Before we welcome our class of 2020/2021, we’d like to take a look back and celebrate the highlights of the past academic year and our students’ achievements. While we could not get together to farewell our students and congratulate them in person, we would like to share a few of our favourite memories from last year:

Our year started off with the Humanitarian Shelter & Settlements Workshop and disaster recovery with guest professor Ian Davis, an architect and pioneer in the field, who has studied disasters since 1972. Our students then delved into the shelter scale, looking at shelter typologies, materials, and design in the three-day module “Research & Development in Emergency Humanitarian Shelter” with Daniel Ledesma. The second week started with new guest teacher Ebru Gencer and her one-day module “Post-Disaster Planning from the Perspective of DRR and Resilience Building”, providing an overview of the topic of post-disaster planning in the context of disaster risk reduction (DRR) and resilience building through policy and practices at the global stage. The week continued with Andreas Schiffer and his WASH course on sanitation in humanitarian crises. “Camps, politics, and space: Complexities and Ambiguities of Segregation” was the topic our students explored with Gaja Maestri from Aston University, who also joined our amazing group of professors this year. In the last week, Gonzalo Sánchez-Terán and Verónica Sánchez Carrera covered camp planning and management with our class, as well as medical facilities for health emergencies, getting to a deeper understanding of the complexity of these ‘’permanently temporary’’ environments. Our students discovered how international agencies and humanitarian workers respond to displacement crisis through the design, construction, improvement and management of refugee and IDP camps, and Ebola centres.

In October, guest professor Gonzalo Lizarralde, a specialist in planning, management and evaluation of international architecture projects and the director of the IF Research Group (grif) at the Université de Montréal, visited to teach the seminar “Unnatural Disasters – Controversies in Low-Cost Housing and Post-Disaster Reconstruction”. During the seminar, our students explored the connections between social injustices, environmental degradation, low-cost housing, and disasters, and examined the role of low-cost housing and environmental degradation in the creation of disaster vulnerabilities.

At the end of last year, Alejandro de Castro returned to teach the course “The visual bias: A history of urban design arguments at precarious areas”. The aim of the workshop was to respond to the knowledge gap regarding the growth and resilience of slums that currently exists within spatial disciplines, despite a number of widely recognised urban design interventions implemented in informal settlements throughout the world. The students debated key issues of international development, planning and architecture, reflecting a historical controversy in addressing informality, and assessed the role of design in solving social problems tied to poverty and inequality.

In January, our students embarked on their journey to Peru for our annual field trip. Together with our director Carmen Mendoza Arroyo and assistant director Raquel Colacios, they arrived in Pedregal, Piura, to work on Integrated nature-based solutions for post-disaster recovery through public space design. In March 2017 the natural phenomenum known as ‘El Niño costero’ caused intense rains, causing flooding and disasters in Pedregales in Piura, causing 3000 people to loose their homes. Three years later, the population of this area is still waiting for the government of Perú to solve their housing problem. Our students’ work contributed to the reconstruction plan of the area with specific strategies for the improvement and design of open spaces and children play areas. The objective was to develop a pilot project in an allocated open space area that includes a conceptual study at a landscape scale, a detailed analysis at a neighbourhood scale, the elaboration of a participatory process with the objective of creating a Memory Park for Pedregal, Piura, and the construction of the first phase of the park and children’s play area. For the workshop, our students teamed up with local students from the Universidad de Piura and, as in previous years, from RMIT University, as well as local NGO’s. The workshop was conducted in collaboration with our local partner, the Universidad de Piura, and our alumni Rossana Poblet.

After the return of our students, they worked with guest professor Sergio Palleroni to learn about Public Interest Design and Development Metrics. In this seminar based on a case study approach, our students explored development and project metrics for social impact fieldwork and projects. These metrics help to evaluate and guide projects in the field that are attempting to address social inequities and impacts.

For our local socio-spatial workshop, our students tackled the massive task of “Mapping Towards Connectivity” for the Montjuïc area in Barcelona. The students’ proposals aimed to develop a new perspective for the transformation of Montjuïc into a more inclusive and diverse green infrastructure for the city of Barcelona, and to put forward potential solutions for current conflictive urban problems that bridge the social and spatial realms. Through mapping exercises, studies of demographics, mobility and urban uses, as well as interviews with local entities and associations, neighbours and visitors, they investigated preferred connections and pathways, different uses of facilities and seemingly neglected open spaces, barriers and conflicts, and the relationship between residential and more touristic areas. “I truly believe that the formulation and adoption of urban policies is always a political process,” explains Carmen Mendoza Aroyo. “Therefore, the goals, methods, and urban strategies to shape equitable cities need to be driven by the urban institutions, using their tools and leading the implementation.  Working at the neighbourhood scale of intervention, spatial planning tools and participatory mechanisms can initiate a path towards an inclusive physical transformation. This is what drives us to work on real projects identified by the public administration, with a socio-spatial methodology.”

Time passed quickly and in March, suddenly the world stood still and Barcelona went into lockdown. Due to COVID-19, our students had to write their thesis confined to their homes and present online to the jury. It is a testament to their amazing enthusiasm and drive that they were able to produce some outstanding research and outcomes.

With their virtual internships coming to an end soon, we want to congratulate our students again for their hard work, passion and spirit throughout the unusual and difficult circumstances of this academic year. We welcome them into our growing alumni network around the world and look forward to following their endeavours in the future.

Images: Courtesy of Stella Maren Schroeder and our class of 2019/2020










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