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PhD Position in Planning Responsive Infrastructure Corridors in Zürich

Studierende finden an der ETH Zürich ein Umfeld, das eigenständiges Denken fördert, Forschende ein Klima, das zu Spitzenleistungen inspiriert.


100%, Zurich, temporary

The Chair of Infrastructure Management lead by Professor Dr. Bryan T. Adey in the Institute of Construction and Infrastructure Management of the Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering has an opening for a PhD student in the field of Planning Responsive Infrastructure corridors.

Project background

Urban areas have relatively high concentrations of people. They are hives of activity. The success and prosperity of urban areas is tightly linked to the success and prosperity of the regions in which they are located. This success and prosperity depends on the design and development of urban areas, including the infrastructure systems, which enable persons, goods and materials to enter, leave and move within these urban areas. Examples include transport, water, sewage, communication and energy infrastructure systems. The most important parts of urban infrastructure systems are infrastructure corridors, i.e. the corridors within urban areas with a high concentration of critical infrastructure and which, in some sense, carry the lifeblood of the urban areas.

Designing and managing urban infrastructure systems and corridors is particularly challenging due to the accelerating dynamism of urban areas. They are normally designed and built to provide specific levels of service over defined time periods, using the best estimates of, relatively short term, possible future development.

These estimates in the past, especially in the most dynamic urban areas have been inadequate, due to the speed of population growth and dynamic nature of urban planning. Infrastructure systems designed and built based on these estimates have normally provided satisfactory levels of service, e.g. sufficient traffic capacity, sufficient clean water, sufficient waste removal, for only short periods of time, as the expected levels of service have quickly changed from those used in design. Over time, inadequately designed and managed infrastructure leads to either lower than expected service, to the infrastructure or both. Examples of inadequate service are greater than expected traffic jams, water shortages in peak periods, overflowing sewer systems, and expensive modifications. Future estimates, are likely to be even farther off than past ones, because of 1) the increasing dynamisms of urban areas, e.g. where persons live and work, 2) the increasing advances in technology, which will change how urban areas will ideally function, e.g. how goods are delivered, and 3) the changing expectations of how urban areas are to function, e.g. how waste is to be recycled and energy is to be obtained from renewables instead of fossil fuels.

Confronted with such vast uncertainties, a new approach to the design and management of infrastructure in urban areas is required. The approach will explicitly take into consideration the many possible ways of how urban areas will develop in the future. It will result in urban infrastructure that will be designed, built or modified to either accommodate many of these possible futures, i.e. robust infrastructure, or so that it is easily modifiable when different futures than the ones expected to occur, i.e. flexible infrastructure. In other words, it will result in more responsive urban infrastructure. This new approach will be useful in all areas where there are uncertainties with respect to how urban areas will develop in the future. It will, however, be particularly useful in extremely industrious and dynamic areas that have considerable interests in developing sustainably and having the ability to exploit advanced technologies.

Job description

The goal of this PhD is to improve the design and management of infrastructure in urban corridors with large amounts of future uncertainty due to, e.g. changes in where inhabitants live and work, changes in the technology used to provide services, and the changes in expectations of how infrastructure systems are expected to work. It will consist of, the understanding of the development of infrastructure corridors in the past, the development of multi-layer network models to predict future development scenarios in these corridors, and the development of methodologies to better design and manage their infrastructure.

The research will build on past extensive research in the use of, 1) real options methods to evaluate the robustness and flexibility of single objects in civil engineering, 2) operations research methods to design and management of civil infrastructure networks, assuming constant demand, and 3) scenario based urban and infrastructure planning methods. This research will contribute to the development of a methodology to be used to plan infrastructure corridors that are more responsive to future needs, and will consequently result in improved success and prosperity for the regions in which they are embedded.

Your profile

The successful candidate for this PhD position will have a Master’s degree in spatial planning, civil engineering, systems engineering or a related field, and will have experience with mathematical modelling, e.g. random networks, as well as good grasp of probability theory, risk assessment, R, python and GIS is beneficial. Good knowledge of English is essential. Good knowledge of German is beneficial.

ETH Zurich
ETH Zurich is one of the world’s leading universities specialising in science and technology. We are renowned for our excellent education, cutting-edge fundamental research and direct transfer of new knowledge into society. Over 30,000 people from more than 120 countries find our university to be a place that promotes independent thinking and an environment that inspires excellence. Located in the heart of Europe, yet forging connections all over the world, we work together to develop solutions for the global challenges of today and tomorrow.

We look forward to receiving your online application until 10 January 2020 including the following documents:

  • letter of interest including their understanding of the problem and thoughts on a way forward
  • a publication by the author
  • a curriculum vitae (with list of publications and contact information of at least two referees)
  • grades of all university courses taken as well as diplomas

Please note that we exclusively accept applications submitted through our online application portal. Applications via e-mail or postal services will not be considered. Screening of applications starts on 11 January 2020. Applications are accepted until the position is filled.

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