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the politics of practice-orientation

2nd cluster meeting “practice-orientation”, 
technische universität berlin, may 05-10 2015

With urban and environmental challenges increasingly at the forefront of societal concerns and debates, the expectations and responsibilities resting upon built environment (BE) disciplines have arguably never been greater. Higher education needs to innovate and adapt to ensure that future built environment professionals are prepared to meet these expectations and responsibilities. To respond to the complex and shifting challenges associated with today’s urban age has therefore become something akin to conventional wisdom in conversations within and outside of academia. Even though, striving for innovation and achieving it are, of course, two different things – and the question how exactly built environment disciplines should adapt remains a matter of debate. Current discourse concerning innovation in education encompasses not only the question of how curricula and educational delivery practices should change but also in response to what and to what end. As Jenny Poxon (2000: 563) notes with reference to planning education:

Although the calls for planning education to change in line with the changing role of the planning profession are strong, there is in fact a great deal of uncertainty over what this role is at the present time and what it is likely to be in the future.

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Obviously, this uncertainty has also repercussions for strategizing about making higher education in the BE disciplines more responsive and relevant to practice. Urban Laboratories are taking up these challenges across the globe by applying practice oriented teaching in order to enhance the understanding of urban inclusion for helping to minimize socio-economic and spatial inequality in future cities. Even though, the need to enhance practice orientation in urban planning and education, urban design and related fields seems to be widely agreed upon, it is highly contested what kind of practice students should be prepared for and what teaching and research activities of BE university programs should be oriented at. Instead controversies exist. The most obvious being perhaps those between the broader aspirations of academics for BE graduates to develop a deeper understanding of socio-spatial issues and higher order skills in critical reflection, analysis, and open minded enquiry; the expectations of employers and students for their university education to equip them with the knowledge and skills demanded in professional/industry contexts; as well as the broader calls of communities and community activists for BE education to engage with – and contribute to – community needs and perspectives and advocate social justice.

The second meeting of Urban Lab+’s Cluster on “practice-orientation” seeks to dig deeper into the meanings and notions of politics of practice and practice-orientation in BE education. In particular it aims to explore and generate discussion in response to the following questions:

  • How is practice-orientation defined or conceptualized in higher education, by whom, and under what circumstances?
  • How can the plethora of different meanings and expectations associated with practice and practice-orientation be addressed and what should practice-orientation entail?
  • How can built environment education better inculcate interconnected conceptualizations of knowledge and education and what models exist to develop greater synergies between research, practice and teaching?

  • This Urban Lab+’s cluster meeting aims at advancing the cluster’s ongoing investigation of practice-orientation in practice. Following up on the lessons learned concerning the framework and pedagogy of studios and other course-based forms of university-community engagements during the cluster’s first meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, in November 2013, the Cluster Meeting in Berlin focuses on a deeper understanding of the politics of practice-orientation. It is set up around a Learning Dialogue (community workshop) organized by TU Berlin’s Urban Research and Design Laboratory together with its students, which will take the cluster meeting’s participants “into the field”. Held on site the workshop will ask participants to join a participatory planning workshop with cooperation partners, experts, stakeholders, students, teachers, and the general public to understand and discuss the challenges and development opportunities of an inner-city brownfield area close to Ostkreuz, a major public transport hub in Berlin’s East. During the dialogue, common objectives will be identified and action strategies developed. Against this backdrop and the experience of the invited Urban Laboratories the Cluster Meeting will exchange views, share experiences and develop common positions concerning the ways universities can and should engage with communities in the context of BE education. Invited experts and external guest will contribute to the discussion with zoom-ins to different aspects of practice-orientation in BE teaching and enable to reflect the Cluster members on their current insights.

    Further information concerning the program and on how to participate will be made available in the upcoming weeks.