Urban planner

Despite striving to future-proof the UK's cities, Katie Williams admits to a weakness for the bling of Las Vegas

April 23, 2009

Katie Williams, director of the Centre for Environment and Planning at the University of the West of England, has cause for celebration.

She is the principal investigator in two forthcoming research projects, and has recently been told that the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council will provide funding for both.

The first award - £498,000 from the EPSRC's Bridging the Gaps scheme - will fund multidisciplinary work involving the UWE's Bristol Institute of Technology and its new Institute of Sustainability, Health and the Environment, with the aim of developing solutions to such pressing concerns as climate change and public health problems.

The second grant, of £651,000, will allow Professor Williams to collaborate with teams at Oxford Brookes and Heriot-Watt universities to study how suburbs in three UK cities could feasibly be modified to adapt to the world's changing climate.

Having taken a first degree in urban studies at the University of Sussex in the late 1980s, Professor Williams transferred to Oxford Brookes University. There, she completed postgraduate studies in planning and urban design and a PhD in sustainable cities, while also working as a researcher on government projects focusing on issues such as sustainable urban form, compact cities and urban intensification.

Professor Williams went on to set up a research centre with colleagues that investigated sustainable urban environments. She was awarded a professorship by Oxford Brookes in 2007 before leaving to take up her present post at UWE.

Besides her duties as director of the centre, she is also professor of spatial planning and the mother of two small children. Aged 39, she found success when young, and said that she had "never found any problems working in a male-dominated environment".

Although her work sees her tackling the weighty issues surrounding climate change and the environment, Professor Williams also has a somewhat conflicting passion for the "entertainment architecture" of Las Vegas' famously over-the-top casinos and hotels.

"I find it fascinating thinking about the way they are realised and built ... it's one thing to think about recreating Venice on the first floor of a building, but to actually do it is mind-boggling," she said.

"It's completely at odds with what I should be enjoying," she said.


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