Full scale testing and experimentation

Cities are already enormous laboratories - they provide numerous examples of trial-and-error, trial-and-improvement, of failures and successes. We use full scale experimentation to learn, form and test engineering principles and theories in 'city laboratories' - or Integrated Infrastructure Observatories (IIOs) - to systematically study success, failure and the reasons for it, in real cities.

As part of our role in the UK Collaboratorium for Research in Infrastructure & Cities (UKCRIC), we run several key research assets:

Building a smart future

Professor of Experimental Architecture, Rachel Armstrong, leads an international partnership that is developing ‘smart’ bricks which can recycle wastewater and generate electricity to transform the places where we live and work.

The €3.2m LIAR (Living Architecture) scheme is developing bricks able to extract resources from sunlight, waste water and air. The bricks fit together to create ‘bioreactor walls’ which could then be incorporated in housing, public buildings and office spaces.

Professor Rachel Armstrong's TED talk

Urban Observatory

Our Urban Observatory enables the digital capture, mapping, sensing, monitoring, and testing of real urban infrastructure systems over the long term. The key objective is to capture the complex interrelations and interactions of real systems with the environment, people and society.

We have more than 700 million data points recorded and the database is growing by up to 20 observations per second. More than 50 sensors are collecting a wide range of data including:

  • air quality
  • traffic
  • river and tide levels
  • building services


With the Observatory now established as an approach to urban sensing, we are now leading the CORONA project - City Observatory Research platfOrm for iNnovation and Analytics.

CORONA will bring together the collection, management and governance of data and establish working practices that enable local authorities, utilities, scientists, citizens and policy makers to work together.

In CORONA key societal challenges facing our cities will be addressed as a means to understand the practical aspects of urban monitoring and to develop a clearer picture of how this new 'urban sciences and engineering' can enable better decisions to be made that will improve quality of life and benefit the economy.

Phil James
Phil James leads the Urban Observatory and CORONA projects

Infrastructure and Digital Technologies

A research theme in our Global Urban Research Unit, Infrastructure and Digital Technologies unites a diverse range of work by being concerned with a politics of infrastructure supply and demand.

In recent years we have witnessed the emergence of a huge literature concerned with the following ideas:

  • smart city
  • digital civics
  • big data
  • social urbanism
  • the sharing economy
  • urban science

Much of this suggests that many of the seemingly intractable problems of urban living across the globe can be solved by recourse to various technological fixes.

Led by Professor Geoff Vigar, the theme produces a programme of conceptual and empirical research that will provide a robust and critical corrective to some of the powerful claims made in such discourses.

ITRC Mistral

ITRC is a consortium of seven leading UK universities, investigating ways to improve the performance of infrastructure systems in the UK and around the world. Our research is helping businesses and policymakers to explore the risk of infrastructure failure and the long term benefits of investments and policies to improve infrastructure systems.

ITRC’s partners are from across the infrastructure community. We work with infrastructure providers, investors and associated businesses, but we also talk to policy makers and the organisations that are supporting the sector, including encouraging innovation. We work primarily in the UK, but are developing resources to be used internationally.