About the Environmental Structure Research Group (ESRG)

An interdisciplinary, international partnership of basic and applied researchers and practitioners in the disciplines of the built and natural environments, and the disciplines with which they interact

How are structures formed in the natural environment? How are they formed in the human environment, and in what ways are the processes different? Are there things we can learn from natural environmental processes that we can apply to making more sustainable human settlements, and more useful human tools?

Members of the Environmental Structure Research Group are extracting insights from biology, ecology, medicine, mathematics, computer science and other fields, and applying them to design, architecture and urban planning. Some of those lessons cross in the other direction too - like Christopher Alexander's ideas on design patterns, which have entered the field of computer software. We are taking some of those lessons full circle, and bringing them back to the making of more successful more sustainable cities and neighborhoods. We propose that such inter-disciplinary connections are becoming extremely important, and our mission is to facilitate them.

Topics of Investigation

Among others, we are interested in an emerging approach to design called "evidence-based design." It seeks to analyze and to respond to the complexities of the context, rather than forcing them into a preconceived straitjacket. Among the topics within this field are complexity theory (the understanding of general properties of complex systems and their constraints), biophilia (the understanding of human evolutionary needs and desires for certain kinds of natural structures in the environment), space syntax (the analysis of global spatial characteristics based upon local geometries), pattern languages (the grammatical combinations of sub-solutions into larger design solutions), new urbanism (a set of tools for collaborative urban design and coding), and others.

We are particularly interested in the ways that environmental structures can be generated, and the beneficial properties that they can have as a result of their generative structure. We are fascinated by the way that simple rule-based steps can produce a high level of complexity and adaptivity. We want to learn how certain kinds of adaptive codes can -- and in many cases did already - produce very stable, high-quality settlements. We are also interested in the analytical techniques that allow us to see and understand these processes.

Who We Are

We represent a number of institutions from around the world, and a number of researchers and practitioners from different disciplines. We share a belief that many of the most interesting questions today are not within disciplines, but between them. The challenge is to find ways to collaborate across disciplines, sectors and national boundaries. That is a key goal of the ESRG.

Some of our members have been influential in developing promising new approaches such as pattern languages, wiki technology, New Urbanism, Space Syntax, biophilia, and a variety of other useful analytical and generative techniques. Others of us have been working in areas of implementation strategy, or implications for education and policy.

We are working to develop useful new tools through application of these lessons to real challenges, like the rebuilding of New Orleans, the revival of threatened villages in Romania, the management of rapidly urbanizing cities of Mexico, and other contemporary challenges. There's a lot that needs to be done.

Mission Statement

The Environmental Structure Research Group is an interdisciplinary, international partnership of basic and applied researchers and practitioners in the fields of the built and natural environments, and the fields with which they interact.

The purpose of the organization is to create additional opportunities for the collaborative development and dissemination of research into best practice.

The focus of the work is the understanding and further development of structure-generating methodologies (e.g. design codes, research tools and collaborative processes) which result in more adaptive, more optimal, and more ecologically stable environmental structure, in both human and natural realms.

The working hypothesis is that important work remains to be done to understand the relation between the structure of the environment – including the built human structures within it – and human and ecological health and well-being; and that more work is needed to develop new standards of best practice, and new methodologies to achieve them. To meet the challenge this work must be inter-disciplinary, and must combine theory and practice.

Fields of Collaboration

Built Environment: Architecture, Planning, Urban Design, Landscape Architecture, Engineering, Construction

Natural Environment: Biology, Ecology, Climatology

Other: Medicine (Epidemiology, Environmental Health), Environmental Psychology, Anthropology, Sociology, Economics, Mathematics, Physics, Computer Science, Business Management, Finance, Government Policy


  • Christopher Alexander, Center for Environmental Structure, UC Berkeley (Architecture, planning, morphology theory)
  • Michael Batty, Bartlett School of Planning, University College London (Urban morphology, complexity)
  • David Brain, New College Florida (Sociology, participatory design)
  • John Bywater, (talk) Appropriate Software Foundation, UK (Software, participatory design)
  • Stuart Cowan, Autopoiesis Inc. (Physics, complex systems, sustainability)
  • Ward Cunningham (talk), AboutUs (Software, wiki, design patterns)
  • Howard Davis, University of Oregon (Architecture, cultures of building)
  • Jaap Dawson, Technical University Delft (Architecture, planning theory)
  • Bruce F. Donnelly, Independent Scholar (Codes, complexity, emergence)
  • Andres Duany, Duany Plater-Zyberk (Architecture, New Urbanism, complexity)
  • Audun Engh, Council for European Urbanism (Architecture, traditional design)
  • Jan Gehl, Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts (Architecture, sociology, public space)
  • Herbert Girardet, Schumacher Society (Cultural ecology)
  • Brian Goodwin (1931-2009), Schumacher College (Biology, autocatalytic sets, morphogenesis)
  • Besim Hakim, Independent Scholar (History of codes)
  • Brian Hanson, Birkbeck College, University of London (Architectural history, complexity, coding)
  • Richard Hayward, University of Greenwich (Architecture, construction, urban renaissance)
  • Bill Hillier, Bartlett School of Planning, UCL (Architectural and urban morphology, Space Syntax)
  • Richard J. Jackson, University of California Berkeley (Epidemiology, health in the built environment)
  • Stephen A. Kellert, Yale University (Cultural ecology, biophilia)
  • Roderick J. Lawrence, University of Geneva (Vernacular architecture, health in the built environment)
  • Bernard Lietaer, University of California at Berkeley (Economics, systems integration, complementary currencies)
  • David Miet, Ministry for Ecology, Sustainable Development and Spatial Planning, France (Urban design, pattern languages)
  • Stephen Marshall, Bartlett School of Planning, University College London (Urban morphology, complexity)
  • Michael Mehaffy, Centre for Environmental Structure – Europe (Cultural philosophy, generative processes)
  • Paul Murrain, University of Greenwich (Urban design, New Urbanism)
  • Hiroshi Nakano, Center for Environmental Structure – Tokyo (Generative design)
  • Hans Joachim Neis, University of Oregon, Portland Urban Studies Center (Generative design)
  • Lora Nicolaou, Urban Renaissance Institute (Planning, urban renaissance)
  • Pietro Pagliardini, Senior partner, Pagliardini, Rupi, Andreoni & Gazzabin Architecture Studio, Arezzo, Italy
  • Wayne Parsons, Queen Mary College, London (Public policy, participatory design)
  • Ernesto Philibert, Tecnologico de Monterrey (Urban complexity, New Urbanism, Space Syntax)
  • Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, University of Miami (Architecture and planning, education and research, New Urbanism)
  • Kyriakos Pontikis, California State University Northridge (Culture of building, design-build systems)
  • Sergio Porta, Human Space Lab at Polytechnic of Milan, Italy; King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia; (urban design, urban morphology; space analysis)
  • Yodan Rofe, Ben Gurion University of the Negev (Architecture, Urban Design, qualitative diagnostic tools)
  • Nikos Salingaros, University of Texas San Antonio (Mathematics, urban complexity, pattern languages)
  • Bankoku Sasagawa, Centre for Environmental Structure – Europe (Collaborative design, traditional patterns)
  • David Seamon, environment-behavior researcher and Professor of Architecture at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas
  • Lucien Steil, The Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment (Architecture, traditional patterns)
  • Web to Print software company
  • Emily Talen, Arizona State University (Planning, participatory design, diversity processes)
  • Roger Ulrich, Texas A&M University (Cognitive psychology, health and the built environment)
  • Marcel Vellinga, Oxford Brookes University (Vernacular architecture, sustainable patterns)
  • James A. Wise, Washington State University (Cognitive psychology, biophilia)
  • John Worthington, DEGW Architects and Planners (Architecture, planning, global practice)

Member Information

Members can check the bulletin board for current topics, announcements and upcoming events. There is also a Project Workspace for projects under way, like the New Orleans pilot Neighborhood Rebuilding Centers and the project to study the self-organizing properties of squatter settlements such as Favelas. (Click to go directly to the project page.)

Notes from the ESRG symposium at University College London, November 15-16 2006, are available at

Additional information about the ESRG is available at


Michael Mehaffy (talk), Coordinator

Additional Information

Members of ESRG are invited to create a page for themselves on the AboutUs site, by clicking on their name above. (Please revise your listing as you prefer also.)

The general public is invited to correspond with ESRG here and to explore the works of its members. The Wiki Tour will explain the style of interaction on this site.

ESRG is a common acronym. There are many internet sites, including sites with the domain name ESRG, that are unrelated to this organization.

Related Domains archive

External Links

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