The Interdisciplinary Design Strategy program at the Brookfield Sustainability Institute is a global solutions studio focused on identifying, understanding, and developing smart sustainable solutions to help fight climate change.
Visit this page for additional information about courses, tuition, and admission requirements.
The Brookfield Sustainability Institute (BSI) has pioneered its Interdisciplinary Design Strategy Program (IDSP) postgraduate-level curriculum using a design-based educational model that fosters learning across disciplines, integrating specialized knowledge and breaking down geographic, cultural and social barriers. The institute offers students the demands of a real project and the intellectual and creative rigour required to undertake it. Each September, a small group of students begins a nine-month graduate certificate program, IDSP, where they work as a team to research, design and realize a real-world project. Initiated in 2003 under the BSI's predecessor, the Institute Without Boundaries (IwB), this program delves into the methods and practices of design research, strategy and social innovation. It is a unique educational experience and is offered by George Brown College in partnership with leading designers and industry.
Our vision at the BSI is to create smart sustainable solutions for a better future. We foster partnerships with government, businesses and non-profits, to develop applied solutions that tackle industry challenges in the fight against climate change. We believe design is a tool that can affect positive change. This ideology encourages values and design outcomes that are intelligent, ethical, sustainable, inclusive and universally accessible. We see the designer as a problem solver, with the ability to affect positive change for humanity. Our aim for IDSP graduates is a new breed of designer who can articulate possibilities – one who is, in the words of Buckminster Fuller, a "synthesis of artist, inventor, mechanic, objective economist and evolutionary strategist."
This program will accept strong candidates representing different fields – for example, a geographer, an economist, an artist, an architect, a journalist and others – all of whom see the potential for design to change the world. Students will collaborate within an interdisciplinary team, to tackle real-world challenges within an overarching research project, create comprehensive proposals and present recommendations to key stakeholders. Through collaborative practices, this program provides a systemic and in-depth knowledge of integrated design strategies, critical awareness and advanced design methodologies to solve the most pressing global challenges.
Projects at the Brookfield Sustainability Institute focus on learning through participation in every aspect of a project, assuming a variety of roles, and actively engaging with project partners. Project work may involve travel to collaborate with communities outside of GBC. Some examples of the places we’ve been include Matapalo (Costa Rica), Lota (Chile), Milan (Italy), Dublin (Ireland), New York City and Chicago. Students are responsible for some additional travel expenses for projects like these.
The IDSP's major project acts as a thread that connects all IDS courses, giving students a unique research and design process, that provides a basis for researching, framing, solving problems and communicating design outcomes.
"Urban Food Security": Our current student cohort is working through an interdisciplinary lens — business, design, political, social, sustainability and technology — to create a smart sustainable urban agriculture model and pilot for Toronto. Food insecurity already affects one in five Torontonians. With Ontario set for a 16 per cent population increase by 2035, we expect the cost of urban living and density to increase; these, coupled with an existing affordable housing crisis, will work to exacerbate the food insecurity problem. This year's project goals include: increasing opportunities for stakeholders to access or grow food ingredients, creating food systems that are supportive of natural ecology and permaculture, considering policy/finance/business models for a successful and scaleable design pilot and incorporating the use of smart technology/electronic sensors/IOT devices to ensure adequate light, heat and nutrients while reducing costs.
Massive Change: the Future of Global Design, which resulted in a book and travelling exhibition. The World House Project, a three-year initiative, looked at housing systems that are globally responsible and locally appropriate. Students and faculty developed housing models for Canada and Costa Rica that are sustainable, intelligent, universal and affordable.
City Systems. The objective was to explore, dissect and re-imagine the complexities of urban life. Over the course of four years, we partnered with the Toronto Community Housing Corporation on a community rejuvenation proposal for Flemingdon Park; the municipality of Lota (Chile) and its citizens on a project about proactive local action following the earthquake in 2010; the City of Markham on a “change lab” for community building and innovation; and Dublin City Council on “Our Dublin,” a civic engagement program to create transparency and clearer communication between city government and the public.
Regional Ecologies, looking at urbanization as a regional phenomenon. In year one, the Institute focused on the three gateway cities of Toronto, New York and Chicago. In year two, we began the next chapter of Regional Ecologies, Divided Places, examining regions characterized by sharp differences in wealth, infrastructure and density where virtual and physical segmentation creates stark social, economic and political inequalities. In year three, we explored "Interstitial Zones." These areas are commonly defined as rural, but they are "in-between" sites that can also include suburbs, agricultural zones, industrial hubs and small-scale craft production areas and towns. We partnered with the Kerry County Council to design strategies for rural areas in southwest Ireland.
Symbiotic Regions: Focused on the challenge to demonstrate how cities can co-operate at a regional scale to better deliver services, attract investment and create more resilient social and physical infrastructure for living regionally. The partner was Waterfront Toronto.
Toronto Global, Neptis Foundation and the Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity to rethink the Toronto Region as a unified economic region and catalyst for attracting investment.
Students will engage in a full range of creative work necessary for interdisciplinary design strategy, from research and writing to design and production, and will learn everything necessary to realize these outcomes. In addition, the IDSP provides opportunities to its students, for 10-15 hrs/week of paid work within the BSI's Global Solutions Studio (GSS), under the mentorship of the GSS leadership team.
Graduates from Interdisciplinary Design Strategy at the Brookfield Sustainability Institute may find employment in a variety of organizations including:
Our recent graduates have secured employment worldwide in organizations such as Doctors without Borders, Art Gallery of Ontario, IDEO in California, Ministry of Culture (Costa Rica), Frog Design (New York) and Bruce Mau Design.
“This experience has not only helped me gain new skills and prepared me for my future life, it has also enabled me to be part of creative, innovative and multifaceted projects that I’m proud of.”
- Michael Esteras
Ontario College Graduate Certificate