ARC DECRA Project – DE170100042 (details)


Table of Contents

Project Backgroundtoparrow

Rapid urbanisation has been challenging the way we manage cities, in particular our urban water systems. In urban water management, Water Sensitive Urban Design stormwater systems (WSUD) are low-energy, space-efficient, scalable green technologies that have been widely adopted to deliver environmental protection and other multiple benefits, such as alternative water supply, greening of urban space and improved urban amenity[1, 2].

Effective planning for WSUD is, however, not a straightforward engineering design problem, but requires understanding of the relationships with urban development. It is also a balancing act between many stakeholders with conflicting needs and priorities. With expanding urban development over the next 50 years, we are at the brink of major urban change. There is an urgent need for efficient and sustainable stormwater management now as the costs of retrofitting cities later would be monumental[3]

Despite advancements in WSUD over the last 20 years and rapid uptake of in practice (with over 10,000 systems implemented across Melbourne alone), significant knowledge gaps are still prevalent about the dynamics of WSUD management (from initial planning stages all the way through to operation of implemented systems). There are serious concerns about the long-term efficiency of many existing WSUD assets due to poor design, construction and maintenance decisions[4-6]. Furthermore, existing WSUD models that are typically used to support planning and management processes[7-9] are unable to fully consider its complex interactions with urban development and socio-economics. Knowledge transfer to WSUD practice is stagnating. If nothing is done to harness our current WSUD approaches to better consider these complex dynamics, the economic and logistic cost of managing existing WSUD assets will soon outweigh their perceived benefits.

New techniques in integrated modelling for sustainable urban water management are constantly being experimented with and the incorporation of social dynamics into models is becoming more common[8]. Additionally, the use of computer games and virtual reality as platforms for understanding human decision-making has gained increasing attention in the planning sphere[10-12]. With a plethora of visual styles and simulation games emerging from the gaming industry, there is a huge opportunity to explore the use of these in advancing the modelling and interdisciplinary science of WSUD management.

Aims & Objectives
This project, known as VR Water for short, aims to develop a new understanding of the complex planning-technical-social dynamics of Water Sensitive Urban Design. It will achieve this through advancing existing WSUD modelling science and utilising state-of-the-art immersive virtual reality and gaming technology for eliciting and analysing complex planning and decision-making processes of key actors in WSUD planning and management.

This highly interdisciplinary project involves a wide range of researchers with different expertise including engineers, architects, social scientists and game designers. Qualitative research methods including interviews and workshops will be combined with integrated and exploratory modelling science. An interactive gaming environment will be developed using cutting edge virtual reality technologies that are rapidly growing in popularity including some shown in.

We will build upon an existing planning-support tool, the UrbanBEATS model (, which is rapidly gaining attention in the urban water industry as a powerful and flexible tool for exploring the planning of WSUD in urban precincts. Using the industry standard Unity3D game engine (, we will create a highly visual and interactive gaming experience that is based heavily on tacit knowledge and experience informed by our industry stakeholders and our exploratory model.

For more information, you can watch an interview I did for Ideanthro or download the VR Water Flyer.

You can also view a seminar I gave relating to the project in 2017

Project Team toparrow

Research Team

Peter M. Bach (Project Lead, Eawag)
Megan Farrelly (School of Social Sciences, Monash University)
Tom Morgan (Monash Art, Design and Architecture, Monash University)
Meead Saberi (Civil Engineering, Monash University)
Ana Deletic (University of New South Wales)

Other Contributors

Leonard Chow (Monash University)
Hannah Bragge (Monash University)

Industry Partners

To date we have had participation from 97 practitioners across 55 different organisations across Australia in contributing towards the research and development.

Funding Details toparrow


This project is funded by the Australian Government Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) Programme 2017, Project Code DE170100042 – Project titled “Virtual Reality for Planning of Green Urban Water Infrastructure”.

The project started January 2017. More information about the ARC can be viewed here.


  1. Brown, R., et al., 2007, Transition to Water Sensitive Urban Design – The Story of Melbourne, Australia.
  2. Wong, T.H.F., et al., 2013, blueprint 2013 – Stormwater Management in a Water Sensitive City, Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities.
  3. Melbourne Water, 2013, Stormwater Strategy: A Melbourne Water strategy for managing rural and urban runoff.
  4. Leinster, S., 2006, Australian Journal of Water Resources. 10(3): p. 321-329.
  5. Stormwater Victoria, et al., 2013, Developing WSUD Condition Audit Guidelines – Request for Proposal.
  6. Browne, D., et al. 2014, Proceedings 13th International Conference on Urban Drainage. Sarawak, Malaysia.
  7. Elliott, A.H., et al., 2007, Environmental Modelling & Software. 22: p. 394-405.
  8. Bach, P.M., et al., 2014, Environmental Modelling & Software. 54: p. 88-107.
  9. Lerer, S.M., et al., 2015, Water Asset Management Journal. 7: p. 993-1012.
  10. Bishop, I.D., 2011, Landscape and urban planning. 100: p. 390-392.
  11. Valkering, P., et al., 2012, Simulation & Gaming. 44(2-3): p. 366-390.
  12. Van der Wal, M.M., et al., 2016, Environmental Modelling & Software. 75: p. 119-132.