Research focus and projects | UniSC | University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Research focus and projects

The key focus areas of the BASC Lab are listed below, and we welcome Higher Degree Research applications and industry collaboration in these areas:


Current research projects

How cool are our green urban forests?

Research team: Dr Silvia Tavares, Dr Nicholas Stevens, Dr Javier Leon; in partnership with Sunshine Coast Council

GI can cool urban areas primarily through a combination of shading and evapotranspiration. This is vital to mitigate UHI effects which we are currently observing and will exacerbate the heat-related impacts of climate change. Our current development practices inadequately protect trees and vegetated space, and do not sufficiently result in new forms of GI being introduced. The reality of urban development is that this is a highly complex process, with many different entities involved – and a wide range of reasons for which the amount of GI almost always reduces as areas are developed. Council needs insight and evidence of how to retain, increase and optimise GI to maximise urban cooling within these development systems. This research has three main steps: (1) model the complex sociotechnical systems (STS) influencing a) the constraints and significance for the provision of on-ground GI, and b) the range of actors, policies and approaches to better understand the barriers, enablers and opportunities to implement GI; (2) multi-source remote sensing, geospatial modelling and mapping at the regional scale (Sunshine Coast Region) to examine urban heat archipelago at a broad scale; (3) modelling the urban microclimate at a neighbourhood scale resulting from typical Sunshine Coast urban typologies. These methods of analysis support each other and will provide evidence to support Council’s efforts to regulate and advocate for change and inform future design opportunities to communicate how GI can mitigate the heatwave impacts of climate change.


Urban Climate in Planning Education: An Australian Case Study 

Research team: Dr Silvia Tavares, Dr Nicholas Stevens, Olivia Herrmann (Student)

In 2020, the Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) declared a climate emergency, and in 2021 PIA called for every Australian state and territory planning system to undertake ten key reforms to become climate-conscious (more here). PIA Queensland, for instance, has responded with its ‘Planning to tackle climate change: 10 actions for a climate-conscious planning system in Queensland’ (read more here). Over the last decade, however, international studies have shown that climate knowledge has had a low impact on the urban planning process despite the abundance of scientific studies in urban climatology and climatic design. In this context, Urban Design and Town Planning are well positioned to make a meaningful contribution in ameliorating undesirable effects through climate-appropriate responses, as it is known that the orientation of buildings, composition and colour of surface materials, and types and locations of vegetation have major effects on the urban heat islands and on microclimates. These interventions can improve outdoor climate and facilitate the use of public spaces. They can also contribute to a better indoor climate and thus lower use of heating or air conditioners and hence CO2 emissions. Such climate adaptation can be influenced at various scales, and it is consequently important to address climate responsive design at different scales as well. To help prepare the new generations of Australian planners for the climate challenges they will face in their future urban planning and design careers, this study aims at identifying existing climate-responsive design and planning courses offered in the Planning degrees in Australia, as well as how planners see their role in responding to the future climate challenges, how much they know about the topic and how prepared they feel to face the urban climate challenges.


Urban Design and Town Planning in response to COVID-19

Research team: Dr Nicholas Stevens, Dr Silvia Tavares

This project offers a Human Factors and Ergonomic & Sociotechnical Systems (HFE & STS) methodology to assist in the exploration and description of COVID-19 lockdown impacts on public spaces in Australia. We look at past 'fast disasters', and the pandemic as a 'slow disaster'. Traumatic and rapid events that affect the built environment tend to generate visible changes and, as a consequence, change is the only way forward. While the current situation of COVID-19 presents itself as a 'slow disaster', we investigate the lessons from fast disasters in making urban spaces safer and more resilient in face of potential future disease outbreaks.


Urban Design Solutions for Ameliorating Urban Heat Island Effect in Townsville

Research team: Dr Silvia Tavares, Professor Karine Dupré (Griffith University); in partnership with Townsville City Council

This project provides evidence-based analysis of UHI in regard to urban form and design and people’s place experience. It also serves as a model for future projects to assess the impacts of UHI on human health and comfort. The project is currently focused on Ipswich and Townsville, both cities located in Queensland, Australia.


Bioclimatic urban design policy for improved microclimates in the public realm: A case study of extreme heat mitigation in Queensland

Research Team: Ryan McNeilly Smith (PhD Student), Dr Silvia Tavares (supervisor), Dr Nicholas Stevens (co-supervisor)

The theoretical contribution of this work includes the systems theory mapping of bioclimatic urban design and the combined use of systems theory and alternative futures theory; the use of the latter is novel for urban design and planning. Methodologically and for planning practice, the findings and outputs of this work will provide a framework to support the implementation of climate-appropriate urban design solutions based upon bioclimatic design principles. The work will also contribute to the capacity to visualise systems theory and alternative futures outcomes. Further, it is anticipated the Queensland case study will support the increased adoption of heat mitigation urban design policies in planning legislation, regulation, and local planning schemes in the state.


Inclusive Public Spaces and Community Infrastructure – a sensory urban design approach

Research team: Dr Nicholas Stevens, Mr Tobias Volbert (7 Senses Foundation)

People experience public spaces in vastly different ways through a diverse range of sensory inputs and outputs. This may be a pleasant or disagreeable experience depending on a person's ability to process and respond to information received through their senses. To address disparities in the way people, interact with their surrounding natural and built environments, sensory urban design is now emerging as an innovative framework underpinning the development of inclusive urban spaces. This project has developed an audit tool and methodology which illustrates the importance of integrating sensory design elements into community infrastructures such as libraries, galleries, community halls and sporting faculties. The systems approach provides a holistic audit and review process which enables greater understanding of the impacts and influences of inclusive community infrastructure.