© FCL Global

Future Cities Lab Global

Sustainable cities and settlement systems
through science, by design, in place, over time

Future Cities Lab Global (FCL Global) addresses the globally significant challenges of rapid regional transformation, and aims to create a better understanding of the relationships between cities, rural communities and their surrounding regions, so as to make settlement systems more sustainable. While the first 10 years of FCL focused on cities and their development, FCL Global now expands that focus to address the corridors and networks connecting cities with a variety of other communities and with their regions – in other words the ecological system of topography, watersheds, and rivers, and the infrastructural system of roads, ports, and airports – in light of their reciprocal impacts on land use and ecology. This will also spark new research methods and approaches, helping communities to shape their habitats in more holistic ways.

FCL Global is a research collaboration between ETH Zurich and three Singapore universities – National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) and the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) –supported by the Singapore National Research Foundation (NRF). FCL Global is co-located at ETH Zurich and at the Singapore-ETH Centre (SEC) – a partnership established in 2010 between ETH Zurich and NRF at its CREATE campus.


Our Approach

FCL Global combines qualitative and quantitative challenges, big and small scales, general and specialized views involving many research disciplines, traditions, and interests, together with social needs. Working both top-down and bottom-up, FCL Global addresses social equity through cultural values, and ecological equity through intact natural systems. Beyond interdisciplinarity, the FCL Global programme addresses transdisciplinarity – that is, engagement with local, non-expert stakeholders and residents of the regions where the research is based, inclusively young and old, rural and urban.

The FCL Global programme takes a holistic view of settlement systems in their ecological and infrastructural dimensions, and operates holistically from the orientation of science, design, engineering, and governance – bringing together four streams of thought: through science, by design, in place, over time.

Through Science

To achieve sustainability, science provides the basis for understanding how cities and settlement systems develop and interact with the environment at different scales. Settlement systems are composed of ecological armatures and infrastructural armatures, physical stocks, resource flows, social institutions, and cultural catalysts whose interactions generate a quantifiable ‘metabolism’. The scientific focus of our research is to understand how such metabolisms interact with natural systems and how they might be sustainably planned.

By Design

A sustainable settlement system must also be liveable. To achieve liveability, design is essential – and it begins with a close look at the local context. Design is a collaborative process that generates new ideas and brings them to fruition. Design skills bring often conflicting technical, economic, social, and cultural demands (such as environmental sustainability, profit, comfort, convenience, identity, security, satisfaction, and desire) into dialogue to create transformational plans and visions.

In Place

Science and design are effective only if they serve places and the lives that are lived in them. Places result from common processes (growth and decline; competition and cooperation; ebb and flow of capital, people, goods and ideas; and climate change) and differentiating factors (geography, culture, language, and history). Our research addresses diverse lived places, from compact cities with high population densities to extended settlement systems with a mosaic of rural and urban land uses.

Over Time

Cities and settlement systems are never the result of singular actions of individual institutions. Rather, they take shape over time – be it the gradual accretion of historical city fabric and settlement landscapes, or the rapid transformations of ‘modernisation’. The temporality of change also has a trajectory. In this sense, sustainable cities and settlement systems must be shaped according to more cyclical, rather than linear, trajectories, in which the many and varied lifecycles of landscapes, buildings and infrastructures are taken into account.


The third phase of FCL Global includes these eight research modules:


Resilient Blue-Green Infrastructures
Enabling Transformation Towards Livable and Climate-Resilient Flood-Prone Landscapes of Tropical Cities
Principal Investigator: Prof. Dr. Adrienne GRÊT-REGAMEY (D-BAUG, ETH Zurich)

New Urban Agendas under Planetary Urbanisation
Designing Sustainable Agri-Urbanisms
Principal Investigators: Prof. Dr. Christian SCHMID (D-ARCH, ETH Zurich), Prof. Milica TOPALOVIĆ (D-ARCH, ETH Zurich)

Circular Future Cities
Systemic Innovations Supporting Circular Economies in Construction
Principal Investigator: Prof. Dr. Stefanie HELLWEG (D-BAUG, ETH Zurich)*

Powering the City
Urban Building Integrated Photovoltaics
Principal Investigator: Prof. Dr. Arno SCHLÜTER (D-ARCH, ETH Zurich)*

Dense and Green Cities
Emerging Models of Integrated Urban Development
Principal Investigator: Prof. Sacha MENZ (D-ARCH, ETH Zurich)*

Urban BioCycles Mycelium Digitalisation
Re-Establishing Bio-Cycles Through Additive and Subtractive Digital Fabrication Strategies
Principal Investigators: Prof. Dr. Philippe BLOCK (D-ARCH, ETH Zurich)

The Sea-City Interface
The Sea-City Fringes in Rapidly Urbanising Tropical Asian Cities
Principal Investigator: Prof. Dr. Peter MOLNAR (D-BAUG, ETH Zurich)*

Agropolitan Territories of Monsoon Asia
Urbanisation and the Inter-Dependence of Future Cities and Future Agriculture
Principal Investigator: Prof. Dr. Stephen CAIRNS (SEC)

*(for further PI’s see project website)

Read more:

Thinking Future Systems

NSL Newsletter feature on Future Cities Lab Global

ETH News: How cities can grow sustainably

FCL website