The road to urban coherence and sustainability: using architectural innovation to evolve cities

By Sadman Shafiq

Sadman attended the 2016 Habitat III Summit where he represented Swinburne University. Sadman is studying a Bachelor of Computer Science.


This paper addresses the issues with current architectural trends and visits Sydney with its standing as a top Australian city along with the recovering Lebanon Capital Beirut. While both share similarities as being the tourist hubs of their countries, they share a lack of architectural practices in widespread use for a sustainable future. While Sydney is well developed it has a downtown district that has minor urban and architectural significance and more importantly lacks in public cohesiveness within the city. Beirut has a zoning issue that generates both hardship within the community and removes the cultural and historical heritage of the city. The transportation dilemma exists in Beirut with the congestion and lack of public transport, wherein Sydney suffers from a spread of urban development with the creation of suburbs that spread away from zones of activities centered in the city. It also lacks a public transport system that supports the pace of growth both in the suburbs and congestion within the inner city. The relationship with the transport system and architectural design allows for urban growth and efficiency. And as such, is needed for sustainable cities of the present and future.

Policy Recommendations

1. Recognise Architects Role in collaborating the urban landscape to the built design. Allowing for greater sustainable developments within infrastructure.

1.1 Enhancing architectural expression with sustainability enacted as a core principle. Beirut’s rich traditional architecture can be preserved and enriched with modern   technological advances. Creating a new style that is based across sustainability and

1.2 Regulating future developments and societal outcomes within building design. As     Sydney’s population expands, the urban landscape is modified to become more collaborative. Making passive design decisions with regards to public access would help develop the existing communities.

2. Acknowledging and improving a principal aspect of society: City Wide Transportation.

2.1 Adopting sustainable and expandable public transit system that provides both function     and positive environmental attributes to both the mode of transport and the surrounding urban area. Giving the citizens of both Sydney and Beirut the capabilities to travel the roads without damage to the climate.

2.2 Recognising transportation’s role in the urban environment and its effects. Allowing for future growth and having a regulated system for managing public use. Beirut has regulated        its overwhelming private vehicles on roadways. Future public access can be monumental         towards ease of access within the city.


Habitat III converges upon the issues with sustainability, housing and urban development and puts forward a Global Response Scheme for creating and maintaining urban resources. It is a platform to confer and discuss how the Sustainable Developmental Goals (SDG) can be implemented, with focus towards SDG 9, "Build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialization and foster innovation” and SDG 11 “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” (UN p.14). Since 2008 over half the Earth's population is within cities and with numbers growing, buildings and the urban landscapes need to be reimagined and engineered to fit current and prepared for, future settings. This is a driving force in discussions about revitalizing cities with major problems; such as poor education, unhealthy lifestyles, poverty and conflict within cities that contribute to its detrimental environmental damage (Rogers & Gumuchdijan, 1997, p.8). As all have social injustice both contributed by urban design and enhanced by architecture. Such as cities that face a lack of infrastructure, those devastated by war as in Baghdad and Kabul, sunken in severe poverty such as Monrovia, Addis Ababa and the many struggling cities in Africa. While others are affected by the populace such as the overwhelming density within Dhaka and Manilla and the alienated and segregated colonies in L.A. As such creating design requirements and approaching different scenarios with elements and technologies in order to build practices that are key to sustainable urban planning and closes the gap to reach the SDG.

The design of the environment is symbiotically linked with that of the buildings. In the case of New South Wales, according to Punter ‘For decades the State has emasculated planning and urban design in Sydney, but more recently it has contributed positively to its transition to a design-sensitive approach to planning’ (Punter, 2005, p. 15) these changes bode towards an urban design scheme that is geared towards sustainability issues and with the help of architect’s role it can sate evolving needs of the people and the land. The building designs use architectural trends regardless of its artistic expression and its form, but rather by focusing on the part it plays in its environment and how it defines the lifestyle of its users. An architectural trend shows the key developments in thought and consciousness that can be replicated with buildings. The technical aspect of connecting these buildings via modes of transport contribute towards an economy of travelers (Topp, 2012). The city relies on its population and the Country’s GDP for the level and extent of its transport system, a heavier population with low GDP leads to congestion while the opposite can foster sustainable growth. Given high or low circumstances on either side, balancing is required as it changes the efficiency and the weight of a cities productivity. This was a problem that was evident with the citizen’s issues with dominating high-rises in Beirut and its growing dissatisfaction with its governing body for its deregulatory and lax system on construction (B. M., & S. Y, 2012). Transportation allows citizens to both connect their living spaces and allow for spontaneous interactions. This report considers the paradigm shift required for architects to increase their involvement in order to promote sustainable development and the further help they can provide at Sydney’s plans for sustainability and the continued revival of Beirut. It is accompanied with the shift required for transport to converge and cement the new urban design.  


Effect of expression

Figure 1: View from Bathurst Street © the deletions blog by Pam Brown

Figure 1: View from Bathurst Street © the deletions blog by Pam Brown

Architecture embodies the core unit of a city, wherein the building has its own expression but the context it resides in plays a substantial role in its creation. One of the major elements that affect architecture is the styles it employs in design. The importance of style is the effect it has on human civilization at the time. These styles allow for development of functionality (Katz, Scully, & Bressi, 1994 p. 424/3622). A look through history shows the rise of specific styles that affected people’s response to their own lives and the architecture around them. The grid-like design of the Middle Ages urban infrastructure served to provide defenses against invaders, Roman Infrastructure and Architecture, created multiple pockets within buildings and cities that served to bring people together, such as the atrium or public baths, that have been developed over the centuries to what it is today. In Sydney’s case the Darling Harbor experience along with its lush downtown park’s alluring views hides, as J Punter states, ‘a city that is overbuilt, dark, and heavily trafficked, where speculative developers have built generations of mediocre, progressively taller office and now residential buildings’ (Punter, 2005, p. 15). In Figure 1 the skyline is dominated by high rises, but lacks genuine expression. What it has, is an expression without care towards neighbors, they lack cohesiveness that allows for public corridors. It shows that, even though buildings may contain contrasting styles, there exist no civic space that enhances both the transportation systems and the public livability.

This lack of expression brings forward the outcroppings and remnants of the Modernism Movement, a period that began in early twentieth century, where building production techniques from previous architectural styles have been replaced and are

“turned to industrial techniques and new forms because they offered creative freedom and the prospect of social improvements. Today the enormous potential of these techniques is applied to a single end: making money.” (Rogers & Gumuchdijan, pg. 68)

It leads architectural expression in a downwards spiral towards buildings that are standardized, lack diversity and are private orientated. The architectural use of a building as defined by Modernism has two extreme sides, functionalism and universal flexibility, Where it is solely based on practicality rather than aesthetics, which frames it as sustainable choices but result in ‘exclusive zoning and the fragmentation and disconnection of parts of the city from each other’  (Katz, Scully, & Bressi, 1994, p.498/3622) demonstrated both in Sydney and more appropriately, in Beirut with the development of tall uniform buildings demolishing traditional buildings as a blatant disregard for the UNESCO heritage sites. Businesses favor the construction of building residential sites and grand shopping havens over the other needs of the city and is evident that private interests are dominating over public requirements (Wainwright, 2015). The development of such projects around Beirut has led to the alienation of its citizens and the emission of greenhouse gasses (GHG) by the constant construction work. It also leaves severe ecological impacts along the coast.

The feat of urban planning from the Renaissance era is the relationship with the public and private places that create an economy and a societal structure that bridges connections between people.  When these factors are considered there needs to exist a dominant method of grounding architectural developments in sustainable practices. This need to ally with the design and be included in the design process as Hensel reports, ‘Current approaches in sustainable design that focus predominantly on technical solutions tend to enhance the division of interior from exterior environments.’ (Hensel, 2013, p. 13). When developments are considered in terms of the surrounding areas, the interior could emulate and build upon the building’s values while the exterior design should link with the urban ecosystem. The lack of, results in the buildup of shanty towns and informal settlements. As Rogers states, the need ‘to find the technical support and funding for affordable infrastructures to service these areas, and to create partnerships to guide the improvement of their living conditions.’ (Rogers & Gumuchdijan, pg. 68). The settlements that are created in such areas, must be repurposed. But rather than setting up other residential sites and mass evacuating, there should be set steps to slowly implement a better solution for such scenarios.

With current trends in Beirut and Sydney it requires architects to consider the ecological landscape of the city along with factors that prevent buildings from existing outside of the norm. The architect must be taught outside the usual paradigm of client sided development as tenets of building design. Sydney’s goals of a green city by 2030 can be reached by both redevelopment of frequent public centers, and architectural innovation for more self-dependent buildings. In Beirut the ecological impacts along with its upheavals and societal transitions make for a long road to sustainability. The design of new buildings needs to respect heritage and cultural significance, where appropriate. A relationship with the public and architecture needs to be created that caters to both the history of the land and the public which passes by and uses the building and the surrounding infrastructure. This mix allows for both sustainability and innovation while creating and preserving stylistic significance. It is not modernistic qualities that designs should strive for, but rather the urban geared developments that can be engineered within the design.


Creating Cohesive Systems

Transportation, specifically the movement within cities and its districts, allows for a city to communicate with its infrastructure. It is by large the deciding factor of the effectiveness of a city, as it controls the ease of access and also determines how much GHG can be mitigated by the vehicles within its roads (Mansour, 2013, p. 56). The paradigm that needs to be established and further improved is sustainable transportation providing a structured diversity of transport modes that are accessible, environmentally-friendly, and affordable. It requires a multi-nodal system wherein several different methods of transport can be used harmoniously to create faster and effortless travel. As such the planning for transport requires the consideration of access, environmental effects and economic productivity. When considering the difference in capacity to fulfill demand, the attention must be given towards mitigating environmental impacts.  Sydney has plans to implement a ‘robust precinct based’ urban development project with billions invested in extension projects. It works with new infill projects, working with public and private transport methods within Sydney and creates transport nodes to link the ‘precincts’ to the city (Howard, 2016). These projects allow to control projected population increase and helps manage future infrastructure development.

The suburban sprawl that exists outside of the city is contributing towards the automobile driven land consumption. A response to this was the Beirut Urban Transport Project (BUTP) which addresses and provides solution to public transportation, transportation of goods and road traffic control. The project aimed to create a refined roadway system along with expanding parking systems. It also assessed the public transport system or lack thereof, with most form of public transport reliant on taxis. It focused on improving the roads within Beirut and had drastically lowered congestion levels from before (Rami Kodeih, 2014). A measure of identifying effectiveness or time saved called Level of Service (LOS) was implemented in the United States, where it grades proposed roadwork based on the transit times through it. Though it appears systematically effective, it has a lack in environmental impacts that roads generate, it also doesn’t address how much traffic is passing through these roads, rather on congestion. A different method of approaching traffic, as noted by Rogers, could be:

“a strategy that co-ordinates all transportation systems: from the private to the public. from the river bus to the tram and from new tube lines to bicycle paths. The viability of the whole system and each component should be evaluated in ecological and social terms, not just in terms of its profitability.” (Rogers & Gumuchdijan, pg. 125)

With the engagement of governmental bodies and the partnerships between the public and private sector both Sydney and Beirut can implement a cohesive regulatory system that evaluates enhancements on both macro and micro levels.

Figure 2 State of the Environment Report on Transport; ("Lebanon State of the Environment Report Chapter 5", 2001, p. 74)

Figure 2 State of the Environment Report on Transport; ("Lebanon State of the Environment Report Chapter 5", 2001, p. 74)

Urban sprawl that develops with the creation of new roads adds to the safety and traffic issues within a city.  Figure 2 below shows how the land is utilized and with the creation of more ‘international’ roads, it leads to shanty and illegal developments. These international roads are major linkage transport system comparable to freeways. The Lebanese government reports on the creation of ‘Ribbon Construction’, which are the free form unregulated urban development, and how it leads the cycle of ineffective roads. The significance of Ribbon construction is the desolating effect it has on the environment. The lack of proper consideration and haphazard cycles of development the transport system requires a balance with the environment and allowance of movement throughout the city and its connections. The figure shows how the land is used around the roads and with environmental impacts considered, the roadwork construction is not a sustainable solution. These roadways need plans and prefacing towards spacing for public walkways and connected streams along with making the existing unused railway system to be more sustainable and future ready. ("Public Transport Sector in LEBANON…", 2013, p. 24) The limits to the mass use of private cars are evident within Beirut, where the urban landscape needs to consider and have a well-developed public transport system.

The deployment of different urban transport schemes along with accessibility options geared towards the public are difficult to implement.  But the result is economic and environmental growth which are key to a sustainable city. For Beirut it would stop the rampant growth and collapse of urban centers outside the city (Perry, 2000, pp. 10). In Sydney the complications with suburban sprawl are being tackled with public transport access as a central tenant. Outside of the scope lies an Integrated Transport Act in Victoria, which provides engagement with government officials regarding proper transport access with the design of buildings. Sydney’s inner city troubles with congestion can be mitigated with new transport schemes and social pressures for environmental benefit. The involvement with transport and buildings are inherent towards sustainable practice, since Beirut’s focus has been towards the transport sector, it has significantly reduced the load on its roads, allowing for growth and sustainable design in its other sectors.

Urban development

Facing forward

Beirut and Sydney are two different cities with varying cultures and heritages. Though they share many differences, both have urban development goals which fall in line with the SDGs. When transport is considered alongside the building’s development regarding pathways and public access it allows for the creation of organic meeting places while at the same time eases the city’s transport congestion. An architect’s consideration should be towards the client and their needs but prioritizing sustainable development comes at a close second.

Beirut’s Solidere project aims to create a new vision for Lebanon, but what it fails to do in its attempt is bring forward the new age, is pay attention to its citizens.  Fig 3 below shows the constant stream of construction work occurring near the seafront, from which it rebuilds the war torn downtown district. The Government with its specific target audience chose to cater to tourists (Wainwright, 2015) and the architect’s realm is severely limited in terms of sustainability and urban consciousness as efforts are placed towards creating a ‘luxurious totem pole’ rather than a thriving urban neighborhood. The project aims to modernize the country creating alluring views but disconcertingly ignores its citizens with its ruthless zoning laws that the businesses take full advantage of (B. M., & S. Y, 2012). This results in ghost neighborhoods where the communities are driven out and local small scale businesses have no standing. The architect’s voice on the design of the building being more than a monument to hedonism. Moving it towards a more concerning and provident method, Net zero GHG emission, including public opinion and incorporating traditional architecture while improving and adapting it to its new situation and working alongside the transport systems creating a faster and efficient economy both within and outside the building.

Figure 3 Construction projects in Solidere. © J. Elliot at Flickr

Figure 3 Construction projects in Solidere. © J. Elliot at Flickr

Sydney is gearing towards reducing emissions by 2030 with Sustainably Sydney 2030 plan (Barone, 2014, p. 36) which outlines clear checkpoints towards its goals. While keeping to the SDGs it also proposes many new extensions to make way for projected population growth. The forethought gives leeway towards advanced sustainable systems and creating ecologies of transport growth. It helps both the infrastructure and the transport system as it develops from

’what planners define as a “monocentric” city. What will define the longer-term growth of the city is meaningful infrastructure which will create a multi-centered “polycentric” Sydney’ (Howard, 2016).

The governmental methods to improving both public transport systems while allowing for private automobiles to be utilized and streamlined gives way for controlled urban growth.  A concern that arises is monitoring the planned roadways and their effectiveness both as efficiency and environmental impacts. NSW’s response has been to create a feedback system with its environmental management plans (EMPs) where the report can be structured for different construction sites to meet requirements with different project’s schemes (DIPNR, 2004, p.13). While this may be an acceptable way of approaching environmental impacts of construction and design, the transport corridors must be tested in one form or another in terms of the energy impacts it has on a long-term basis. To do so there are many options ranging from full scale impact systems covering all manners of transport systems to Auto Trips Generated (Jaffe, 2011, pp. 18), where it is marked against the amount of automobile trips occurring in the network. These marking schemes allow for roadways to be tested and allow for a framework to predict when future development is required.

Both cities have a pivotal transport agenda being implemented and pushed that can help with population rises and climate change issues. The main impact of architecture is the safeguards that can be implemented and developed within the design of the building. The EMP’s utilized by Sydney provide a framework for designs to employ sustainable practices. Beirut’s lack of a proper sustainable and environmental requirements for building plans make the transitions towards a cleaner city difficult.


The nature of architectural work is designing space, and with current trends in social and environmental circles it allows for innovating current and past methodologies for sustainable design. The design needs to accommodate the developmental issues with infrastructure creation. Allowing for architects to design for both cultural appropriated and sustainability geared creations.  Sydney’s vision for sustainable urban growth encompasses both the transport and infrastructure districts. It allows for a method of communication between designers and the public for both public buildings and other projects. Where Beirut is making great headway is within the transport sector bringing back order from a troubling past. It manages to release tension and traffic issues within the city as it is the monolithic point for connecting different sectors. The path towards sustainable development including architecture and transport relies on an overlay of both creating an adaptive environment.




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