A Nigerian student from the University of Western Australia, Abel Feleke has been awarded the 2016 Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Norman Foster Traveling Scholarship for his proposal, ‘Weaving the Urban Fabric: Examining the Significance of Community’.

Initially set up in 2006 as a biennial programme, the £6,000 RIBA Norman Foster Traveling Scholarship is awarded to one student to fund international research on a topic and in a location of their choice. In 2009, Foster + Partners enabled the Scholarship to be awarded annually by donating an extra £100,000 to the endowment.

Abel’s study will take him to China, India, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Mexico and Brazil to learn from the strong sense of community that binds informal settlements. He quotes Kalpana Sharma, “A slum is not a chaotic collection of structures; it is a dynamic collection of individuals who have figured out how to survive in the most adverse of circumstances”, and will explore the intricate social networks that have evolved in these environments.

The scholarship jury was chaired by Lord Foster with Julia Barfield (Marks Barfield Architects), RIBA President Jane Duncan, Professor Flora Samuel (University of Reading); and Stefan Behling, Spencer de Grey, and Piers Heath of Foster + Partners.

The jury highly commended ‘Mapping In-Betweenness: A multi-disciplinary study of transient refugee camps’ by Seyedeh Tahmineh Hooshyar Emami from the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London. Seyedeh wins a camera for her proposal to investigate what the response of architects should be to the refugee crisis in Europe.

Lord Foster said: “The award is now in its tenth year, and once again, the standard of all the entries was extremely high – giving the jury much to deliberate upon. The study of informal settlements was a widespread theme, with the sites of investigation ranging from cities in developing countries to refugee camps.

Feleke’s proposal was unanimously chosen as the winning entry due to its clarity of purpose and unique approach – looking at these dense urban communities as a network of social relations. I am pleased that this scholarship will help further Abel’s research, and look forward to seeing the project develop over the coming months.’

RIBA President Jane Duncan said: ‘I am delighted that the 2016 RIBA Norman Foster Traveling Scholarship has been awarded to Abel Feleke to support him in examining communities established in informal settlements. His motivation for embarking on the project is commendable and I await the findings with great interest.’

Feleke, the 22 year old studying a Master of Architecture at UWA looked at the benefits of researching the social networks of high density urban communities (informal settlements) to understand the social connections in these communities and how they might inform future architectural developments.

“The main aim of my research is to create a dialogue to understand how we can better aid the development of strong communities through architecture, both at home and abroad,” Mr Feleke said.

Mr Feleke said he was delighted to receive the prestigious scholarship as the only recipient in 2016 in the world to be granted one.

“It’s a really great opportunity to learn abroad and travel to places I would otherwise not have the opportunity to visit,” he said.

“It will be great to study different perspectives and societies and the way people live and interact with one and other.”