Future Cities Conference Series Advanced Virtual and Technological Architecture Research (AVATAR) Laboratory

Team Members

External partners

  • Mark Garcia
  • Phil Watson
  • Elizabeth Anne Williams


The Future Cities Series are annual events held at the University of Greenwich that bring together multidisciplinary teams of experts that examine critical aspects of contemporary urbanism. These two day events are held as a public series of presentations followed by a professional, moderated workshop that brings international partners together around critical issues to develop project proposals for future collaboration. AVATAR regards the city as the site for future business and human development. Cities embody our shared future from the way that we live, to how we do business.

  • Future Cities was held in April 2012. It set out to interrogate existing paradigms of urban development such as smart cities and sustainability and explore new terrains that open up new possibilities for architectural innovation and society.
  • Future Cities 2 was held in April 2013. Building on the Future Cities conference, the participants proposed visionary urban strategies ranging from underwater living to star-ship colonisation.
  • Future Cities 2 is planned for April 2014 and will address the issue of resource abundance, which is essential for thriving cities.

Aims and objectives

While governments and businesses promote totalizing paradigms to 'solve' the 'problem' of the city through 'smart' or 'sustainable' solutions, cities themselves are inherently subversive and behave more like living systems than machines. Yet for living systems to thrive they cannot endure endless austerity. While it is politically expedient to promote conservation and frugality as being socially desirable mores to conserve resources to fuel industrial paradigms, they are unsustainable in the long run.

For our businesses to prosper, for our lives to be healthy and for the next generations to own their future, sites and sources of abundance must be found within the fabric of our cities to nurture positive outcomes. It is also vital that these rich sources of potential prosperity are mobilised fairly and equally. By working with academic partners and corporations that express an interest in envisioning the city of the near future, AVATAR builds on existing and forges meaningful new commercial links between academia and industry. It also provides an opportunity to develop AVATAR's resources and profile as an integrated, cross-disciplinary, open R&D platform – not only for external partnerships but also for internal collaboration.

The specific research objectives for the Future Cities Series are to:

  1. Begin multidisciplinary conversations to identify pressing challenges faced by 21st century cities that can be addressed in collaboration with academic partners.
  2. Identify multidisciplinary partnerships across academia and industry that can propose urban solutions, which are pertinent to 21st century challenges.
  3. To develop a set of fundable research proposals.

Impacts and benefits

AVATAR events and design work is recognised as holding leading-edge and significant discourses related to urbanisation, social development, new technologies, the nature of business and the cultural importance of these changes. AVATAR is also an innovation platform that offers an integrated platform with whom industry can collaborate, providing a network of professionals with an academic and practical working knowledge of cities that can help them develop their vision and ultimately their commercial strategies.

The Future Cities Series has been disseminated as:

  1. Publications
  2. Talks
  3. Corporate Events
  4. Projects

  • Neil Spiller, The AVATAR Group, Lecture, Cornell University, 25 Oct 2013.
  • Neil Spiller, The Surreal Sustainable City of the Future, Lecture, RE. Work Cities Conference, London, 13 Dec 2013.
  • November 2012, 'The intelligent city: Beyond the buildings!', Intellibuild, keynote speech,Technical Committee, Building Council for Offices, http://www.bco.org.uk/events/detail.cfm?rid=479
Corporate events
  • Rachel Armstrong. Neil Spiller, Nic Clear. Living Kitchen, in collaboration with Unilever at the Royal Society, November 2013.
  • Neil Spiller, Reflexive Urbanism, Arup Thoughts, web blog, curated by Rachel Armstrong, 4 May 2011
  • Rachel Armstrong and Dag Hinrichs, February 2012. TEDxDanubia workshop with small businesses and politicians in Budapest on the Future of Budapest.
  • London 2050 postcards with Astudio architects. Ongoing.

Advanced Virtual and Technological Architecture Research (AVATAR) Laboratory is part of the Faculty of Architecture, Computing & Humanities, University of Greenwich.