The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


Igor Malgrati

Igor recounts experiences of studying MSc Building & Urban Design in Developmentat the Development Planning Unit

Igor Malgrati

Here in Kabul, in the garden of the house where I live, sunset is coming and muezzin is calling for prayer. I am thinking of my remote and recent past and how I ended up here in Kabul. Sometimes we question ourselves about which future we are expecting. We study those who did something in the world and those who changed the world. We observe lives of great thinkers and great builders. We listen to the music, we read books and we think of the messages in those. Curiosity makes us travel, observe and build a vision of the world. The latter, together with our dreams, makes us question which role we might play.

My academic career started with a Building Engineering Master’s equivalent degree at the Milan Polytechnic. The course had a multidisciplinary approach and focused on several aspects of urban and construction projects, such as history, environment, economics, architecture, law and management. Coming from a technical entry point, stimulated by some professors, I started developing a special attention to the relationships between lives, technology and the human environment from a cultural and historical perspective.

After my graduation, I started working as an engineer in the field of design and project management. Gradually, between 2002 and 2008, my interests shifted to the areas of sustainable development, cities in developing countries, globalization and social diversity and inequality. I adapted by both attending short courses and concentrating my professional practice in the sector of international cooperation.

In 2005, I worked for a year as Project Manager in Sri Lanka. There, I had the chance of coming across the issues of reconstruction in the emergency field, understanding the role of colonial history and tourism in changing culture, landscape, and settlements.

In 2007, I worked in Kabul as Manager of a project that was part of a UNHCR land allocation scheme. The project aimed at building a town for IDPs and returnees. It gave me the opportunity of analyzing the master plan made by the local Ministry and of witnessing a newly born town growing with all its economical, cultural, social, religious, historical aspects.

After my period in Afghanistan, I felt the need to take a break from my professional experience, in order to reflect on my previous activity and to integrate my academic and field experience through MSc study. Therefore, I decided to join the Building and Urban Design in Development (BUDD) course at the DPU. During my research for a university and course that matched my interests, I still remember my excitement when reading on the DPU’s website the following incipit: “The creation or modification of urban built environments that are socially acceptable, economically affordable and environmentally sustainable, pose an immense challenge for architects, builders, engineers, planners and other professionals.”

At the DPU, I found a holistic approach to development that was very much reflected in the diversity of the student population in terms of their cultural, academic and professional backgrounds. In the year I spent in London at the DPU, I had time to reflect on my past experience, to improve my teamwork skills, to shape my creativity and to develop dynamic and flexible tools for better analysing reality. This was achieved through discussions with professors, supervisors and other students, hours spent at the library, and group work that made the challenging link between practice to theory.

After the MSc BUDD course, I was offered the opportunity of an experience in Beirut as a Technical Consultant with the Italian Cooperation in Lebanon. While I was observing Beirut, I realized with surprise how much I had changed and how much my skills of uncovering the multifaceted aspects of that city had developed.

Coming back to the present, here in Kabul, in the garden of the house where I live, sunset has passed and muezzin finished his call. I have just landed again to Afghanistan for a job with the International Committee of the Red Cross. I am now managing the construction of the new Orthopaedic Center in Faisabad. I am well prepared to face this challenge with my collection of memories, history and meaningful academic path.