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Platforms for sustainable cities and regions

16 - 19 January 2018

What is the Sustainable Cities Lab?


This Sustainable Cities Lab is the first think-tank for sustainable cities in the Gulf Region led by Platforms for Sustainable Cities and Regions in collaboration with Arab Urban Development Institute, University of Westminster, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies and leading professionals. The Lab focuses on sustainability, well-being, resilience and on prompting innovative and responsive cities with reflection on Saudi cities. These issues are currently debated by the UN and worldwide as essential values for cities. Meanwhile the Lab contributes to building a strong network of influential women in the field, which together with colleagues in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia can be a nucleus for a broader discussion and exchange of best practice in the Gulf Region.


Saudi cities have witnessed a rapid urbanisation over the past decades developing into leading world cities and centres with modern architecture, administration, businesses and infrastructure while maintaining their genuine local culture. However like other world cities, city planning efforts, which have for a long time been focused on accommodating population and economic growth, have encouraged monofunctional areas, dependency on private car-transportation and paid less attention to the ecological and life qualities, liveability, quality of neighbourhoods and public spaces. 


There are currently intensive efforts in the Kingdom to improve the condition of cities that we have to build on. In particular, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 expresses the great insights of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud and the height of his ambitions to strengthen the Kingdom as a sustainable world vibrant society with fulfilling lives, a thriving diverse economy and inclusion of the non profit sector and the private sector in development. In this framework and with a growing worldwide interest among cities in sustainability, resilience and quality of life/wellbeing as essential values for people and businesses, it is important to reflect on the qualities of Saudi cities and how Saudi cities can be inspired to fulfil the Kingdom’s visions and at the same time inspire other cities.


Vision 2030 allocates great importance to strengthening women’s role in society. Like in other countries, Saudi women architects, planners and professionals working with city issues have an important role to play in the future of cities. Their views are crucial for assessing the current situation, and as professionals and educators they can significantly influence the development ahead. Their understanding of society and potential role in raising awareness and in facilitating women and youth involvement in urban management and community development are highly important and valuable. 

We will address the following issues:


  • How can cities with their built environments, urban spaces and neighbourhoods provide good frameworks around living, work and leisure contributing to sustainability and wellbeing? 

  • How can we work consciously towards high quality environments, better quality of life and more inclusive and connected cities?

  • How can we make our buildings and cities more resilient?

  • How to capitalise on local values? 

  • How to increase awareness, collaboration, community involvement and impact?

  • How can women architects and planners have a greater role in practice?


This lab creates a highly qualified forum for working with these questions and creates links between the Saudi and the British professional and academic environments. In the Lab we will:


  • Learn about how cities in the UK and other countries work towards sustainable development, wellbeing and resilience.

  • Reflect on the strength and values of Saudi cities and their challenges, and exchange best practice in architecture and planning. Join the flows of ideas!

  • Reflect on how you can have more impact as an architect, urban designer and planner while understanding the particular professional context in which you work.

  • Exchange with UK professionals and academics around education and practice.

  • Get empowered with a strong network of women in the field. 

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Methods of the Lab


The Lab aims to create a Thinking, Learning, Exchange and Networking forum through:


  • Combining lectures, debates, workshops/group work and field trips. 

  • Linking with leading academic and professional environments. 

  • Discussing international case studies, cases from the UK and from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia while reflecting on the complexity of urban change, the implication of local context and how ideas and best practice can be understood in different settings. 

  • Strengthening critical thinking through reflecting on current approaches and practices related to the Lab themes.

  • Learning strategies for understanding challenges and opportunities and formulating visions across complex settings.

  • Encouraging new thinking/innovation and to lead positive development based on learning from local knowledge and existing potentials.

  • Bringing professional women together and facilitating exchange.

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Lab based on dialogue


The driving ideas for the Lab and its prpgramme are being developed in dialogue with the contributors and the participants. Short contributions from the participants following a call for papers are expected to enrich the debates and the outcomes.

Visions Book


The Lab outcomes and discussions will be documented in a report Visions Book that will provide valuable input to coming discussions in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and to the exchange of ideas between KSA and the UK. It will be an introduction to the coming Think Tank in the Gulf Region. The participants will receive a complimentary copy. The two rapporteurs for the Lab are:


BA Arch MA Urban Design Kinda Ayoub

BA Arch MA Culture and Creative Industries Tala Bakhsh

Who would be interested in the Lab?


The Lab is designed for a group of 15-18 women including academics and practising architects, urban designers and professionals involved with city and social issues, and other interested participants from the public and the private sectors.

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We would like to thank very much our collaborators Arab Urban Development Institute, University of Westminster and Oxford Brookes University as well as Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies and Middle East Centre in Oxford for supporting this forum. We thank very much AECOM for sponsoring a Lab Day and the British Council for offering two scholarships to attend the Sustainable Cities Lab.


We would like to express our gratitude to University of Westminster for welcoming the Sustainable Cities Lab and for offering the venue and all support available to the participants. 


We thank all our contributors and participants who have helped shape the Lab and for sharing their valuable knowledge. We extend a special thanks to urban designer Zainab Alireza for her support to the Lab and valuable advice.


Sponsor space

Thanks to our knowledge collaborators:

Thanks to our sponsors:

Lab Day Sponsor

© Platforms for Sustainable Cities and Regions LTD

All rights reserved

Company registered in England and Wales

no. 9573242

Contact Info

United Arab Emirates

Abu Dhabi

+971 (50) 4446976

Registered Address

United Kingdom

78 York Street,

W1H 1DP London    

+44 (0) 7460466622

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