About the lab
The Circular City + Living Systems Lab (CCLS) is a multidisciplinary group of faculty and students researching living systems integrated into the built environment that produce and circulate resources within the food-water-energy nexus. Synthesizing expertise from architecture, landscape architecture, engineering, planning, biology, and ecology, the CCLS applies principles of research and design to investigate transformative strategies for future cities that are adaptive and resilient while facing climate change. Ongoing work at the CCLS includes research on urban integration of aquaponics, building-integrated agriculture, circular economies in the food industry, algae production, and green roof performance.
Featured projects (3)
The international project CITYFOOD aims to address a range of scientific, environmental, and social questions regarding supply chain optimization, resource use efficiency, food safety and regulatory acceptance of integrated aquaponics as a sustainable form of food production to meet a growing population. The CITYFOOD collaboration will explore the potential of aquaponic systems for urban applications. Emergent aquaponic systems save energy, water and nutrients by combining contained recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) with hydroponic plant production. See more here: https://cityfood-aquaponics.com
This research project investigates emerging strategies, current practices, and working case studies in the field of urban agriculture. The research synthesizes information on resource efficiencies, environmental benefits, and operational achievements. It connects scientific research with findings from the examination of outstanding case studies, numerous site visits, and interviews with the farmers, founders, consultants, and architects behind innovative farm operations. The research studies examine how these innovative systems can be integrated into the design of cities and the built environment.
Featured research (6)
The current pandemic, with its associated need for physical distancing and the accompanying transformation of the built environment, generates the pressing need for built environment researchers to refocus their research and respond to the current public health crisis. An interdisciplinary team from the College of Built Environments at the University of Washington (UW) with backgrounds in economics, urban planning, and architecture raised the following question: How do the physical design and service models of essential services and businesses improve or worsen the prospect of business continuity, economic success, and social welfare in the COVID-19 pandemic? The team successfully participated in two calls for COVID-19 Research by the UW Population Health Initiative in March and May 2020, funding a comprehensive project of data collection and analysis in Seattle. It is designed as empirical, mixed-methods research, surveying for patterns of facility designs, service models and modifications, and economic outcomes for providers, before and during the pandemic. The project is laid out in three steps: (1) spatial typology and business closure data collection, (2) semi-structured interviews regarding service delivery modifications and financial outcomes (3) and analysis of the economic effects of physical design and service choices. The data collection was set up in conjunction with the state's safe reopening efforts, under COVID-19 physical distancing guidelines. The material changes are used to infer types of responses to keep the businesses operating during the stay-at-home order. The fieldwork is followed by interviews of companies on their experience and critical business continuity data. The project concludes with a spatial and economic analysis of the data. This paper reports on the research design, data collection process, and first findings of this ongoing research project with a focus on food retail and restaurants.
Energy use within buildings contributes to nearly a third of carbon emissions in the United States (Zhang et al. 2019, EPA). Meanwhile, between 30-40% of food in the U.S. is wasted and generates carbon emissions equivalent to that of 37 million cars yearly (UN FAO). Long term decarbonization strategies within the built environment can look to alternative energy mechanisms which redirect waste resources as inputs to other systems. Circular City models of sustainability accordingly look for potentials to close loops, turning waste into resources and reducing pollution. These approaches are generating increasing interest and seek to advance a very applied approach to sustainability-one which will integrally require leadership from design fields, local governments, and community leadership to succeed. Organic material such as food waste contains significant energy which can be processed by the unique metabolisms of microbes into useful gasses and heat. Anaerobic digesters are one such technology which harness microbial capabilities of fermentation to sustainably process resources and harvest energy in a controlled environment from what would otherwise be merely wasted. While anaerobic digesters are often utilized in wastewater treatment and agricultural contexts, they are not yet broadly utilized within cities, even though urban populations and resource consumption continues to rise. We seek here to explore this underutilized potential and ask what it means for buildings, communities, and their designers, who seek to advance increasing sustainability and reduce waste and pollution in the built environment. Case studies and associated carbon footprint impacts will be calculated and analyzed. Finally, opportunities to leverage this long term decarbonization approach will be discussed, and potential environmental impacts to the carbon cycle contemplated in the context of design of current and future sustainable buildings and Circular Cities in an age of increasingly realized anthropogenic climate change.
A circular city builds upon the principles of circular economy, which key concepts of reduce, reuse, recycle , and recover lead to a coupling of resources: products and by-products of one production process become the input of another one, often in local vicinity. However, sources, types and available quantities of underutilised resources in cities are currently not well documented. Therefore, there is a missing link in the information flow of the circular city between potential users and site-specific data. To close this gap, this study introduces the concept of a site resource inventory in conjunction with a new information model that can manage the data needed for advancing the circular city. A core taxonomy of terms is established as the foundation for the information model: the circular economy is defined as a network of circular economy entities which are regarded as black boxes and connected by their material and energy inputs and outputs. This study proposes a site resource inventory , which is a collection of infrastructural and building-specific parameters that assess the suitability of urban sites for a specific circular economy entity. An information model is developed to manage the data that allows the entities to effectively organise the allocation and use of resources within the circular city and its material and energy flows. The application of this information model was demonstrated by comparing the demand and availability of required alternative resources (e.g. greywater) at a hypothetical site comprising a commercial aquaponic facility (synergistic coupling of fish and vegetables production) and a residential building. For the implementation of the information model a proposal is made which uses the publicly available geodata infrastructure of OpenStreetMap and adopts its tag system to operationalise the integration of circular economy data by introducing new tags. A site resource inventory has the potential to bring together information needs and it is thus intended to support companies when making their business location decisions or to support local authorities in the planning process.
Open Access until August 2020: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/24751448.2020.1705714 Twenty-first-century cities face challenges including potential food shortages, water scarcity, and dependence on nonrenewable energy sources. These are increasingly intensified by global population growth. The development of innovative solutions for the food-water-energy nexus requires transdisciplinary approaches across scales, boundaries, and sectors. The international, interdisciplinary research consortium CITYFOOD investigates the science and practice of aquaponics, an integrated food production system. The three-year research project focuses on the potential for scaling up the integration of aquaponic operations in cities. The team’s goal is to expand the knowledge around aquaponics by applying case study research, modeling, and GIS-based mapping methods across various built environment scales. Through projects like CITYFOOD, the growing understanding of interlinkages between food, water, and energy systems can contribute to a more sustainable future.
Aquaponics’ potential to transform urban food production has been documented in a rapid increase of academic research and public interest in the field. To translate this publicity into real-world impact, the creation of commercial farms and their relationship to the urban environment have to be further examined. This research has to bridge the gap between existing literature on growing system performance and urban metabolic flows by considering the built form of aquaponic farms. To assess the potential for urban integration of aquaponics, existing case studies are classified by the typology of their building enclosure, with the two main categories being greenhouses and indoor environments. This classification allows for some assumptions about the farms’ performance in their context, but a more in-depth life cycle assessment (LCA) is necessary to evaluate different configurations. The LCA approach is presented as a way to inventory design criteria and respective strategies which can influence the environmental impact of aquaponic systems in the context of urban built environments.