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Weronika Zdziarska winner of the RIBA Norman Foster Travelling Scholarship 2021.

Ola Kloc
17 of August '21

Veronika Zdziarska, an undergraduate at Politecnico di Milano and a student at TU Delft, has been named this year's winner of the RIBA Norman Foster Travelling Scholarship. Inaugurated in 2006, the scholarship is awarded annually to architecture students who excel in original thinking on the topic of sustainable urban development.

This year marks the fifteenth time the scholarship has been awarded. Its winners receive £7,000, with which they can fund international research by traveling to their chosen destinations. Such is the plan of this year's winner, Veronika Zdziarska, who received the scholarship by submitting a project titled "Don't Stay Out Alone: addressing women's perceptions of safety and freedom in cities by design" dedicated to issues of women's sense of safety in urban spaces.

miejsca to analyzemiejsca to analyzemiejsca to analyze

places to analyze

© Weronika Zdziarska

The aim of the project is to demonstrate the interdependence between spatial design and gender inequality. [...] I pay special attention to effective design solutions that evoke a sense of confidence and freedom in women. In them, I look for proven ideas for improving the way space is designed with the needs of each gender in mind," explains the author.

In her research, the architect drew from interventions and studies conducted by organizations operating in South America that aim to improve women's safety in cities. For example, the Argentine association Mujeres de la Matria Latinoamericana indicates that as many as 91 percent of women have experienced harassment in the city, 63 percent don't feel safe being alone in public places, and for 51 percent, a lack of lighting affects insecurity.

analiza research conducted by organizations working in South Americaanaliza research conducted by organizations working in South Americaanaliza research conducted by organizations working in South America

analysis of research conducted by organizations operating in South America

© Weronika Zdziarska

Thanks to the grant, Zdziarska will embark on a three-month research trip.

For the evaluation, I have chosen cities, each characterized by a different type of solutions introduced, focused on different aspects of the research area. As part of the scholarship, I will visit five South American cities - Medellín in Colombia, Quito in Ecuador, Santiago in Chile, Montevideo in Uruguay and Curitiba in Brazil," adds Veronika Zdziarska.

The scholarship was established in 2006 by the Norman Foster Foundation, the Foster and Partners studio and the RIBA, an association of British architects. The jury awarding the scholarship consisted of Norman Foster, Elena Ochoa, Professor Ricky Burdett, Sofie Pelsmakers and Professor Alan Jones.

Norman Foster, in his justification of the decision, stressed that the selection of Veronika Zdziarska's application was unanimous, the architect appreciated the methodology of the work, the manner of presentation and the sophistication of the research. Professor Alan Jones added that the judges were inspired by Zdziarska's preliminary research and the relevance of the proposal.

This is not the first success to the scholarship winner's credit. Together with the NOMAD architecture lab team, she received an honorable mention in the 2019 ARCHsharing Rural School Haiti competition, was a finalist in the 2019 Kaira Looro competition for the design of the Peace Pavilion, and won 3rd. place in the Architize House | A Dream 2018 competition. She is also a graduate of the YACademy: Architecture for Humanity 2020. For the past five years, she has also been involved in the community as a volunteer educator, organizing camps for children and young people of Warsaw's KIK.

Weronika Zdziarska planowana trasa

scholarship winner and map of the planned route

Photo: Tomek Kaczor

Ola Kloc
: Your work deals with the relationship between spatial design and gender inequality, exploring feelings of safety and danger in urban space. What are the most popular design solutions that cause this condition? What solutions do you propose in your work?

Veronika Zdziarska: In each of the selected cities, I will focus on one area related to design: streets and sidewalks, parks, city squares, public transportation infrastructure and public buildings related to culture and urban art. Medellín joined the UN program as the first city in Colombia. The city has pioneered "urban acupuncture" - improving accessibility, mobility and access to amenities through small-scale interventions. Activities were largely related to culture in public spaces and public buildings. Quito is one of the five founding cities of the UN initiative. Ten years ago, in an exploratory study, the women identified public transportation infrastructure as unsafe, so the plan placed special emphasis on changes in this area - including reconstruction of trolley bus stops and waiting areas. In Santiago de Chile, safety was improved through flexible interventions in abandoned city squares. A project called "Night Squares" ("Plazas nocturnas") was launched in suburban neighborhoods to reclaim public space for women at night as well. The Uruguayan capital joined the UN project in 2018. One of the most important design interventions in Montevideo focused on the revitalization of the city's parks - spaces identified as particularly dangerous as perceived by women. These areas were cleaned up and redesigned. Curitiba, with its innovative, pedestrian-oriented urban planning, has become a model of sustainability for many cities in South America. A gender-specific safety study was conducted there in 2019. Some of the most notable interventions involved streets, pedestrian lanes and sidewalks, and the introduction of first floor activities along them.

I hope that conducting the field research will also allow me to share other solutions after the project, the introduction of which could lead to the design of spaces where everyone feels safe and secure.


collage of proposals for improving the quality of urban spaces

© Weronika Zdziarska

: Norman Foster, in the jury's justification, drew attention to the methodology of your work, please tell us more about how your research will be carried out?

Veronika: The research will be based on a critical review of interventions implemented by organizations at three levels: international (UN Women "Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces"), regional ("Ciudades sin violencia para las mujeres, ciudades seguras para tod@s") and local (urban).

The first stage of the research is a literature review and analysis of the available information, in particular, reading the reports of the aforementioned projects. Prior to the trip, I also plan to make contacts with people who may prove to be supportive of my research in each of the selected countries. The second phase will be a three-month tour of South America, during which I will focus on data collection and preliminary analysis using qualitative and quantitative methods. At the end of the project, I will prepare a report with conclusions from the evaluation of previous interventions and a collection of good project practices that improve the quality of life of urban women. I hope to publicize the topic of the project through publication of the results in the architectural press and social media, exhibitions or presentations at conferences.

: The scholarship will help you continue your research, you plan to spend three months in South America, visiting five countries. Tell us, please, what are your plans for this time?

Veronica: The trip will be an intensive time of testing preliminary hypotheses, gathering information and enriching my ideas related to the research area with the experiences of others. During the trip, I will collect data through surveys, interviews with local activists and experts, and conversations with the local community. I will organize security audit walks, participatory social mapping and focus groups with the local community. I will also describe my personal, outside perspective and thorough research process through an illustrated travel diary. In my spare time, I will definitely take the opportunity to see examples of fascinating South American architecture that I know only from photos and experience contact with local culture and nature.

Ola: Once again, congratulations and looking forward to the results of the study!


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