Exuberance And Vitality: Teaching From Practice In Unliveable Berlin

Catherine Duggan (Peter Elliott Architecture + Urban Design) and Michael Roper (Architecture Architecture) teach the Unliveable Berlin studio, which takes masters students to the ANCB Metropolitan Laboratory in Berlin for three weeks of intensive design work.

Unliveable Berlin is just one of our travelling studios. This program of design subjects, which take our students all over the world for intensive experiences of design in other cultures, are only on offer at the University of Melbourne.

Many of our teaching staff at MSD are also working in their field. They bring current industry issues and practice into our graduate programs – our students’ learning is work-integrated.

We asked Catherine and Michael about the experience of teaching as working architects. How does this inform their teaching, and vice versa?

Catherine Duggan and Michael Roper
Catherine Duggan and Michael Roper. Photograph by James Rafferty.

Catherine Duggan: When we started teaching together we started with a studio based in Melbourne called The Unliveable City. We’ve transitioned that studio into Unliveable Berlin. Developing one theme across several studios has allowed us to build an archive of work to draw on, this adds a richness to the studio that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.

Michael Roper: Unliveable City concerned itself with the ways in which cities can be exclusionary, asking students to consider who their city caters for and who it overlooks, the ideas a cities embodies and the ideologies a city rejects. Berlin provides rich territory to explore these concerns. A century of war, division, demolition, reunification, aborted reconstruction, and temporary occupation is written into the city’s urban fabric. Hence the development of our latest studio Unliveable Berlin.

Catherine Duggan: Berlin provides a real point of difference with Melbourne, because the social agendas and urban character differ so greatly. Developers are more opportunistic here, and as a society we are less opportunistic than Berliners.

Michael Roper: Taking students out of their familiar environment helps them to see the world afresh. It’s that old idea of trying to get a fish to see the water they’re swimming in. Students are so energised by being in a foreign city, which is an exciting starting point for a design investigation.

Amelyn Ng, Master of Architecture project The Hotel Project. An Apparatus for Opportunism.
Amelyn Ng, Master of Architecture project The Hotel Project. An Apparatus for Opportunism.

Catherine Duggan: Studio provides an opportunity to develop ideas you’re interested in. Ideas that you are unable to pursue in formal practice, for various reasons, can be tested through the studio. Studio teaching provides an avenue for installation work, for example.

The studio environment is quite abstracted. It’s a heightened version of what happens in practice. Being able to communicate and present ideas, listen and respond quickly, you have to develop those skills in studio. Students take these skills to practice. For me, teaching means I am more precise about my work.

Michael Roper: The urban regeneration and renewal work you’re doing at Peter Elliott’s – small interventions to activate the urban environment – these tie in fairly neatly with our studio.

Catherine Duggan: Yes, that’s a good example of something that we’re interested in that we bring into studio. I think you do that anyway, you bring in your body of work and the things that are already on your mind. What you bring to the studio and what you take back into practice are different things. The creative thinking that happens in studios, is really exciting, the energy and the crazy ideas that bounce around in studio, may never be played out in reality.

Catherine Duggan BEnvDes (UTas) BArch (Hons) (Melb) is Senior Associate at Peter Elliott Architecture + Urban Design.

Michael Roper BPD (Melb), BArch (Hons) is Director at Architecture Architecture. Michael was awarded the AIA Emerging Architect Prize in 2016.

Interview by Sara Brocklesby.

Study with us

Our Bachelor of Design + Master of Architecture course combination is accredited by the Australian Institute of Architects, the Architects Registration Board of Victoria and the Commonwealth Association of Architects.

Apply for the Bachelor of Design
Apply for the Master of Architecture

More Information

Sara Brocklesby