UPD Studios with an International Focus

At the GSD, Urban Planning and Design studios often offer students the opportunity to grapple with global issues at the local scale. During spring 2014, students delved into the challenges of the coffee trade in Medellin and land reuse in Barcelona.

Kyle Belcher (MAUD ’15) participated in instructor Gian Carlo Mazzanti’s (design critic in urban planning and design) studio “Medellin: Urban Porosity as Social Infrastructure: A Multidisciplinary Hub for Change.” Along with Tatjana Crossley (MArch II), Belcher examined the impact of the coffee trade on the Colombian city. Belcher said, “Our research concluded that the processes of coffee were invisible to typical Colombians and tourists alike. We proposed a new series of micro-urbanisms in Medellin that both promoted coffee and its processes but also doubled as key social spaces within neighborhoods of Medellin.”

The interventions include a network of co-ops across the city and the promotion of planting and public space near creeks at risk of development. According to Belcher and Crossley, planting coffee near creeks will give the community “a livelihood through new agriculture. The agriculture is used to slow urban growth particularly around the creek; the infrastructure of agriculture doubles as spaces for education; the next generation is fully integrated into the city and also given an improved education for urban employment.”

Clayton Strange’s (MAUD ’15) studio work focused on the grids and urban systems of Barcelona. Professor Joan Busquets’s “Barcelona’s Grids: In Search of New Paradigms” was an open-ended experience that involved students identifying issues and solutions within the city.

Along with partner Wei Lin (MAUD), Strange focused on the Llobregat River. They sought to devise ways to rejuvenate an agricultural part of the city that has been marginalized as the site of undesirable infrastructure, such as highways and railways. Strange said, “The project tried to make the area more accessible and interesting to occupy, not just pass through.” In order to accomplish this, the team devised a series of “threads” that would connect the disparate sectors of the city, including existing canals, walkways, and bike paths.

Working with these local issues in new, international contexts was a learning experience for the students. “It made me think differently about how to work with landscape,” said Strange, and “take and a more systemic approach about how interventions take place.”

In the 2014-2015 academic year UPD students will have the opportunity to enroll in several studios with an international focus. During the fall, instructor Christopher Lee’s (assosciate professor of urban design) “The Countryside as a City” will look critically at the process of rural urbanization in China.