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Interdisciplinary Design for the Built Environment

Part-time Master's and Postgraduate Certificate courses from the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership

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Blog: Knowledge, motivation and mindset: How the IDBE Master’s opened doors and broadened my horizons

last modified Mar 11, 2020 04:36 PM
11 March 2020 – Andrew Martin works in the Major Bridges International department of consultant COWI A/S in Denmark. He looks back upon the impact that his time studying for the Master of Studies (MSt) in Interdisciplinary Design for the Built Environment (IDBE) had in empowering him to develop an interest in sustainability in parallel with his established career in bridges and civil engineering.

With a background in civil and structural engineering, I was employed by a major global consultancy, based in London. Openness to interdisciplinary working was a core value of the company but I wanted to develop my understanding of this discipline and to add depth to my knowledge.

"IDBE enhanced my skill set and unlocked the untapped potential inside me. I had the opportunity and space to investigate and research using academic rigour. It widened my professional and intellectual horizons, giving me the confidence to continue to always try to ‘be the best at what I do’."

I was involved in bridge design projects where engineers and architects worked closely as a team when, by chance, one day in the office I came across a flyer for the IDBE course at Cambridge. After examining the course content, I decided that it fitted well with my professional development needs.

At that time, the course comprised of seven residential weeks in Cambridge over a two-year period.* Our class became members of one of the colleges and were given a warm welcome on arrival. Looking back, I had some fantastic tutors and supervisors and was engaged by their teaching methods. One of the Emeritus professors, in particular, had a tremendous and inspiring influence in the way he encouraged my interest in his specialist field.

Direct relevance to my work

The structure of the course was in two distinct parts: the themed residential weeks of lectures, classes and team project work undertaken by the whole cohort and personal study leading to assessed written work which allowed me to examine aspects of architecture. For my thesis, I chose to focus on interdisciplinary collaboration between architects and engineers in bridge design - a subject of direct relevance to my daily work.

My IDBE cohort came from a diverse group of backgrounds and included a number of students from overseas offering additional global insights. From a personal perspective, I have to confess that an unexpected outcome of my participation in the course was that I met my future wife (an architect) among my fellow students! As one of course-mates remarked, ‘Interdisciplinary design begins at home’!

The IDBE course allowed me to raise my academic level of achievement and gave me the opportunity to demonstrate that I could perform at Masters level. My horizons broadened significantly and the academic work challenged me in new ways. In particular, my choice of thesis subject gave me the opportunity to carry out some research, through engagement with other professionals, to gather and analyse their own experiences of interdisciplinary design.   

Opening doors in my career

Not long after graduating from the course, I moved within my company from London to a regional office.  The director revealed that he had chosen to let me join his team because I had shown personal motivation and commitment to broadening my professional perspectives through taking on a voluntary course of study - the IDBE Master’s programme. An important ’door’ in my career had been opened.

When I started studying the IDBE, my knowledge of sustainability was minimal. However, the course helped build my knowledge and provided me with the motivation to present a paper on concrete bridges and sustainability at an international conference, which, in developed form, was subsequently published in a learned engineering journal. I then became involved with the sustainability activities of the International Association for Bridge and Structural Engineers (IABSE), speaking at conferences in Europe and Canada, and becoming chair of their sustainable engineering commission.

"Concrete facts and arguments, and the ability to present them in a coherent way are essential if we want to push the industry forward and embed sustainability into the everyday working lives of civil engineers.. and the whole supply chain."

My attempts to promote sustainability to my colleagues have had differing levels of success. I don’t think there is yet the commitment or critical mass within the global construction industry to achieve sustainable solutions. Attempts have been made but they are limited in their scope and success rates. Concrete facts and arguments, and the ability to present them in a coherent way are essential if we want to push the industry forward and embed sustainability into the everyday working lives of civil engineers – owners, designers, constructors and the whole supply chain. Courses such as IDBE are essential as they take people who are already qualified and experienced and give them the tools to form intelligent opinions and to express them in order to make real impact.

IDBE enhanced my skill set and unlocked the untapped potential inside me. I had the opportunity and space to investigate and research using academic rigour. It widened my professional and intellectual horizons, giving me the confidence to continue to always try to ‘be the best at what I do’.


The IDBE Master’s and Postgraduate Certificate part-time courses are delivered via a blend of remote online learning and residential workshops in Cambridge. The two-year Master’s includes six week-long residential workshops in Cambridge and the nine-month Postgraduate Certificate has two week-long residential workshops.

Applications for the IDBE 2020 intake close on 1 June 2020. Find out more, download the brochure and apply here.

About the author

Andrew Martin

Andrew Martin works in the Major Bridges International department of consultant COWI A/S in Denmark. He completed the Master of Studies (MSt) in Interdisciplinary Design for the Built Environment (IDBE) offered by the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.

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Guest articles on the blog do not necessarily represent the views of, or endorsement by, the Institute or the wider University of Cambridge.