For Immediate Release
9 March 2017
College of Environmental Design student Christelle Rohaut (MCP ‘18) and her mentor, Associate Professor of City & Regional Planning Malo Hutson, have been awarded the prestigious Schmidt MacArthur Fellowship, a year-long program that supports design, engineering and business endeavors relating to the circular economy. Rohaut is one of 18 students chosen from an international pool of applicants and will spend the next year exploring sustainable housing solutions in Latin America under the mentorship of Professor Hutson.
Rohaut, whose background is in environmental engineering and urban planning, plans to apply the concepts of the circular economy to the urban challenges currently facing Latin America. “The region’s recent wildfires and earthquakes have damaged much of the housing and infrastructure in urban areas, forcing municipalities to rebuild and redesign underserved areas,” Rohaut explained. Over the course of the next year, she plans to incorporate the concepts promoted by the local circular economy to guide neighborhood revitalization and rehabilitation in a sustainable and human-centric manner.
“In January of this year, Chile saw the biggest fire disaster that destroyed a lot of homes and displaced many people. So now that they have to reconstruct everything, how do they do that in a sustainable way without depleting resources and making it last?” Rohaut said. “Using Chile as my research model, I will explore urban rehabilitation and how to incorporate circular economy concepts and design thinking into revitalizing neighborhoods.”
In her project proposal, Rohaut explained that her interest in the circular economy stems from a desire to make cities more green and sustainable by optimizing cities’ energy flow and reducing their overall consumption. She aims to investigate the interactions between residents, public infrastructures, businesses and waste management and how the energy channels between them are distributed, questioning how to make those processes more efficient. “Since the circular economy involves optimizing flows and using renewable energies, it naturally implies focusing on a more local scale,” Rohaut wrote.
Professor Hutson, who also received last year’s Schmidt MacArthur Fellowship with Master’s student Bo Chung (MCP ‘17), thinks the fellowship gives students a chance to be at the forefront of innovation and meet with colleagues and like-minded researchers all interested in the same concepts of the circular economy. He explained that the fellowship’s weeklong summer school in London gives students an opportunity to meet with business leaders, leading academics, and others in the public and private sectors working on these issues, further advancing the discussion on sustainable and impactful ways to improve urban areas.
“Overall, it’s a week of intense discussion, and the students are really pushed to the limit in terms of how they think about these major issues, whether it’s product development or city planning,” Hutson said. “As a faculty member, it’s wonderful to work with really bright students who are on the cutting edge of these important issues. To be able to mentor someone like Christelle, and then go and work with other colleagues in the world is just another opportunity to better understand the work that we do here at Berkeley is not only relevant, but also applicable to the real world and can bring about positive change.”
While most of Rohaut’s research thus far has been remote, her involvement through the Institute for Urban and Regional Development (IURD) has put her in contact with officials at the Ministry of Housing in Chile, and she plans to visit the country next month and later in the summer to do fieldwork in urban areas affected by Chile’s recent wildfires and earthquakes.
Ultimately, she hopes her findings from the next year of research will help inform sustainable and cost-effective rehabilitation across the continent, acting as an example for other countries who are similarly affected by natural disasters. “I hope to meet a lot of people from this experience—it’s a great pool of thinkers, scholars and business people interested in the same work—and hopefully to become more innovative more open to new ideas,” Rohaut said.
“When you think about the housing crisis and all the materials and costs associated with housing, I feel really thinking about efficient ways of building housing that’s sustainable is so important,” Professor Hutson concluded. “In Chile, they are focused on renovating some of the most distressed social housing and trying to build it in a much more sustainable and ecological way. I think Christelle’s work is really going to inform their strategy. Not only is she a student at Berkeley, but she is going to be informing and helping shape decisions made by the Chilean government. It’s amazing to be where she is.”