learning architecture


a PhD in live projects and architectural education

Congratulations RM & TB

While my supervisor is out of town on other business, I will ignore her modesty and draw your attention to this news item:

Entrepreneurs win prize for best local innovation
By Symon Ross Monday
Belfast Telegraph, 28 September 2009

Two female entrepreneurs have cemented their place among the leading innovative businesses in Northern Ireland by taking home the top prize in the Northern Ireland Science Park’s competition to find the province’s “next big thing”.

Tactility Factory, founded by Ruth Morrow and Trish Belford, edged out nine rival competitors to win the NISP CONNECT £25k Award.

They took home a £10,000 cheque for their patented technology designed to combine textile design with hard building materials such as concrete.

The concept is expected to have implications for building construction and received credit from the judges for combining Northern Ireland’s textiles heritage with building product design.

Trish Belford said: “Competing for this award benefited our business thinking and has given us great insight into the potential of our business on a global scale.

“This award has greatly boosted our prospects to commercialise our product and go to market. In addition to this, the icing on the cake is receiving a significant financial prize which will provide vital capital at this time enabling us to take advantage of the opportunities that are now presenting themselves.”

Steve Orr, director of NISP Connect, said the awards had uncovered local talent with innovative ideas and inspiring ambitions.

Filed under: blog, , , , , , , , , ,

2009 Sheffield live project blogs

The 2009 live projects of the University of Sheffield School of Architecture will be coming their conclusion at the end of next week. I’ll be in Sheffield to see the project presentations and reviews, but in the meantime you can catch up on their progress through the fifteen blogs started and maintained by students in each group.
Not sure which one to start with? Might I recommend group number seven, Remote Control? They’ve been over here in Northern Ireland, “mapping, analysing and abstracting the border situation of Northern Ireland in a social experiment culminating in a comprehensive body of work.”

Filed under: blog, , , , , , , ,

Video: Dr. Jonathan Charley for the 2009 RIBA Research Symposium

A few weeks ago I blogged about some of the more memorable and provocative papers delivered at the 2009 RIBA Research Symposium. A highlight for me was the video offered by an absent Dr. Jonathan Charley of Strathclyde University, who couldn’t attend in person. It’s good to now see it up on Youtube, and I’ve also shared it on the blog of a fifth year elective module I’m involved with. You can find out more on ARC8014: ‘Examining Architectural Practice through the lens of Architectural Education’ on that module’s blog: archedlens.wordpress.com

Filed under: blog, , , , , , , , , ,

Abstractification (part I)

I received word this week that an abstract I submitted for the 6th Annual AHRA Research Student Symposium has been accepted. I’ll be presenting it on 12 December 2009 at the Welsh School of Architecture, Cardiff University.

And here is that abstract:

Be bold & proceed: fifty years of live projects in British architectural education
abstract for the 2009 AHRA Student Symposium, WSA Cardiff

James Benedict Brown, Queens University Belfast

Live Projects are established fixtures in a number of British schools of architecture. They have, in their most recent form, been described as design projects ‘with a real client, with a real problem … done in real time, with a defined end result.’ (Chiles & Holder, 2008) In seeking to remove students from the autonomous environment of the studio, they can broadly be divided into those projects that give students two distinct forms of ‘hands-on’ experience: a) of collaboration with others beyond the studio; and/or b) of actual building processes. But their historical predecessors, established as architectural education moved more fully into university-level institutions, were of quite different forms.

In 1961-62, Architect and Building News correspondent John Smith reported on twelve British schools of architecture. His monthly instalments provided an insight into their workings, their curricula and the manner in which they were responding to the recommendations of the 1958 Oxford Conference. In no less than three of the schools visited, ‘live projects’ were described. This included a live project at the University of Cambridge: a squat, square extension to the school itself, the design of which has subsequently been attributed solely to Colin St. John Wilson, a teacher at the school at that time. (Smith, 1962) At the Birmingham School of Architecture, third year students had designed such low-budget projects as a village hall. However, while second year students at Birmingham did indeed construct small ‘conglomerate’ projects themselves, these were temporary, small-scale indoor structures that were simply designed to combine as many different constructional details as possible rather that satisfy a client or brief. (Crinson & Lubbock, 1994) The infamous Birmingham ‘live projects’ (set in the third year) featured very little collaboration with clients or outside ‘others’, nor actual hands-on construction. Built by builders and tradespeople who tendered for the work, they were overseen by students who were training in a normative apprentice architect role. (Smith, 1961)
In the generational overlap between a declining era of articled pupillage and a rising modernist era of academic education, these live projects demonstrate an uncertain experiment in the academic yet artisanal training of architects.

This paper explores and describes the markedly different origins, motivations and aspirations of two generations of British live projects. A crucial distinction will be made, between those projects with primarily pedagogical and those with primarily philanthropic motivations. By exploring the perceived deficiencies that motivated the inception of these live projects, an alternative understanding of the twentieth-century shift of architectural education away from practice and towards the academy will be suggested.


Chiles & Holder, 2008. The Live Project. The Oxford Conference
Smith, J., 1962. Schools of Architecture – 12- Cambridge. Architect & Building News, (3 January), 17-24.
Crinson, M. and Lubbock, J., 1994. Architecture – art or profession. Manchester: Manchester University Press
Smith, J., 1961. Schools of Architecture – 2 – Birmingham. Architect & Building News, (22 February), 257-263.

Filed under: blog, , , , , , , ,

Diagramming part two

literature diagram

Sunday night in with Oddbins finest 3-for-£10 Shiraz and my trusty copy of Adobe Illustrator. This weekend’s much delayed task (it should have been last weekend, but I was moonlighting as a roadie) is to tentatively start map my literature review.

You might have been wondering why my once regular ‘this weekend, I will be reading’ posts have tailed off. There’s very simple explanation for that. I’m now a clear six months into my studies, and as everyone has been so wisely reassuring me, three years goes pretty darn quick. So there comes a point when it is necessary to stop the initial rush of literature consumption, and consider the next steps. The truth is, for every five books or articles I read, I will discover at least another ten potentially interesting or relevant references. Part of the life of a phd student is, it seems, being able to say ‘no more.’

The first firm draft of the literature review will be required for my process of differentiation, which will happen at around nine months into the phd. It is at this stage (hopefully between now and Christmas) that I go before a panel at Queens and am assessed on the quality and potential of my studies. If things are on course, I may continue. If not… well, I’m not entirely sure what happens.

As part of the next stage of the process, I’m revisiting my bibliography and using RefWorks to help me map it out by subject area. Overlaps are quickly revealed, gaps are highlighted and areas of personal interest become easier to identify.

Filed under: blog, , , , , , , ,

About the project

learning architecture is an academic blog of James Benedict Brown, previously a doctoral candidate in architectural pedagogy at the School of Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering at Queen's University Belfast, Northern Ireland. James passed his viva in September 2012 and graduated the following December.

About the author

James Benedict Brown has worked and studied in England, Northern Ireland, France and Canada. Following the completion of his PhD at QUB, he was appointed Lecturer in Architecture at Norwich University of the Arts. A short bio is here.

About the supervisors

The project is supervised by Prof. Ruth Morrow and Keith McAllister. Prior to his appointment at Qatar University in 2009, Prof. Ashraf Salama also supervised the project.


Click here for the bibliography to date.


Click here for a selection of peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed writing.


Click here for a glossary-in-progress of key terms used in the project.

Conference diary

Conferences and seminars of interest to the project.


All images are used for illustrative purposes only, and the copyright remains with the artist and/or creator. Please contact me if I have misappropriated an image or incorrectly credited it.


  • 89,870 hits