learning architecture


a PhD in live projects and architectural education

Academic opportunities in architecture at QUB

We have four openings in the School of Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering which you may be interested in. Click on the links for more information. Applications close on 7 October.

Lecturer in Architecture Design

Lecturer in Architectural Technology or Construction Management

Senior Teaching Fellow in Construction Management

Senior Teaching Fellow (0.5FTE) in Professional Studies

Filed under: blog, , , , , , ,

Forthcoming: live projects as border pedagogies in architectural education

Above: an unexpected road sign, seen on Shetland earlier this month

It continues to be a busy summer, even if the weather hasn’t been particularly summer-like. In between weeks at home working on the thesis, we’ve managed to make a few escapes to (appropriately enough) the “peripheries” of Scotland, first the Outer Hebrides and subsequently the Shetland Isles. As previously mentioned, I’m working towards the delivery of a first draft of my thesis to my supervisors in late October / early November, depending on how we all cope with the forthcoming International Conference of the Architectural Humanities Research Association (AHRA) which we are proudly hosting at Queen’s University Belfast from 27 – 29 October. For more details, and to register, see the Peripheries 2011 website.

A handful of colleagues at QUB will be presenting papers at Peripheries, and below is an expanded abstract of the work that I am preparing to present in Belfast. Although the eventual paper will likely have evolved by the end of October, I hope that it’s a helpful preview of some of the thoughts that have been ricocheting around during this phase of writing. For more, come along to Peripheries!

Back to the edge: reconsidering live projects as border pedagogies in architectural education

 James Benedict Brown, Keith McAllister, Ruth Morrow (Queen’s University Belfast)

 According to recent definitions by Sara (2006), Watt & Cottrell (2006), and Charlesworth, Dodd & Harrison (2011), a live project in architectural education is one that engages students with people outside the academy. Through the live project, students’ produce work that is of some value to an external ‘client’ as part of their academic studies. Drawing on the radical pedagogies of Paulo Freire, Ivan Illich and others, this paper emerges from a project to re-consider live projects as examples of critical pedagogies in architectural education. Charlesworth, Dodd & Harrison explain that live projects in architectural education “tend to work in marginal communities where there is both a willingness to accept alternate modes of practice, and a need to operate outside of commercial design parameters of budget.” (ibid) Examples might include those of the American tradition of “design/build” projects[1], such as the Rural Studio of Auburn University in Alabama, through which relatively privileged university students design and build small projects that hopefully improve the conditions of the lives of some of the poorest and most impoverished people in the USA. (Dean, 2002, 2005; Real, 2009) While not all live projects serve such clearly marginalised clients, it is perhaps useful to consider them as marginal pedagogical practices, ones which suggest an excursion away from the mainstream of architectural education towards, and sometimes across, the boundaries of normative practice.

 This paper asks how architectural educators who use live projects may go about interrogating this possible intellectual position against an established pedagogical framework. It poses this question by expanding upon the struggle of architectural education to escape the influence of modernist, cognitivist epistemologies, (Till, 2005; Webster, 2008) principally David Kolb’s (1984) theory of experiential learning and Donald Schön’s (1983) notion of the reflective practitioner. This paper, instead, brings into play Henry Giroux’s concept of a Border Pedagogy as a site of resistance in education. Giroux, an American critical theorist and pedagogue introduced this pedagogical viewpoint directly to our discipline in a 1991 paper in the Journal of Architectural Education that has since been widely overlooked by our discipline. [2]

It is hoped that this paper will contribute to the issues surrounding the transformation of architectural pedagogy and practice that is ‘on the edge’ while also building a critique of pedagogical positions that are peripheral to mainstream architectural education. This epistemological shift could be illustrated by a continuum of postmodernist thought, with extreme postmodernists at one end and moderate postmodernists at the other (Best and Kellner, 1997). This is the difference between positing that there has been been a complete break between Modernist theory and Postmodernist theory, and suggesting that there has instead been a more nuanced and complex Postmodern turn. Giroux’s project of developing a hybrid pedagogy that draws on both Modernist and Postmodernist theory places his work clearly at that moderate end of the continuum of postmodernist theory. Whereas European (including predominantly French) discourses were marked by a sense of defeat following the failure of the events of May ’68 to contribute to lasting change in European thought, North American discourses appear to have been seeded in a more positive intellectual milieu. The language of Giroux and other critical pedagogues is, therefore, one of hope and possibility.

This paper also develops a position that practice, pedagogy, and research form an inter-dependent triumvirate, and seeks to speak to all three of those component parts. By practicing, teaching and researching architecture, it is argued that architectural educators (unlike many other disciplines in the university) may be in a privileged position of being able to see how these three acts can intersect. This paper proposes that in their simulation or interpretation of architectural practice – namely the provision of architectural services to a client – that live projects are extremely valuable sites in which to interrogate the role of pedagogy. If pedagogy is understood as “the method and practice of teaching, especially as an academic subject or theoretical concept,” [3]

 it could be argued that pedagogy is not only inter-connected and inter-dependent on its fellows in a triumvirate of practice, pedagogy and research, but that it may be considered as an intermediary between practice and research, and that it can release the potential of both. In the words of Paulo Freire, it can be argued that we are all ‘unfinished’ (Freire, 1996). If we never stop learning, therefore, it could be argued that we should regard pedagogy not as an isolated theory relevant only to formal periods of education, but an opportunity to interrogate our daily practice and research.

This paper begins by clearly articulating the realities of the relationship between the theory of education and practice of education, both within and outside our own discipline. The relocation of architectural education – Crinson and Lubbock (1994) suggest that this is part of a wider project of professionalisation for the discipline – has only been completed relatively recently. The majority of people involved in the frontline delivery of architectural education are drawn primarily from architectural practice rather than (as is the case in many other disciplines) academia. Helena Webster (2008) describes this as the way in which the spaces, tools and methods of architectural apprenticeship in practice were replicated in the educational setting of the university (p. 64). The fact that architecture is first and foremost envisaged as a professional training is reflected not only by the intent of its curricula (shaped in no small way in this country by the validation joint criteria of the RIBA and ARB) but by the overwhelming tradition for its educators to be drawn primarily from practice rather than academia. Webster (2004, p. 4) has gone so far as to suggest that approximately 60% of architectural educators are part or full time practitioners. However, this paper does not seek to criticise architectural education for being pedagogical under-developed. Interviewed in 2006, Giroux described a qualification to the poor understanding of the relevance of pedagogical theory to teachers, namely that many teachers “often find themselves in places where time is such a deprivation that it becomes [difficult] to really think about what role theory might play in their lives.” (Giroux, 2006a) While invoking a theorist who has written or co-written 47 books, 320 articles, 186 chapters and held several prominent chairs and professorships of education, it’s important to emphasise that like many pedagogues, Giroux began his theoretical project with a desire to better understand an intuitive pedagogical act. Born in 1943 in Providence, Rhode Island, Giroux started working as a high school teacher in the early sixties. He describes the friction between himself and his school principal following his decision to re-arrange “a very rigid, militaristic, utterly barren sterile” classroom into a circle (Giroux, 2006a). Demanded by his principal to explain his changes, Giroux reflected: “I didn’t have the language to justify it. I felt it was right, but I couldn’t really talk about it in a way that was convincing.” (ibid) Pedagogues will appreciate that sometimes the most important actions that educators take in the classroom, lecture hall or design studio are instinctive. They may not know immediately why they do them, or even why they’re important, but they feel right, and they can only understand them by doing them first and reflecting, theorising and critiquing them afterwards. Just as in practice, just as in research, the first moves a teacher makes are often instinctive. In order to frame, reflect upon, theorise, justify and critique those moves, designers, researchers and teachers need to discover a language, especially at a time of diminishing resources in higher education.

There are five thematic projects in Giroux’s writing (Giroux, 2006b; Kincheloe, 2008): the sociology of education, democracy and education, cultural studies, the “war against youth”, and the politics of higher education. Although there is much of value to architectural educators across all these periods, this paper focuses on the period in which Giroux focused on cultural studies, namely around his book Border Crossings, considering architecture educators, architecture students and architects themselves as cultural workers. πThrough his notion of Border Pedagogy (Giroux, 2006b, 2005, 1992, 1991a, 1991b, 1991c) Giroux proposed that existing theories of critical pedagogy could be reinterpreted by combining the best insights of both Modernist and Postmodernist theory (rather than settling in either one theoretical camp or the other) and that Border Pedagogy would enable students “to engage knowledge as border-crossers, as persons moving in and out of borders constructed around co-ordinates of difference and power.” (1991a:72) By ‘de-centering’ education, Giroux proposed that “critical pedagogy can reconstitute itself in terms that are both transformative and emancipatory” (p.72), suggesting a reinterpretation of critical pedagogy that “equates learning with the creation of critical rather than merely good citizens.” (2006b:50). The aim of this paper is to suggest that is it through live projects that we can begin to formulate possible ‘Border Pedagogies’ in architectural education. In engaging students with communities outside the academic environment, this paper asks what is it to go away from the centre, towards the edge, or towards the periphery of architectural education practices? How can live projects allow us to both test the possibilities of architectural education, and simultaneously prepare our students to engage with knowledge and practice as confident yet sensitive crossers of the borders that they will encounter in their own future practice?


[1] As opposed to the British procurement method.

[2] A reverse citation search for the paper on Google Scholar lists only eleven references to the paper in more than twenty years.

[3] Oxford Dictionaries. April 2010. Oxford Dictionaries. April 2010. Oxford University Press. http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/pedagogy (accessed June 19, 2011).


All references may be found in the Bibliography.

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.


  • 82,251 hits