ESUM – Analysing trade-offs between the energy and social performance of urban morphologies

Urban planning decisions usually have long-term implications that affect both the energy performance, as well as people’s experience and the appearance of a city. Once a city or urban quarter is built and problems in these areas start to arise, improvements can often only relieve the symptoms, and rarely address the roots. It is therefore important to address these issues appropriately and early in the planning process. Today’s urban design goals often put energy efficiency in the foreground. But energy performance considerations alone do not make livable and sustainable urban environments. In addition to the ecological dimension, a sustainable design must likewise consider the social dimension. However, this is often difficult to operationalize, especially in the planning phase, and is consequently not always sufficiently taken into account. In this context, an unsolved problem for sustainable urban planning is to interpret urban structures in terms of their social implications and to systematically evaluate urban design proposals in terms of their social and energy performance related aspects.

In this project, we investigated the relationships between energy performance aspects of urban structures and the perception of a city by its inhabitants. In the first step, our project was focused on the assessment of social and energy performance data of exemplary urban structures in Zurich and Weimar. To this end, we developed methods to firstly measure the emotional impact of spatial structures quantitatively based on empirical studies and secondly to extend the existing computer-based analytical methods to new aspects. For the energy analysis, we drew on existing methods. In the second step, we compared urban structures according to social and energy-related aspects by correlating the empirical data with the results of computer-based analyses. Based on the results of this comparison it was possible to interpret the calculated measures for urban structures in terms of social aspects such as user behavior and perception. In the third step, we drew on this to develop methods to find the best compromise solutions that fulfill social and energy performance aspects equally well. In our study, we focused on two central fields of action in urban planning: the definition of street networks and the distribution of building masses, which were collectively referred to as urban morphology.

The results of this project make it possible, using computer-based analysis methods and simple design models, to forecast the social and energy performance implications of planning decisions, and to develop compromises for both dimensions. These planning aspects are crucial to ensure sustainable urban planning as urbanization increases.

Dr. Varun K. Ojha | | +41 (0) 44 633 70 47

The project is funded from 2014 – 2017


Presentations and Workshops:

ESUM: data analysis 22-Feb-2017

MAPS: ESUM pattern recognition 12-Jul-2017

Human Perception: ESUM pattern recognition 14-Jul-2017

Breaking The Wall 29-09-2017

ESUM+: People’s commuting experience 18-Apr-2018

ETH-AIT Workshop 06-06-2016


Funded by:





Project partners:

ia_logo     ETH Zurich


InfAR_logo     Bauhaus-University Weimar



Data analysis for understanding the impact of urban design on social performance of a city (ADvISE)

Urban planning decisions greatly affect the life in cities in many perspectives: the transportation network and the appearance are straightforward examples, but implications of the planning go deeper into citizens’ experience. The outcomes of certain design decisions are not well-studied due to the complexity of the problem. Therefore, when working on urban planning projects it is common to decompose the problem into multiple aspects that their influence is known to some extent. Planners typically draw on past experience when subjectively prioritizing which aspects to consider with which degree of importance for their planning concepts. This practice, although understandable, places power and authority in the hands of people who have varying degrees of expertise, which can mean that the best possible solution is not found, because it is either not sought or the problem is regarded as being too complex for human capabilities. To improve this situation, the project presented here intends to aggregate the designers’ past experience using data analysis techniques and optimization algorithms to develop a planning support system that can help to find the best compromises for urban design problems. We aimed to produce an open framework with basic functionality to efficiently search for compromise solutions for complex planning problems and an experimental software prototype with an intuitive user interface for representing planning problems and presenting optimal solutions at various stages of the design process. The potential of the framework was assessed by means of real cases. The approach we proposed contributes to making urban planning more evidence‐based.

Software prototype:

Artem Chirkin | | +41 (0)44 633 79 62
Dr. Reinhard König | | +41 (0)44 633 72 10

The project is funded for 2016 – 2018

Funded by:

SNF  &

Project partners: