School of Future Environments to benefit south Auckland

The study of smart cities is to be given a boost at the Auckland University of Technology with plans for a new school – with papers likely to be offered at AUT South Camus in Manukau.



The opening of the university’s new School of Future Environments in 2020 is an exciting prospect which will help train our students for the coming jobs that the city, and particularly south Auckland, is projected to need, Professor Guy Littlefair says.


“The teaching and research will be designed around problem solving – tackling some of the grand challenges that humanity and society face.”


Professor Littlefair is Dean of the Faculty of Design and Creative Technologies, which the new school will rest within.


He says that many of the School of Future Environment’s papers are likely to be offered at the university’s South Campus in the heart of Manukau.


“It will create space to research themes such as smart cities, or future cities, supported by our degree-level expertise in disciplines that include computer science and design, big data, engineering and construction, as well as the social aspects of cities and health and well-being.”


Professor Littlefair says that creating the new school is also a great opportunity for the university to focus on not only global challenges, but also those particularly relevant to us in the Pacific region.


The School of Future Environments will take form out of AUT’s new architecture programme and its creative technologies programme.


The university’s bachelor and master’s degrees in architecture will be the founding programmes for the school, and applications for both are already incredibly strong, Professor Littlefair says.


“Much of these are based on principles towards design and design intent that are indigenous to Aotearoa and our region. They also have a strong ecological focus, looking closely at the sustainable materials and resources.”




There isn’t a good definition for what a smart city is, but many people think of the idea as being about technology and data, Professor Littlefair says.


“That might be charging stations for electric cars, sensors on bins, as well as more connectivity around public transport and traffic control,” he says.


“To me what it really means is a live environment which is much more digital and digitally connected.”


As a university of technology based in a city like Auckland, AUT has the opportunity to think holistically about the future of built environments and modern transportation systems, including to and from Auckland International Airport.


“And beyond the smart city, we also have an opportunity to think about the potential of our South Campus in Manukau as a smart campus,” Professor Littlefair says.


“We could use it as a test bed, as a technology demonstrator of how a city, let’s say Auckland, could be configured and operated in the future.


“This would draw on the skills already present at AUT, from big data and artificial intelligence, to the Internet of Things and driverless vehicles, and tie them together with the human-centred approach of future environments and architecture.


“We can bring them together as a whole on projects that have direct impact on people’s lives, working to solve some of the problems our societies face.”



Professor Littlefair would also like to see a centre at AUT’s South Campus for logistics, the movement of goods. Such a centre could help grow the skills in Manukau of, for example, those who currently work at the airport.


“New Zealand is a small trading nation on the edge of the world.


Focusing on efficiencies around logistics and the import and export of goods will be good for the growth of south Auckland and the country as a whole.”




Professor Littlefair says the future is bright for those keen to study future environments, “In simple terms, populations are growing all around the world and our natural resources are being depleted. We are also facing climate change and its predicted impacts. So, we ought to be much more considerate of how we develop our cities and how we move goods, services and people around them.”


Reports by Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) say automation could change more than 270,000 jobs across Auckland, with many of the businesses most likely to be affected located in south Auckland.


But over the next decade, many more managers and professionals will be needed across the city in construction, transport and logistics, as well as design, engineering and science, it says.


The south Auckland economy, particularly, is more reliant on construction, transport and logistics.


The transport and logistics sector is projected to increase by 4500 jobs across the Auckland region, mostly in south Auckland due to its proximity to Auckland International Airport.


“For south and west Auckland, and for Māori and Pacifica communities, these anticipated changes represent a challenge and an opportunity,” ATEED says.


“Auckland’s future prosperity will be determined by the speed and extent to which businesses and workers prepare for and adapt to emerging technologies.”


Professor Littlefair says AUT is renowned for its links with industry and the ‘real world’.


Students at the School of Future Environments will have the opportunity “to work in the living lab of their city” and to help create solutions that will improve its future.


“We have an opportunity to more overtly support upskilling or providing a skill set to south Auckland residents in logistics and mobility, which will help keep local people in local jobs.”


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