Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Urban Design: End of Year Show 2018

This year, the Urban Design End of Year Show featured work from students on the MA in Urban Design, MArchD in Architecture (Urban Design specialism) and BA in Urban Design, Planning and Development. The exhibition opened with a private view on Friday 25 May and opened to the public on Monday 28 May 2018. And the good news is that the exhibition runs until Friday 29 June - so you can still go and see it! Click here for further details.

I went along the day before it opened to take a few photos...there are lots more photos (including the opening night) on our Facebook page here: School of the Built Environment on Facebook.

The fabulous street scene (featuring fake grass)...

...and from the other end.

At work in the Urban Labs

Some of the work on display...

...and some more.

One of my favourites :)

For more information on our courses take a look at the course entries on our website:

BA Urban Design, Planning and Development
MA Urban Design
MArchD Applied Design in Architecture

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

A Trip to Town: the MSc Historic Conservation London field trip 2018

It's the end of the teaching year for students on the Oxford Brookes MSc in Historic Conservation. To mark it, we organised a day out in London, with visits to four organisations involved – in their different ways – with the conservation of the capital's historic built environment. Report by David Garrard, Course Leader.

Our first stop, just north of Oxford Circus, was the London HQ of the international real estate agents and planning consultants Savills. Over coffee in the plush corporate restaurant (not something you often get in this line of work) we talked to Brookes alumnus and head of heritage planning Jason Clemons and his colleagues from the company's recently-established team of historic environment experts, who give in-house advice on negotiating the complex regulatory framework that surrounds listed buildings, scheduled monuments and other heritage designations.

Coffee and conversation at Savills

A stroll up Portland Place, passing by John Nash's neoclassical church of All Souls' Church, McCormac Jamieson Prichard's extension to BBC Broadcasting House, and Grey Wornum's exquisitely-crafted Royal Institute of British Architects, took us to the Devonshire Street premises of architecture practice Donald Insall Associates. This illustrious firm, established in 1958 and still presided over by that doyen of conservation architects Sir Donald Insall, has been involved in hundreds of major heritage schemes from Liverpool to Shanghai, and is currently at work on the forthcoming £4bn restoration programme for the Palace of Westminster. Director of historic buildings consultancy Hannah Parham and her colleagues talked us through some recent projects, and discussed the development and influence of Insalls' distinctive conservation ethos.

The offices of Donald Insall Associates at 12 Devonshire Street

Pausing only to peer through the scaffolding at Park Crescent West – a famous Nash terrace reconstructed in semi-facsimile after the Blitz, now being pulled down and re-reconstructed as a supposedly more accurate copy of its former self – we took the Tube across town to the City of London. The district within and around the former walls of Roman Londinium is the capital's historic core; it is also one of the world's leading financial centres, where the insatiable hunger for office space sends ever more glass shards and pinnacles thrusting skywards from among the medieval alleyways, Wren churches and Edwardian banking halls of the ancient Square Mile.

Architectural contrasts in the City of London

Presiding over this architectural wrestling match is the planning department of the City of London Corporation – the world's oldest continuously-elected municipal authority – whose conservation and design officer Ben Eley gave us a fascinating walkabout. Meeting outside the great 15th-century Guildhall, we dropped in on the City Centre model (a continuously-evolving 1:500-scale reconstruction of the City's urban fabric), Edwin Lutyens' palatial Midland Bank (lately renovated and reopened as The Ned hotel), James Stirling's celebrated/notorious 1 Poultry (one of a series of 1980s Postmodernist buildings recently given statutory listed status), and the church of St Stephen Wallbrook (a miniature Baroque masterpiece by Christopher Wren with a huge central altar sculpted by Henry Moore).

The City of London model (left) and the Ned Hotel (right)

Our final call was at the offices of Historic England. This is the public body, until recently part of English Heritage, that gives statutory advice to central and local government on all aspects of the historic environment, from the selection of listed buildings and scheduled monuments to the giving of maintenance grants and the training of heritage professionals. Historic buildings inspector Claire Brady and her colleagues discussed current issues and gave us a tour of the office, including the extraordinary roof gardens suspended above the Thames between the twin Italianate towers of Cannon Street station.

On the roof at Cannon Street

Last stop: the pub - in this case the Ship, a tiny back-street tavern under the looming shadow of Rafel Viñoly's gargantuan 20 Fenchurch Street , a.k.a. the ‘Walkie-Talkie’. A suitable end to a day of startling contrasts.

The Ship and its neighbours

To find out more about the MSc Historic Conservation, take at look here:

MSc Historic Conservation - course details
MSc Historic Conservation - blog posts

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Spatial Planning and Urban Design: presentations and models

It's coming up to the end of the (academic) year and the students are presenting their work. The main exhibition, the Urban Design End of Year Show 2018 will be held from 28 May - 29 June 2018 (more details on the main website). The photos that follow show the students on the MSc/PGD Spatial Planning presenting their work to their tutors and the array of models building up on the second floor...

Students on the MSc/PGD Spatial Planning presenting...

...and discussing their work.

A selection of models produced by first year students on the BA Urban Design, Planning and Development.

And models produced for the end of year show by students on the MArch taking the Urban Design option... 

These, and others will be on display at the end of year show.

For more information about the end of year show and the courses mentioned, please click on the links below:

Urban Design End of Year Show 2018
BA Urban Design, Planning and Development
MA Urban Design

Monday, 14 May 2018

Urban Lab 2: Live Project 2018 - with East Oxford Primary School

This semester, students on the BA Urban Design, Planning and Development took part in the Urban Lab 2 and worked with the East Oxford Primary School as their live project client. The students worked with the Headteacher and the Chair of Governors to develop housing proposals for the school site to generate income for reinvesting in the school building. As part of the project the students had a visit from 30 children in Year 4 who came to Brookes for an Open Space Design Workshop. The students delivered the workshop and the results informed their final proposals. The final project presentations took place on Monday 30 April at East Oxford Primary School with an audience including local residents, Councillors, school teachers and lecturers to discuss and provide feedback.

The Headteacher of EOPS said: 'Thank you for the amazing work produced by your students. They have given us lots of ideas for ways forward, and I was very impressed by both the attention to detail and the accuracy in the designs. You have clearly done a great job in inspiring and facilitating them! Pass on my thanks to them, and - who knows - maybe in ten years' time they will see one of their ideas standing on this site!'

And now for some photos...

Thinking about what makes a Happy Street...

...and getting to work in the Urban Design Lab at Oxford Brookes.

The results!

The final presentations at East Oxford Primary School.

And finally, the students who made it all happen, with Laura Novo de Azevedo (in the front) who is a Senior Lecturer at Oxford Brookes and leader of the BA Urban Design, Planning and Development.

To find out more about the BA Urban Design, Planning and Development, take a look at the course page on our website:

BA Urban Design, Planning and Development

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Cowley Carnival 2018: Student Work

Last Friday (27 April) students on the Built Environment Foundation (at Oxford Brookes) exhibited some of the work they have been doing for the Cowley Road Carnival. The carnival started in 2000, aiming to give Cowley Road its groove back. Watch a video of the 2017 events below:

This year, with the support of Cowley Road Works, the students have been exploring the diverse communities and places that make up the Cowley Road. The exhibition featured the research they have been doing into Cowley Road and the visions and ideas they have for making the street an even better public space that meets the needs of all of Cowley's residents.

Emma Wragg the course leader said: 'this is the fourth year that students in the School (of the Built Environment) have benefited from working on a live project with Cowley Road Words.  It  really enriches the student learning experience - developing design, management and collaborative skills that are all crucial in practice. The opportunity to make a difference in their local community also empowers students to produce great work!' 

Some photos of the exhibition follow...

Set up in the JHB Forum

Cowley Road

The portable cardboard box seat

The Lego model

This year, the Cowley Road Carnival will take place on Sunday 1 July. It's a great day out! For more information on the Foundation in the Built Environment take a look at our website:

Foundation in the Built Environment

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

MSc Infrastructure and Development: the new course explained

The School of the Built Environment (SBE) is introducing a new postgraduate course for September 2018:
MSc Infrastructure and Sustainable Development. I had a chat with Emma Wragg, subject leader for the new course and asked her some questions about her background and why the new course has been set up. First of all, I asked her to sum up the MSc in one sentence:

This is the ideal course for people looking to access broader/more senior career opportunities
working in urban development planning, particularly if they are looking for a significant practice based element and teaching delivered by both academics and practitioners in industry.

Emma Wragg, subject leader for the MSc Infrastructure and Sustainable Development

And here are her answers to the rest of my questions:

How did you find your way into Planning?
My first career was as a solicitor, working first in London and then the Middle East focused on
commercial property and finance. I decided on a career change when we moved back to the UK and signed up for the MSc Planning in Developing and Transitional Regions at Oxford Brookes. I have always had an interest in urban change in African cities, having lived for a long time on the Copperbelt in Zambia. The MSc was hugely inspiring, and I found myself back in Zambia after the MSc embarking on a PhD focused on housing markets in unplanned settlements. The experience of the PhD was enough to get me hooked on academia, so on returning from Zambia I started teaching.

What do you enjoy most about your subject?
I love my job! I found myself telling my daughter last week that I thought I had the perfect job. I am
passionate about how we make better more inclusive cities and teaching allows you to share your
passion. University teaching is also extremely rewarding - it’s hugely creative, interactive and at
Brookes you have the added benefit of learning with students from all over the world. I am not sure
whether there are many other jobs where you have an excuse to be constantly researching change
in your field and learning new teaching technologies which didn’t exist when I was at University.

What exactly is Infrastructure Planning?
We can’t live in cities without infrastructure - it underpins human wellbeing, wealth creation, and environmental sustainability. We need it to access water, sanitation, energy, the internet; but it is also about the homes, transport, schools, open space and the community facilities we need. Infrastructure planning in a nutshell is about how we identify those needs and provide for them. This makes it seem fairly straightforward but determining ‘what should go where and when’ is a complex political process that can entail major conflicts between different interest groups. It’s not something planners can do alone, good skills in collaborating and negotiating with others are key. Planners need to work closely with communities to identify needs as well as drawing on and influencing the investment strategies and infrastructure programmes of stakeholders across the public and private sectors. Planning may not seem so exciting as construction! Everyone – communities, investors, politicians - is always in a hurry to get to the implementation stage and see things built. However, if we don’t get the planning right, we end up with infrastructure that doesn’t meet peoples’ needs and may do more harm than good. This is exactly what is happening at the moment in many cities in low and middle income countries – there are unprecedented infrastructure investment plans with practically no planning.

Why did SBE decide to start the MSc Infrastructure and Sustainable Development?
The new MSc came about as a result of a collaboration across SBE with practitioners in industry. It responds to the high demand internationally for professionals in infrastructure planning and industry’s requests for MSc courses which include more practical and interdisciplinary skills. It has been a great experience working with practitioners – in development agencies, engineering and planning consultancies and finance banks – to design the content of the course and work out how best to teach it together.

Who is the MSc Infrastructure and Sustainable Development for?
The course is aimed at both students and professionals seeking a career in government, the private sector, NGOs or multilateral and bilateral development agencies in the field of infrastructure planning and international development. It will appeal to undergraduate students who may be thinking of a career in international development and want to acquire vocational skills which are in high demand with employers. The programme has also been carefully designed with flexible online delivery to meet the needs of working professionals who want to enhance their capacity to work in infrastructure planning. The expected destinations of graduates include engineering and planning consultancies working in middle and low-income countries, such as AECOM, ARUP, Mott MacDonald and Atkins; development agencies, e.g. World Bank, UN Habitat, DIFD, USAID; local government planning authorities in low and middle- income countries and NGOs including Oxfam, Care International and WaterAid. Putting it more succinctly, I would say the course will be relevant to anyone interested in shaping environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive cities in low and middle income countries!

How is the MSc Infrastructure and Sustainable Development taught?
The structure of the MSc provides a flexible pattern of study that allows students to study the programme full time over an academic year or part-time in open-learning mode (online) over two years. Students can start either in September or January and easily switch between open-learning
and full-time modes of study. The course is taught by an interdisciplinary team of academics and practitioners from private practice, development agencies and the public sector with direct personal experience of planning and delivering infrastructure programmes in development contexts. We have taken this collaborative approach to teaching to give students an authentic and current learning experience. For this same reason we also make use of Problem Based Learning (PBL) to support students in developing key skills in problem solving and decision making. This is achieved through working on a variety of real-life case studies drawn from around the world.

How does the MSc Infrastructure and Sustainable Development fit together?
The programme consists of 4 compulsory modules, plus training in research methods and a major
piece of student research. Core teaching on sustainable development, governance, finance and programme planning is designed to provide both critical theoretical perspectives and practical skills.
These include both infrastructure appraisal methods and approaches to programme design and evaluation. To develop these skills, the course includes a core practice-based module where students can experiment with and test approaches through the design of their own programme. There is also an international field trip in the Easter break which aims to provide students with a deeper understanding of the role of governance in achieving equitable infrastructure delivery.

Find out more about the MSc Infrastructure and Sustainable Development
You can follow this link to the course page on the University’s website. And for more information, you can contact Emma Wragg on e.wragg@brookes.ac.uk

And finally, Emma explains why the MSc Infrastructure and Sustainable Development is focused on cities in the low income and middle income countries:

The focus is on the Global South although the content of the course tackles challenges which are
relevant to many cities in the world. The emphasis on the Global South is a reflection of the extreme
shortage of trained professionals with the right skills to respond to the infrastructure challenge in these regions. Moreover, the need for infrastructure planning is particularly acute with ramifications
for poverty alleviation, climate change and environmental sustainability.

To put it in context, the world’s urban population will increase by 60% over the next 30 years, from 3.6 billion to 6.3 billion, and 95% of this growth will take place in low and middle income countries.
This rapid urbanisation has been happening without adequate investment in infrastructure and basic
services, with particularly severe consequences for those living in low income and unplanned
settlements. It’s an alarming statistic, but about 52% of the urban fabric we need to respond to this
projected urban growth is still to be built! To achieve the 1st Sustainable Development Goal of
ending poverty by 2030 this must respond not just to new urban growth but the estimated 1 billion
urban dwellers who currently live without access to basic services.

How this is going to be achieved in low and middle income countries is an enormous challenge – we
no longer have the supplies of energy and materials needed to roll out sufficient infrastructure using
conventional approaches. Even if we did, there is still the issue of the impact all this city building is
having on ecosystems and climate change. Cities account for 80% of greenhouse gas emissions and
so getting this new infrastructure right will be critical in whether the world locks itself into a high or
low carbon growth trajectory over the next 15 years. This requires a step change in our approach to
infrastructure planning and this course will be one of the first in the UK to deliver this !

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

VU.CITY and the Digital Model of London

On Thursday 19 April, first year students on the BA Urban Design, Planning and Development were treated to their own session on the recently launched VU.CITY project. Amy Hazlehurst, Product Custodian at VU.CITY visited Oxford Brookes to present the digital model of London to the students and she also gave a lunchtime presentation to staff.

Amy Hazlehurst presenting the VU.CITY project to students and staff. On the left, the students are voting on a proposition as to the usefulness of this visualisation work in helping decision-makers to assess the impact on townscape assessments in planning. 

Mike Stubbs, Senior Lecturer in the School of the Built Environment (and responsible for setting up the visit) said afterwards: 'The students really enjoyed and engaged with this exciting new digital model that will revolutionise the way that the visual impact of development can be assessed as well as the impacts that follow as cityscapes evolve and change as new developments come forward'.   

A bit more about VU.CITY (from their website)...
VU.CITY: the largest and most accurate fully interactive digital city models. Until now we have relied on physical models and CGIs to help visualise the future. Now we have created the largest and most accurate truly interactive digital city model, continuously updated to provide a revolutionary tool for architects, developers, advisors and the public sector. VU.CITY saves time and money for anyone involved in planning or development and is directly leading to better decision making. It is already being used by local government, public bodies, architects, land owners, developers and property agents. Using game engine technology, users can import their own 3D model into VU.CITY to immediately place their proposals in context and and test their visual impact, scale and massing.

Take a look at the VU.CITY project for yourself here: