After graduating from a Bachelor’s degree in architecture from Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem, Batel worked in a tel-Avivian architecture firm and as a teacher assistant in Bezalel where she coordinated a research studio unit titled Civic Architecture, led by Liat Brix-Etgar. She then applied for the Clore-Bezalel Scholarship to support her studies at the RCA.
Read on to discover how studying MRes RCA helped Batel to develop the research skills and expertise she is now applying to her research.
“The RCA was a great time for me! It was the first time I have been exposed to multidisciplinary study.”
How did you know that the MRes RCA was the right programme for you?
From working in architecture practices, I knew that I wanted to develop my own research about the democratisation of the planning process. The MRes RCA offers a multidisciplinary programme that enables students from different fields to work together as a group while at the same time developing their individual research. This addressed all my academic wishes.
At the RCA you looked at how open-source planning of civic infrastructure could minimise the gap between local and professional knowledge in the urban development process. How did your interest in this topic begin?
In many public participation planning processes that I’ve participated in, I felt that residents had limited opportunities to express their opinions and their knowledge about the place that they live. Moreover, I realised that this gap also exists in the way that professional planners integrate local residents’ knowledge into their final plans. I wanted to research this gap and to find tools for minimising it.
My MRes RCA research started with addressing tensions between local and professional knowledge in the planning process. During the study, my supervisor Dr Adam Kaasa introduced me to 'Neighbourhood planning', a UK policy that gives rights to communities to shape their local area and create a Neighbourhood Development Plan. At the beginning I was fascinated by this, but during the research I discovered lots of obstacles and difficulties in this policy. Eventually I titled my thesis “Neighbourhood Planning – Is it democratisation or privatisation of the planning system?” which gives an idea of my research results.
In what ways did the MRes RCA programme help you develop this research?
The RCA was a great time for me! It was the first time I have been exposed to multidisciplinary study. During the programme I experienced a diverse curriculum from different disciplines such as urban design, humanities and design practices.
“Studying alongside students who come from different disciplines opened my mind to a new way of thinking.”
Studying alongside students who come from different disciplines opened my mind to a new way of thinking. The programme was a new opportunity to go beyond my knowledge boundaries, which were then based on architectural theory and practice, and expand my research methods to other areas and techniques.
Your research at the RCA was specific to London. How did you find researching planning in an unfamiliar city?
I know Israeli planning law very well. However, I lacked the background and basic understanding of the system in London, so the beginning was very difficult. As the months in the programme progressed these feelings disappeared. I had to learn new policy regulations and interviewed people who took part in “Neighbourhood Planning” in order to understand it better. The RCA supported me and helped me to succeed. Dr Kaasa worked with me very closely and introduced me to his network in London; I am very thankful for that.
“The new network that I created at the RCA is one of the main benefits of studying in such a global institution.”
What was your experience of studying at the RCA as an international student?
When I came to RCA I knew that I wanted to get an international experience, I liked the fact that the tutors came from different countries and disciplines. It was also a great opportunity for me to make new friends that also come from different countries and have a different point of view than mine. The new network that I created at the RCA is one of the main benefits of studying in such a global institution.
You are now doing a PhD at Technion and are a co-director of the The Smart Social Strategy lab. Could you give a brief overview of your research?
The Smart Social Strategy lab is a multi-disciplinary, multi-participatory project in the Hadar neighbourhood in Haifa that is shaping and redefining the world of public policy, particularly social-spatial policy. The Principle Investigator of this lab is Dr. Meirav Aharon Gutman, who is also my PhD tutor. Utilising advanced technologies, the project aims to create lasting social and economic change through social action in urban spaces.
At the centre of the project is an innovative environment developed with physical and digital elements. The digital environment is based on a digital twin platform, which demonstrates real-word complexity via a 3D virtual model. The physical environment facilitates immersive interaction with the Digital Twin in order to enable data driven decision making. This interactive platform pioneers a new urban management and planning system that encourages civic participation between participants with different backgrounds and skills.
Why are smart technologies important in making planning more collaborative?
We live in a world where urban development is extensive and primarily driven by economic interests, often ignoring today’s reality of severe environmental crises. The Smart Social Strategy seeks to utilise advanced technologies to ensure that policy making processes emphasise social issues and produce more sustainable cities.
The majority of people in society rely on visual and tactile literacy. Most of us work best when we can see information and knowledge. Decision making processes rely on reading documents and discussions centred around presentations. These practices rely on auditory literacy which only 15 percent of the population prefer. We, in our lab, seek to democratise decision making processes by making data and information accessible to more people by utilising both visual and tactile literacy.