ESUM - Analysing trade-offs between the energy and social performance of urban morphologies (2014 - 2018)

In this project we investigated the relationships between energy performance aspects of urban structures and the perception of a city by its inhabitants. The methods developed in this project help to more systematically anticipate the social and energy performance implications of planning decisions, and to develop compromises for both dimensions.

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, 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 will investigate the relationships between energy performance aspects of urban structures and the perception of a city by its inhabitants. In the first step, our project is focused on the assessment of social and energy performance data of exemplary urban structures in Zurich and Weimar. To this end, we develop 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 draw on existing methods. In the second step, we compare 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 is 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 draw on this to develop methods to find the best compromise solutions that fulfill social and energy performance aspects equally well. In our study we focus on two central fields of action in urban planning: the definition of street networks and the distribution of building masses, which are 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.

Project results demonstrating framework for assessing the trade-offs between psychological, social and energy potential of urban form

The average social, psychological, and energy potentials mapped for each cluster (Dark
color = high potential, Light color = low potential). Box plots display the distribution of potentials per
cluster. The box width illustrates the number of elements in the cluster

For more information please visit the project website.

Funded by: 

DFG (German Research Fpundation)

SNF (Swiss National Science Foundation)


07/2014 - 06/2018

Project team

Project team Bauhaus-Universität Weimar

NameMain task
Prof. Dr. Dirk DonathProject lead and coordination
Vertr.-Prof. Dr. Sven
Concept of data collection and analysis
Jun.-Prof. Dr. Reinhard
Concept of data collection and analysis
Dr. Saskia KuligaPsychology, VR-Study setup
Martin BielikArchitecture and urban planning, Spatial analysis, Modelling, Trade-Off analysis, Fieldstudy Weimar
René WeiserComputer science, Technical implementation of

Project team ETH-Zürich

NameMain task
Prof. Dr. Gerhard
Project lead and coordination
Jun.-Prof. Dr.
Reinhard König
Concept of data collection and analysis
Prof. Dr. Christoph
Dr. Varun OjhaComputer science, EDA-Analysis, Machine
Danielle GriegoEngineering, Energy-Analysis, Fieldstudy Zürich
Matthias StandfestArchitecture, Databackpack concept,
Technical implementation of databackpack

Selected publications

Project results and summary:

Bielik, M., Schneider, S., Kuliga, S., Griego, D., Ojha, V., König, R., … Donath, D. (2019). Examining Trade-Offs between Social, Psychological, and Energy Potential of Urban Form. ISPRS International Journal of Geo-Information, 8(2), 52.


Special topics:

Ojha, V. K., Griego, D., Kuliga, S., Bielik, M., Buš, P., Schaeben, C., (2019). Machine learning approaches to understand the influence of urban environments on humans physiological response. Information Sciences, 474, 154–169.

Bielik, M., König, R., Schneider, S., & Varoudis, T. (2018). Measuring the Impact of Street Network Configuration on the Accessibility to People and Walking Attractors. Networks and Spatial Economics.

Kuliga, S., Standfest, M., Bielik, M., Schneider, S., König, R., Donath, D., & Schmitt, G. (2018). From Real to Virtual and Back: A multi-method approach for investigating the impact of urban morphology on human spatial experiences. In The Virtual and the Real in Planning and Urban Design: Perspectives, Practices and Applications (pp. 151–169). Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

Bielik, M., Schneider, S., Kuliga, S., Valášek, M., & Donath, D. (2015). Investigating the effect of urban form on the environmental appraisal of streetscapes. SSS 2015 - 10th International Space Syntax Symposium.

Bielik, M., König, Reinhard, Schneider, S., Varoudis, T., & Donath, D. (2017). Aggregated Social Accessibility—Predicting walkability based on the social potential of spatial networks. Environemnt and Planning B.

Hijazi, I. H., Koenig, R., Schneider, S., Li, X., Bielik, M., Schmit, G. N. J., & Donath, D. (2016). Geostatistical analysis for the study of relationships between the emotional responses of urban walkers to urban spaces. International Journal of E-Planning Research (IJEPR), 5(1), 1–19.