Jessica recounts experiences of studying MSc Building & Urban Design in Developmentat the Development Planning Unit
I completed my undergraduate in Architecture at the University of Malta and after five years of learning about both architectural and structural design, I was pretty certain that neither of these were the career path I really wished to follow! I was lucky enough to have a number of opportunities to go on volunteering trips during my summer holidays, to North and East Africa.
Through these experiences of discovering new cultures and coming face to face with poverty and injustice, I began to identify where my real passion lies. Because of this, I decided to search for a Master course which would introduce me to the world of Development. However in all honesty, I had never heard about the Development Planning Unit before I landed on their website after a random Google search!
The BUDD programme provided me with a perfect balance between what I knew (Architecture) and what I wished to learn about (Development). And so… the new adventure began!
The course led to a year of intense work, with both theoretical and practical aspects. Although the course seems design-focused at first glance, the course is structured in such a way that provides space for each student to explore aspects of urban development that are not necessarily architectural approaches. In fact many students came from educational backgrounds that had nothing to do with Building and Urban Design. Since much of the work was group oriented, it allowed us to learn from each other and also be exposed to the multitude of cultural backgrounds of each individual BUDDie!
Personally, an important aspect of the DPU was their close working relationship with ACHR and the Community Architects Network. We were initially introduced to their approach during our design module in the first term. However, the real exposure came during our fieldwork in Cambodia, when we got the opportunity to experience their projects which were all achieved through community-led development. For me, this immediately helped me to recognise the type of work I wished to pursue.
Soon after completing the course, whilst working as an intern at WaterAid in London, I got the opportunity to form part of the second batch of ACHR-DPU interns, to work in the Philippines for six months with TAMPEI, the technical support group for the Homeless Peoples Federation Philippines (HPFPI). The three of us were placed in different offices across the country, and were all given different types of work depending on our background and interests.
The internship proved to be a great opportunity, both for career and personal growth, so much so that I decided to extend my stay by a further six months. In this way, I was able to immerse myself further in each project that I was involved in. Based in the regional office on the beautiful island of Cebu, I was part of a small technical team of engineers and architects who provided any and all forms of technical support to the communities who were members of HPFPI. The work ranged from housing construction, design and building communal toilets, and coordinating community mapping activities which formed part of the SDI program called "Know your city".
The learning I received from my colleagues and the community members who I worked closely with enabled me to understand how the different aspects of community-led development fit together, grounding the knowledge and theories we discussed during the BUDD programme.
Although I am only at the beginning of my career, the exposure I have gained through the internship and my time at the DPU have given me a solid basis upon which to build on. My time in the Philippines taught me that hardly anything ever goes exactly as planned, be it in a project, or in life! However, as our BUDD lecturers always repeated, simply remain flexible and learn from each experience!