It was during my undergraduate degree in Architecture, surrounded with the drive to build high and build bold, that I felt something tugging at me – What has this got to do with our people and our cities? As a design student in Pakistan, a country struggling like many others to manage urban influx and strained resources, the dire need for upcoming urban spaces to be resilient and relevant was an unavoidable question. As I travelled several countries, I continued to observe cases of irrelevant planning and decontextualized design policies causing developmental disparities between different regions. I couldn’t help but question how absent design practitioners had been in the process of rectification – in my Undergrad thesis I would go on to investigate the co-production of space through a design-based debate on architecture as a catalyst for urban change.
As an Architect, registered with the Pakistan Council of Architects and Town Planners, I worked at design firms in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. These experiences further motivated me to believe that architectural design needed to be empathetic and reflect the aspirations/needs of certain regions. As a result, my interest in the socio-political aspects of development multiplied and this led me to the Bartlett Development Planning Unit at UCL! The BUDD program at DPU helped consolidate my beliefs regarding the agency of design education, and consequent practice, to transform how our cities look and behave.
The combination of modules offered were ideal for acquiring critical skills to analyse spatial relationships within a city and equipped us to view urban development agendas critically. It helped us learn practical alternative strategies for responsible planning, enabling us to map and consolidate urban interdependencies which can contribute towards sustainable development. The exposure to the multifaceted discourses at the DPU can truly help build a strong foundation of students willing to holistically intellectualize global issues associated with urbanization.
I completed my MSc. BUDD in 2019, where the studio/field work projects gave me insight into the needed collaboration of various disciplines/actors for promotion of socio- economic justice through strengthening of formal and informal infrastructures. I went on to conduct my dissertation research focused on practical and theoretical design pedagogies under a fellowship with the Knowledge for Urban Equality (KNOW). After graduating, I was able to bring this knowledge and experience back home where I am currently working as an Assistant Professor at the Department of Architecture, COMSATS University Islamabad, Pakistan. Joining academia has allowed me to practically explore the power of design pedagogy and its impacts on future Architects’ and Planners’ practice dispositions!
As an academic, I am able to help students who aspire to shape the world, in unlearning prejudices regarding progress and development while contextualizing their design processes. I am also currently working on setting up a multidisciplinary think-tank which facilitates integrated development and generates relevant knowledge and skills for practitioners willing to work towards spatial justice policy and practice. I must say that the BUDD course reconfigured my ideas about built space and the role of design/development practitioners. If you are looking to join the DPU, just remember that you might not find all the answers, but you will for sure start asking the right questions!