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a PhD in live projects and architectural education

Live Projects 2011: a colloquium

On 25 March we had the pleasure of welcoming some twenty-five delegates from thirteen schools of architecture across Britain and Ireland to Live Projects 2011, a colloquium at Queen’s University Belfast. With the  support and guidance of our steering committee partners (Anne Markey of London Metropolitan University and Rosie Parnell of the University of Sheffield) Ruth Morrow and I had received significant financial support from the Centre for Education in the Built Environment (CEBE) in the form of an Innovative Projects in Learning and Teaching grant to make the event possible.

The intent of the colloquium was to build upon research into live projects in architectural education currently being undertaken at QUB, inviting participation from live project practitioners and academics from across Britain and Ireland through the presentation and discussion of live project practice and research. On the morning of the one day event we were delighted to host seven excellent presentations.

Martin Andrews and Francis Graves of Portsmouth School of Architecture spoke first, co-presenting Live Projects at the Portsmouth School of Architecture: A Critical Review, which provided an excellent insight into the work of the students and project office at that school. It also asked with some aspiration what role project offices might have at a city-wide level. Sandra Denicke-Polcher of London Metropolitan University had been due to present a review (co-written with Torange Khonsari) of the live projects programme at that school, but was delayed en route to the airport and missed her flight. With some last minute jimmying we were able to improvise a Skype connection and Sandra presented remotely, discussing a live project programme that explicitly seeks to contradict and interrogate some of the very assessment criteria that the ARB and RIBA apply to schools of architecture. Sandra spoke with some insight about how live projects could be used to extend the traditional role of the architect towards a more positive contribution to society.

Speaking with the background of another school that now has more than decade’s worth of experience in live projects, Carolyn Butterworth presented Liveness: building on 13 years of Live Projects at the University of Sheffield. Carolyn placed participation at the heart of live project teaching and learning, and therefore used it as the key to developing a theory and critical framework for live projects. Carolyn went on to explore the work of Philip Auslander’s theories of performance to suggest that live or real projects offer a place for criticality not located in the real world. Live art was also suggested as a framing device in which we can experiment with alternative practices.

After a brief pause for refreshments, Prof. Murray Fraser introduced Yara Sharif, both from the University of Westminster, to describe the ‘Palestine Regeneration Team’ (PART), a co-operation with RIWAQ. This area is the focus of Yara’s doctoral research, and presented a series of live interventions in a highly charged political landscape.

Jane Anderson of Oxford Brookes University presented a paper entitled OB1 LIVE: an Agent for Architectural Education and Practice (co-written with Oxford Brookes colleague Colin Priest) that described live project activities in first year of architecture and interior architecture at their school. Anderson and Priest proposed John Hejduk’s nine-square problem as a means of introducing architectural practice to early students, one that could “teach students to imagine and act simultaneously.”

Rachel Sara, of the University of the West of England, presented Learning from Life – exploring the potential of live projects in higher education, locating live projects between the either/or binaries of education, such as theory/practice, designing/making, and student/professional. It also challenged the preconception of study as an isolated singular activity as opposed to work as being a collective and social activity. Finally of the morning papers, Alan Chandler of the University of East London spoke about risk in architectural education and practice, notably how RIBA Part III qualification measures success based on the avoidance of risk. Alan suggested that the risk assessment could become a creative tool.

The morning concluded with an open discussion between the speakers and the delegates of the floor.

After lunch I had the (nervous) pleasure of presenting some of my own research to the delegates, before Rosie Parnell took the helm and we divided into focused groups for a workshop session to develop the themes of the morning. These centered on the largest or most contentious branches of a mindmap that was drawn live on screen (click on the image for larger image).

These workshop groups developed themes that, along with some of the papers presented in the morning, will be discussed at greater length in a forthcoming special themed issue of the Journal of Education in the Built Environment (JEBE) which will disseminate the proceedings of Live Projects 2011.

The day closed with presentation from invited keynote speaker Professor Ashraf Salama of Qatar University. Prior to his appointment at Qatar, Ashraf was briefly my second supervisor, and we were delighted to welcome him back to Belfast to present them possible avenues for the theorising of live projects. Professor Salama is an acknowledged and widely published expert on the field of architectural education, and he was able to conclude the day with some very helpful directions to existing theoretical frameworks that might inform those educators who currently or aspire to use live projects in architectural education.

We are especially grateful to Qatar University for enabling Prof. Salama to attend Live Projects 2011. Sincere thanks are due to all our delegates for coming to Belfast and participating with such interest and engagement, especially those who presented such concise and well developed papers. We look forward to continuing our relationship with them as we work towards the themed issue of JEBE.

A longer and more detailed report of the colloquium will be submitted in due course to CEBE, and will be available for download.

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