Award-Winning Paper Advocates for Global Design Thinking to Tackle Global Challenges

By Maggie Haslam / Nov 20, 2020

Hackable City | Heba Amer Dawood, Aisha Alaa Salih, and Kabas Abdul Hameed Salman

A new paper that promotes cross-continental, collaborative design exercises as a vehicle for tackling global challenges took the award for best paper at the 2020 European Association for Architectural Education and Architectural Research Centers Consortium joint international conference last week.

"Designing a Better World Together: inter-university partnership addressing UN2030 SDGs,” a collaboration between the University of Maryland and Al-Nahrain University in Iraq, was selected from an international pool of 152 entries and reflects on the universities’ longstanding collaborative partnership through their award-winning virtual design studio, Bridging the Gap.

“This award recognizes the potential for intercultural, inter-disciplinary collaboration to affect transformative global change,” said Professor of Architecture Madlen Simon, one of the report’s authors.

The paper was co-written by Simon and colleagues Shaimaa Hameed Hussein, Assistant Professor of Architecture, Al-Nahrain University, Baghdad, Iraq, and MAPP Senior Advisor Greg Weaver, who is also pursuing his doctorate in international education policy at UMD. Outlining the merits of both a design and multi-cultural approach to enduring problems, the paper offers a case study of the Bridging the Gap studio, positioning it as a model for international education and the 21st century global classroom. It specifically notes the strengths of using design, experimentation and collaboration to tackle the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 17 goals that demand “an urgent call to action” worldwide, from hunger and clean drinking water to renewable energy and infrastructure.

“With the challenges that COVID-19 and the travel bans have had on international education and student mobility, this virtual exchange has been a great way to bring together students from opposite sides of the globe,” said Weaver. “They have been able to develop much needed global skills that in this current climate would not otherwise happen.”

In 2016, Simon, Hussein and a group of professional advisors launched the Bridging the Gap studio with the support of multi-national design firm Gensler’s Washington, D.C. office, using the shared discipline of architecture to explore commonalities and counter misconceptions among two cultures nearly half a world apart. Connecting through social media and web conferencing, students from both universities collaborate through design exercises that bridge culture and distance, exploring urban challenges in each other’s built environment. The studio was recognized by the University of Maryland Global Classrooms Initiative in 2017 and was awarded Architect Magazine’s 2019 Studio Prize.

The EAAE-ARCC (European Association for Architectural Education and the Architectural Research Centers Consortium) 2020 International Conference is a highly-lauded worldwide, biennial event. This year’s conference took place at Polytechnic University in Valencia, Spain, and brought together researchers and scholars—both in-person and virtually—from around the world. UMD faculty and alumni presented a total of seven papers at the conference, including those by Assistant Professor Ming Hu, Associate Professor Edward Bernat (Psychology) and Anastasiya Volkova (BS Architecture ‘19).

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