Aseem Inam is Professor and Chair in Urban Design at Cardiff University and Director of TRULAB: Laboratory for Designing Urban Transformation, a pioneering research-based practice. He is an urbanist and activist-scholar-practitioner who is designing urban transformation at the exciting intersection of urban theory and design practice. Urban transformation means three things. First and foremost, it is fundamental change that leads to significant improvement in people’s lives. Second, it is a series of radical shifts in urbanism, which consists of city-design-and-building processes and their spatial products. Third, it is revolutionizing the field of urbanism itself to become transformative design practice.
He developed this unique approach through “research as practice,” in which a profound understanding of how cities work actually leads to new modes of urban practice.
Aseem has published this in-depth research in two books, Designing Urban Transformation [New York and London: Routledge 2014] and Planning for the Unplanned: Recovering from Crises in Megacities [New York and London: Routledge 2005]. He has also been invited to contribute chapters in other books, including Extending Place: The Global South and Informal Urbanisms [in Place and Placelessness Revisited, Routledge 2016], Tensions Manifested: Reading the Viceroy’s House in New Delhi [in The Emerging Asian City, Routledge 2013], Smart Growth: A Critical Review of the State of the Art [in Companion to Urban Design, Routledge 2011], and Meaningful Urban Design: Teleological / Catalytic / Relevant [in Writing Urbanism, Routledge 2008].
His work also embodies the idea of “theory as practice,” in which theory and practice are tightly intertwined in ways that they learn from each other constantly.
Aseem has developed this approach in a number of scholarly articles published in international journals. These include Unveiling Vegas: Urbanism at the Nexus of Private Profit and Public Policy [in Journal of Urbanism, 2015], From Dichotomy to Dialectic: Practicing Theory in Urban Design [in Journal of Urban Design, 2011], Navigating Ambiguity: Comedy Improvisation as a Tool for Urban Design Pedagogy and Practice [in Journal for Education in the Built Environment, 2010], Choice-Based Rationale for Land Use and Transportation Alternatives: Evidence from Boston and Atlanta [in Journal of Planning Education and Research, 2005], Production of Alternative Development In American Suburbs: Two Case Studies [in Planning, Practice and Research, 2004], and Institutions, Routines, and Crises: Post-Earthquake Housing Recovery In Mexico City and Los Angeles [in Cities, 1999].
His professional work focuses on developing new and more effective modes of urban practice, in which design is critical, interdisciplinary and engaged.
As the Director of TRULAB, Aseem has led several initiatives in urban transformation. For example, un Toronto, he developed a community-based partnership with the Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee to nurture local entrepreneurship and informal economies, introducing new public spaces, knit together a network of open spaces, and use place-based strategies to empower communities. In Brazil, he worked with a micro-business support non-profit [SEBRAE] and mayors to develop asset-based transformative strategies that are unique to each city. In New York, he helped design a new interactive and collaborative strategy to nurture the relationship between street vendors, public space and public policy in the Union Square area.
Previously, Aseem worked professionally as an architect, urban designer and city planner in France, Canada, Greece, Haiti, India, Morocco and the United States. As an urbanist with the award-winning firm Moule & Polyzoides Architects and Urbanists, he led the team for redesigning the historic core of Whittier, California and for designing a new city in Sunland Park on the U.S.-Mexico border. He was a member of the international team invited by the Government of Haiti to develop a strategic framework for housing rebuilding following the 2010 earthquake in Port au Prince. He worked with Joseph Stein to develop the programming, design and construction of the ecological campus of the renown India Habitat Centre, a complex of public, private and non-profit organizations working on issues of housing and infrastructure. Early in his career, he was recruited by the Geneva-based Aga Khan Development Network to conceive, operationalize and lead a pioneering rural habitat development program in India, which has now benefitted over 80,000 residents.
In addition to research and practice, he has also dedicated part of his life to teaching in order to generate new knowledge and create generational shifts in critical thinking and urban practice.
Aseem was appointed the John Bousfield Distinguished Visitor in urban planning at the University of Toronto and prior to that, he was the founding Director of the highly innovative Graduate Program in Urban Practice at the Parsons School of Design in New York. He has also been an award-winning professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology [MIT], University of Michigan and the University of Southern California. He was invited by UCLA to create and teach a new course for mid-career Chinese architects and planners to evaluate the effectiveness of projects in urbanism. He has given invited talks at several universities, including University of California at Berkeley, Columbia University, University of British Columbia [UBC] in Vancouver, KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, and Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
Aseem has presented his innovative teaching methods at several academic conferences, including the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning, American Association of Geographers, and the World Planning Schools Congress. This work is also known through publication in books and journals. His students have won awards such as the Don Schön Award for Excellence in Learning from Practice, Ed McClure Award for Best Paper in Planning, and the Outstanding Student Project Award. He continues to develop new pedagogical methods for seminars and studios that challenge and support students in creating new and powerful urban practices for the 21st century. He has consulted with the Indian Institute of Human Settlements in Bengaluru and the NewSchool of Architecture and Design in San Diego to develop new programs in urbanism.
He has received multiple recognitions for his accomplishments, including honors and awards from both academic and professional organizations.
Aseem has been the keynote speaker at both academic [e.g. European Association for Architectural Education and Architectural Research Centers Consortium – Milan, Global Multidisciplinary Network on Housing Research and Learning – Bratislava] and professional conferences [e.g. Urban Land Institute – Toronto, Serviço Brasileiro de Apoio às Micro e Pequenas Empresas – Belo Horizonte]. His research has received awards from the SOM Foundation, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning. His professional work was awarded by the American Planning Association, and he received the Professor of the Year Award a record three times at the University of Michigan for his teaching.
Aseem received his Ph.D. in planning from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, his master’s in urban design from Washington University, and his master’s in architecture from the Ecole d’Architecture Paris-Belleville in Paris.
Present and past collaborators at TRULAB: http://trulab.org/collaborators/
Design strategies and projects: http://trulab.org/past-practices/
Research and publications: https://independent.academia.edu/AseemInam
Updates on Twitter: https://twitter.com/TRU_Lab