An unconventional aspect of Monsoon Assemblages was the alignment of DS18, a Master of Architecture (M.Arch) design studio at the University of Westminster with the research project for three years (2016-2019). In the studio, students undertook research, mapping, simulation, analysis, field work and design in response to studio briefs devised by Lindsay Bremner and Roberto Bottazzi for the first two years and Lindsay Bremner, John Cook and Ben Pollock for the third year. From a MONASS perspective, the studios tested tools and design strategies that fed back into the work of the project team. From students’ perspective, involvement in the studio developed attitudes, tools and skills that challenged current approaches to architectural design and that will benefit their future professional lives in other contexts.
In 2016/17, the studio worked in Chennai, in 2017/18 in Dhaka and the Bangaldesh delta in 2018/19 in Yangon and the Ayeyarwady River basin in Myanmar. These cities and their wider contexts were researched and mapped as complex, emergent urban systems operating under uncertain conditions brought about by changing monsoon climates, rapid urbanization and neoliberal agendas. This confluence often produces floods, heat waves, out-break of disease, water shortages and power failure and couches such cities as seasonal disasters-in-waiting. Instead of drawing on and contributing to this disaster discourse, with its associated concepts of vulnerability, adaption and resilience, the studio approached the monsoon as a material system woven into the fabric of urban life and known and practiced in multiple ways. Students devised different ways of accessing this knowledge, engaging with the monsoon and responding to the ways it and its rhythms frame urban life. This provided the basis for the development of an approach to design in which the constructed landscape became a synthesizer of socio-political, cultural, meteorological and climatic concerns.