skip to content

Department of Architecture



Emily So is a chartered civil engineer and Director of the Cambridge University Centre for Risk in the Built Environment (CURBE).  She is currently the Deputy Head of the School of Arts and Humanities and an Associate Director of the Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership.

Before coming to Cambridge, she worked at Arup as a senior geotechnical engineer and was a Mendenhall Fellow at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) from 2009-2011.  Her main area of interest is in assessing and managing urban risk and resilience. She has actively engaged with earthquakeaffected communities in different parts of the world, focusing on applying her work towards making real world improvements in seismic safety. With her collaborators in China, she was part of the design team that won the World Building of the Year in 2017.  The judges were impressed by the iterative research process which could be re-applied to anywhere in the world affected by seismic problems and low levels of wealth. “The architects succeeded in translating ‘four walls and a roof’ into something which, through architectural commitment, becomes a project that is much more profound.”

Saving lives from earthquakes is a priority and motivates her research. Her area of specialty is casualty estimation in earthquake loss modelling and her research has led to improved understanding of the relationship between deaths and injuries following earthquakes. Her work on human casualties in earthquakes adopts an approach which depends as much on epidemiological as structural engineering understanding of the problem. In its very nature, this is cross-disciplinary work and requires an understanding of the historical and cultural contexts, the current and future physical, social, and natural environments, and the interplay between physical and social sciences. She has been involved in interdisciplinary and international collaboration through her work with the UK’s Earthquake Engineering Field Investigation Team (EEFIT), Global Earthquake Model (GEM), the World Bank and the USGS, and actively participates in the international debate on the way forward for disaster risk mitigation. She has extended her work in earthquakes to modelling and finding solutions to mitigate against other natural perils.

Recognised as an expert in the field, Emily sits on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) providing valuable and timely scientific and technical advice to support the UK Government’s Cabinet Office Briefing Room (COBR). She was the recipient of the 2010 Shah Family Innovation Prize, an award given annually by the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI) to promising young practitioners or academics.

Professor So is a Fellow at Magdalene College, Director of Studies in Architecture at Magdalene.



Emily’s academic activities are focused on examining, quantifying, and communicating risks in the built environment, with a particular interest in reducing detrimental impacts of natural hazards and the vulnerability of the built environment, which are the topics of funded research projects and her PhD students. Recent major research projects include:

CURBE- Cambridge University Centre for Risk in the Built Environment, Research Centre

Expertise under Pressure (2018-2022), Centre for the Humanities and Social Change, £725k.

Learning from Earthquakes: Building Resilient Communities (2017-2022) EPSRC, £1.3m.

PAGER-O- “Pan-participatory Assessment and Governance of Earthquake Risks in the Ordos Area” (2016-2019)-  NERC £300k.

SENSUM- “Framework to integrate Space-based and in-situ sENSing for dynamic vUlnerability and recovery Monitoring” (2012-2014)- FP7 EC, €2,.3m.

Global Earthquake Model Earthquake Consequences Database (GEMECD) (2011-2014)- GEM, €800k


Key publications: 


Why Do Buildings Collapse in Earthquakes?: Building for Safety in Seismic Areas, 2021, co-authored with Robin Spence (Wiley-Blackwell, 2021) ISBN: 978-1-119-61942-0.

Estimating Fatality Rates for Earthquake Loss Models (SpringerBriefs in Earth Sciences, 2016) ISBN 978-3-319-26837-8.

Edited book

Human Casualties in Earthquakes: Progress in Modelling and Mitigation, co-edited with Robin Spence and Charles Scawthorn (Springer Science, 2011) ISBN 978-90-481-9455-1.

Journal Articles, Book Chapters

Zhu, Y, Geiß, C. and So, E. (2024). Simulating urban expansion with interpretable cycle recurrent neural networks. GIScience & Remote Sensing. 61.

Geiß, C., Maier, J., So, E., Schoepfer, E., Harig, S., Gómez Zapata, J. C., and Zhu, Y. (2024) Anticipating a risky future: long short-term memory (LSTM) models for spatiotemporal extrapolation of population data in areas prone to earthquakes and tsunamis in Lima, Peru, Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 24, 1051–1064,

Zhu, Y., Geiß, C., So, E., Bardhan, R, Taubenböck, H., Jin, Y., 2024. Urban expansion simulation with an explainable ensemble deep learning framework. Heliyon. 10. e28318.

Baker, H., Concannon, S., Meller, M. et al. (2022) COVID-19 and science advice on the ‘Grand Stage’: the metadata and linguistic choices in a scientific advisory groups’ meeting minutes. Humanit Soc Sci Commun 9, 465.

Geiß, C., Priesmeier, P., Aravena Pelizari, P. et al. (2022) Benefits of global earth observation missions for disaggregation of exposure data and earthquake loss modeling: evidence from Santiago de Chile. Nat Hazards

So, E (2022) Data and its role in reducing the risk of disasters in the built environment. Nat Hazards

Baker H, Concannon S, So E (2022) Information sharing practices during the COVID-19 pandemic: A case study about face masks. PLOS ONE 17(5): e0268043.

Aktas, Y., So, E (2022) Disaster Reconnaissance Missions: Is a Hybrid Approach the Way Forward? Frontiers in Built Environment, 8, 954571. doi:10.3389/fbuil.2022.954571

Zhu, Y., Geiß, C and So, E., 2021. “Image super-resolution with dense-sampling residual channel-spatial attention networks for multi-temporal remote sensing image classification,” International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation, Volume 104.

Zhu, Y., Geis, C., So, E. and Jin, Y., 2021. “Multitemporal Relearning with Convolutional LSTM Models for Land Use Classification. IEEE Journal of Selected Topics in Applied Earth Observations and Remote Sensing”, Vol. 14 3251-3265.

Geiß, C., Leichtle, T., Wurm, M., Aravena Pelizari, P., Standfuß, I., Zhu, X.X., So, E., Siedentop, S., Esch, T., Taubenböck, H., 2018. “Large-area Characterization of Urban Morphology - Mapping of Built-Up Height and Density Using TanDEM-X and Sentinel-2 Data”. Remote Sensing of Environment.

de Alwis Pitts, D. A. and So, E., 2017a. “Enhanced change detection index for disaster response, recovery assessment and monitoring of buildings and critical facilities: a case study for Muzaffarabad, Pakistan”. International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation, 63: 167-177.

de Alwis Pitts, D. A. and So, E., 2017b. “Enhanced change detection index for disaster response, recovery assessment and monitoring of accessibility and open spaces (camp sites)”. International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation, 57: 49-60.

Noh, H.Y., Kiremidjian, A., Ceferino, L. and So, E., 2017. “Bayesian updating of earthquake vulnerability functions with application to mortality rates”. Earthquake Spectra, Vol. 33, No. 3, pp. 1173-1189.

Goda, K., Campbell, G., Hulme, L., Ismael, B., Ke, L., Marsh, R., Sammonds, P., So, E., Okumura, Y., Kishi, N., Koyama, M., Yotsui, S., Kiyono, J., Wu, S. and Wilkinson, S., 2016. “2016 Kumamoto earthquakes: Cascading geological hazards and compounding risks”. Frontiers in Built Environment. 2:19.

Platt, S. and So, E., 2016. “Speed or deliberation – a comparison of post-disaster recovery in Japan, Turkey and Chile”. Disasters, Vol. 41, issue 4, pp. 696-727.

Wang S., So E. and Smith P., 2015. “Detecting tents to estimate the displaced populations for post-disaster relief using high resolution satellite imagery”. International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation, 36: pp 87-93.

So, E. and Platt, S., 2015. Earthquakes and their Socioeconomic Consequences, in Encyclopedia of Earthquake Engineering, edited by Michael Beer, Edoardo Patelli, Ioannis Kougioumtzoglou and (Ivan) Siu-Kui, Springer Science, ISBN 978-3-642-35343-7.

Taubenböck, H., Geiß, C., Wieland, M., Pittore, M., Saito, K., So, E. and Eineder, M., 2014. The Capabilities of Earth Observation to Contribute along the Risk Cycle, in Earthquake Hazard, Risk and Disasters, edited by John Schroder and Max Wyss, Academic Press pp 25-53.

So, E. and Spence, R., 2013.  “Estimating shaking-induced casualties and building damage for global earthquake events: a proposed modelling approach” Bulletin of Earthquake Engineering, Vol 11(1), pp 347-363.

So, E., 2011.  Challenges in Collating Earthquake Casualty Field Data. Chapter 16 in Human Casualties in Earthquakes: Progress in Modelling and Mitigation, edited by Robin Spence, Emily So and Charles Scawthorn, Springer Science, pp 231-254.

Furukawa, A., Spence, R., Ohta, Y. and So, E. 2010. “Analytical study on vulnerability functions for casualty estimation in the collapse of adobe buildings induced by earthquake”. Bulletin of Earthquake Engineering, Vol 8, pp 451-479.

Taucer, F., Alarcon, J. and So, E., 2009. “2007 August 15 Magnitude 7.9 earthquake near the coast of Central Peru: Analysis and field report”, Bulletin of Earthquake Engineering, Vol 7(1), pp1-70.

Spence, R., So, E., Jenny, E., Castella, H., Ewald, M. and Booth, E., 2008. “The Global Earthquake Vulnerability Estimation System (GEVES): an approach for earthquake risk assessment for insurance applications”, Bulletin of Earthquake Engineering Vol 6 (3), pp 463-483.

Spence, R and So, E., 2008. Assessing Earthquake Risks and Exposure for Insurance Portfolios in Asia. Chapter 10 in Asian Catastrophe Insurance, edited by Charles Scawthorn and Kiyoshi Kobayashi, Risk Books, ISBN-10: 1-904339-67-0.

Professor of Architectural Engineering
Deputy Head of the School of Arts & Humanities
Associate Director of the Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership
Fellow and Director of Studies in Architecture at Magdalene College

Contact Details