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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

Group of Sustainable Built Environment Students standing on lecture hall steps

22 February 2024 - Lydia Randall is Director at BDG architecture + design, and a student on the Master of Studies in Interdisciplinary Design for the Built Environment (IDBE). Lydia shares her experience of the programme and details what an average day looks like during one of her residential workshops in Cambridge, UK.

My day begins… with a cup of tea and some music to get me up and running, it’s over 20 years since I was last in dorms and the accommodation has improved a lot, the community feel is nice, and the porters have a wealth of knowledge which they are happy to share.

I’m an early riser and appreciate a great coffee, so I head over to the workshop via one of the excellent local cafés. The walk takes me across the Fen Causeway, offering a chance to connect with nature, the winter light and whatever the weather brings.

I touch base with my family, work and the outside world over breakfast, and chat to the flow of fellow IDBE pals starting their day. It’s workshop four in December, so some of us have not seen one another since March, we have become close over the last year so it’s a real pleasure to catch up. 

The workshop starts with…  an overview of the day, chatting briefly about the speakers and topic areas and giving practical information about locations and a chance to ask any questions which is helpful. The lectures are based around the week’s theme, but addressing this from different perspectives and geographic locations, as the challenges can be very different in these different contexts.

Between sessions we… take time to recharge. Often groups working on projects together have coffee or lunch together to share the experiences of the day. Equally it’s nice to relax, catch up with friends and some new faces who have joined, the groups are very welcoming and supportive. There is a genuine concern for one another’s wellbeing, we all have busy lives, and it is welcome to be able to share with others the inevitable highs and lows and often receive really helpful and insightful advice.

After lunch we… have more group and interactive sessions. These range from studio projects to research and presentation skills sessions. The group projects last the workshop week and offer a real opportunity for interdisciplinary working. This week we are tackling living environments through replanning a neighbourhood zone in one of four international cities, so very different challenges. I learn a lot seeing how different teams work together, create ideas and resolve challenges, and from the variety of design solutions. Presentation skills sessions are really interactive, fun and stretch boundaries which I have found genuinely helpful even though I’ve been presenting for many years.

Once sessions finish, I have the opportunity to experience a bit of the Cambridge culture by walking through the city. As the year has progressed it has been lovely to see the different seasons. Being Christmas now, the colleges look beautiful and have festive events, some of us venture out to the Botanic Gardens light show which is magical. I have made some great friends on the course and dinner is a perfect time to discuss our learning and its input to life’s rich tapestry, sharing ideas and thoughts on the projects we are working on and generally checking in with one another in an informal and enjoyable way.

After a day of learning… I feel both energised and reflective. The course provides a huge variety of content and often shares ground-breaking research ideas, so it helps to be able to reflect on topics both personally but also by discussing with fellow students as they often relate to areas we are working on in our practice. The cohorts come from a large variety of geographic regions, and the materials covered can often be applied in very different ways depending on location.  Discussing these topics frequently opens up really interesting and lively debates after hours, with all of us growing in our understanding.

I am excited to… raise awareness and share learning. In our practice I have started to initiate interdisciplinary working far earlier in our project processes, anchored in a more circular design strategy. I raise our processes for targeting and tracking environmental and social sustainability initiatives with existing and prospective clients early in projects to raise awareness of the importance of these topics. This is not always easy but opens the forum for real discussion at a point when genuine decisions on initiatives can be made and the project can start to embed positive change. On a personal level the workshops often include tools which can improve team management and communication strategies and I share these with other members of my leadership team so we can all benefit.

The Master’s and Postgraduate Certificate part-time courses focused on Sustainability Leadership in the Built Environment are delivered via a blend of remote online learning and residential workshops in Cambridge. The two-year Master’s includes six week-long residential workshops in Cambridge and the nine-month Postgraduate Certificate has two week-long residential workshops.

Applications for the 2024 intake close 8 May 2024. Find out more, download the brochure and apply here.


About the Author

Lydia Randall is Director at BDG architecture + design, and a student on the Master of Studies in Interdisciplinary Design for the Built Environment (IDBE).


The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent an official position of CISL, the University of Cambridge, or any of its individual business partners or clients.


Zoe Kalus, Head of Media  

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