MUDD21 International Studio 2015-2016

Chicago Berlin

In November 2015, MUDD 21 students participated in a two-week International Design Studio, with the option to travel to either Chicago or Berlin. In Chicago, students were hosted in the offices of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and worked in teams to create urban design frameworks for the Obama Presidential Center site. In Berlin, students were hosted at the Technische Universität (TU) Berlin, working in teams and partnering with TU Berlin students to create urban design frameworks for mass affordable housing on a site in Prenzlauer Berg in the northeast of Berlin. Before leaving Sydney, students researched their respective cities, analysed the current urban policy, finance and marketing context and proposed sites that would be suitable for redevelopment.

In just two weeks, students were challenged to quickly learn about the development culture of a new city and create proposals that addressed a specific design brief and also aligned with overall city visions. Informative city walks, site visits, design critiques and lectures helped to create a fast-paced and dynamic learning environment. Being on the ground in both cities allowed students to engage with the social structures and street level experiences. Gaining an understanding of the socio-economic disadvantage and marginality of Chicago’s South Side and the empowered, creative nature of Berlin’s citizens provided students with an opportunity to develop urban design frameworks that were
sensitive to citizen needs.

The Students Experience


The MUDD21 Chicago Studio had the privilege of working in the office of our hosts, the Global City Design Practice, Skidmore Owings & Merrill. Under the direction of Urban Planning & Design Partner Philip Enquist, we were able to draw upon the formidable resources of SOM in our study of the Obama Presidential Center as a catalyst for change in the South Side neighborhoods of Chicago. Senior Urban Designer Dawveed Scully gave us exceptional assistance, introducing us to the South Side community. Our outreach involved participation in the worship services of the South Side African-American churches – the Life Center Church of God in Christ, Washington Park and the Apostolic Church of God, Woodlawn – together with the progressive, integrated congregation of First Presbyterian Church, activists in the Woodlawn community for more than 60 years.

We were able to work as interns in the SOM office on Level 10, 224 South Michigan Avenue with our own desks and computers. Students were spread through the office in groups to work closely with SOM staff. Before travelling to Chicago, three teams in Urban Design Studio 1 in Semester 2 had researched OPC issues and generated ideas for alternative locations on the South Side. These studies were presented to our SOM hosts at the beginning of the workshop as a ‘return brief’ to gain direction for our on-site investigations. During the design development phase, we benefited from continuing discussions with our hosts. The final jury presentation was held in the auditorium of the Chicago Architecture Foundation as an event of the Chicago Architecture Biennial, together with the MUPS presentation of their study for the Chicago Regional Transportation Authority.

The Obama Presidential Center and urban regeneration were the core issues of our collaborative workshop. We experienced the gap between the inspirational aims of the OPC and the realities of the South Side in the first tour of our study area led by Dawveed Scully. On this we were joined by UNSW MUPS students and Professor Sue Holliday who also joined our walking tour of ‘Chicago: Skyscraper City’ in The Loop and Prairie House Tour to the western suburbs of Chicago, the latter led by Emeritus Professor Paul Kruty from the University of Illinois. We began to understand the amazing urban form and building types of this great city. With assistance from Andrew Balster and his ARCHEWORKS team, we also had the opportunity to live within The Loop, further experiencing the culture of Chicago.

The MUDD21 Chicago Studio was an innovative, enriching experience. We accomplished an advanced study tour in the distinctive urban culture of Chicago and experienced first-hand the professional discipline of SOM. Our interactions with SOM and Chicago friends over the urban potential of the Obama Presidential Center helped broaden our perspectives as future urban designers.