Diversity in design: People and the planet

Applications are invited for an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award at the University of Cambridge in partnership with Smith and Wallwork Engineers. This fully-funded studentship is available from October 2022. Further details about the value of an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP award are available on our Studentships page.

Closing date: 6 January 2022 (12:00am, midnight, UK time)

Project overview

The studentship will examine the future of design education and practice, and the pathways to get there. There are two primary strands to the investigation, the materials we design with, and the people who learn, teach and practice design, brought together under one theme of creativity driving better outcomes for the planet in the context of the climate emergency.

This PhD studentship will address diversity in design through materials and people. Diverse teams generally produce better outcomes, and in the context of the climate emergency, in which the built environment is responsible for 40% of global CO2 emissions, we need the best possible outcomes for the future of the planet. Aligned with the UN’s sustainable development goals, this CDA will explore

  • nonconventional and low-carbon construction materials;
  • design pedagogies;
  • influences on professional practice.

Moreover, this studentship will explore how diversity in material and teaching can impact a more diverse population of students and practitioners of design, and vice versa, through experiential learning. Experiential learning will contribute to innovation in design teaching and generate scope for our partner to gain expertise on better inclusion of materials, and to demonstrate leadership in transforming design education and practice.

Good design arrived at through experiential learning can offer the world inspiring architecture, yet the discipline needs greater diversity in the materials we design with, and the people who learn, teach and practice design, brought together under one theme of creativity driving better outcomes for the planet in the context of the climate emergency. Our focus will be on changing assumptions through shifts in pedagogy to increase the adoption of nonconventional building materials. A close collaboration with engineers and architects will enable the identification of novel design and construction methods, rendering nonconventional building materials directly applicable in practice. As a practice, design touches the lives of everyone regardless of their background. Just as an architecture project improves when modified to accommodate its unique context, design as a field of study will improve if it becomes more inclusive to nonconventional materials and individual identities alike.

Supervision and training

The main supervisor is Michael H. Ramage, Professor of Architecture and Engineering at the University of Cambridge. The student will be based in the Department of Architecture, one of the leading architecture schools in the world. The student will benefit from research and skills training provided by the department, university and DTP. Informal opportunities to develop research skills also exist through mentoring undergraduate students, contributing to our departmental journal, Scroope and other opportunities presented by fellow students and members of staff.

Simon Smith, the founding principal of Smith and Wallwork Engineers is partner supervisor. Simon and his team will offer specialized training and experience on designing and building with natural materials, access to their long list of previous projects, and dedicated co-supervision over the life of the project. They will give access to a range of specialist software and active building projects as examples for study.

The partner

The collaborative partner, Smith and Wallwork Engineers is a leading firm designing with timber and other natural materials. Simon Smith has collaborated with Michael Ramage for over a decade on teaching, research and practice, and the student will benefit from working alongside Simon and his team at various stages through the project. By working in an engineering office, the student will gain experience through a range of natural material projects with a broad subset of architectural practices which collaborate with Smith and Wallwork. The student will work closely with colleagues in the Centre for Natural Material Innovation, a cross-disciplinary centre bringing together people, teaching and research in plant sciences, biochemistry, chemistry, fluid dynamics, engineering, and architecture. Through innovative research and experimentation with nature-based materials we aim to transform the way we build to achieve zero carbon emissions.


We want to encourage the widest range of potential students to study for this studentship and are committed to welcoming students from different backgrounds to apply. Applicants should meet the eligibility criteria for Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC studentships.

Applications are encouraged from candidates who have studied design in a range of fields, whether architecture, engineering, or materials. An interest and appreciation for natural materials is essential, as is an interest and appreciation for strong, diverse teams. Practical work in design, engineering, or fabrication is desirable but not essential.

How to apply

For an informal discussion about the opportunity and how you might frame your approach to the CDA project, please contact Michael Ramage in the first instance (mhr29@cam.ac.uk).

Applicants should apply to the PhD in Architecture programme by the Cambridge graduate funding competition deadline of 6 January 2022 (12:00am, midnight, UK time). For further details on how to apply for this CDA through the University of Cambridge, please see the advert on the Cambridge jobs site.