Rice University logoShell Center for Sustainability
Top blue bar image
  • Shell Center for Sustainability
  • Shell Center for Sustainability
  • Shell Center for Sustainability
Facebook btnRSS


The Shell Center for Sustainability's mission is to foster an interdisciplinary program of research, outreach, and education to address actions that can be taken to ensure the sustainable development of communities' living standards, interpreted broadly, to encompass all factors affecting the overall quality of life.


Envisioning Change – Zero Carbon Development  

In the very near future, climate science tells us that cities will have to confront a series of dramatic ecological challenges. Regardless of how these challenges are met, or not met, it is already clear that upcoming generations will have to occupy cities in a very different way than we occupy them today. 

An urban plan is a vehicle for a holistic response that combines technical, political and economic solutions synergistically in order to propose alternative, low impact lifestyles scaled to our new limitations. While we may fully grasp the climate crisis, we are still unable to envision the admittedly drastic changes that need to be made in our way of life. The key to bridging this gap between understanding and action is to show precisely what environmentally sound ways of living may look like. 

The Zero Carbon Redevelopment Project intends to present an alternative, low carbon way of living by simply describing its physical settings in a concrete design proposal. 

With a team made up of faculty from Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Jones Graduate School of Business, Sociology, and Political Science, and a dedicated group of students from the School of Architecture, work has begun to identify the beginning of a meaningful plan that considers redevelopment, reduction, and remediation using the Fifth Ward in Houston as a model. 

The ongoing work has advanced in three tracks: analysis, modeling, and design. 

While the analysis that was done in the Fall of 2013 looked at the Ward at large, the ongoing analysis in fall of 2014 relates specifically to the Carbon 2065 plan that has identified a series of preservation zones, or hold outs. Besides the condition of building stock and infrastructure, the inventory found that the Ward contains upwards of 7200 tons of carbon sequestered as biomass in addition to a large number of community gardens. This analytical effort involved the work of 24 School of Architecture undergraduate students, and twelve graduate students who undertook extensive analysis of the high density cases in 2014. 

Ten models of high density environments with per capita energy consumption reductions by 80% have been projected in the Fifth Ward in tandem with case studies each achieving at minimum mass transit densities of sixty units per acre. Beyond density, the models vary in their deployment of building typolo­gies, programmatic distribution, and ratio of open to built space. The team’s ambition is to produce an environment that negotiates a broad and complex range of technical, economic, political, cultural and historical issues that compound with changes in the climate. While each individual issue plays a significant role in response to the climate crisis, they are most valuable as a set. There is no single specialization that will solve either the problems of redevelopment or the problems of climate change. The value of urban models is that they have the ability to translate information given by engineers, economists, politicians, or historians, putting each into a larger context and making them actionable. The team of 24 undergraduate students took on this effort. The twelve graduate students undertook the modeling of high density models this year. The graduate group also traveled to Asia to investigate the New Towns concept exemplifying the lowest patterns of energy consumption anywhere in the world and to see how this experience could fit into the Fifth Ward project. 

The proposal, Inhabiting the Carbon Cycle, synthesizes the models and analyses integrating ideas of urbanism and density with sciences of sequestration and climate mitigation strategies. Given the many potentials of such a proposal, instead of producing a single master plan for the year 2065, the design is presented in five, ten year cycles: 2020, 2030, 2040, 2050 and 2060. Each time cycle will focus on a different district within the ward in specific, and show a potential across the entire ward in general. Through this multi-time, multi-place template, we can create non-linear pictures of both a vision for a carbon negative fifth Ward, and a process for the existing city to transition towards that goal. 

The Zero Carbon Development Project will conclude in 2015. 

Pope chart all programs 
Pope students 3
Pope chart residential open space 3 
Pope chart 1-3 
Pope chart 2-3 
Pope chart 3-3