UCL Grand Challenges


GCSC Activities

The UCL Grand Challenge of Sustainable Cities has funded over £200,000 in small grants to UCL researchers, hosted events in London and around the world, including roundtables, seminars and public events, and shaped critical thinking on issues around urbanisation. Here are just a few examples of the cross-disciplinary work that the Grand Challenge has brought about and the important impact the work has had in the world. For more details about other work funded by this Grand Challenge since its inception, please contact the co-ordinator Sophie Mepham: sophie.mepham@ucl.ac.uk.

2018-19 Small Grants

Inoculating Cities: Developing Tools for Urban Pandemic Preparedness

Hector Altamirano (School of Environment, Energy and Resources) &
Logan Manikam (Epidemiology and Public Health)
Awarded £4,000

Mobility and social equity in informal settlements: Ulaanbaatar’s ger districts

Iqbal Hamiduddin (Bartlett School of Planning) &
Rebekah Plueckhahn (Department of Anthropology)
Awarded £4,000

Hacking the Future of Energy

Hannah Knox (Anthropology) &
Yvonne Rydin (Bartlett School of Planning)
Awarded £4,000

Urban + Value: Theory and politics of urban value capture in Africa

Jennifer Robinson (Geography) &
Colin Marx (Development Planning Unit)
Awarded £3,986.40

2017-18 Small Grants

Thermal Comfort and Contextual Thermography

Adam Cooper (Science, Technology, Engineering & Public Policy)
David Shipworth (Energy Institute)

Accelerating the uptake of sustainable urban transport policies and land use planning in the Global South

Caren Levy (Development Planning Unit)
Clemence Cavoli (Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering)

Belfast Peacewalls Orientation & Routemapping Centre

James O’Leary (Bartlett School of Architecture)
Kieren Reed (Slade School of Fine Art)

2017-18 Doctoral Student Small Grants

Earthquake Preparedness First Aid Kit- A Video Series

Chen Huang (Engineering Sciences)
Omar Velazquez (Mathematical and Physical Sciences)

In Otto Koeniger's footsteps - workshops to encourage engagement between HEIs and cities for Government of India's Smart Cities Mission Initiative

Debananda Misra (Institute of Education)
Rodrigo Caimanque Leverone (Bartlett)

2016-17 Small Grants

Planning and Housing Investment

(OR Is the Planning System an Effective Mechanism for Limiting 'Less Desirable' Forms of Housing Consumption and Investment - The Case of Cornwall, Second Homes and Neighbourhood Planning)

Nick Gallent (Bartlett School of Planning)
John Kelsey (Bartlett School of Construction and Project Management)

Accounting for the values of nature in laws, policies and planning for sustainable development

Ben Milligan (Centre for Law and the Environment)
Richard Pearson (Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research)

Filming Malmö: Everyday Spaces of the Sustainable City

Claire Thomson (School of European Languages, Culture and Society)
Yvonne Rydin (Bartlett School of Planning)

2015-16 Small Grants

Crime analysis for informal settlements: challenges and opportunities

Hervé Borrion (Security and Crime Science)
Priti Parikh (Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering)

From Pigments to Solar Power

Dr Hugo Bronstein (Chemistry)
Ms Jo Volley (Slade School of Fine Art)

Changing Sanitation Cultures

Tse-Hui Teh (Bartlett School of Planning)
Lena Ciric (Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering)

Painting Connections: Sharing Economies in the Creative Wick

Martin Zaltz Austwick (Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis)
Mary Davies (Institute for Global Prosperity)

'The Centre Cannot Hold?': Trans-Centric Urbanism in the 'Fringe City'

Jane Rendell (Bartlett School of Architecture)
Michal Murawski (School of Slavonic and East European Studies)

2015-16 Grand Challenges UCL 2034 Grants

Making Olympicopolis Work for Youth: Building Pathways to Creative Employment in East London (MOVE)

Konrad Miciukiewicz (Institute for Global Prosperity)
Rosie Holcroft (London Legacy Development Corporation)
£ 9,988

The Circular Cities Research Hub

Joanna Williams (The Bartlett School of Planning) &
Stephanie Hubold, Ellen Macarthur Foundation

2014-15 Small Grants

Sustainable Solutions to Gender Based Violence in Slums

Jyoti Belur (Security and Crime Science) &
Priti Parikh (Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering)

Mapping the Current Landscape of Food Co-operatives in London

Mary Hilson (School of European Languages, Culture and Society) &
Muki Haklay (Department of Civil, Environmental, Geomatic Engineering)

Deconstructing Demolition: Journeys through scrap and salvage 

Hilary Powell (Bartlett School of Architecture)
Susanne Kuechler (Anthropology)

Client-architect interactions during minor domestic works: an overlooked opportunity for enhancing the sustainability of the UK housing stock?

Aeli Roberts (Bartlett School of Construction and Project Management)
Russell Hitchings (Geography)

HS2: “a rich man’s toy”? – Understanding the distributional impacts of transport 

Helena Titheridge (Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering)
John Ward (Bartlett School of Planning)


2013-14 Small Grants

Seeing red: the impact of light colour on thermal comfort and energy demand in cities

David Shipworth (UCL Energy Institute) &
Stephen Hailes (Computer Science)

Assessment and management of infrastructure resilience

Andy Chow (Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering) &
Fuzhan Nasiri (Bartlett School of Planning)

Disturbed and disrupted: the impact of floods on mobility and consequences for health and wellbeing in cities

Nicola Christie (Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering) &
Liza Griffin (Development Planning Unit)

Air PermeAbility | Cities Health Energy (APACHE)

Anna Mavrogianni (Bartlett School of Graduate Studies)
Catalina Spataru (Energy Institute)

Anaerobic Digestion for Small Scale Urban Farming

Luiza Campos (Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering)
Graham Woodgate (Institute of the Americas)

Urbanism in humanitarian settings: finding anthropological answers to the unacknowledged conflicts between urbanists and humanitarians

Camillo Boano (Development Planning Unit)
Kate Crawford (Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering)

2012-13 Small Grants

The suburban food basket: the role of spatial setting and social context in providing access to healthy food

Shaun Scholes (Institute of Epidemiology & Health) &
Laura Vaughan (Bartlett School of Graduate Studies)

Blackouts prevention and solutions through multi-disciplinary techniques (B-PAS)

Catalina Spataru (Energy Institute) &
Hervé Borrion (Security and Crime Science)

Assessment of alternative transport models for Havana

Emily Morris (Institute of the Americas) &
Julio Davila (Development Planning Unit)

Cities for Human Locomotion

Stephen Marshall (Bartlett School of Planning) &
Nick Tyler (Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering)

Behaviour change: reducing waste

Susan Michie (Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology) &
Richard Jackson (UCL Estates)

2012-13 Community Engagement Awards

The Acoustic City

Matthew Gandy (Geography) &
Kate Jones (Genetics, Evolution & Environment)

Rewriting Graffiti: A Research Network and Debate Series

Iain Borden (Bartlett School of Architecture) &
Shane Johnson (Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science)

Collaborative Self-Build Housing in Germany: Lessons for England

Nick Gallent (Bartlett School of Planning) &
John Kelsey (Bartlett School of Construction and Project Management)

Storyboarding the City - a film based research project for UCL Academy

Michael Stewart (Anthropology) &
Nick Shepley (English)

Effects of Behaviour Change Messaging on Reducing Lift Usage

Shepley Orr (Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering) &
Richard Jackson (Estates and Facilities)

2011-12 Small Grants

Community Participation in city-wide planning: Comparing London and Johannesburg

Barbara Lipietz (Development Panning Unit)
Mike Raco (Bartlett School of Planning)

Developing Urban Water Reuse Networks in the UK: A Cross-Disciplinary Research Initiative

Fuzhan Nasiri (Bartlett School of Graduate Studies) &
Sarah Bell (Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering)

Ephemeral Cities: Sustainable Research into Non-Sustainable Urban Objects

Richard Taws (History of Art) &
Jann Matlock (UCL French and SELCS)

Learning Room Design Project

Prof Murray Fraser (Bartlett School of Architecture) &
Camillo Boano (Development Planning Unit)

New Loos for London?

Tse-Hui Teh (Bartlett School of Planning) &
Barbara Penner (Bartlett School of Architecture)

Whose Olympics? Transformations in urban open spaces and the Legacy of London in 2012

Matthew Wood-Hill (Development Planning Unit) &
Steph Patton (Anthropology)

2010-11 Small Grants

The City in Urban Poverty

Charlotte Lemanski (Geography) &
Colin Marx (Development Planning Unit)

Developing Sustainable Food and Agriculture in London

Robert Biel (Development Planning Unit) &
Gemma Moore (UCL Public Engagement)

Integrated Algae Growth in the Built Environment

Luiza Campos (Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering) &
Dr Saul Purton (Structural and Molecular Biology)

Tsunamis in Port Cities from Generation to Impact

Serge Guillas (Statistical Science) &
William McGuire (Earth Sciences)

Open City: Architecture

Michael Stewart (Anthropology) &
Nic Clear (Bartlett School of Architecture)

Planning the healthy city: soft-normativism as an approach to problems of value pluralism and complexity in built environment interventions

James Wilson (Centre for Philosophy, Justice and Health) &
Mark Tewdwr-Jones (Bartlett School of Planning)



Doctoral Students Small Grants: In Otto Königsberger's Footsteps


In 2017 Debananda Misra (Institute of Education) and Rodrigo Caimanque Leverone (Bartlett) received £2,000 from the Grand Challenges Doctoral Student's Small Grants Scheme for their proposal to develop collaborations between researchers and urban policy makers in India. The workshops aim to set an agenda for future research in areas where universities and cities in India can work together. 

Find out more.

Small Grant: Project uses art and design to examine the sharing economy in East London

Academics from the Bartlett, UCL's faculty of the built environment, won a Small Grant to explore the sharing economy around Hackney Wick. The team, led by Dr Martin Zaltz Austwick (CASA), Dr Mary Davies (Institute for Global Prosperity) and Emma Terema (Institute for Sustainable Resources) created a pop-up event at the culmination of their work. Find out more

See the connections Sustainable Cities Small Grants have made across UCL:


This graph visualises the collaborations between researchers in UCL departments and divisions facilitated by UCL Grand Challenges Small Grants in Sustainable Cities, from its establishment in 2010 to the end of the 2016/17 academic year.

Event: One Day in the City: UCL's Global Celebration of Culture

This Festival of London and Literature was curated by Dr Nick Shepley (English), Professor Iain Borden (Bartlett School of Architecture) and Dr Andrea Fredericksen (UCL Art Museum) with the support of a Sustainable Cities Small Grant. The festival was also held in 2012 and 2014. Find out more


Series: Re-thinking the Housing Crisis

The UK is facing a housing crisis, large parts of the population, 'generation rent' and others, are locked out of the housing market. The lack of affordable housing even effects those those on regular incomes derived from good jobs, who are unlikely to catch up with soaring house prices. 

The current debate about the housing market is informed largely by a simple model of supply and demand. This leads to the suggestion that the only solution is to build more houses, which will in turn lower prices, and thereby make housing more affordable. Re-thinking Housing is a programme of activity from the Grand Challenge of Sustainable Cities which challenges these assumptions. 

The Grand Challenge of Sustainable Cities, in collaboration with UCL Public Policy, has commissioned a number of prominent UCL academics to present the latest thinking on the issue. This has resulted in a series of blogs and a public question time event which discussed the possible responses to the housing crisis in London. A commentary paper based on the work will be published later this year. Find out more

Event: Rewriting Graffiti: A Research Network and Debate Series

Graffiti is currently estimated to incur over £1 billion in costs to the UK each year, but in certain contexts graffiti and street art can clearly contribute positively to the environment and be valued by citizens in contributing to aesthetic diversity. Rewriting Graffiti addressed the contradictions between the legal and policy frameworks for graffiti and street art, the resources required to service its criminalisation, and its social acceptance and cultural and economic importance.

Rewriting Graffiti culminated in "The Graffiti Sessions" a three-day series of talks, workshops and panel debates exploring the evolving roles of graffiti and street art in the urban environment. The conference- made possible thanks to a Grand Challenge of Sustainable Cities grant- brought together artists, writers, community members, urban managers, authorities, academics, policy makers, and more. The ongoing aim of this project group is to establish an open and sustainable discussion hub.

UCL academics including Professor Iain Borden (Bartlett School of Architecture), Professor Shane Johnson (Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science) and Sabina Andron (Bartlett School of Architecture) contributed to Rewriting Graffiti. Find out more

New academic unit: the Circular Cities Research Hub

Cities consume 75% of natural resources globally (including materials, energy and water). They produce 50% of global waste and 60-80% of green house gas emissions. Land and buildings are also underutilised in cities. Ensuring the circularity of urban resource flows (materials, energy, water, buildings and land) and building urban regenerative capacity are central to creating sustainable urban futures. 

A Grand Challenges UCL 2034 Grant has funded an interdisciplinary hub that will bring together expertise at UCL, including the inter-faculty CIRCEL Lab (Circular Economy Laboratory), and beyond. Planning and building sustainable cities requires systems integration, cooperative behaviour, localisation, recycling and renewable resources. 

The ultimate aim is to create an international network of scholars working on all aspects of circular cities. The network will act as an interface between academics and key urban stakeholders, enabling cutting-edge research to impact directly on the governing, planning, management and development of cities. Find out more

Event: Rebel Space

In July 2016, the UCL Grand Challenge of Sustainable Cities funded RESOLVE's 'Rebel Space', part of the London Design Festival. This interdisciplinary installation was a focal point for the Brixton Design Trail. The project involved building a temporary exhibition space using lo-fi, recycled facade materials, and then hosting a series of workshops covering social and interdisciplinary concepts in Engineering and Architecture to engaged schools and the local community. Find out more

Workshop: Tsunamis in Port Cities from Generation to Impact

[25 July 2012]: Tsunami behaviour in the deep waters of the open ocean is well understood. However, this is not the case in near shore waters, where tsunamis have caused massive loss of life and damage in coastal communities. 

Small Grant funding from the Grand Challenge of Sustainable Cities Small Grant made it possible for Dr Serge Guillas (Statistical Science), Professor William McGuire (Earth Sciences) and Dr Simon Day (Aon Benfield UCL Hazard Centre) to organise a tsunami workshop at UCL. By bringing together different approaches, 'Tsunamis in Port Cities from Generation to Impact' resulted in improved models of tsunami behaviour and coastal city inundation.

Members of the original collaboration have written academic papers, presented their results to the insurance industry in the City of London and are now involved in an international network studying tsunami hazard, with researchers from Japan, New Zealand, USA and Ireland. 

The workshop also led to grant funding for Dr Guillas, who led a £2m NERC national consortium grant on "Probability, Uncertainty and Risk in the Environment".