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a PhD in live projects and architectural education

Reading: Architecture Depends, Jeremy Till

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A copy of Jeremy Till’s new book Architecture Depends landed on my doormat with an unexpected thwump two weeks ago today (courtesy of Liz Bury at BD magazine, to whom I am most grateful). The done thing as a blogger on architectural education would be to review it here as soon as I’ve reached the index. However Architecture Depends is – to me, at least – more deserving than a quick read, digest and review. Besides, Steve Parnell has written a review far better that I could. It helpfully explains the different backgrounds (and therefore different opinions) of the two authors of the most prominent reviews of the book in the British architectural press so far: Robert Mull in the AJ and Richard Weston in BD.

So why am I, ever the energetic blogger, holding back? I suspect it is because I am coming to appreciate Architecture Depends as a formal end-point on the formal years of my architectural education. And to review it would be to pixelate my thoughts about more than just the book.

Till was appointed head of the School of Architecture at the University of Sheffield in 1999. I studied my BA in Architecture at Sheffield from 2001 – 2004, and then my Masters in Architecture from 2006 – 2008. Till left Sheffield in 2008 to take up a Deanship at the University of Westminster. Although Till stepped down from the role of head for the latter years of his time at Sheffield, he remained a charismatic and provocative character who engaged with many aspects of school life. And his nine year period of influence encloses my formation as an architect. Architecture Depends has been in the works for several years, and I was among a number of Sheffield students introduced to its key concepts a year or two ago when Jeremy explained the difficulty in getting permission for an image of a Mark Wallinger performance piece for the cover and the suggestion by his publisher that Architecture Depends might be a better title than Architecture and Contingency.

Jeremy Till was not the only educator at Sheffield to have a formative influence of my shape and personality as an architect and a student. And even though he had a hand in only a fraction of the direct teaching I experienced at Sheffield, his leadership and dialogue with staff and students was fundamental in creating what I continue to regard as a lively, exciting and extremely fruitful period in Sheffield’s one hundred year history as a school of architecture. Many different dialogues were initiated, some taking up strands from before his tenure and many sparking new strands of thought in architectural education, participation, inclusivity and – of course – contingency. Those dialogues continue at Sheffield but will inevitably take on new energies and directions, a decade seeming to be a good enough time frame for a head of school to influence his flock.

So while there is no full-stop at the end of a sentence that describes the University of Sheffield School of Architecture during Jeremy Till’s ‘era’, and while I see myself as very much more than just a Till-ite, I am turning to Architecture Depends for a second, slower reading. It is a lucid, wide-reaching and enjoyable read that readily expects the criticism it has and will receive from certain quarters. Its theoretical and anecdotal breadth verges on being unwieldy, but it does translate into a coherent narrative a number of strands of pedagogical thought that a generation of Sheffield architecture graduates will recognise.

So, is it any good? I still can’t answer that question, because it still feels as though I’m passing judgement on my own architectural education. But that has made it a compelling read.

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One Response

  1. Thanks for the kind compliment. I think this book has some golden nuggets in and is well worth a second, slower read, as well as a third, and a fourth…

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