More than one half of the world´s population now lives in cities. More than two thirds of economic activity and resulting anthropogenic carbon emissions are a result of urban socioeconomic activities. The global environmental impacts of cities will likely worsen as rural to urban population migration continues. The United Nations projects that cities will account for over 90% of global population growth in the next four decades. By 2050, Asian cities alone will account for 3.3 billion residents and 60% of the global urban population. A significant fraction of those city inhabitants will be living in conditions of poverty. Given the current state of these and other trends, identifying viable pathways toward urban sustainability is clearly one of the great challenges for 21st century society.

The Sustainable Built Environment Grand Challenge (SBE) has been organized to address specific elements of the challenge of a sustainable urban future. The approach that has been adopted thus far is multi-scale and multi-disciplinary, incorporating elements of computer science, materials science and engineering, system dynamics, resource flow accounting and various aspects of the technology of design and construction. To date, the main activities of the researchers in the SBE include team building and development, both in Singapore and at MIT, methodological formulation and assembly of appropriate analytical and physical tools, cross-cutting research planning with various design thrusts and the Design with the Developing World grand challenge.