The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


Aurélie Knecht

Aurélie Knecht
I started my learning journey studying a Bachelor of “European, Social, and Political Studies” with a specialisation in Spanish and Geography in UCL. Even though I really enjoyed my undergraduate programme, I soon realised that I wanted to work on something more tangible. I had the opportunity to do a year abroad in Mexico City, during which my interest for urban problematics started to grow and soon became a passion. I knew that I wanted to learn more about urban studies and I was convinced that Mexico City was the perfect place for me to do so. One of my undergraduate dissertation supervisor, Daniel Oviedo, strongly recommended me to pursue my studies in the Development Planning Unit (DPU). During a nice chat around a coffee, he encouraged me to apply and motivated me to start my masters degree. A few months later, I was off to Mexico City again, doing an internship in the Institute of Development and Transport Policy (ITDP), thanks to which I deepened my passion for mobility and transport, and developed a renewed understanding of essential urban dynamics such as accessibility and the Right to the City. Shortly after, I was on a plane to London, still not knowing how BUDD would completely change my universe.

Not only did I learn valuable insights about essential aspects of urban design and development, more essentially I found a new family and community. The learning experience was intense and unique, but what made it so special was the people. Both teachers and students shared a common passion and interest that made the exchange of knowledge and experiences so vivid and enriching. For me, the masters was particularly challenging as I was one of the few non-architect student. I had to learn a totally new approach to working and thinking, that introduced me to a new set of graphic skills, design thinking, and hands-on exercises.  I soon found out that my knowledge of social sciences and academic writing was complementary with my peers experiences in architecture and design, which made the group works inspiring and exciting.

Unfortunately, this beautiful adventure  was cut down half by the start of COVID-19, which separated us as we slowly returned back to our respective homes, spread out all around the world in our respective lockdowns. We still continued working remotely on our “field trip” in Medellin, with the same motivation but a lot less light-heartedness. It has been really hard emotionally to keep on working and studying so far away from each other, without the daily talks and interactions that had converted us into a small family. Beyond the difficulties, the sense of community never really faded and we achieved to build something incredible out of this adverse situation. The degree ended with the dissertation, for me about mobility and feminism in Mexico City, three of my favourite topics. The process was hard but so rewarding, and I could never thank enough my supervisor Ann Varley for her kindness and for pushing me to think out of the box, encouraging me in my ideas and believing in my potential.

This whole adventure ended once again in Mexico where I decided to look out for a job. After so many rejection emails and so many interviews, I finally started to work for IDOM as a consultant in the “city and territory” department. Working as a consultant was not part of my plans, however, I think that it is an amazing opportunity for me to learn and gain more experience, as I did not have a lot of working experience. The fast pace is challenging but I enjoy the variety of projects I am working on, from trinational Master Plans, to TOD strategies and international urban cooperation programmes. I know this is not the end of the road, as I still hope to discover other areas of the urban practice and to have the opportunity to concretise my passion for transport planning in the following years. 

Overall, I am so grateful for the life-changing conversations I had and still have with my BUDD friends and the teachers, and for the precious lessons learned that I try to apply in my everyday practice and life. The most valuable ones for me are about the constant questioning of our role of practitioner, of our responsibility to deconstruct and decolonise design and knowledge, and the endless possibilities that open up when we act collectively, with practices of care arising from participatory and bottom-up methodologies. I am still not sure how I will define my career in the urban world, but I surely know that I have a duty to represent these values, keep learning, and never stop believing in how cities and the people living in them have the power to shape a better future by working together. As someone recently said in a conference I went to, one of the most radical act one can imagine can be found in a hug. Small radical acts can bring us together and redefine the way we see each other as urban dwellers and practitioners. I hope you will have the opportunity to be part of the future BUDDies and be as inspired and thankful as I am for this wonderful experience.