MA Urban Design Course Leader
Could you tell us about what you do and how this feeds into your course?
I am generally interested in a lot of subjects from very technical, to artistic, social and so on and I'm always wanting to explore new areas of interest. I think what really appeals to me about Urban Design relates to this range and diversity. In aiming to improve the daily context for the diversity of urban life to play out, urban designers are trying to think about the range of different people, the areas of interest and processes we use. This might be at the same time quite practical, or conceptual; or include approaches that are quite meticulous, or freely explorational.
The urban world around us is a physical one, but we have an emotional reaction to it and it is also not just an individual thing, but a social product. I find the interplay between our human social collective conscious and how that manifests in ever changing urban places to be a continuously fascinating thing. This is not only in my practice and academic work, but also just my own daily life.
I think my experience has pushed for the development of a highly dynamic course, but it’s a course that I certainly do not claim as just my own doing. It was and is made by the staff and students and it also changes on a monthly basis. As a team, we are confident, but also reflective and conscious to adapt the contemporary situation.
What is the philosophy of your course?
The MA in Urban Design is at its heart about exploring future context for humanity. There is a strong acknowledgement that, to be able to solve complex contemporary challenges, we need to embrace collaborative processes and be able to evidence and clearly communicate our design arguments towards the changes that are needed for ongoing human success.
What would you say are the unique selling points for your course?
I think a key one is that a lot of urban design courses, though aiming for collaboration, often have a strong steer towards either architecture (buildings first), or planning focus (focus on policy, less on design) as a mindset. From the outset our positioning is towards an absolute focus on the design of the urban: as a process, creative and with a transdisciplinary, adaptable mindset. Modules are taught by tutors from across various disciplines, and all with shared aims for breaking through discipline silos.
We also have a real focus on developing communication, both in terms of skill set of visual and presentational skills, but also in terms of understanding the context for how and why we go about this is certain ways, and how it fits into students' professional journeys.
Why is Birmingham a good place to study/work?
I’m from Birmingham, so perhaps a bit biased, but I think there is a very interesting dynamic to this city that goes beyond a surface view and certainly its stereotypes. I’ve thought about this a lot and really whilst it often seems like it doesn’t have a clear identity, which could come across as a criticism, it really isn’t.
I think by its nature, in its origins at the crossroads of Britain, Birmingham was and still is a product of large diversity of people and ideas. It is many things to many people and it kind of embraces that in a way that is not pretentious, is reflective, often with some good-grounded humour, and is still a project in itself.
Where will the students be based in their time here? What will their learning environment be?
We know that most people coming to urban design will have a strong basis in one discipline or another that connects to urban issues and our modes are very sensitive to a range of backgrounds. At Master's level, everyone has some very strong knowledge and skill areas to use as a foundation towards holistic urban design thinking. We want to widen the scope, ask questions to test pre-conceptions and ideas.
The learning structure, specific approaches and environments are set up to facilitate collaborative flow of ideas, towards parity of input. Much like the aims of urban design, the course might be seen as a framework. It guides students' specific route, areas of interest and so on, whilst reinforcing core areas and elements that practice and theory have so far evidenced.
What can students do to help prepare them for the course?
There are a number of formal things, like looking at local groups and journals relating to urban design. In the UK, a good place to start will be the Urban Design Group. Also just walking around local urban areas and thinking about what makes it good, or in need of improvement. Think about the key issues that impact on urban life now and also what might have impact in the future.
If you are coming from a design background then the focus should be on expanding depth of understanding of social-political context. For those with context focused backgrounds, such as planning or geography, it might be about developing those fundamental graphical skills. But this can vary greatly for each person.
I think the best thing is to get in contact with us for a chat relating to your personal background. Feel free to email me via email@example.com.
What’s the favourite element about working at Birmingham School of Architecture and Design?
The way the School is set up allows for very collegiate and often experimental opportunities. We are actively encouraged to collaborate, innovate and reflect.