BIG PICTURE THINKING
AT ARUP UNIVERSITY
Project timeline: April 2010 to November 2012
Services provided: Course design, workshop facilitation
As course director, Andrew Wisdom brought a big picture focus on how cities operate to an Arup University module on transit oriented development.
From 2010 to 2012, Andrew acted as course director for a new Masters-level module for Arup’s internal university. This module began life in 2010 as a partially formed idea about tackling transit oriented development. However Andrew felt that, as originally conceived, it would appeal to too narrow a cohort of staff to adequately meet the objective of engaging a broad Arup audience and exposing them to areas of built form practice outside their core disciplines. It needed more big picture thinking.
Accordingly, Andrew drew back from the specifics of transit oriented development and instead focussed on it as an example of efforts to make better use of the city system. They key issue was recognition that transit oriented development is not just about transit and not just about development, but about the private realm (commercial development), the public realm (urban design and street design), movement (transit operations and the way people get around), and regional planning and economics.
The idea of the city as a system whose operations could be improved is a powerful one and its introduction immediately opened up the possibility of Arup University exploring various elements of city systems at a big picture scale – public transport, information flow, energy flow, food and so on. Each of these is complex and perfect for attention by Arup. The approach Andrew adopted to this module reflected the strongly experiential nature of the learning experience – for the first time an Arup University module was conducted outside the confines of a rarified academic institution and instead was rooted in the practical landscape of project delivery.
This broader focus made for much richer content, relevant to a broader range of students and much more aligned to Arup’s ambition to be at the front of the intellectual field in all its areas of practice.
Andrew’s aspirations were met very successfully: The module was oversubscribed and Andrew was able to create a student cohort with a rich mix of experience, place of origin and discipline; the mix of observation, presentation and discussion in the face-to-face programme was challenging and rewarding for all; the benefits to the student cohort in terms of their appreciation and fluency in the issues faced by cities was very clear; and finally Andrew was able to create a group of people whose shared experience and friendship will stand them in good stead as their careers unfold. In its first incarnation, the module received the highest ever ratings from students for a new module at Arup University.
The idea of holistic thinking about urban systems has become an interest of Andrew’s. See Cities as Systems and on Cities as Systems of Systems.