Diego recounts experiences of studying MSc Building & Urban Design in Developmentat the Development Planning Unit
I was born in Cochabamba Bolivia, after completing high school I went to study architecture at The Instituto Tecnológico de Monterrey (ITESM) in Mexico. After my undergraduate studies I started my professional career in a private Architectural Practice in Monterrey Mexico focused in high income residential projects, which meant only working for the top end of Mexican society. During this time I had the opportunity to take a break in order to be involved in a training scheme in Bucharest Romania where I participated in the design of a social housing project in a post communist context; this was my first taste to develop architecture producing effective solutions to the most needed.
After 8 years living abroad I decided to try my luck and go back to my native country Bolivia. I started working independently, decision that turn out to be instantly rewarding as after only 4 months I won a national architectural design competition and the opportunity to develop the full architectural project of the most important Cultural Centre in Bolivia, (Centro Cultural Santa Cruz currently under construction of phase II). The project was partly a small scale urban regeneration intervention which included the adaptation of a building formerly used as the headquarters of a bankrupt Bank in the city centre of Santa Cruz.
With these work experiences and securing funding from the Shell Centenary Scholarship Fund, I decided it was the right time to do a masters degree and University College London (UCL) was my first option. The Building and Urban Design in Development (BUDD) programme was the my best option as it had a perfect balance between theoretical analysis and a practical problem solving approach to the built environment in contexts to which I fully relate to. I also wanted to expand my abilities as an architect and learn innovative solutions for day to day challenges affecting individuals, neighbourhoods and cities in relation with urban development.
Once involved in the BUDD programme I realized that the course exceeded my expectations, I learned a completely different approach to work in architecture, learning about the power of participatory design or the importance of urban sustainability, some of the new tools currently marking my career. The course included practical assignments in real case scenarios: a studio slum intervention in Thailand, overseas fieldwork in Istanbul, urban analysis in Shoreditch-London and a construction workshop in Wales. These activities were very helpful to transfer all the theoretical knowledge learned in the course modules.
After completing the programme I wanted to put into practice my new BUDD skills by expanding my architectural portfolio into different areas related with architecture and development. After returning to Bolivia, besides working as a “traditional architect”, I started exploring into alternative architectural projects, for instance I worked with a BUDD colleague in the participatory design of a School for the Raramuri ethnic group in Mexico. Our project was shortlisted among the best projects of the 2009 Open Architecture Challenge; subsequently we collaborated with Architecture for Humanity providing design services for their post earthquake school reconstruction programme in Haiti.
At the moment I am working for Architecture for Humanity as a Design Fellow in a programme focused in post disaster school reconstruction in Latin America with projects in Peru, Chile and Mexico. The objective of the programme is to provide new innovative low cost schools in impoverished communities by producing educational facilities addressing environmental issues and promoting cultural sustainability.
I truly believe that my time in Development Planning Unit (DPU) was essential to reach my professional goals and to evolve my career to a higher level. I also want to acknowledge that the cosmopolitan environment and the great teaching staff at DPU made it easier for me to adapt as a student as well as meeting great people along the way.