by Jerry ElengicalJun 11, 2022
Weronika Zdziarska, a student from Milan’s Politecnico di Milano has been announced as the winner of the 2021 RIBA Norman Foster Travelling Scholarship. Awarded annually by the Royal Institute of British Architects, the prestigious grant is conferred upon students of architecture who demonstrate outstanding potential and conceptual thinking in relation to problems concerning the sustainable preservation of urban areas, and it offers £7,000 for the winner to either travel and explore cities and towns relevant to their work or conduct research within their home country. Zdziarska's proposal, titled ‘Don’t Stay Out Alone: addressing women’s perception of safety and freedom in cities by design,’ explores the connections between gender inequality and design while seeking to devise methods to make cities safer and more inclusive.
As the 14th student honoured under the programme, Zdziarska's project will investigate past measures undertaken by organisations in South America at local, regional, and international levels to promote women's safety in cities and subsequently work towards greater gender equality in design. Currently, five cities have been nominated for evaluation, namely: Medellín in Colombia, Quito in Ecuador, Santiago in Chile,Montevideo in Uruguay and Curitiba, Brazil. Each of them offers a unique set of variables, attitudes, and perspectives for this particular domain of inquiry.
Sir Norman Foster, founder of British architecture firm Foster + Partners, explains the purpose of the grant in an official release, recalling how he won a prize as a student that allowed him to travel through Europe one summer to study buildings and cities that he had only learnt about from the pages of books. "It was a revelation – liberating and exhilarating in so many ways," he fondly reminisces. "Today, it is the privilege of the Norman Foster Foundation to support the RIBA Norman Foster Travelling Scholarship, which I hope will have a lasting legacy – offering the chance for discovery and inspiration for generations to come,” he adds.
In a press statement, Professor Alan Jones, President of RIBA, recalls the evaluation process, and comments on the exceptional structure and presentation of Zdziarska's project compared to her peers. “As a judging panel,” he says, “we were inspired by her initial research and the pertinence of the proposal, and her drive to investigate and address these issues on an international scale."
Alongside Jones and Foster, the jury this year included Elena Ochoa Foster (Vice-President of Norman Foster Foundation), Professor Ricky Burdett (Professor of Urban Studies and Trustee of the Norman Foster Foundation), and Sofie Pelsmakers (Assistant Professor of Sustainable Architecture and Sustainable Housing Design at Tampere University). In addition to awarding Zdziarska the grant, the panel also commended the work of Basant Abdelrahman from the American University in Dubai, UAE for his project: ‘Biofuel Producing Technology; Algae: An Alternative Energy Source.’
Norman Foster reflects on the panel's decision to award Zdziarska with the scholarship in a press release stating, “The jury was unanimous in its selection of Weronika Zdziarska’s submission. Her decision to explore gender issues in public spaces of Latin America demonstrated a sophistication in her early research which differentiated her work from that of her worthy fellow applicants.” The jury’s verdict to honour Zdziarska could be categorised as a refreshing mark of progress in the way we acknowledge the deficiencies of contemporary city planning. Furthermore, it can be said that the nature of Zdziarska’s research with regards to how it will thoroughly investigate an oft-overlooked parameter in urban design - that of women’s safety - is an important step forward in the endeavour to design the world’s cities to be more inclusive and secure for their residents.
The RIBA Norman Foster Travelling Scholarship is open to students that have enrolled and completed their first year of study towards a professional qualification from a school of architecture invited by RIBA. Past winners include Iulia Cistelecan from the UK's London School of Architecture, Joe Paxton from the Bartlett School of Architecture in London, Amanda Rivera from the University of Bio Bio in Chile, and Sahil Bipin Deshpande of the Rizvi College of Architecture in Mumbai, India,