Urban Design Methodologies and Tools for the Engaged Practitioner

Dr Cristina Cerulli tells us about her joint project with Dr Beatrice De Carli and Dr Florian Kossak, based in the School of Architecture.

MA Urban Design student running Design Charrette at Sheffield Urban Design Week 2014

MA Urban Design student running Design Charrette at Sheffield Urban Design Week 2014

The project consolidates, disseminates and capitalises on work around  tools and methods for creative engagement within urban design and transformations in the city, developed within the context of MA in Urban Design over the past  6 years, building on research by members of the Agency research group and with contributions by researchers and practitioners around the world. This will result in increased professional skills, and a collection of accessible tools that can be used by students, professionals and lay people to engage with urban design issues.

The project aims to collate, analyse, systematise, document and disseminate tools and methods for engagement within urban design and transformations in the city. . For a number of years we have developed innovative ways of working collaboratively in the city as part of MAUD design modules and we want to be able to share it with communities, practitioners and our future students.

We have now developed a module (ARC6978), Urban Design Tools and Methods, within which we have started systematising our creative approach to engaging within urban design processes or changes in the city. The content is structured around six categories: Situating, Gathering, Surveying, Mapping, Communicating and Critiquing.  For each category students are introduced to a series of methodological approaches to urban design & engagement/ participation/action, both in terms of practical skills and theoretical grounding. Each ‘tool’ is presented and contextualized (methodological approach) and illustrated through the work of students and researchers in the school who have ‘tested and modified’ these tools.

The main activities of the proposed project are around:

  • the systematic review of material produced in previous years to identify examples that can be used for learning purposes;
  • devising ways of making tools more applicable to other contexts;
  • producing a handbook with highlights of content (both in pdf and printed format);
  • producing a website to showcase selected content from past years to be enriched with new content every year.

Why this ‘Engaged Curriculum’:

The overall approach of the MAUD course is underpinned by a strong desire to address inequalities and to forge a new breed of practitioners that are equipped with skills and tools to tackle inequalities at all levels; much of the content of the course is focused in the Sheffield city and region and the module ARC6978 always has an area in Sheffield as a site of intervention (Demonstrating active and creative engagement with the theme of ‘inequalities in the city and region).

As part of the ARC6978 student regularly come in contact with a cross-section of citizens who have stakes in the area of intervention, which are chosen on the ground of being disadvantaged or having particular challenges around equality and integration. Significant proportions of those with whom students engage have had little exposure to higher education (Engaging with communities and groups which currently have little or no contact with higher education).

The ethos behind the MAUD course is one of holistically understanding cities as complex ecosystems; in that view addressing social, economic and environmental sustainability is fundamental (Addressing issues of sustainability in relation to social, economic and environmental factors)

An alternative ‘feedback form’ at Design Charrette at Sheffield Urban Design Week 2014 run by MA Urban Design student

An alternative ‘feedback form’ at Design Charrette at Sheffield Urban Design Week 2014 run by MA Urban Design student

For ARC6978 we seek to create frameworks for meaningful engagement and cooperation with partners and interested parties; the details of this framework change every year. This year for instance students are running a Design Charrette as part of the Sheffield Urban Design Week, where students invited responses to their initial work by member of the public, some of whom they had approached as part of their participatory investigation of their subject area. The main partners in this activity were the Sheffield City Council,architecture practice Auckett Swanke, plus a number of partners associated with Sheffield Urban Design Week (Developing civically/publically engaged modules which use participatory, inquiry-based pedagogies, Embedding existing extra-curricular/ad-hoc engaged learning activities into the curriculum in a sustainable way, Working in collaboration with partners in the city to enhance and achieve the University’s Learning and Teaching goals in relation to employability, cultural agility, communities of learning, and interdisciplinarity).


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