City in a Box: A New Paradigm for Sustainable Living

EPA Grant Number: SU831881
Title: City in a Box: A New Paradigm for Sustainable Living
Investigators: Scott, Norman R. , Albright, Louis D.
Current Investigators: Scott, Norman R. , Albright, Louis D. , Vadas, Timothy M. , Cheung, Edwin , Wyffels, Emily , Lewis, Gabriel , Murray, Ian , Smithmeyer, James , Hill, Jamison , Ramo, Jarred , Compton, Jeannette , Kadlec, Jessica , Goldman, Jordan , Hatch, Joshua , Raybould, Julia , Nichols, Kevin , Peritz, Lauren , Richards, Lauren , Duan, Liping , Wrolstad, Melissa , Lark, Michael , Vigil, Michelle , Wright, Michelle , Streeter, Nick , Young, Robert , Labatut, Rodrigo , Lambert, William
Institution: Cornell University
EPA Project Officer: Page, Angela
Phase: I
Project Period: September 1, 2004 through June 30, 2005
Project Amount: $10,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2004) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: P3 Challenge Area - Built Environment , Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Awards , Sustainability


Global carbon emissions generated by buildings are estimated at between 40 to 50 percent, 25 percent from transportation and about 25 percent from industrial sources. In addition, cities are estimated to be responsible for as much as 70 percent of the waste impacting the environment. Prior to the announcement of EPA’s P3 Award for a national student design competition, a class of Cornell students in Biological and Environmental Engineering (BEE 494.1), Sustainable Energy Systems, (co-taught by Professors Norman Scott and Louis Albright) accepted a unique semester design project.


The class accepted the objective to design a facility for 50,000 persons for a live-work environment by meeting fully the requirements for energy by renewable sources: wind, solar, and biomass and meet most of the population’s food requirements and management of the building’s waste, thereby minimizing the building's impact on the environment and implementing a sustainable integrated system. To meet the building’s heating and cooling needs, we will take advantage of geothermal resources. Our energy calculations are tailored for solar, wind, and geothermal potential, and we utilize energy stored in the waste produced by the building's population and agricultural plant residues to produce biogas for combined heat and power with fuel cells. For purposes of design, we have decided to use Reno, NV as the location to build our complex. Its relatively fast rate of growth, coupled with its dry climate, ample wind, solar and geothermal resources make this site appealing for both its merits and challenges.


The challenge of this project is to meet the needs of a 50,000-person population in a way that would be both livable and sustainable. The building will attempt to grow most of its own food, provide all of its energy needs and manage all of its own wastes. The concepts of “farms” on every 5th or 10th floor will utilize techniques of natural lighting (balconies) plus controlled environmental agriculture (high intensity lighting with temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide control). In addition to the above challenges, we will aim to provide for most of the employment and entertainment needs of the residents. The live-work environment will also significantly reduce energy of transportation and associated costs of residents and reduce the need for two cars by the typical American family.

Supplemental Keywords:

renewable energy, ecological design, community, agriculture, systems integration, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Sustainable Industry/Business, POLLUTION PREVENTION, waste reduction, Sustainable Environment, Energy, Technology for Sustainable Environment, Ecology and Ecosystems, Environmental Engineering, energy conservation, sustainable development, waste minimization, environmental sustainability, conservation, biomass, community based, energy efficiency, energy technology, solar energy, alternative energy source, waste management, resource recovery, wind energy, renewable resource, renewable energy

Relevant Websites:

Project Description

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report