Can you tell us about your work history?
I have worked as a landscape architect for about eight years, attempting to experience as much variety in the profession as possible early on in my career. This took me from The NSW Government Architects Office, to a mid sized firm called LDA Design in London for several years and to the large multi-disciplinary firm HASSELL working on projects in Sydney and Brisbane. Over this time I have become more involved with the university program and my own studio too. Currently I teach and tutor in five courses at the University of Sydney and the University of New South Wales.
What attracted you to this degree?
During time spent travelling in the Americas, Europe and Asia after my undergraduate degree, I was also reading books about landscape urbanism, politics and the growth of the world’s urban population. I spent a lot of time experiencing different cities, sketching and writing about how they worked and where they failed. I realized that although I knew about ecology and landscape architectural form, there was a large gap in my understanding regarding the historical and current context of urban areas on a broader scale. I recall it was a choice between a masters of economics or urban design. Of course design won.
Did you have any expectations of what the course would provide you in terms of your career?
When I started the course, I knew that it would add strength to my design work as a landscape architect. At the same time, I had seen a great deal of the fallout of rapid urbanization in many developing and so called developed countries such as urban poverty and environmental degradation. I hoped that the course would enable me to work at a scale more relevant to the problems I had seen.
Was there any part of the course you particularly enjoyed?
Generally, I appreciated the way the course focussed on physical design of city form and the use of diagrams rather than words to communicate ideas. I think these are essential skills for any designer. I particularly enjoyed two subjects in the course. The first was the ‘ideas and methods’ unit. This offered a comprehensive history of the designers, theories and physical schemes that have shaped the worlds cities. Whilst there is always more to learn, the course filled a gap in my knowledge and provided a lens through which to understand city form and also to know where to look for further answers.
The most challenging and enjoyable part of the course for me though was the Urban Design Report. This is an independent, research led project. It is up to the student to propose their own area of urban design study and or design. My topic was ‘Urban Design for Capacity Development in Informal Settlements’. I focussed on developing an urban design methodology and case study design project that was not top down but rather represented democratic visioning of the city by and for its poorest residents. There are now over one billion urban slum dwellers globally and we need to work hard in all fields for more equality.
The degree allowed flexibility in electives - this allowed me to undertake a relevant subject in development from the faculty of international law and also participate in the global studio in Johannesburg which works on the ground with slum dwellers.
On the completion of the course, did you use the knowledge you acquired professionally?
All the way through the course I was working as a designer. I found that even as I studied, things I learnt influenced and improved my personal design process. The course enabled me to become much more agile as a city designer, helping me to design at several different scales simultaneously, an important skill when dealing with the complexities of the urban environment. Also, through subsequent years of work with the global studio in Johannesburg, the study undertaken for my urban design dissertation has contributed to a redirection of some of the strategies for the development of a major urban slum in that city.
Is there any advice you’d give potential students contemplating the course?
If you are a designer who wants to work on projects relevant to the major challenges of the world, this course is a very good option. Urban Design is a growing field, very complicated and challenging but now more than ever relevant to the everyday life of most of the worlds citizens. Urban Design has become a kind of ‘buzz title’ for architects of late which is interesting, but there are many professional misconceptions that it is simply the title for large scale architectural schemes or is more planning focussed. This course will offer you the insight and the intellectual freedom that enables your design work to become so much more.
Urban design abilities are needed at all levels of government (especially in local authorities and at state level), in private consulting firms and development organisations - where there are needs to prepare and evaluate urban design policies, strategies, frameworks, guidelines, concepts, master plans and programs, as well as carry out more detailed design of urban spaces. Urban design skills and knowledge also assist in designing for specific sites through a better understanding of context, are much needed in the field of development evaluation, and can enhance perspectives on urban conservation. There is also a small but growing demand for urban design educators and media commentators.
Graduates of the Master of Urban Design program at the University of Sydney occupy urban design positions in all of the above sectors (many of them at very senior levels) in cities and towns across Australia and elsewhere, especially in East and Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East and Europe.