Solving global environmental challenges with international collaborations

Rebuilding fire-damaged areas of South Africa. Creating greater flood resilience in deepest Peru. Analysing the safety design of buildings in China. Reconnecting the burgeoning city of Birmingham to the landscape that surrounds it. These are just some of the projects Birmingham City University’s leading academics are working on to improve the environment, with the help of multiple collaborations with institutions and businesses from across the globe.

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The challenge – creating a sustainable future

Adverse environmental disasters are a growing problem, with the frequency of disaster-related incidents increasing around the world. In South America, Peru has endured devastation from extensive flooding; in 2017, over 400,000 people were affected, culminating in over 50 deaths. Meanwhile, in South Africa, a violent fire has wiped out many homes and other buildings in rural Wupperthal.

On a more global scale, the continued need for high-rise buildings in cities poses continued risks in the event of environmental disasters. Furthermore, the growth of such cities often results in incomplete climate strategies where cities are analysed without taking into account their natural landscapes, cultural elements and needs.

Recognising these issues, Birmingham City University academics from a wide range of disciplines are collaborating with global institutions and businesses in order to create more sustainable structures, cities and more.

What our partners say...

"Birmingham faces some pressing challenges, many of which concern land and people's access to it. Just as important is how these challenges are going to be solved. This is where working with Birmingham City University through Project SATURN provides some of the research answers to those future questions. The University has developed a very advanced and multi-layered landscape visioning process. This will help Birmingham make that critical next step in its own transformation towards a globally green city."

Nick Grayson, Climate Change and Sustainability Manager, Birmingham City Council

The delivery

These global concerns have resulted in four innovative research projects, aimed at decreasing environmental risk and enhancing growth. Lecturers David Proverbs, Michael Grace and Roger Wall, part of the University’s Water, Environment and Communities research group, have partnered with Cambridge University, Newcastle University, King’s College London, St Andrews University, Aston University and Herriot Wat University – as well as Peru-based Instituto Geofisico del Peru, the Universidad de Puria and the Governor of the Piura region – to support vulnerable communities in flood-stricken Peru. Together, the team have identified several challenge areas, which were then presented to a large audience consisting of representatives from the British Embassy, the British Council and the Newton Fund.

In South Africa, the same lecturers - along with project lead Lynsey Melville - have partnered with the University of Cape Town to help rebuild communities ravaged by fire, as well as to expand and increase economic growth through local enterprise and tourist activities. Academics are also looking at ways to improve access to energy through the provision of renewable energy technologies including wind, hydro, solar and more.

Andy Lim, a leading academic in multi-physics and fluid structure interaction (FSI), has formed a partnership with Chongqing Steel Industry to expose weak points in modern structural design and help improve the structure of high-rise buildings. Andy provided computational simulations of FSI to allow the business to not only identify issues, but also to retest virtual designs, saving them considerable amounts of money on expensive prototypes.

Project SATURN focuses on climate change, regional design and landscape management, and is led by Anastasia Nikologianni. Based on a consortium formed between Birmingham, Trento (Italy) and Gothenburg (Sweden), the University has partnered with Birmingham City Council and organisations from the other two cities to create a more sustainable, effective way of connecting cities and the landscape within it.

Looking to the future

Project SATURN – supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology’s climate knowledge and innovation community – will involve more than 50 stakeholders from a variety of sectors. The University will create regional design schemes for the West Midlands, ensuring more sustainable planning, better biomass production and more.

Andy’s project will provide more safety for people in cities, while for businesses like Chongqing, the outcomes should provide income from either further investments or interest in their design and products. Meanwhile, the research team’s work in damaged parts of Peru and South Africa will result in detailed reports that will inform future policy, providing protection for vulnerable communities, aiding future researchers and helping support implementation of new ideas.

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Anastasia Nikologianni

Anastasia Nikologianni


Anastasia is inspired to conduct research in climate change and landscape architecture due to its collaboration opportunities, global potential and far-reaching impact. Part of the Critical Artistic Thinking in Design group, Anastasia and the team are working on a range of projects aimed at regenerating landscape and bringing economic benefits to the West Midlands region. Currently, they are collaborating with organisations such as UNESCO, IFLA, IPOEGEA, Natural ENGLAND, Environment Agency, Tame Valley Wetlands and more. Anastasia would welcome collaborations with any organisation that’s interested in spatial developments, business, community engagement, and art and design principles.

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Peter Larkham

Professor of Planning

Peter’s research focuses on urban change and conservation ranging from entire urban landscapes to individual sites and monuments.  He has worked on the new urban landscapes produced after the destruction of the Second World War, featuring several Midlands cities amongst others, and is now extending this work Europe-wide via several collaborative projects.

His collaborations with Kathryn and Anastasia focus on place character and identity, and how these are shaped by a wide range of agents and agencies of change.  New post-war landscapes are becoming older and some are evaluated in heritage and conservation terms; and the wider industrial landscape is also being reviewed. Old ideas such as garden cities can be re-imagined for current and future needs.

Peter is editor of the journal Urban Morphology, supervises many PhDs and teaches planning and urban design at undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

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David Proverbs

Associate Dean (International)

David believes in applying his research to local, national and global problems. His research into flood resilience has benefited communities from many different parts of the world. Currently, he is working with various institutions across the UK and South America to provide relief to some of the world’s most flood-ravaged areas.

A member of the Environment Agency’s Trent Regional Flood and Coastal Committee, David is also working with academics to design a framework for architects, homeowners and more to help them build properties that are resilient to flooding. David welcomes collaborations with local authorities, community groups, property developers, consulting engineers and flood product manufacturers.

Lynsey Melville

Senior Researcher

Dr Lynsey Melville is Professor of Environmental Engineering in the Faculty of Computing Engineering and Built Environment. She leads the Biotechnology and Environmental Engineering research group whose focus is on accelerating the adoption of environmentally sustainable and commercially viable energy from biomass. Her vision is to utilise her knowledge, experience and skills to improve the resilience of communities in both the developed and developing world by fostering inclusive, humanitarian engineering approaches to the management and utilisation of biomass. 

Dr Andy Lim

Andy Lim

Lecturer in Civil Engineering

Andy has a strong fluid and structural engineering background and his research interests cover a range of disciplines in the field of computational mechanics. He is particularly interested in measuring the impact of extreme weather on buildings using simulation modelling. He has also worked with local businesses in Swansea, using his expertise to help organisations model prototypes that are expected to undergo environmental pressures.

As the majority of Andy’s work is based around negative environmental impacts, he feels his research is able to help communities affected by natural disasters, as well as businesses that can limit their losses using designs tested by computer simulations. Andy believes that research can be a force to make a postitive change, help communities or the world as a whole.

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