learning architecture


a PhD in live projects and architectural education

RIBA Building Futures report

The RIBA Building Futures report is now available for download. You can access it here:


I’m too busy coding (focused, then axially, if you’re interested) some of my own interviews today, but I hope to read and comment on the report more closely soon. Until then, the usual completely predictable provincialist observation from me. The report based its findings on a survey that included a fourteen question interview with eleven architects, eleven engineers and fifteen students or recent graduates. The fifteen students interviewed were from from 8 schools, 7 of which were in London. There are, if my maths and short term memory serves me correctly, currently forty-three RIBA validated or part-validated schools of architecture in the UK.

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In the manner of the insanely beautiful but highly distracting Things Magazine, it behoves me to offer my loyal readers something of a disjointed update on what’s going on, and why I’m not telling you more about it here. For regular 140 character updates, you can now follow me on Twitter.

1 April 2011 will mark the beginning of my third and final funded year of PhD studies. I’m aiming to complete a draft of thesis chapter three, which discusses pedagogical theories appropriate to architectural education and live projects this month. Ruth and I have also been invited to co-write a chapter for a very exciting forthcoming book, but have a very tight deadline.

As you may know, in October we will be hosting the 2011 Architectural Humanities Research Association (AHRA) International Conference, Peripheries 2011. Earlier this week I joined the organising committee to sort through the abstracts we’ve received for them to be distributed for double blind reviewing by our scientific committee. The standard of abstracts is very high, and 21 countries are represented.

On 7 March the 2011 Street Society begins, bringing our first and fifth year students of architecture together for a one week live project, working with eight clients outside the school of architecture. I’m delighted to be working with all of the client groups and look forward to bringing two of our more segregated year groups for the week. The Ulster Museum have also generously donated their refurbished lecture theatre for the end of project presentations on Friday 11 March.

On 25 March, we welcome speakers from eight schools of architecture for a CEBE-supported one day colloquium, called Live Projects 2011. Registration is completely free, and open for a few more days here. If you need help finding affordable travel to Belfast, I’ve compiled everything you need here.

Finally, I’m delighted to announce that Amanda and I are engaged. Planning a wedding is naturally the perfect compliment to completing a PhD.

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PhD Opportunities in architecture at QUB

I forgot to post this last week, but there’s still plenty of time to consider. The Centre for Built Environment Research (CBER) cluster – of which I am a member – at the School of Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering (SPACE) here at QUB has a range of PhD opportunities for a 2011 start. Eleven interdisciplinary subjects have been selected for funding, and in addition there are four broad themes that propose research under the guidance of academic staff. For more information on all the opportunities, click:


Might I draw your attention in particular to:

A8.      Architecture and Education

Architecture and Education is a rich area to investigate not only since architectural education is still a relatively under theorised and critiqued area but also because it bears close witness to the nature of practice; its strengths and weaknesses. Research in this area may enquire into the historical context of architectural education, the surrounding context of other related disciplines or at new educational models or drivers for change in architectural education and hence practice. Many questions and challenges face contemporary architectural education not least its position within the academy and its relationship to practice.

Supervisor: Professor Ruth Morrow

A9.    Prefabrication and craft

This research area looks to investigate such issues as the potential overlaps between prefabrication and craft, how digitalized prefabrication may or may not open new opportunities for specificity and detail to evolve and whether this then echoes and/or extends traditional definitions of craft in architecture. There is also the opportunity within this area to consider architectural components, their design and manufacture; and how they in turn inform, define and refine architectural quality and human interface with the resultant spaces. Certain aspects of this research may necessitate the investigators to establish contact with the construction industry both locally and internationally.

Supervisors: Professor Ruth Morrow & Professor Michael McGarry

A10.    Non-metropolitan architectures

This research area raises such questions as the following. What is it to practice architecture in non-metropolitan cultures and/or locations? What are the theoretical and typological influences on the built realm in rural areas? What impact do access to and the nature of resources, both the physical and human, have on the process and built form? Have such issues differed historically and do they differ currently from metropolitan areas? Are urban forms and spatial configurations (e.g. in cultural, commercial or public buildings) appropriate to rural (non-urban areas)? Finally, what lessons can be learnt from non-metropolitan practice that bears relevance to urban practices?

Supervisors: Professor Ruth Morrow & Dr. Sarah Lappin

A11.    Architecture as discipline or practice?

This area of research may investigate such questions as the following. Where can a line be drawn between architecture as a profession and architecture as a discipline? What is the nature and extent of the relationship between the study and the practice of architecture? What knowledge, skills and values are aligned to the discipline and the practice, and which of these are best delivered within the abstract learning environment of the academy in comparison to the situated learning of practice? Within this context, also sit the influence of architectural research and how it speaks to the discipline and the profession (education and practice). Identifying and mapping existing case studies where the interface between practice based learning and university base learning is more interrelated and mutually responsive to the strengths and opportunities of each context.

Supervisors: Professor Ruth Morrow & Keith McAllister

A12.    The market for architecture

The area of research investigates the age-old relationship of practice to money. To what extent architecture currently sits outside traditional financial determinants of product client relationships? Considering and defining the multiple natures of the architectural ‘product’ – (process/service?), evidence of its consumption and the customer profile. Whether the market ever constructively informs the form and nature of the product? Case studies of architectural practice that manipulates or creates markets; perhaps also identifying practices that sit across disciplines and hence markets; or those which move from a position of professional services, dependent on external resources, to one that brokers potential funding sources, hybrid forms of architectural programmes and non-traditional clients.

Supervisor: Professor Ruth Morrow

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AHRA QUB Peripheries 2011

The deadlines for the call for papers (15 February) and short films (updated: 15 March) for the AHRA QUB Peripheries 2011 conference is approaching. Meanwhile, we’ve launched a dedicated Peripheries 2011 Twitter feed, which will remind you of deadlines and bring you news, updates, and accommodation and travel tips up until the conference in October.

Follow @Peripheries2011

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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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