learning architecture


a PhD in live projects and architectural education

Common Grounds: 14 & 15 January 2011

On Friday morning, at the AHRA Postgraduate Research Symposium hosted by the University of Sheffield, Anna Holder and I launched the call for participation for Common Grounds: exploring methodologies for research within or research about architecture and the built environment

This two day winter colloquium for post-graduate students and early career researchers on methodologies for researching architecture and the built environment will take place at St. Deiniolʼs Library, Clwyd on Friday 14 & Saturday 15 January 2011.

Doing research on or in the field of architecture can feel like a methodological free-for-all, borrowing from the arts, humanities, physical sciences, social sciences etc. Conscious of the difficulties facing early career researchers in the built environment (who may not feel they have received adequate training in this area) Common Grounds proposes a weekend away from the university to present, discuss and constructively critique research-in- progress. This event will focus on developing thematic clusters and working relationships to support research in the field of architecture.

Early-career researchers in any discipline with an interest in architectural research are invited to submit:

  • a 100 word introduction to your topic and key questions
  • a 200 word abstract describing your current / proposed research methodologies
  • a brief statement of what you would like to get out of this event


  • Call for papers: 22 October 2010
  • Deadline for submissions: 26 November 2010
  • Programme announced: 10 December 2010

On the Friday attendees will be invited to present an informal 20 minute paper specifically discussing their research approach and methodology. Time will be allocated for detailed discussion and feedback. Submissions are particularly invited from researchers who have are still developing their research questions and approaches. Informal conversations may continue over dinner and perhaps onwards to a local hostelry. Based on the outcomes of the previous dayʼs presentations, on the Saturday we will collectively design structured workshops to consolidate and develop methodological themes.

The intent of Common Grounds is to nurture an informal student-led research colloquium dedicated to that most tricky aspect of research: method. It’s been our experience of architectural education that too many students of architecture avoid or consciously postpone any engagement of technical, structural or detailed design in their studio projects. It’s a fear of the unknown, the hard-to-grasp unknown skills that are best learnt through real experience. In our PhDs, we’ve had precious little structured introduction or discussion of actual research method and methodology.

So let’s make a date. Come to North Wales for the weekend and tells us about your research, regardless of whether or not you are decided on research method or methodologies. We’ve booked a meeting room and plan to let the conversation flow. St. Deiniol’s is a fascinating venue, and very easy to access by road or rail. We very much hope to see you there.

Everything you need to know about submitting and participating is on the Common Grounds blog: http://exploringcommongrounds.wordpress.com/

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I’m back from a two day trip south to the Republic to conduct interviews for my research. Once again I’ve been touched by the warm welcome extended by the academic I’ve been speaking to and am looking forward to transcribing our conversations.

No, really, I am. Transcription of interviews is a major part of this phase of the research, and it’s a strangely cathartic process. As raw data flows in, the first steps towards a grounded theory of live project pedagogy is emerging. It’s entangled with all kinds of other issues relating to education, practice, the economy, society and (who could forget) students, but its a rich seam of informed, thoughtful and experience-laden data.

I’m using an interview schedule designed with my supervisory mentors and piloted in Belfast and Glasgow. The simultaneous collection and analysis of data helps refine the analysis further. On a practical level, I’m using my (usually) trust iPod Nano and compatible microphone, the latter turning the former into a compact and high quality dictaphone. Once uploaded and secured, it’s then a relatively straight forward process to start and stop the audio file while I type the transcription. I’m surprisingly myself with the speed at which I have been able to transcribe so far, although I’m not underestimating the mountain of work ahead.

There are some more research excursions in the next few weeks, so more early starts and more train journeys, but also more excuses to meet people at universities across these two islands and ask them about their teaching and research practice. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a great privilege.

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Opening up in Dublin

It’s the weekend (7-10 October) of Dublin Open House. I’m in town just for the day to catch curator Jennifer Goff’s gallery talk of the Eileen Gray exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland and tonight’s Irish Times Open Debate at Lansdowne Road the Aviva Stadium.

I picked up the chunky printed copy of the Open House programme from the Culture Box in Temple Bar, and wish I had the time / money / diary to stay all weekend. Lots of rare opportunities to see inside new and historical buildings that are usually closed to the public. Don’t be an eejit (like me) and miss out.

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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.


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