About the Project

The following text sets out the scope and objectives of the project.


SCIBE explores the relationship between scarcity and creativity in the context of the built environment by investigating how conditions of scarcity might affect the creativity of the different actors involved in the production of architecture and urban design, and how design-led actions might improve the built environment in the future. The research is based on the analysis of processes in four European cities: London, Oslo, Reykjavik, and Vienna.

Rationale for the Project

The project was first formulated at the end of the 2000s when the world was moving from a decade of growth and accompanying depletion of resources, towards a condition of economic and environmental crisis. If the 2000s might be defined as the decade of abundance – or rather false abundance as it turned out – then it is likely that in the 2010s scarcity will be at the forefront of attention. The project therefore focuses on how various actors involved in the production of the built environment might respond, or have responded, to the condition of scarcity and how creativity might be affected under conditions of scarcity. The project team see these new conditions as motivations for change rather than limits that might close down creative activity, but to realise these opportunities it may be necessary to move towards new forms of creativity and design practice. With this aim in mind, the main research question that drives the project is:

How does creativity operate under conditions of scarcity?

Where the prevailing discussions around issues of sustainability in the built environment tend towards instrumental fixes, we see scarcity as evolving out of a series of social, environmental and economic networks. We seek to understand the construction of scarcity within those networks in order to see how to intervene most creatively. Where the normal focus of creative attention in the built environment is the building as object, our attention shifts from the object and towards the processes that go into the production of the built environment.


The objectives of the project were set out as follows:

  • To investigate conceptually and empirically the relation between scarcity and creativity, and to develop new models of innovation that rise out of this relationship.
  • To clarify the conditions of scarcity that affect the production of the built environment.
  • To identify the creative responses that these conditions of scarcity elicit, in a range of geographical and cultural contexts.
  • To uncover ways in which creativity might be deployed in the design process within the production of the built environment.

A key aim of the project is to ensure that the findings and outputs from the project are accessible to as wide an audience as possible, and wherever possible are directed towards the implications for future practice.

Methods and Projects

The project has two main strands. First a collective investigation into the overall concepts of scarcity and creativity in relation to the built environment, and secondly a series of individual projects in various European cities which examine and develop the conceptual findings against grounded conditions. The findings from the individual projects will then inform the final outputs of the common research project.

The collective project has been based around a broad literature review of the subjects of scarcity and creativity, including examinations of best practice in the field. The three individual projects are:

(1) The London team is investigating how creativity might operate through optimising existing resource cycles in a London community. We are working in Bromley-by-Bow, a part of London currently undergoing change and will be working with the community groups and local individuals to engage with their perceptions of scarcity and see how how design and creativity may mitigate the effects of those scarcities. (2) The Oslo team will investigate transitions between abundance and scarcity that were experienced in two contexts: Norway in 1950s to 1980s and Iceland in 2000s. (3) The Vienna team is examining what conditions of scarcity arise within the Viennese social housing procurement model, and suggest how it might be adapted and reinvented by way of creativity.

A wide variety of research methodologies are being used in these projects, in order to give multiple perspectives on what is a complex area of study, and also to allow the various teams to develop their own understanding of their particular conditions.