Parsons architecture and GPIA students team up in Uganda

Mariam Yahya of Jinja stands on her plot as construction begins on her Parsons-designed model home,

Photo by Amanda Waal

This fall, New School students are returning to Union Square from across the country and across the globe. Among those who will have traveled the farthest are a team of nine GPIA development students and five architecture students from the School of Constructed Environments at Parsons, who spent two months in Jinja and Mbale, two towns in Uganda. Approaching development challenges from a perspective informed by both policy and design, the students worked to bring improved infrastructure and modern housing to their host communities.

The partnership began in a setting far more familiar to most New Schoolers, in a classroom at 66 W. 13th Street. Here, the group of fourteen first gathered in a course led by Michael Cohen, Director, GPIA and Bill Morrish, Dean, School of Constructed Environments, Parsons. Focusing on international development programs in slums, the students gained a foundation in policy and economic analysis that would inform their work in Uganda.

Once in Uganda, the GPIA students initiated a five-year long project: the observation and evaluation of Cities Alliance’s long-term Slum Upgrading programs in Jinja and Mbale. The Slum Upgrading project is centered on housing development and economic improvement. For the length of this program, GPIA students will tap into their analytic training to measure the efficacy and on-the-ground impact of the upgrading.

Meanwhile, the Parsons students put their architectural training to work, designing two prototype houses in Jinja. Coordinating with Slum Women’s Initiative for Development (SWID), a local NGO, the students came up with two plans for affordable homes that could be easily replicated throughout Uganda. Their designs aimed for environmental and economic efficiency, in alignment with SWID’s ultimate goal of empowering women by maximizing their use of urban real estate.

Throughout the trip, the GPIA and Parsons students continued to interact with each other, sharing skills and solutions as they navigated the new cities and culture. GPIA students were able to bring knowledge of urban design to their early program evaluations, while Parsons students applied a new understanding of the political, economic, and sociological context of their architectural work for SWID.

According to architecture student Stephen Scribner, who participated in the project, interdisciplinary collaboration was key to its success. Without the partnership, neither team’s work could have been so informed, could have been so grounded in what was happening on the ground,, Scribner said. Our understanding was so much deeper.,