As any new year should start with a new year’s resolution, in 2017 I made a few, including “going back to school”. Was it a sign of an early mid-life crisis? Or was it the fact that I realised that so much of what I am now, I owe to those people that taught me the basics of design and instilled in me the passion for what I do? I decided to go back to my roots and give something in return.
The opportunity arose when I was invited to take part in workshops and lectures on Urban Design at the University of Trieste in northern Italy, where I studied Architecture.
After an initial visit back in April where I gave first year students a brief introduction about urban development and place making in the UK, including an overview of our work here at Barton Willmore, I then went back to take part in a week’s worth of intense design workshops, acting as a mentor and sharing my knowledge with the eager to learn students.
During that intensive week of drawing, theorising and testing strategies, it dawned on me how quickly a professional’s relationship with academia, and the principles and theories learnt whilst studying, start to demise. The students I was working with were generating creative and innovative ideas that were pushing the boundaries of what would be deliverable.
As professionals, we are only too aware of the many constraints we face when approaching a project. We quickly fall into a process method of thinking that is dictated by industry and clients and following market trends. Spending a week with these students I couldn’t help but soak up their enthusiasm, impressed by their blue-sky thinking and freedom of creativity.
I went there with the aim of giving them something and I ended up receiving much more than I gave. Energy and enthusiasm in the first instance, and most importantly a strengthened self-consciousness of the value and relevance of my own knowledge and experience, not mentioning the exciting experience of having to stir the projects of more than twenty teams in one go, which I learnt requires not a negligible amount of mental (and physical!) flexibility.
Embracing the kind of blue-sky thinking we had as students and bringing it into our day to day working can result in a stronger thinking framework for what we do, the way we do it and how we can do it differently, to produce a high-quality result for our client and the design industry as a whole. Bridging the gap between academia and the professional world has an even greater potential. Universities hold a huge wealth of knowledge, contacts and research that often get locked into the academic world and aren’t fed back into the professional world; on the other side, the professional world can offer practical, transferrable skills - relationship building, an understanding of legal constraints, lobbying, finance, wider political, economic and social context and community engagement to name a few.
Many of us are already engaging with local universities – University of Reading, Oxford Brookes University, University of Gloucestershire to name a few. In these instances there is a clear opportunity for collaborative working, bringing practical working and academic thinking together, nurturing that relationship you build with your university whilst studying and continuing it into your professional career. As a practice, building strong and active relationships with local universities (some of which happen to be our long-established clients) represents a unique chance to create even stronger synergies with the communities where we operate, raising the company’s profile not only as a market leader but also as a thought-leader, and attractive to the best students and future professionals both during and at the end of their studies.
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Design Workshops, Education, University