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a PhD in live projects and architectural education

There’s something in the AIARG

Group photo by Alan Jones

Today marked the first meeting of the new and as-yet un-acronym-ed All-Ireland Architectural Research Group (AIARG). The preliminary meeting, hosted by Queen’s University Belfast, was the first formal encounter of a body of architecture schools from across Ireland, both north and south. Although the island of Ireland is home to just seven schools of architecture (as opposed to the forty-odd on the island of Great Britain), each was represented today, and a wealth of research activity was discussed.

From UCD, Hugh Campbell described three strands of research – design innovation, analysis and enquiry, and scholarship and survey – across scales from detail design up to landscape. In so doing, a helpful matrix of research strengths emerged, breaking the ice on a day that principally introduced approximately thirty people to one anothers’ work.

For the School of Architecture at the University of Limerick (SAUL), Merrit Bucholz described the intensive period of research undertaken by staff and students in the early years of this very young school of architecture. The recognisable post-Celtic-Tiger condition of the city of Limerick and surrounding suburbs, towns and villages was discussed: a medieval infrastructure of roads and townlands overlaid with frantic and incoherent subsequent development. The notion of a university as the place in which different public bodies and stakeholders may come together to “speak freely” caught my attention. As Ireland faces up to the horrific economic crash it has experienced, its schools of architectures seem conscious of their unique opportunity to work with the slack in the architectural profession.

Steven Spier of the University of Ulster plotted out a brave path for his school of architecture – a similarly young institution that he foresees building on its identity as Ireland’s only real “art school school of architecture”. With intakes of just fifty and twenty-five to the undergraduate and postgraduate architecture courses respectively, he described a scenario in which the school would focus on both practice-based research and scholarly work in the humanities. The polytechnic background of Ulster led into a presentation by Stephen Best, Senior Lecturer at the Dublin Institute of Technology, who described the process of shifting from just teaching architecture to both teaching and researching architecture. I was encouraged to hear of a developing strength in pedagogy, as a large intake of new staff are now required to complete a thirty credit teaching and learning certificate equivalent to Irish level 9 (Masters level) studies.

Máire Henry of Waterford Institute of Technology provided an enthusiastic and compelling presentation: her school is only five years old and in an institute that has been in existence for just forty years. She desribed the importance of developing a research culture at both staff and student levels – something I feel passionately about since I believe so many second stage students of architecture develop acute research skills in the course of their architecture diplomas or Masters degrees.

Gary Boyd of the CCAE in Cork descibed the unique situation of his school: situated between University College Cork and Cork Institute of Technology, with teaching and research coming into the school from both of those institutions. CCAE offers a two stage programme in architecture that is not dissimilar the Scottish model: a four plus one combination of BSc and MArch. The March is twelve months and three semesters in duration, and is focussed on studies relating to architectural practice. Through the afternoon’s conversation session, it was tentatively agreed that the next meeting of the group should be at the CCAE in Cork in September 2010 when the school will be hosting the Ordnance: War, Architecture and Space conference.

What the AIARG will become is still be agreed upon. But it seemed to me that we witnessed today the foundation of a promising network of research-active academics and practitioners from across Ireland. This is unlikely to be manifested in another academic journal or conference, but through dialogue between eloquent and passionate academics. Some are located firmly in practice, some are in the academy, others are finding their own position between the two. As an early-career researcher, it was encouraging to meet and talk with so many people from Ireland’s seven architecture schools. I very much look forward to meeting them again soon.

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