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Norman Foster Travelling Scholarship

In 2017, I was fortunate enough to win the RIBA Norman Foster Travelling Scholarship, with my proposal ‘Emerging Cities: Sustainable Master Planning in the Global South’. This is just to tell you a bit about the scholarship, tips for applying, and what will come next in my series.

Gateway of India, Mumbai

The scholarship has been running for 13 years now, with each university being able to submit one applicant per year, and then one winner being selected from the applicants. It is open to all architecture schools globally, so is a big competition against a huge range of amazing students. The winning scholar receives £7000 to fund their travels for their proposed project and then is at liberty to decide how they will pursue their goals – it is usually completed during the summer, although previous scholars’ trips have varied from 2 months to 6 months. The next cycle will open up in February 2020, with travel expected to take place in the summer 2020.

To apply for the scholarship, you must submit one A1 poster with up to 400 words, in addition to a form stating how you intend to use the money (and how you will fund anything over the budget). The money can be used for transport, day to day costs, but also equipment – for example, a camera to document the trip or a bike to get around (refer to Charlie Palmer’s scholarship topic).

My advice for applying for the scholarship is to prepare early so that you have time to create a strong poster and a very clear proposal. I’d highly recommend getting advice from your tutors for layout, topic ideas and general competition guidance – I am sure I would not have won without the help and support of my tutors. Most importantly, you need to think out of the box. The topic needs to be very current and must relate to an urban context, but otherwise the world is your oyster. Previous examples have included projects on cycling in megacities, communities in informal settlements, and nature in mega cities. The ongoing project is by Siti Nuarfaf Ismail: ‘Architecture of Humility’, in which she is exploring the role of the architect post natural disasters.

Once you have your topic idea, it needs to be narrowed down into a niche and unique proposal. Try to think of a current world project, and then think of case studies you could study that would prove (or disprove) your ideas. This is the exciting part -where do you want to travel?! The scholarship opened up so many opportunities for me that were not in my sights while studying, as there was just no way I would have been able to afford it.

My proposal

My main aim for this project was to study the successful design development of Curitiba (Brazil), and consider the ways in which these design principals could be applied to cities across the global south.

I travelled to Brazil (Sao Paulo, Brasilia and Curitiba), India (Mumbai) and Indonesia (Jakarta). This gave me a huge range of case studies and examples from different climates and cultures.

To begin, I needed to understand WHY each of these cities is developing at an exponential rate. To do this, I explored the push factors that are driving people from the rural locations, and the pull factors encouraging them to move to cities. How does this vary across cities of different scales, and on different continents? Are there similarities, differences, changes? Rapid urbanisation in cities leads to pressures on resources, which can be improved through sustainable design. There are many different strategies for doing this - some successful, some not.

This is where my interest in Curitiba plays an important role. This is a fairly small city in Brazil, which has developed using a strong urban master plan, creating extensive and successful transport links across the city, effective recycling, and many pedestrian only areas. This was implemented by Jaime Lerner, an architect and the Mayor at the time of the big changes. However, there are still a number of informal settlements, making up about 8% of the city's population - these are mostly on the periphery of the city, which implies that the transport allows people to commute into the city for work, yet live in a cheaper area in which they are less likely to be displaced.

Curitiba, Brazil

My research then led me to the other side of the world. I planned to travel to Mumbai and Jaipur in India, followed by Jakarta in Indonesia – unfortunately, I experienced many issues in India, which I will discuss later. These are all very large cities which have experienced an extremely high rate of urbanisation, leading to many slums in the cities. I will explore the pressures this causes, and also the proposed development plans that have been suggested.

The experience

Overall, the scholarship has been the best experience of my life. The chance to research abroad resulted in my first ever solo trip (straight in the deep end – two months and four continents in the end!). It has also improved my personal skills and confidence, I met so many incredible people on my trip, I have improved my presentation skills and had further opportunities since.

One of those opportunities has been to work at the Norman Foster Foundation in Madrid this past summer. My connection with Foster + Partners and the Foundation meant that I was able to go over as an intern for three months, as part of my year out. This was such an amazing time, working on really interesting projects and gaining experience working/living in a new culture.

Brasilia, Brazil

The blog

Over the next few blogs, I will tell you about the trip and each destination I visited, the research I conducted, the challenges I faced and the opportunities it has presented me since. I would highly recommend anyone thinking of applying next year to speak to your tutors, and I am more than happy to answer any questions.

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