

2C  Susan B. Hanley,” Urban Sanitation in Pre-Industrial Japan” Journal of Interdisciplinary History. pp 1-26 (PDF)


  1. Integrated Design – Student presentations (Feb. 13)
  • Ecological Principle: * Integrate, Do Not Segregate (Systems Thinking)
  • Principles of industrial ecology applied to infrastructure
  • Case study: Kalundborg, Denmark, Hammarby Sjostad, other eco-industrial complexes
  • Multi-functioning infrastructure case studies
  • Towards a circular economy!


3A Brown, H. Next-Generation Infrastructure. “Towards Infrastructural Ecologies.” Chapt 2. (PDF)

3B Odum, H. T. “This World System,” in Environment, Power and Society.  Wiley-Interscience, 1970 (PDF)

3C Ehrenfeld, J. Gertler, N. Industrial Ecology in Practice: The Evolution of Interdependence at Kalundborg. Journal Industrial Ecology 1:1 67-79. PDF.

3D Glasshut, HS. “Hammarby Sjostad- a new city district. pp 1-9 (PDF).

Video:  Lesson 10 Thinking in Systems

Assignment # 2: Innovative, Integrative Systems- Case Study, due midnight Mar. 5.


Part II     Ecological Principles in Buildings and Infrastructure: Case studies


  1. Capitalizing on Natural Processes– Student presentations, cont. (Feb. 20)
  • Ecological Principles: * Use and Value Renewable Resources & Services * Use and Value Diversity
  • Towards Soft Path Water Systems
  • Ecologically- Reflexive Treatment Systems: Croton Filtration, Arcata Wastewater, Sherbourne Stormwater


4A The Nature Conservatory et al.” The Case for Green Infrastructure.”2013. pp. 1-9

4B The Nature Conservatory et al. “Case Studies for Green Infrastructure,” (read yellow highlighted cases).PDF

4C Nelson, V. A Soft Path Water Paradigm Shift (excerpts) pp. 1-19 PDF

4D Curwood, Steven & David Sedlak. “Water 4.0” PODCAST, Living on Earth, NPR, or PDF

4E McKinsey & Co. “Rethinking the Water Cycle,” PDF

Video: Lesson 8 Biodiversity


  1. Going Carbon Neutral – Student presentations Innovative, Integrative Systems (Feb. 27)
  • Ecological Principle: * Catch and Store Energy    * Use and Value Renewable Resources & Services 
  • Solar Chimney and other hybrids
  • Using local energy resources


5A Jacobson, M. and Delucchi, M. A Plan to Power 100% of the Planet with Renewables. Scientific American, October 26, 2009 p. 1-9 PDF

5B Kammen, D and Sunter, D. “City-integrated Renewable Energy for Urban Sustainability,” Science Mag. 2016

5C Town & Country Planning. “Community Energy- Urban Planning for A Low Carbon Future” PDF


  1. Going Carbon Neutral Student presentations, Assign # 2 (Mar. 6)
  • Ecological Principle: * Catch and Store Energy  * Obtain a Yield
  • Energy-Water-Waste Nexus (multi-sector approaches)
  • Reading:

6A  D. Ahuja and M. Tatsutani “Sustainable Energy for Developing Countries,” S.A.P.I.En.S. 2:1, (2009) (PDF)

6B  UN University “Valuing Human Waste as an Energy Resource,” United Nations University, 2015. (PDF)

6C UNEP Renewable Energy/Energy Efficiency Developing Countries (Chapter 3) (PDF)


  1. Intelligent Materials – Student Presentation, cont. (Mar. 13)
  • Ecological Principle * Produce no Waste * Apply Self-regulation and Accept feedback
  • Resource inefficiency
  • De-materialization; light-weighting structures; Hybridized and composite materials
  • Bio-mimetic materials; Smart materials; energy-producing (piezoelectric) materials


7A Herman, R. Ardekani, S. Ausubel, J. “Dematerialization” Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 38,333-347(1990) pp. (1-15, PDF)

7B Tailor, “Smart Materials for Smart Cities and Sustainable Environment,” JMSSE February 2017 (PDF)  

7C Miodownik,, M. “No more Potholes,” Financial Times (PDF)

Assignment # 3 Group Infrastructure project, due (in parts) starting March 27


  1. Assimilated Infrastructure: embedded into the community (Mar. 20)
  • Ecological Principle * Use and Value Diversity
  • De-stigmatizing infrastructure
  • Cultural and recreational assets: Phoenix Solid Waste Facility, Hiroshima municipal solid waste plant, others


8B Singer, M. Environmental Defense Fund, Infrastructure & Community PDF p. 7-17 skim rest

8C Brown, H. Infrastructural Co-Production, Chap. 6 in Infrastructural Ecologies: Alternative Development Models for Emerging Economies, (MIT Press 2016)  pp. 147-174. PDF

Watch "The Greenest Way to Deal with Some Trash is to Burn It" (video link)

Video: Lesson 17 Economic Relocalization


  1. Decommissioned Infrastructures & Adaptive Reuse – Starting regular student presentations (Mar. 27)
  • Ecological Principle  Produce no Waste * Creatively Use and Respond to Change
  • From industrial artifact, repurposed for culture or recreational use: Emscher Park, Grimshaw projects
  • NYC examples – The Highline and Freshkills Park 8A EPA: Emscher Park Case Study | Brownfields and Land Revitalization, PDF

9A EPA, “International Brownfields Case Study: Emscher Park, Germany October 2009.  International Brownfields Case Study PDF

9B Hardy, Hugh. The Romance of Abandonment. Places Magazine. (17) 3. pp. 32-37, PDF

9C Scadden, R. “Adaptive Reuse of Obsolete Power Plants,” A&WMA 94th Annual Conference Proceedings, June 2001 .

9D Corner, James. Lifescape – Freshkills Parkland. PDF


  1. Climate-adapted and Defensive Infrastructure I (4/13)
  • Ecological Principle: * Creatively Use and Respond to Change
  • Poldering in the Netherlands
  • ‘Seawater greenhouses
  • Singapore strategies


10A U.N Framework Convention on Climate Change. Climate Change: impacts, vulnerabilities and adaptation in developing countries, 2007. pp. 1-35 PDF  

10B National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee, “Climate Change Impacts in the United States,” 2014. PDF pp. 13-70

Video: Lesson 13 What is Resilience?


  1. Climate-adapted and Defensive Infrastructure II (4/10)

Ecological Principle: * Creatively Use and Respond to Change

  • Adaptation imperatives for water supply infrastructure
  • Water Harvesting & Storage
  • Wastewater Reuse


World Economic Forum, Water Security: The water food energy climate nexus PDF

United Nations University, Seeing Traditional Technologies in a New Light, PDF

Part III    Student Projects/Class Project ONGOING TOWARDS FINAL Presentations Weeks 12,13, 14  May 1,8,15

Final Project due: May 21 CLASS PRESENTATION May 22. 

Class time after the lecture will be devoted to student presentation of research, conceptual sketches of project components and diagrams showing integration. We will likely have outside participants in this planning/design project.

The final project, a real project envisioned for TBD will be a joint class project.