Fifteen UNSW Art & Design students and staff are collaborating with teams from Chongqing University and Sichuan Fine Arts Institute to tackle urban planning challenges and opportunities at an historically unprecedented scale. 

Chongqing is the fastest growing city in the world. The city’s core is home to more than ten million people and when the population of the surrounding counties are factored in to the agglomeration the figure jumps to more than 32 million, making the city bigger than the population of greater New York. 

Chongqing serves as a classic example of urbanisation in China. The historic old city has been encased by modern high-rise apartments, business districts, freeways and shopping centers. Each day, 137, 000 square meters of new development foundations are laid and more than 1300 people migrate to the city from surrounding regions.  Even in China, a country known for the most extensive industrial development in human history, Chongqing’s economy is unsurpassed. In 2015, with growth measured at 12.3%, the city grew 4.6% more rapidly than the rest of the nation. 

Imagine the challenge faced by urban planners and designers. Given that more than half a million new arrivals make Chongqing their home every year, one must question if it’s even possible to approach urban planning in an organised manner. And yet, that’s exactly what Ian McArthur and Brad Miller, senior lecturers at UNSW Art & Design are doing. The two lecturers work with  year students, urban planners, government officials, architects and designers from Australia and China to explore methods and means of urban design in this epicentre of growth.  

This year, McArthur and Miller and the team of students will live and work in Chongqing for three weeks (27 June – 15 July). They’ll join forces with Chinese universities to together examine the design challenges faced by the city. While responding to a project brief developed with industry partners, McArthur and Miller have asked the teams to think about how “the desires, culture and behaviors of people shape the urban fabric”. The outcomes and impact will include short films, audio-visual recordings, cartographic productions and public exhibitions

The project is called MAD.LAB. Undergraduate students in their 3rd or 4th years of study interested in real-life urban design issues confronting rapidly expanding cities are encouraged to get involved now. The program is fast-paced and on-the-ground. Students will travel to Chongqing and work long days meeting creative professionals and government officials and long nights debating and constructing projects.   

MAD.LAB is an intensive learning and professional experience that is hard to beat. MAD.LAB outcomes will be exhibited at Beijing Design Week in September 2016 and in Sydney at the UNSW Art & Design Annual graduate exhibition.  

The program is supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) New Colombo Plan Mobility scheme. Plans are also afoot to work with DFAT’s network in the Chongqing region to begin offering students internships in Chongqing’s emerging creative industries sector.



 27 June – July 15 Chongqing, China

To apply to participate in the MAD.LAB 2016 Program, email Ian McArthur.