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Q&A with Dr Chengzhi Peng, Senior Lecturer, School of Architecture, University of Sheffield

Dr Chengzhi Peng gives us an insight into Sheffield's Digital Design School


Dr Chengzhi Peng is a Senior Lecturer in Design Computing and Programme Leader on the MSc in Digital Design and Interactive Built Environments at the University of Sheffield. He tells Hotcourses Abroad about the exciting prospects during and after studies as a Digital Design student at Sheffield.


What one aspect of the course you teach do you personally look forward to each year, and why?

I most look forward to working with the students in the Digital Design studio project – Studio MAKE. In this project the students work in our design studios to make physical and digital models of built environments designed to respond to changes over time. 


One aspect of this is 3D interactive prototyping, which I am particularly excited about. This approach to design combines model-making and computing to creatively explore innovative design solutions. I believe this method offers rich potential for students to experience creative blends of digital techniques in the making of innovative interactive built environments. As a School we are particularly interested in the social and political implications of the built environment. I really enjoy integrating these aspects into the student projects and exploring what it means to them.


Tell us a bit about the faculty in the department.

The Digital Design and Interactive Built Environments programme is taught by a team of academic staff who have a renowned reputation for the areas of Digital Design they specialise in. I am Senior Lecturer in Design Computing. I joined the Sheffield School of Architecture in 1995 after completing my PhD at the University of Edinburgh and am originally from Taiwan. Dr Tsung-Hsien Wang, Lecturer in Sustainable Digital Design, is also from Taiwan and joined the School in 2012 after completing his PhD at the Carnegie Mellon University, USA. Dr Mark Meagher, Lecturer in Digital Design, joined us in 2011 after completing his PhD at the Media and Design Lab of the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL), and is originally from the US. Dr Michael Phiri is Senior Research Fellow and Lecturer, specialising in Building Information Modelling platforms and healthcare environments.


We have a great team of staff and students here at the Sheffield School of Architecture. We are primarily a research led School and this feeds into our teaching. We have a great balance of researchers and practitioners which ensures our teaching remains current and innovative. Many of our practitioners are also active researchers which really places them at the forefront of their field. There is a very strong community between students and staff, which, in part, comes from our studio culture. We work together in design studios to create, test and develop innovative solutions to architectural problems.



What are the benefits of studying this course at Sheffield University?

This programme is studio-based which means that students integrate what they learn from lecture-based modules into their design projects. This learning environment enables our students to fully explore the design of interactive built environments. These are buildings and spaces that can respond dynamically to the changes that they will inevitably face over time. Students learn a creative blend of valuable computer disciplines including Parametric Architectural Geometry, Computational Design, Building Information Modelling and 3D Interactive Prototyping. Essentially these mean that our students can take valuable skills in envisioning transformative built environments to their future careers


Our School is a very special place to study. We have a strong ethos which centres on social engagement. Students are encouraged to consider social and political implications of architecture. We see the role we have in society and our students are often found out in Sheffield, and beyond, engaging with the public and organisations about issues affecting architecture and the built environment. This means students develop into critical researchers with skills that are highly valued by employers worldwide. We are a very active school – there are always lots of events, activities and projects that students can get involved in!


Sheffield is a very student centric and international city. You are not only situated in the centre of the UK, with easy access to other cities, but just a short distance from the beautiful countryside of the Peak District. The School of Architecture is based in the Arts Tower which means that our students are spoilt with unrivalled panoramic views of the city!


Why is it an exciting time for prospective students to move into your field?

The increasing presence of digital technologies in contemporary societies and cultures continues to present great challenges and opportunities for designers to be radically innovative about how the built environment should be transformed.


At the Sheffield School of Architecture, we think that the future built environment should be made to be more technologically versatile, environmentally adaptive, socially connected, ethically sound, and planet-wise.


These are global challenges and opportunities which demand know-how as well as know-why of a very high level of cultural and technological agility. It is our aspiration to produce Sheffield Postgraduates well equipped to become future leaders in this field.


How can this course enhance a student’s career prospects?

Starting in September 2014, the MSc Digital Design and Interactive Built Environment programme is relatively new with the first students graduating in January 2016.


We expect students to go on to work in roles with design practices or consulting firms who are leading the way of producing built environments of change. The course prepares students to lead future practice in architecture and urban design, digital technology development and environmental design consultancy. We also fully prepare students for further academic study towards a PhD. The School has a strong reputation with employers who know that our students graduate with valuable skills. This year we were able to offer students the opportunity to take part in a placement as part of the University’s Postgraduate Advantage Scheme. The School of Architecture was able to place a high number of students and we received excellent feedback from employers on the quality of work.


Last year we hosted a range of external speakers from industry who came in to give talks to our Digital Design students. These are practitioners in Building Information Modelling, Computational Design and Simulation which shows how organisations are invested in, and value this area. 


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About Author

Katie Duncan is Editor of Hotcourses Abroad and is an NCTJ-qualified journalist and University of Exeter graduate. Having worked at an English language school in the UK, as an educational consultant in Spain and as a reporter in the international education sector, she is well placed to guide you through your study abroad journey. Katie grew up in Australia, which perhaps explains her unusual reptile collection, comprising of a bearded dragon (Bill) and tortoise (Matilda).


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