You Only Live Once, Make It Impactful: Architecture, Planning, and United Nations


“…because I only live once, I wish to make my life fruitful to change people’s lives, especially to advocate the unheard voices.”

The uplifting message stated by Fransiska Tirtoadisurja reflects her passion to give positive impacts during her academic activism as a Master of Urbanism student at The University of Sydney, Australia. In this article, Fransiska shares her career path of becoming a socially impactful urban planner. During her academic experience, she involves in various global exhibitions and projects managed by international bodies, such as the United Nations, as well as collaborate with international experts in urban planning.


“Affordable Housing and Slum Upgrading Scheme” is my project title for Surabaya’s housing that was exhibited in the World Urban Forum (WUF) 10 in Abu Dhabi, Uni Emirat Arab at 8-13 February 2020. It is a part of Local Project Challenge as initiated by UN-Habitat, Columbia CSUD, and the Earth Institute. This project was launched by Ban-Ki Moon (the former general United Nations Secretary-General) in December 2019. The affordable housing shortage has bothered me significantly, especially with its relation to humanity. In particular, due to its heartbreaking stories behind the physical building deficiency, which involve children’s early-stage development prevention, a deep long-term trauma, and the life-and-death of the inhabitants. Perceiving of how crucial housing for human life is how I came up with this project, and this is how my story began.

Local Pathways Fellowship
Local Pathways Fellowship. Source:

Career Redirection and Collaboration with UN SDSN-Youth

I already felt comfortable with the position as a Lead Architect in my early career journey. However, I felt my life was not content. My mentor in architecture, Antonio Ismael Risianto – the person behind my career redirection, saw my passion for helping the poor (especially children) and for raising awareness of their rights. He is one of the most impactful Planners in Indonesia’s history who initially introduced me to urban planning, especially the third world challenges and the Brown Agenda. Previously, I had no idea that an architect can make a significant contribution to humanity. Eventually, this significant potential led my decision in becoming a planner. As the city planners, we have the opportunities to carry out decisions that will be beneficial for many aspects, including climate change, infrastructure, transportation, housing, and others. In a broader perspective, it means a chance to protect the rights of vulnerable communities such as people with disabilities, women, and children. Saving lives is also possible for planners by taking appropriate risk management actions. It is strongly related to the 5th Pancasila principle, “Social justice for all the Indonesians.”

The decision to become a planner also came from my involvement in the UN SDSN (United Nations Sustainable Development Solution Network) through the Local Pathways Fellowship. I am involved as a fellow in implementing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to the local level, especially the SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities). This fellowship is a precious opportunity to learn and grow together with the brightest young urbanists from their countries. We were trained by urban-based knowledge and resources from the urban experts. Access to a broader network was also facilitated to enable us to reach more extensive opportunities to collaborate.

World Urban Forum 10 in Abu Dhabi. Source: UN-Habitat
World Urban Forum 10 in Abu Dhabi. Source: UN-Habitat

Working for Humanity into Becoming a United Nations Representative

Many young generations define “YOLO”, or You Only Live Once as life is only about having fun and wasting resources. While for me, because I only live once, I wish to make my life fruitful to change people’s lives, especially to advocate the unheard voices. I believe it is important to work not merely to be successful but also to be meaningful. This belief encouraged me to be involved in the Kita Peduli Indonesia movement, which we established the formal foundation after. This humanitarian-based organisation for post-natural-disaster risk management opened my eyes to the unseen world, about survivors in needs. I am inspired by seniors of doctors, businessman and architects in their comfortable and successful life that burnt with excitement to work for humanity. It taught me that a content life is not merely meant to be successful but to become a blessing for others too.

My voluntary journey continued with the United Nations Volunteer (UNV). I involved in a voluntary work for an NGO in Germany that provides free medication for Malaria and establishes school buildings in Cameroon, Africa. This volunteering opportunity led me to be nominated as one of the best volunteers in the United Nations Volunteer Award. Many people involved in volunteering to earn an excellent track record for their Curriculum Vitae, in which nothing is wrong with it. However, once you work in volunteerism for humanity with heart, your perspective about life will never be the same, and that is how you find the fulfilment in life.

Furthermore, these voluntary activities then invited UN ECOSOC (United Nations Economic and Social Councils) NGO with Consultative status, Business Innovation Research and Development (BIRD) – Paris, to approach me to become one of their representatives and delegates. This is because of my works for humanitarian activities and architecture that are strongly related to the UN ECOSOC vision for the world.

World Urban Forum 10 Opening Ceremony. Source: UN-Habitat
World Urban Forum 10 Opening Ceremony. Source: UN-Habitat

Student and Professional Life

Fransiska at The University of Sydney. Source: Contributor
Fransiska at The University of Sydney. Source: Contributor

Insights that planners can transform the world into a better place encouraged me to pursue my master’s degree in Planning. I chose The University of Sydney because of the unique and comprehensive Planning degree offered by the university: Master of Urbanism (a combination of Master of Urban and Regional Planning, Master of Urban Design and Master of Heritage Conservation).

However, a student title seems unable to limit me from reaching something bigger. Instead, it becomes a medium to explore the world limitlessly and critically, as you have unlimited resources that enable you to achieve more than the professionals. Being a student is not merely a matter of pursuing excellent grades but also to explore yourself out of your limit. I believe that the learning process works both inside and outside the classroom because architecture and planning require us to learn from everything throughout our life.

Therefore, it is essential for us to have an attitude to keep motivated to learn, both as a student and professional. In my perspective, becoming a planner and an architect is about to explore, experience, and throw yourself into both worlds. It is realised when you embrace the world with a different point of view, the perspective of a planner (or architect). You may graduate with both degrees, but you might not have any idea about what is going on around. On the other hand, you can choose to delve into your expertise and interest and master it even when you are still a student. In conclusion, never stop to learn and work with your heart. Set up goals, pray and work hard to pursue it. Do not limit yourself to become the best version of yourself!

Editor: Yogi Saputra Mahmud


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