It was my training as an architect at the Jurusan Teknik Arsitektur Universitas Gadjah Mada where I was first exposed about the relationship between an architect as a designer and the public/owner who occupies the built environment, regardless of size. As I was finishing up my training, I started to randomly elaborate the idea of social architecture where the social dimensions of environmental design are integrated in the planning processes.
I was still holding on the idea of social architecture when I went to a graduate study at the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. With the focus on land-use/transportation planning, I started to immerse myself on urbanism but mostly on the area of sustainable transportation. Leveraging my interests on the social aspects of planning, this time is in the field of sustainable transportation.
About one year before I finished my master’s degree at URPL, I decided to pursue a second master’s degree at the Department of Landscape Architecture. My decision was to work closer with two faculty members at the department who have been in the area of community design. This was where I finally could critically think more about public participation in a design process, one of the core values of community design. After spending one year, these two faculty members suggested me to transfer to the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies to shift to a PhD program.
It is during this PhD program where I get to learn more about a variety of theoretical discussions around public participation and action research, leading to the areas of higher education civic engagement and engaged scholarship. Exposed with the classic reading of Paulo Freire (1968) “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” I have immersed myself in the discussion of how universities as a research institution engage community–who has been traditionally marginalized from knowledge production–in determining the direction of academic research. In the process, I have taken a key leadership role in three community-university partnerships where I get to implement my interdisciplinary approach in an increasingly complex environmental problems at the grassroots level. Working with grassroots communities has been among my most important learning during my academic career thus far.
Looking backward and connecting these dots, and despite of my winding paths, I could see my connected interests in my attempt to meaningfully engage community in my academic work. Through community-university partnerships, I have been trying to contribute in establishing stronger social relations of knowledge production with community taking more control about the research that ultimately should be about improving their lives.