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Architecture Students Plan Asian University

By Tongyan Lin


MIT’s Architecture graduate students are helping to design a campus for the Asian University for Women (AUW) in Chittagong, Bangladesh.

The students are led by Associate Professor of Architecture Ann M. Pendleton-Jullian, and are collaborating with students from the Rhode Island School of Design.

The AUW is funded by a multinational committee that aims to provide education for South Asian women from rural or underprivileged backgrounds, and prepare them to take leadership positions in those countries.

The AUW requested that the Rhode Island School of Design and MIT participate specifically, with the goal of the project to “present to the AUW four schemes” that are “very different” in order to encourage discussion by the middle of the year, Pendleton-Jullian said. They will also present one scheme that “we believe, with our experience, is the best.”

These schemes are master plans that will not detail rooms of the university, but will, according to the AUW web site, determine “the location, phasing, and general character of proposed buildings roads, paths, outdoor classrooms, parking service areas, and landscape.”

Project’s agenda is to teach

The project is part of the Master of Architecture curriculum at MIT, said Pendleton-Jullian. It is the final studio project for third-year graduate students before they begin their theses.

In addition, Professor Pendleton-Jullian set up a design workshop, where graduate students, not necessarily those from the studio, can “work as a team” to drive the ideas “towards a synthesis,” as well as collaborate with students from the Rhode Island School of Design.

Students work individually in the studios, focusing on one particular aspect and developing it, Pendleton-Jullian explained.

She stressed that the key aspect of MIT’s involvement was the “pedagogical agenda” of the project. It “allows the studio to remain very utopian in nature” but also allows students to address “very real” components, such as culture, security, and space, she said.

The value of doing this project in studio, she said, is that “what we can do in studio is go deeper than a professional may be able to.”

She said only that “we’ll see what happens” after the plans have been presented to AUW. The AUW Web site states that by Fall 2004, “an RFP (Request for Proposal) will be issued for architectural services to design the buildings identified with the first phase of campus development,” with construction under way by summer 2005.

MIT promotes development

It’s an “extraordinary opportunity for MIT students,” Pendleton-Jullian said, and is “extremely worthwhile” and a “way to give back.” She also said that the project fits in with the research environment of MIT, by putting “all these brilliant minds together” in order to “think about the project.” The architecture, like the AUW, should “be at the forefront,” she said.

“I think the project is great,” said Virginia G. Nolan G, who is part of the studio. Because it is “based on a real life project,” she said, “it forces you to be creative and anchor your creativity.”

“I think the concern of most people here is how you can share your expertise,” Nolan said of MIT’s relationship with helping development in international realms.

Nolan also said that she thinks MIT’s role in this particular project is important when many people are “so seriously repressing the rights of women” in that region.

Naveem Mowlah G, a student in the workshop who originates from Bangladesh, said that the project was personal to her and certainly positive. “There are less high-profile third world improvement projects,” she also said of MIT, which is “pretty good about exploring things like that.”

Students consider AUW goals

The AUW vision statement says AUW is to be a “world-class institution of higher education dedicated to preparing talented Asian women for leadership in the political, economic, social and cultural spheres.” Approximately 2500 students will enroll, and Pendleton-Jullian said half would receive full scholarships.

AUW’s vision statement delcares its purpose is to address “special barriers confronting Asian women” from countries such as Vietnam or Afghanistan and “is committed to removing those obstacles.” The vision also states that AUW aims to bring “women together across national, cultural, ethnic, linguistic and economic boundaries,” which will “nurture a network of women professionals who will drive the development and enrichment of their communities, countries and the region.”

Professor Pendleton-Jullian said she and her students are considering these goals of AUW in designing the university. She won the Rotch Traveling Studio Grant, which allowed her to travel to India and Bangladesh with her students to study the landscape, as well as eastern architectural planning and culture.

Security is one key issue, said Pendleton-Jullian, because while “this is about the empowerment of women,” the political climate of the area must also be considered.

“The structure would be western, but the content would be eastern,” she said of the university. Something she tries to emphasize is “architecture as a manifestation of cultural issues.”

Tim M. Morshead G, the Teaching Assistant for the course, said that “we are thinking a lot about what it means to be empowering” for the women. However, Nolan added that “some people would not like it to be so obtrusive.”

The AUW Web site says that the “campus environment will promote tolerance, recognize the particular needs of women from diverse backgrounds, and encourage community while respecting solitude.”

Dr. Adnan Morshed PhD ’02, an architect from Chittagong, said it is positive that “MIT can play a leading role in bringing 21st century training in leadership and management to marginal women who traditionally have not had access to quality education” and “help build the educational infrastructure of many developing countries.”

MIT “should forcefully extend its pioneering role in technology with a global vision ... which may in turn have a profoundly positive impact on a world increasingly divided along ideological lines,” he said.