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Professor Steffen Lehmann

Professor of Sustainable Architecture

Steffen Lehmann


Dr-Ing (TU-Berlin), AA Diploma (AA School London), Dipl Des (Univ ApplSc Mainz), RIBA, RAIA, AoU 

I am Professor of Sustainable Architecture and lead the research theme 'Sustainable Cities' in the Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries, and across faculties at the University of Portsmouth. 

I am Founding Director of the Cluster for Sustainable Cities, a University-wide cross-Faculty research concentration that brings together a group of over 35 researchers and key industry partners with an interest in resilient urban futures. 

The Cluster web site is here:   

Urbanisation is one of the defining processes of contemporary times. Our understanding of the urban, whether in theory or in practice, has reached a turning point, with cities across the world facing new, complex and challenging conditions that require resilience and adaptation to the impacts of environmental and social change. It's time to rethink cities for the age of global warming. 

However, the complex challenges posed by urbanisation and development cannot be solved by one discipline in isolation. This is why I established the interdisciplinary Innovation Cluster that brings together key experts from a wide range of disciplines.

With my own practice, I am currently working on innovative low-carbon housing projects in Berlin and Stuttgart (Germany), and in Australia.

My motto: "Stay focused, hungry and resilient!"


Research interests

I have a particular research interest in the future of the public realm and the architecture of the city in Western and non-Western (Asian and Brazilian) contexts. 

I am leading the interdisciplinary Research Cluster for Sustainable Cities, which I established in January 2016.

Prior to this, as a full professor for the last 15 years (since Dec 2002), I have held a range of senior leadership positions, ranging from Head of School to Head of Discipline and Director of impactful research centres. I have been in research intensive positions for the past decade. During this time I have had significant responsibility in creating and leading new urban research formations, generating a large publication and granting output and a continuous stream of successful research students.

At the University of Portsmouth (UK) I am a tenured Research Professor. I was previously a tenured Chair Professor of Sustainable Design at the University of South Australia, where I was also founding director of two highly successful research centres (2010-14). 

My research is concerned with the development of a theoretical approach to sustainable cities and architecture. 

I am regularly solicited as an independent expert on sustainable urban development and architectural design issues. 

My research interests span architecture, urban design and sustainability with a strong focus on improving the environmental performance of buildings and neighbourhoods by introducing the concept of 'integrated urban climate resilience'. The main focus of my work over the past twentyfive years concerns urbanisation and the integration of low-carbon technologies into the societal/behavioural context. Current research includes the emerging field of low-carbon precinct design combining strategies of passive and active building performance, and the adaptation of communities for climate change.  I focus on solutions for a low carbon society, resilient urban development and technologies to further optimise the resource-efficiency of cities.

I believe architects and urban designers have a crucial role to play in developing strategies and adaptation solutions to ensure our cities are resilient, resource-efficient and more sustainable in the face of intensifying global warming. 

One of the key questions I am trying to answer is: How can design thinking and behaviour change accelerate the move towards a sustainable society?  

The fruits of my research are prodigious, including 18 books, numerous articles and conference papers (over 150+), over 45 invited book chapters, encyclopaedia entries, online podcasts and contributions to significant UN reports. For the last 8 years, I have been advising the United Nations' UN-ESCAP and UNESCO organisations on urbanisation models and 'The New Urban Agenda'. In 2008, based on the international significance of my work, I was appointed the chairholder of the prestigious UNESCO Chair in Sustainable Urban Development for Asia and the Pacific (2008-2010). 

From 2016 to 2018, I hold an Honorary Fellow appointment with the Institute for Sustainable Futures, at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS). 

I am currently an editorial board member for five international scientific journals and editor of the Routledge book series for Sustainable Design. 

I have an international outlook and extensive experience as a senior academic and practitioner in Europe and Asia, particularly in China. In April 2014, I organised and led the high-profile international group mission and research symposium ‘Sustainable Urbanisation of China’ at Tianjin University (funded by the China-Australia Council).

I studied at the Architectural Association School in London in the 1980s (AA Dip 1990), and completed a PhD (Dr.-Ing.) in Architecture and Urbanism at the TU-Berlin. 


Leadership in architectural practice 

I have a long and distinguished career as an architect and urban designer - with a strong track record as a practising architect and policy adviser - and I like to combine practice with research and teaching. Industry collaboration is a strength and I have been leading numerous outreach initiatives to practitioners, policy makers, municipalties, business and citizens. Since 1988, I have been an architect in professional practice. 

As a young architect and urban designer I have first worked with visionary architects Arata Isozaki in Tokyo and Jim Stirling in London, before establishing my own architectural practice (the s_Lab, Steffen Lehmann Architekten Berlin) in 1993 in Berlin. With my own studio I was actively involved for over 10 years in the architectural creation of the `New Berlin'. 

In Berlin and throughout my career, I was privileged to work on numerous high profile projects: I designed and built significant large-scale (public and private) projects in historically important places, such as at Potsdamer Platz and at Hackescher Markt in Berlin, generating lasting public value for cities and high-profile clients.

The s_Lab in Berlin, which I led as Principal and Founding Director for over a decade, was an interdisciplinary studio employing around 20-25 staff, based on the belief that architecture can deliver the most important innovations of our time. In the 1990s, the s_Lab was an adventurous team of architectural designers, architects, researchers, urban planners, digital craftspeople, urban ecologists and model-makers, delivering a construction budget of over $900mill in 20 projects. 

With the s_Lab, I led project partnerships with architects Arata Isozaki and Christian de Portzamparc for the design and delivery of significant large-scale buildings, such as the French Embassy as 'Generalplaner'. 

I built for over 30 clients, including notable institutions such as the Bundesverband Deutscher Banken, the Auswaertige Amt (German Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Deutsche Bahn AG, the Berliner Volksbank, Daimler Immobilien - and numerous others we have represented - with entities as diverse as the Senate of Berlin, the Republique de France, Manhattan Loft Corp, URA Singapore and the City of Sydney. 

Buildings, places and neighbourhoods are always designed in team work. They need to be enjoyable, resource-efficient and work well over time. This means that they have lasting qualities and make a positive contribution to their context and user-experience. Each of my projects begins with a clear strategy and evolves from there, it never begins with a pre-conceived design solution. 

Over the last 25 years, I have presented projects to heads of state and heads of corporations, with international bankers and small-town advisors, with bureaucratic prime bodies like the Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund (German Workers Union) and autocratic empire builders in Asia and the Middle East.  

Since then, I have been invited to advise numerous cities and teach at many different universities around the world. I have been a Visiting Professor at: the University of California at Berkeley, TU-Munich (as DAAD Professor), TU-Berlin, the National University of Singapore, Tongji and Tianjin University and at other prestigious institutions - in Europe, the USA, Singapore, India and China. 

In my free time I enjoy running with my cocker spaniel ‘Mawson’ along the Southsea waterfront. 



Member, Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)

Member, Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA)

Member, Academy of Urbanism (AoU) 


PhD Supervision: I have successfully supervised a variety of interdisciplinary PhD studies as Primary Supervisor (since 2003) in the field of sustainable architecture, urbanism, design theory and socio-technical change. I am happy to discuss proposals with potential PhD candidates that connect to my field and are interested to explore open-ended questions. PhD students will have the freedom to strategically 'design' their own research, and to 'research' in design. Or, in other words: to enable our PhD students to form a critical opinion and continually reframe the question of our urban futures and how the profession is going to evolve.


'I am passionate about the possible urban futures of our cities and our capacity to rethink urbanism to enable principles of social and environmental sustainability. That passion extends into my research, teaching and collaborative practice.'                                           -- Steffen Lehmann, 2017 


Research Interests

The Cluster for Sustainable Cities is developing a trans-disciplinary approach to scaling-up urban innovation for low-carbon living, working and mobility. I am excited about our research leading to innovation and new critical thinking about our urban futures. 

My own research interests are in the following intertwined areas: 'The City as Laboratory' 

  • Resilient urbanisation for low carbon compact cities and coastal resilience 
  • Green urbanism theory - visionary scenarios for the City of the Future
  • Urban culture and new programmes for age-friendly public space
  • Urban architecture and its relationship to the contemporary city 
  • Sustainable architecture and smart high-performance buildings
  • Climate-responsive design and technology integration 
  • History and theory of cities, urban renewal and cultural heritage
  • Optimisation of urban density and compactness: greening cities and health
  • Architectural responses to urban heat stress and sea-level rise
  • Ideas-driven concepts for the resource-efficient city: eg. infill using modular prefabrication
  • Fast growing cities in the Asia-Pacific region.

In my research I aim to focus on practical application to enhance the conditions for urban design strategies and decision-making under uncertainty; combining ongoing research into sustainable design, construction methods and end-user driven system integration.

I am committed to the efficient use of land, compactness, polycentrism, high-quality public space, mixed uses and appropriate density, through urban infill or regeneration strategies to trigger economies of scale and enhance resource efficiency.

The Cluster is particularly interested in the relationship between architectural form and performance; and in developing low-impact and low-energy construction systems and solutions across the entire project life cycle. 

My own track record of publications shows sustained scholarly contributions and advancement of knowledge in the relatively young research field of Sustainable Urbanism. Given the significant leadership roles I have held over the last 15 years, the number of my academic publications is strong with a steep increase since 2010.  

My Book Series is here: 

My most recent book 'Growing Compact. Urban Form, Density and Sustainability' (Routledge, with Bay JHP) was launched in July 2017 and contributes new knowledge in the complicated field of urban density.  

My Google Scholar profile: 

Research impact 

My multidisciplinary research has had significant impact (reach and significance) by influencing practice, leading to new thinking and improving urban policies. Some of my publications have become a point of reference for practice and I have been presenting my work publicly at over 450 events in 39 countries. 

I have been advising over a dozen cities on sustainable urban development. The impact of my research work is tangible in: 

- influencing decision-making, public policy and improving outcomes, 

- public sector and industry collaboration: uptake of the developed concepts, 

- improving the efficiency of urban practice and technologies,

- stimulating and leading public debate, engaging citizens with research and collaboration,

- making research outcomes accessible for users to adopt, 

- identifying pathways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and 

- enhancing understanding of sustainable growth. 

By invitation, I am currently advising the Asia-Pacific SDG Partnership on "Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies" (which is taking the SDGs and the New Urban Agenda to the next level). Plans include contributions to the formulation of new policies, forthcoming high-level guidance for decision makers, key reports and an international conference in 2018. 

Research leadership

Having been Founding Director of three successful research centres, and I lead large multi-disciplinary research projects and teams for which I provide mentoring, coaching support and team building. 

More recently, I have been involved in complex projects on 'Nature-based solutions for inclusive urban regeneration' and the 'Food-water-energy nexus', forging large consortia with a number of European cities, including Brighton, Portsmouth, London, Brussels, Amsterdam, Eindhoven, Mannheim, Gdansk, Rome, Lisbon, Uppsala and others. 

I have 30 years' experience of building, developing and sustaining relationships and partnerships with key stakeholders and industry.


Current teaching 

Postgraduate (PhD) thesis supervision; advanced research training.

Guest lectures on architectural design theory and sustainable city design. 

New: MOOC 'Urban Lecture' my 15-mins podcast for UN-Habitat, see: 

PhD External Examiner:

  • University of Sydney
  • University of Western Australia
  • Monash University 
  • Bond University 
  • Hong Kong Polytechnic University
  • other universities


Design teaching at leading universities, since 1991

Over the last 25 years, I have initiated and led numerous advanced and research-driven design studios in Master programmes at leading universities worldwide. I have more than 25 years of experience in Design Education internationally and have been a full Professor of Architecture since December 2002. My academic career started in 1991 in London while I was working in the office of James Stirling, and subsequently in Tokyo with Arata Isozaki. My academic appointments since then include senior positions at universities in the UK, Australia, Germany, Asia and the US. 

Invitations to teach at leading design schools, such as the University of California at Berkeley and National University Singapore, further influenced my thinking. 

I have particularly strong connections with China, where I have been guest lecturing at numerous universities and a Visiting Professor at Tongji University and Tianjin University. 

Since then, I have trained over 1.000 architecture graduates, and many of them went on to become successful architects in their own rights; some have won awards and even became university lecturers. 

My design studios have always engaged with the concept of the future city as a sustainable urban organism, and students develop projects on topics such as dense mixed-use and compact neighbourhoods, zero waste, urban farming and productive landscapes, low-carbon systems thinking, urban infill and resilient waterfront regeneration. Much of these works are published in books and journals with reputable publishers.  

In 2017-18, I am invited as Visiting Professor at a university in Ahmedabad, India.

I received the Award for Teaching Excellence, University of Newcastle (2008).


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