"Science is about knowing; ENGINEERING is about doing" [Henry Petroski]


Engineering is third of the four pillars (ScienceDesign, Engineering and Governance) founding the Future Cities Laboratory Global research programme.

Engineering is all about designing and developing technologies such as machines, structures, and systems based on scientific principles. Engineering is at the heart of urban development, shaping how cities function and grow. It addresses the challenges of urbanisation by designing and maintaining the infrastructure that supports modern city life. As our urban environments continue to evolve, the role of engineering will remain pivotal in creating resilient, efficient, and sustainable cities for future generations. It works in close collaboration with architecture and urban planning to create sustainable and efficient urban spaces that enhance the quality of life for residents.

Modern cities depend heavily on advanced technological systems to support their high population densities and diverse functions. Historically, the rapid growth of cities in the early 19th century brought about significant challenges such as pollution and public health crises. Engineers responded with innovative solutions, focusing on the essentials like managing sewage and ensuring a clean water supply, which were especially critical in rapidly urbanising areas such as Singapore.

Chinatown, Singapore - Lily Banse - Unsplash

As cities continued to expand, the role of engineers evolved. They began to integrate multiple technologies, resulting in complex systems that manage various aspects of city life, including energy, water, transportation, and data. The advent of information and communication technology (ICT) has further boosted this integration, making it crucial for the functionality of modern urban environments. Today, cities are viewed as intricate systems where industries, housing, and populations are interlinked. Understanding these dynamics requires advanced modelling and analysis.

As a scientific discipline and professional practice, engineering has a long-standing and well-documented relationship with other city-making disciplines (for example, architecture and urban planning, economics and socio-technical relations). We foreground engineering in FCL Global to build on this important legacy. We do so by deepening the relationship between the technological inventiveness of engineering, the creative and generative impulse of design, and the societal focus of governance, to develop solutions that are adapted to the context of cultures and histories of specific locations.

Flooding in Kolkata - Dibakar Roy - Unsplash

Engineering establishes standards for essential city functions such as heating, cooling, transportation, safety, and pollution control. These standards are vital for promoting economic growth and political integration, ensuring that urban areas are not only liveable but also thriving. However, the standardisation of urban systems also comes with risks. Uniformity can make cities more susceptible to widespread disruptions if a part of the system fails. Therefore, in FCL Global we emphasise the importance of resilience in urban planning.

Resilience involves the ability of a city to adapt and diversify its technological systems to withstand external shocks, such as natural disasters or economic crises. By creating adaptable and flexible infrastructures, cities can maintain their functionality even in the face of unforeseen events. This adaptability ensures that urban areas remain robust, safe, and sustainable over the long term.

Engineering is TRANS-SCALAR

For example the research project Urban BioCycles Mycelium Digitalisation employs engineering to explore the feasibility, optimality, and profitability of mycelium-based composites at different scales, demonstrating the potential for new materials in urban development. At the micrometre scale, we experiment with nutrient mediums to maximise mycelium growth, considering cost-effectiveness and local availability. We also assess the potential benefits and costs of genetic optimization to improve fungal properties. On the centimetre scale, we focus on optimising the structure and material properties of mycelium composites, enhancing cooling rates, water retention, and mechanical strength. At the metre scale, we address the challenges of scaling up production for architectural applications, considering modular designs and fabrication methods to maintain stability and cleanliness, ensuring competitive performance and cost-efficiency compared to conventional products. Lastly, at the kilometre scale, we evaluate the life cycle of mycelium composites to ensure environmental and economic sustainability, exploring how waste from other industries can be integrated into mycelium production.

Engineering at Different Scales - Urban BioCycles Mycelium Digitalisation - Jia Heng Teoh

Engineering is connecting

The research project Adaptive Mobility, Land Use and Infrastructure focuses on the application of engineering tools for transportation planning. Here, we collect travel diary data from citizens in Singapore and analyse it using machine learning to understand travel preferences and behaviours. This data is then used to develop transport models that optimise and simulate complex systems, ensuring that solutions are not only based on historical data but also account for future uncertainties. This proactive planning approach ensures that urban transport systems remain efficient and resilient against future challenges.

Adaptive Mobility Infrastructure and Land Use - Qiming Ye

Engineering is Human-Centric

In the Semantic Urban Elements project, engineering is leveraged to utilise available data from diverse sources, such as satellite images and crowdsourced data, to map urban environments comprehensively. This data helps optimise resource use, reduce costs, and minimise emissions. By engineering these data sources to be human-centric, urban planners can address various aspects of daily life, enhancing the overall quality of urban living.

Semantic Urban Elements - Matias Quintana

Engineering is modelling

The project on the Comparative Ecology of Cities extends landscape ecology theory to urban systems, examining the relationships between urban patterns and functions like biodiversity, human health, socioeconomics, hydrology, and energy in multiple cities around the world. In the engineering domain, the project has developed novel mechanistic urban simulation tools, such as a coupled urban climate and building energy model, to explore and simulate the coupled interactions of urban climate mitigation strategies, anthropogenic heat emissions, and building energy demand for space cooling and heating. We have also developed assessment methods and design guidelines for pluvial flood risk reduction using common physics-based engineering tools and practices. The developed engineering models have provided valuable inputs for understanding how different urban designs impact urban functions. This holistic approach allows for the creation of urban environments that promote ecological balance and sustainability.

Future Cities Laboratory Global - Comparative Ecology of Cities

Engineering in Urban Economics

The Resource-Efficient Urban Intensification project builds a model of internal city structures focusing on residents' choices of where to live and work, which impacts housing and labour markets. By simulating data and eventually calibrating it with real-world data from cities like Singapore, this project aims to create models that can predict and optimise urban economic dynamics, ensuring that cities are economically viable and liveable.

Resource-Efficiant Urban Intensification - Ejnar Kjenstad

Sustainable Development Goals

Find out more about SDG's on the offical United Nations website.

Who can tell me more?

Semantic Urban Elements: Linking Urban Analytics, Design, and Usage for Cyber-Physical Cities

Adaptive Mobility, Land Use and Infrastructure

Resource-Efficient Urban Intensification

Urban BioCycles Mycelium Digitalisation

Comparative Ecology of Cities

Future Cities Laboratory Global

Welcome to FCL Global, an interdisciplinary research programme that seeks to address the worldwide circumstances of rapid urbanisation. Our ultimate goal is to promote more equitable and livable urban futures, by bringing together Science, Design, Engineering and Governance.

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