Dust to Dust

Redesigning Urban Life in Healthy Soils


Organised / Supported by
University of Kent
Hosted by
Prince’s Foundation
Sainsbury Centre
University of East Anglia
Dust to Dust is endorsed by RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects)


Announcing the charrette

Dust to Dust: Redesigning Urban Life in Healthy Soils is an urban design ideas competition. We invite concepts for urban designs, planning approaches, and concrete interventions that could be implemented in real-life situations. Successful design ideas will be exhibited to inform and inspire greater sustainability in future urban design and development, accounting for a close relationship between urban life and soil ecosystem services.

Dust to Dust will operate as a charrette. Teams can apply by submitting an outline idea using this website to compete for a place on this intensive workshop. The following pages present precisely what we are looking for and what is involved.

We welcome applications of teams with outline ideas until

23:59 GMT on 9th May 2018

The charrette is planned for 16-18 July 2018, at the Prince’s Foundation, London.

With Dust to Dust: Redesigning Urban Life in Healthy Soils we aim to particularly contribute to achieving the following UN Sustainable Development Goals:

Outline ideas call

How can the future design and configuration of cities promote greater sustainability in the conditions of urban life? Dust to Dust challenges competitors to consider solutions beyond sociotechnological ’smart cities’ or the densification paradigm of ’compact cities’.

We welcome urban design ideas that revisit the basic entwined relationship between settled life, land, cultivation, and soil ecosystem services broadly conceived. Ideas that require ’thinking outside the box’ are especially welcome, as long as an awareness of potential towards implementation is demonstrated. What would incorporating soils in city design to ensure sustenance and ecosystemic resilience look like? When we give space to ecosystem dynamics, how would urban dispersal still allow effective urban life?

Outline plans could pursue an interventionist or a blue sky approach.

Detailed competition brief

Why have a competition on this particular challenge?

Currently 83% of the terrestrial biosphere is under human influence1 and 98% of cultivable land on earth is being farmed2. Two thirds of the world’s soils are already suffering a degree of degradation3. Meanwhile the expansion of urban land cover outpaces population growth. This expansion rate is unaffected by proximity to World Protected Areas. Such increase in the urbanisation of land, along rising populations and growing economic activity, is expected to sprawl built environment manifestations progressively4. This increases environmental vulnerability, fragments habitats, threatens biodiversity, and causes desertification5. The continued encroachment onto and the transformation of soils resulting from urban sprawl will significantly impact the sustainability and resilience of urban life. The urgency for design interventions to preserve and assist the formation of healthy soils within our cities is mounting. We cannot afford to continue to develop cities that compromise the ability of settled environments to provide the ecosystem services on which we depend.

New designs will need to promote innovative relations between everyday urban life, sustenance, and ecosystemic resilience. Such close relations demand that we consider integrating food production in built-up areas, that we leave open, or open up, surfaces to natural formation processes, that we account for how the materials associated with urban form and urban life decay, and that we keep blue-green space for ecosystem services accessible within our cities on a variety of private-to-public scales. This also concerns how we facilitate adjustments in our personal relations to ecosystem services. We must regard our social roles not as short (re)cycles, but as flexible and progressive processes in the long term.

We should foster the land we design and occupy so that we retain and improve the efficacy of soil benefits and accessibility in cities. How sustainable cities are designed needs to account fully for the fabric and social rhythms of the city and how these rhythms progress soil health.

Can a dispersed, less densely built-up or populated urban layout be as viable as one that is compact? The archaeology of Neotropical urbanism in the Americas is revealing alternative patterns of city building that have lived through long developmental histories. While we do not propose naively that ancient patterns are a solution for present-day predicaments, analysis of the long term history of these patterns makes it possible to imagine alternative dimensions.

What would a close relation to the role of soils in ensuring sustenance and ecosystemic resilience look like? If we allow for levels of density that gives more space to ecosystem dynamics, would this still result in effective patterns of occupation? How can dispersal maintain viable levels of social relations and productive intensity at the same time? Outline plans could either follow an interventionist or a blue sky/empty sheet approach. Proposals could consider, among others, low energy-intensity low-impact schemes, the promotion of natural material and naturally decomposing material requirements, the reinvention of vernacular practices, active travel, and the responsible integration of open space in everyday life.

What is Dust to Dust?

This presentation is a call for interdisciplinary and/or intersectoral urban design teams to submit outline plans for our urban design ideas competition. Outline ideas should be of excellent quality and demonstrably address the questions and challenges described in the call and brief on this website.

Only outline ideas are required for submission, because the Dust to Dust urban design ideas competition will be run as a charrette. This means that selected teams will be invited to participate in an intensive multiple day workshop with the interdisciplinary researchers who are organising this competition and the curating team that aims to exhibit the best ideas worked into plans for display.

The competition will run in three stages:

  1. Call and selection of outline plans (until 23:59 GMT on 9th May 2018);
  2. Charrette of selected teams with the interdisciplinary research and curating team 16-18 July 2018, at the Prince’s Foundation, London;
  3. Exhibition of a selection of the best ideas at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts (SCVA) in Norwich, UK.

Where did Dust to Dust come from?

Dust to Dust: Redesigning Urban Life in Healthy Soils is organised as the public-facing part of the international and interdisciplinary AHRC funded research network entitled Pre-Columbian Tropical Urban Life (TruLife): Placing the Past in Designs for Sustainable Urban Futures.

TruLife began in April 2016. Over the course of three academic workshops the themes of Decay & Waste Management, Spatial Practice, and Food Security were explored with the express aim of finding mutually beneficial synergies between the deep past of Maya tropical cities and the challenges of urban design for sustainable urban futures. TruLife activities have brought together 26 researchers from nine different countries spread over 21 different institutions. Among fields represented are urban design, architecture, Maya archaeology, ecology, industrial engineering, geography, soil science, and social sustainability. The group is now promoting research synergies that emerged from analysing Maya urban patterns and their potential to address sustainability challenges of urban design. With Dust to Dust we aim to apply insights gained during the workshops and urban design practice by developing and creating a platform for innovative, implementable ideas that are inspired by or translate this academic exchange.

Our partners at RIBA South/Southeast endorse and promote the Dust to Dust competition. We are currently working with the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Art (SCVA) to realise an exhibition of the best design ideas. The exhibition will combine artefacts from the Maya past with visions for the urban future at a world-renowned venue. Winning ideas will gain recognition and valuable public exposure.

How does Dust to Dust work?

Dust to Dust offers an excellent opportunity to explore and widely disseminate new ideas. For selected teams, the charrette is an opportunity to work on their outline ideas with capable research team members according to an innovative agenda. The charrette also offers a chance to exhibit these ideas at an internationally renowned venue.

Provisional timeline:

  1. Call for outline plans until 23:59 GMT on 9th May 2018;
  2. Entrant’s registration fee payment deadline 23:59 GMT on 16th May 2018;
  3. Interdisciplinary judging process (designers, policy, and research) May 2018;
  4. Invitation for the charrette sent out by 5th June 2018;
  5. Charrette workshop over several consecutive days in July 2018, hosted at the Prince’s Foundation, London, UK;
  6. Development phase for final displays for exhibition, taking place over summer 2018;
  7. Exhibition launch at SCVA: winter 2018;
  8. Exhibition in winter 2018-19.

Those invited to partake in the charrette will be eligible for bursaries to support attendance, but there are limitations to the total number of people per team and the amounts of support available.

Under usual circumstances we would expect two people to represent a design ideas team at the charrette.

Each team making a submission should pay the Entrant’s Registration fee through the University of Kent Online Store. The fee is 65GBP per team, or 40GBP for a student team. Please indicate your outline idea title and the main applicant’s email address when completing the payment. Payment can be made any time until 23:59 GMT on 16th May 2018.

Who can apply to Dust to Dust?

In principle, Dust to Dust: Redesigning Urban Life in Healthy Soils is open to everyone.

We ask, however, that candidates put together a convincing collaborative team. A delegation of selected teams is expected to be able to thrive in an open-minded, exploratory, and developmental environment and to work intensively towards outputs worthy of display in an exhibition.

We expect that architectural and urban design firms, young professionals in the commercial and public planning sector, individuals with a background as architects, town planners, civil engineers, or those with affiliate expertise, and students focused on these topics will be attracted by this brief.

What are the selection criteria?

Selection of outline ideas is first and foremost down to the vision and fit of how outline ideas respond to the call and brief of Dust to Dust: Redesigning Urban Life in Healthy Soils.

This list breaks down concrete criteria against which outline ideas will be judged:

  1. Quality of design (sketches, visualisations, technical specifications) and supporting materials, including textual specifications, demonstrating the potential for excellent results in urban design or planning;
  2. Demonstrating a progressive and original vision (incl. otherness or alternative conceptions of urban life), especially the way in which ideas move beyond the ’compact city’ and ’smart city’ paradigms;
  3. The clarity and conviction, with appropriate supporting reference material or prospects, that motivate and concretise the probable benefits and functioning of outline proposals (e.g. with regards to soil formation, food production, ecosystem performance, effects of design and material decay, managing material flows/deposition in the city, dynamics of social life and accessibility, mechanisms for (social) resilience under stress, desirability of the experience of designs, participation in the human-nature relation, relation to deep history and effects in the archaeological long-term, etc.);
  4. Credibility and interdisciplinary balance of expertise and/or sectors in teams. Please note that experience is no impediment to success. Credibility will be assessed using your supportive and motivational statement, explaining the roles and background knowledge of your team;
  5. Articulation of the anticipated impact on urban life, including social practice and attitudes to urban habitat formation, and the role of soil ecosystem services, should the idea be implemented;
  6. Potential and feasibility for implementation in planning and design practice.

Who will judge my work?

Which formats are accepted?

We want you to be creative.

Dust to Dust will not prescribe a format for outline ideas. As a design ideas competition, we expect at least some kind of visualisation or reification of your plans. This could still be at a preliminary stage, but should be sufficiently clear to be understandable as well as illustrative for judging. It is worth bearing in mind that outline ideas will be further developed, adapted, and finalised with input from the charrette. Nonetheless, we will need to see a clear rationale, a basic justification and motivation, to support and substantiate the idea(s) in text and visualisations.

This supportive and motivational statement should explain the kind(s) of problem(s) addressed, clarify the composition and expertise of the team, specify the compatibility with the brief, demonstrate the anticipated impact, and argue the feasibility of routes to and requirements for implementation.

Your ideas need to feel visionary and potentially real. We would normally expect outline submissions to be in a digital format, but please contact us if you are keen to submit in another format.

Submissions should normally not exceed the following limitations:

  1. 5 pages of 12pt text. (This should be your supportive and motivational statement. File size limit: 10MB. Preferred file types: PDF, DOC/DOCX.);
  2. 15 images. (Please submit images in a slideshow, with captions. This should include renders of any models. File size limit: 100MB. Preferred file types: PDF, PPT/PPTX, DOC/DOCX.);
  3. 3 minutes of video or animated material. (You can submit up to five files, max. 100MB each. Please consider restricting your bit rate for the purpose of making the submission.);
  4. One file containing any reference(s) or reference materials as appendices to your application. (File size limit: 10MB).

Please note that the Outline Idea Submission Form will also require you to supply a title for your outline idea (character limit, incl. spaces: 350) and a description/abstract (character limit, incl. spaces: 1250).

NB the Outline Idea Submission Form is based on a free to use Google platform, which requires respondents to be logged into a Google account to fill out the form. Should you find yourself without, we suggest opening a Google account for the purpose of entering the competition.

Submit an idea

Please submit your outline ideas, using the dedicated form linked to on this webpage. For any queries, please contact us through the appropriate web form (please scroll down).

All submissions are welcome until 23:59 GMT on 9th May 2018.

Each team must complete the payment of the Entrant’s Registration fee until 23:59 GMT on 16th May 2018.

Judging by an expert team (see dedicated section above, TBC) will take place in May, and notification of selection for a place will be sent out by the 5th June 2018.

The charrette itself is expected to run 16-18 July 2018 at the Prince’s Foundation, London.

The exhibition at the SCVA will launch in winter 2018 and run for around three months.

Submit your design idea Pay entrant’s registration fee


Please use this form for any questions and enquiries about Dust to Dust.


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1. Preamble
A. Dust to Dust: Redesigning Urban Life in Healthy Soils is the name given to this competition by the research network Pre-Columbian Tropical Urban Life (TruLife): Placing the Past in Designs for more Sustainable Urban Futures. This research network is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) in the United Kingdom and hosted at the University of Kent by grant holder Benjamin Vis, sharing directorial responsibility with Christian Isendahl, University of Gothenburg. It receives additional support from partners mentioned on this website and reserves the right to collaborate with others.
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