High school students tackle climate change with smart urban design

Students from Lakes Grammar, from left to right: year 9 student Shivesh Paramunsee, year 11 student Austin Kozak and year 11 student Ashleigh Fitzmaurice. Picture by Lesley Parker

Students from Lakes Grammar, from left to right: year 9 student Shivesh Paramunsee, year 11 student Austin Kozak and year 11 student Ashleigh Fitzmaurice. Picture by Lesley Parker

In summary: 
  • High school students joined climate researchers, industry experts and council employees for a workshop at UTS to reimagine Sydney's bus shelters
  • It was the first step in a public design competition looking at climate adapted and "smart" designs for bus shelters in response to increasing urban heat

Climate researchers, industry experts, council employees and high school students came together recently at the University of Technology Sydney to reimagine bus shelters as Climate Adapted People Shelters (CAPS).

CAPS is a public design competition looking at climate adapted and "smart" designs for bus shelters in response to increasing urban heat.

"When we did our mapping of heat islands in Sydney we noticed they were related to where major roads are, and out in western Sydney they are related to residential areas where most of the trees are removed," says Dr Brent Jacobs, Research Director of the Institute for Sustainable Futures at UTS.

"In both those situations there are bus stops – and in western Sydney bus services can often be intermittent."

The result is that bus shelters are becoming outdated, with many not providing adequate shelter from the sun and heating up to 60 degrees celsius.

CAPS competition participants are working to design smart and adapted "people shelters" that potentially will use different materials, tap into data to inform the creation of safe and comfortable spaces, and provide real-time bus information to all travellers, not just those with access to smartphone apps.

Designer Enrique Esquivel says the bus shelter could well be the next "smart" device in the "Internet of Things".

The design competition has attracted 27 teams, with 90 participants – including two high school teams. Teams are taking part in workshops focusing on research, insights, testing and feedback before submitting their final designs to a panel of judges mid-year.

In the first workshop, participants gathered in small groups to share and discuss key insights from their user research.

"Today is not about sharing solutions, this is about sharing insights from your research," U.lab director and CAPS program initiator Dr Jochen Schweitzer said. 

"Is everyone who uses a bus shelter not an expert? To tap into the big picture of this 'open source’ information that’s out there is something we don’t see very often."

Students from Lakes Grammar – An Anglican School, are encouraged by the opportunity to share their opinions with industry professionals who can help them develop their ideas. Students from Granville Boys High School are also taking part in the competition.

The teachers at the workshop say the competition provides an "authentic" experience for the students – a real project with real impact that is more engaging. "This experience will really shape them," one teacher said.

Rick Hampson, design and technology teacher at Lakes Grammar also welcomed the practical experience.

"This is a real design brief, there are real people they can talk to – it’s a real opportunity for them to get involved in a practical project."

The competition acts as a test case for the students to experience working in different roles and in teams.

"Talking to people instead of relying just on your own ideas and individual work – the collaboration and team work – what that does for a project is really important," says Ashleigh Fitzmaurice, a Year 11 student at Lakes Grammar.

"It’s a good opportunity for us to see what we’d like to do and what it’s going to be like in the future," adds Shivesh Paramunsee, of Year 9 at Lakes.

Fellow student Austin Kozak embraces the opportunity to explore his design and technology interests outside the school environment. "This is more open-ended", says the Year 11 Lakes Grammar student. "If you have an idea, put it forward and see what happens. Even though we are high school students our opinions and what we say is really valued here."

The project uses methods of open and human-centred innovation, participation from multiple stakeholders and a research agenda to verify the effectiveness of outcomes and to make policy and design recommendations.

The people shelters are being designed for four local government areas: Penrith, Parramatta, Ashfield and Canterbury.

The winning design will be built and a research team will monitor and evaluate the climate performance of the new structure, and potential environmental outcomes.

CAPS is a collaboration between the University of Technology Sydney’s Institute for Sustainable Futures, U.lab and the Centre for Management & Organisation Studies at UTS, along with the NSW Climate Adaptation Research Hub and the Institute for Culture and Society at Western Sydney University.

The competition is supported through an $80,000 grant from the NSW Government’s Building Resilience to Climate Change program, which is funded by the Office of Environment and Heritage and the NSW Environmental Trust and supported by Local Government NSW