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Urbanism at the LSE

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Lord Archer, putative mayor for London, faced a select audience at the London School of Economics last week. He was crossed-examined not just about London's economy, competitiveness and local government but about public space, architecture, sustainability, housing density and integrated public transport.

The initiative, one of a series of monthly grillings of mayoral candidates, marks the entry into the urban debate of the London School of Economics. Organised jointly by Ricky Burdett's new Cities Programme and Tony Travers' Greater London Group, the interdisciplinary emphasis - embracing the built environment and urban policy - reflects the intellectual aims of the masters programme in city design and social science which starts at the lse in September 1998.

Burdett has assembled a formidable team of academics and practitioners to implement the new programme funded by the Ove Arup Foundation: architect Eric Parry, developer Roger Zogolovitch and economist Max Steuer complement the core team of LSE urban social scientists and practising designers.

A radical initiative

The fundamental aim of the Msc in City Design and Social Science is to address the key urban issues by training designers and social scientists to think more broadly; to understand the interdependence of social and spatial form; and, ultimately, to better manage urban change. The 12-month full-time course, which can be taken in two or three years part-time, has been designed to appeal to individuals from different academic and professional backgrounds. Short introductory courses in design and social science will ensure a relatively high level of tutorial, and technical assistance will facilitate the process of integration between the different disciplines.

The distinguished urban sociologist Richard Sennett has been centrally involved in the programme since its inception. In his books The Fall of Public Man and Flesh and Stone, Sennett has explored the social nature of public space and argued for the intensification of urban activity. He will move to the lse from New York University to lecture on urban studies and take part in studio projects, acting as a springboard for the dialogue between design and social issues.

Infrastructure is a key to urban regeneration. The lse programme tackles this important issue with a new course co-ordinated by Tony Ridley. A transport engineer who oversaw the establishment of Hong Kong's mass transit system and now heads the department of civil engineering at Imperial College, Ridley brings insight to the design and implementation of complex urban projects. Together with lse economist Stephen Glaister, Ridley will co- ordinate a lecture course on urban infrastructure that includes sustainable design, cost-benefit analysis, risk assessment and management. Case studies of real projects - such as Broadgate, the Jubilee Line Extension, King's Cross and Paddington Basin - will provide an interdisciplinary perspective on a range of projects of different scales and uses.

Students in the masters programme will be required to complete optional courses within the lse's social-science departments. These include courses on housing and public policy, population studies, real-estate practice, economic aspects or urban change and techniques of operational research.

The social and technical perspective of the taught courses will be channelled into the city design studio, the key integrative element of the programme. The studio is an urban laboratory that will focus on live projects in London. For the 1998-99 session, projects will include the World Squares for All pedestrianisation scheme, the Millennium Village in the Greenwich Peninsula and public space interventions in Southwark. All cases will directly involvement key design staff and consultants actively engaged in the live projects rangings from the established firms of Norman Foster, Richard Rogers and Richard MacCormac to emerging design practices.

Significantly, there will be input from engineering consultants and planners, as well as clients and developers. The novelty of the studio will not only be in its process but also in its products. Students will work in groups, made up of three or four individuals from different disciplines. The output may take the form of strategic design alternatives, the re- writing of development briefs, or the assessment of real estate and social impacts of design options. In all cases, students will be actors in the urban dynamic of everyday reality, within the rigour of an academic framework.

Benefits and opportunities

The long-term aim of the programme is to educate a new generation of professionals who will have a positive impact on the making of cities and the built environment. Graduates from the programme will be better informed and in a better position to influence policy. By learning the different disciplinary 'languages', they will be able to integrate their skills with the other professions involved in the design, development and implementation of urban projects. They will be better equipped to provide objective evaluations of the social, economic and environmental viability of urban schemes before they are built.

Architects, planners and engineers who have completed the course should be able to return to practice and run complex urban projects with greater confidence, knowledge and efficiency. Public and private clients will be able to write better briefs and have a clearer view of how to integrate design with social processes. This course does not intend to create a new breed of super-designers, super-planners or super-managers. We know this does not work. It is an academic initiative predicated on interdisciplinary curiosity from the key players who make decisions about the built environment, whether they work in a design studio, a planning department, a developer's office or, perhaps, with London's new mayor.

For further information on the MSc in City Design and Social Science please call Cathy Jones or Richard Burdett on 0171 955 6828, fax 0171 955 7695, e-mail architecture@l se. ac.uk, or write to Richard Burdett, director, Cities, Architecture and Engineering Programme, London School of Economics, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE

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