The focus of this field of study is sustainable development and the design of rural and urban living spaces. The interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research conducted at BOKU in this field includes the protection and development of natural and cultural landscapes; recording, planning and design of urban, suburban, small-town and rural habitats with the necessary infrastructure and ecologically-friendly infrastructure to achieve a high quality of life along with sustainable development as well as natural hazard risk management. The research deals with systemic connections in urban and rural space and landscape, as well as with the complex socio-economic and political processes that lead to the development of land and landscape. The linking of scientific fundamentals, engineering and planning science, as well as economic and social science factors in this field represent a unique selling point within Austrian universities.

Particular areas of focus in spatial research include spatial, environmental, landscape and infrastructure planning and management from the perspective of sustainable spatial development, landscape architecture, land use research, energy-related spatial planning and energy-related landscape planning, development and planning of environmentally-friendly infrastructure and nature-based solutions, planning for tourism, recreational and leisure use, mobility research including digitization and automation of traffic and logistics, description and recording of landscapes by means of observation, and protection against natural hazards (georesource issues, long-term change in the earth’s system, geohazards, mountain risk engineering, extreme events, flood risk management, natural hazard analysis and risk management) A future area of research will examine sustainable construction technology and the connection of environmentally-friendly infrastructure with smart technology in the design and sustainable use of living spaces.

The breadth and depth of research into water systems is unique within Austria. Key specialist areas of integrated water research and infrastructure management in water management include meteorology, hydrology and hydrogeology, soil physics, hydraulics, hydraulic engineering, river research, sustainable hydropower, water supply and wastewater disposal, ecological water status, water quality and water analysis, and water and environmental forensics. Additional research focus on the area of waste as a resource (evaluation and recycling of waste and residual material flows, waste management, waste forensics), waste logistics and the development and monitoring of disposal infrastructures systems, which have minimal need for intervention.

Other subjects for research include (i) resource-efficient and sustainable planning and construction, (ii) assessment of structural and engineering structures with the aim of minimising environmental impact over the entire life cycle, (iii) digital and automated planning and (iv) building for increased ecological and economic efficiency in the manufacture and upgrading of supporting structures and buildings. Work is also continuing on the development and use of sustainable manufacturing technologies, new building materials and energy systems, as well as the reuse and recycling of building materials.

Wider cross-discipline topics in this field of study include the spatial and technical aspects of energy transition, bioeconomy and the water-energy-food nexus, reduction of land use for building land and infrastructure, biodiversity loss, demographic change, socio-technical transformation in terms of sustainable development, and climate protection and climate impact assessment or climate change adaptation, as well as ecosystem services and life cycle analyses.

The departments engaged in this area include the following graduate schools: Human River Systems in the 21st Century (HR21) and Transition to Sustainability (T2S), the Centre for Bioeconomy, the Disaster Competence Network Austria (DCNA) and the BOKU Energy Cluster network.

Projects in this field are funded by both national and European sponsors: FWF, WWTF, ÖAW, FFG, Christian Doppler Research Association (CDL for Sediment Research and Management), climate and energy funding bodies, City of Vienna University Anniversary Foundation, public bodies, foundations and industrial cooperation, INTERREG, ERA-NET, Horizon 2020, ESFRI (DANUBIUS, DREAM, eLTER) and Horizon Europe – in particular dealing with the security of the citizen (pillar 2, cluster 3), Climate, Energy and Mobility (cluster 5), as well as Bioeconomy and Natural Resources (cluster 6).