Announcement of CNIE Inspiration Grant: The Self-Organising Built Environment

01 June 2016

We are pleased to announce that Prof Stephen Marshall has been awarded a Centre for Nature Inspired Engineering Inspiration Grant on The Self-Organising Built Environment, in collaboration with Dr Oliver Davis of University of Bristol, Dr Sally Lowell of University of Edinburgh, Dr Katrina Lythgoe of University of Oxford, and Professor Scott Turner of the State University of New York at Syracuse.

Nature has inspired generations of urban designers and planners in pursuit of harmonious and functional built environments. However, existing ‘genetic’ or ‘evolutionary’ approaches to urbanism engage with science in only a limited and fragmented way, sometimes amounting to little more than ‘organic rhetoric’. Unlike other areas of nature-inspired engineering, where clear research agendas already exist, urban design and planning lack a commonly accepted model or research agenda. This means that urban design/planning academics and practitioners cannot be sure how analogues from nature can be properly exploited in practice, or even trusted in principle.

In particular, nature-inspired solutions for the design/planning of large scale, long term entities such as cities typically differ from, say, self-organisation in product design or even architecture, but are likely to involve self-organisation plus adaptation and evolution over many iterations via diverse actors, invoking not just biological but ecological mechanisms. Hence we are interested in questions such as: how far can valid mechanisms of self-organisation, adaptation and evolution extend to urban scales?

This project brings together biological and urban academics to test the biological and ecological basis of analogues with the built environment, and hence build a scientifically credible paradigm establishing operative relationships between biology/ecology and urban design/planning, investigating the type, strength and boundaries of those relationships (e.g. biomimetic, mechanistic, etc.). This will provide a platform for future empirically based research targeted to promising urban design/planning solutions.

The project runs from 1st June 2016 to 31st March 2017. The team welcomes hearing of existing biological / ecological analogues with the built environment, especially at the urban design scale, and/or involving communication across scales. The team welcomes learning of others working in these areas – please contact Stephen Marshall The image is by Olgu Caliskan.

For further information about the CNIE Inspiration Grant, please contact us at

Further information about the Centre can be found here:

Announcement of CNIE Inspiration Grant: The Self-Organising Built Environment