RMIT is fostering the next generation of humanitarian designers through a new postgraduate degree to build critical skills in design-led disaster recovery.
Developed in partnership with the International Federation of the Red Cross and UN-Habitat, the Master of Disaster, Design and Development explores how design can be used as a strategic tool to help resolve complex global challenges including poverty, natural disasters and climate change.
Together with a new book on designing resilient housing, the degree was officially launched this week by RMIT Vice-Chancellor and President, Martin Bean CBE.
The launch was preceded by an industry symposium: Designing for a Fragile Planet.
Associate Professor Esther Charlesworth, Director of the Humanitarian Architecture Research Bureau (HARB) at RMIT, said demand was growing for architects, engineers and other design professionals to contribute to meaningful planning and rebuilding following disasters.
“Each year over the past decade, an average of 27 million people around the world have lost their homes due to natural disasters,” Charlesworth said.
“While there is an immediate need for emergency shelter and infrastructure solutions after a disaster, the bigger picture and longer game is to provide broad strategic support for the rebuilding of devastated cities and landscapes.
“Humanitarian design is about redefining design problems and solutions by engaging communities directly and allowing them to participate meaningfully in the rebuilding of their homes, villages and lives.”
Combining intensive seminars and workshops in Melbourne or Barcelona, online electives and field trips, the Master of Disaster, Design and Development delivers specialised knowledge and practical skills drawn from a range of practitioners and academics, working with global industry leaders such as IFRC and UN-Habitat on disaster simulations and projects.
Students will research and develop design-informed strategies and spatial solutions for implementation in real-world scenarios such as natural disasters, complex emergencies and development projects.
Dan Lewis, Chief of the Urban Risk Reduction Unit for UN-Habitat, is a senior contributor to the development of the degree and was a keynote speaker at the official launch.
“The Master of Disaster, Design and Development starts from the premise that unless you build community and social infrastructure around post-disaster housing, it’s nearly always doomed to failure,” Lewis said.
“But if you engage with local communities – allowing new housing to also generate local employment by using local labour and local supply systems for example – it can be transformative.”
Lewis was among a number of industry speakers at the Designing for a Fragile Planet symposium, including Kirsten McDonald (Associate Principal of International Development, Arup), John Richardson (National Coordinator of Emergency Preparedness, Australian Red Cross) and Lew Short (General Manager of Risk, Consequence and Resilience, Emergency Management Victoria).
The official launch of the degree coincided with the launch of Sustainable Housing Reconstruction: Designing Resilient Housing After Natural Disasters (Routledge, 2015).
Co-authored by Charleworth and HARB research fellow Dr Iftekhar Ahmed, the book is a vital resource for professionals, policy-makers and community stakeholders working in international development and disaster risk management sectors.
Sustainable Housing Reconstruction explores 12 case studies located in a variety of locations, climates and economies: from Australia, Bangladesh and Haiti, to Sri Lanka, the USA and Vietnam.
Both visually engaging and informative, the book investigates how cities, towns, villages – and more importantly communities – are rebuilt after being torn apart by disaster.
Move your career in a new direction: Applications open 1 May for the Master of Disaster, Design and Development. Classes start in July.