learning architecture


a PhD in live projects and architectural education

Shortlisted: RIBA President’s Award for Research 2013

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I’m delighted and honoured to announce today that my PhD thesis A Critique of the Live Project has been shortlisted for the RIBA President’s Award for Outstanding PhD Thesis 2013. The winner will be announced in the autumn. The other shortlisted candidates in this category are:

  • Ricardo Agarez of University College Dublin: Regionalism, Modernism and Vernacular Tradition in the Architecture of Algarve, Portugal, 1925-1965
  • Yara Sharif of the University of Westminster: PhD by Design Searching for Spaces of Possibilities and Spaces of Imagination within the Palestinian/Israeli Conflict

The full RIBA Press Release is available here.

Remember, you can download the full text of the thesis from this blog on this page.

Thanks again to Professor Ruth Morrow, Mr. Keith McAllister and Professor Ashraf Salama for their supervisory guidance, without whom I wouldn’t be in this position today.

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New: the Live Projects Network


Announced last year, and now live with a growing number of projects in its database is the Live Projects Network. Managed by Jane Anderson & Colin Priest at Oxford Brookes University, host of last year’s Architecture Live Projects International Symposium, the website seeks build and strengthen relationships between institutions running live projects. Most compellingly, it allows users to filter live projects from the database according to a range of factors, such as client type, group size, funding model etc.

Importantly, given the various definitions of the live project I encountered during my research, the Live Projects Network puts forward its own clear definition:

“A live project comprises the negotiation of a brief, timescale, budget and product between a client and an educational institution.”

If you have run a live project or are looking to run one, you can find the website at http://liveprojectsnetwork.org

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Lecture: University of Portsmouth

JBB seminar poster.pdf

I’ll be on the south coast next week to present some of my work to staff and students of the University of Portsmouth. I don’t believe the lecture is open to the public, but if you’re in the area and interested drop me a line and I’ll ask.


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Conference updates

To mangle an old English phrase, you wait ages for a conference paper to be accepted, and then two come along at once.

I’m delighted to have received confirmation that I’ll be speaking at two exciting conferences in the spring. I’ll be speaking on my research into live projects and architectural education at the inaugural annual conference of the Association of Architectural Educators (info here) at Nottingham Trent University from the 3 – 5 April 2013.

Then on 22 May 2013, I’ll be speaking about architectural education and design education at the Knowing (by) Designing conference (info here) at Sint-Lucas School of Architecture in Brussels.

Registration is open for both events and I very much hope to see you there.

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Download the full text of my PhD: “A Critique of the Live Project”

So, here it is. After slightly more than three years of full time study, countless supervisions, dozens of drafts and revised drafts – here is the final text of my PhD thesis, A Critique of the Live Project. I’ve uploaded it using the digital publishing service Issuu. I’d love to embed it here, but WordPress don’t allow Issuu files to be embedded on their own blogs, so please follow the two links below to either view the thesis online or to download your own PDF copy. You can also, if you prefer, pay for a printed copy to be dispatched to you.

A bound copy will be available shortly from the McClay Library at QUB in Belfast, and a digital text will theoretically be available soon from the British Library’s Ethos archive (although no-one has approached me yet about providing this).

A Critique of the Live Project (volume 1)

A Critique of the Live Project (volume 2 – appendices)

In addition to my peer-reviewed contributions at academic conferences, I have also delivered a couple of guest lectures at Birmingham, Strathclyde, and shortly Portsmouth Universities. If you’d like me to present some of my research on live projects and architectural education at your own institution, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Each opportunity to talk about my work gives me a further chance to develop the ideas in it and tailor them to the interests of a particular course or school. I’m now working full time at Norwich University of the Arts as a Lecturer on the new BA(Hons) Architecture course.

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Published: Live Projects as Critical Pedagogies


I’m delighted to announce that a chapter I co-wrote with Prof. Ruth Morrow at Queen’s University Belfast has been published by in a high profile new book on live projects.

Live Projects: Designing With People has been edited by Melanie Dodd, Fiona Harrisson and Esther Charlesworth at RMIT in Melbourne, Australia. It features chapters from architectural educators both the northern and southern hemispheres, and includes our chapter that critically explores the potential of critical pedagogy as a theoretical framework for understanding live projects.

It is, without doubt, the book I am most proud to have been involved in, simply because it represents a major step forward in the development of the literature on live projects. I’ve received my author’s copy, and am reliably informed that the first print run is now working its way into the usual distribution streams. In advance of it becoming available to buy from your preferred supplier, please use the ISBN 978-1921426933.

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CFP: the Association of Architectural Educators – (un)common currency

Updated: to include a newer CFP attachment (below)

This just in. The emergent Association of Architectural Educators (AAE) has issued a call for participation for its inaugural conference, to be hosted at Nottingham Trent University on 4 & 5 April 2013. The CFP closes in December.

I’ve been loosely engaged in the development of this new organisation over the last year or so, and hope to be more so in the future. I strongly recommend you consider submitting an abstract or attending. The AAE is setting out to become the pre-eminent forum for the discussion of architectural education in the UK.

Click to download the (updated) AAECFP2013 call for participation


(Un) common currency

currency (ˈkʌrənsɪ) — n , pl –cies

  1. a metal or paper medium of exchange that is in current use in a particular country
  2. general acceptance or circulation; prevalence: the currency of ideas
  3. the period of time during which something is valid, accepted, or in force

The inaugural AAE conference interrogates the status of architectural studio and its scope of enquiry pedagogically, professionally and culturally. It looks to illuminate the How, What and Why of studio teaching, and its application and impact on architectural design research and practice.

 Design Studio, with its central role to architectural education, looks to mimic the role of design within the architectural production process. It is often described as the place where skills and understanding are synthesised in ac creative process, where dots are joined, connections made and where architecture finds its voice within culture and society. However, this somewhat romantic view is challenged in two ways: for one, a gradual shift in the roles and responsibilities of architects in the process of building production, and with it a shift in the architects status within society; and, the less gradual but catastrophic post-Lehman collapse of value systems all around us, and subsequent attacks on the perception of worth and value assigned to the arts, culture, and generally speaking all symbolic capital around us.

In response to this, we call for papers addressing questions of CURRENCY, in both applications of the word.         

1.WHAT is, and how does one determine, the value of design, in society in general, and within architectural teaching in particular.

 and if design and design quality are architects’ primary medium of exchange, and again, by extension, if the quality of design studio output determines the value of architectural education

 2. Is it current, valid and prevalent as a model for the creative process within architectural practice?

 Papers will address questions of value, relevance and legitimacy, and will loosely fit in one of the following categories:


  • Studio Content
  • Site
  • Programme
  • Integrating technology
  • Integrating humanities
  • Environment
  • Live projects


  • Studio Context
  • Studio in Practice
  • Fees Demographics


  • Studio Method
  • Design Research
  • Design Representation
  • Studio Culture
  • Design tools
  • Technique
  • Collaboration

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One week ago today, on 10 September 2012, I traveled to Belfast to sit my PhD viva. I was examined by Professor Helena Webster of Oxford Brookes University and Dr Ken Sterrett of Queen’s University. I am delighted to report that the viva was both a successful and enjoyable experience: I have passed with a few minor revisions, which I will submit to Queen’s within the next eight weeks. The hard copy of the thesis will be available in QUB’s library and an electronic version will be available to download from the British Library in due course.

I am now living and working across the water in my home county of Norfolk, where I have been appointed Lecturer in Architecture at Norwich University College of the Arts (NUCA). We are busy working to prepare and deliver the first year of a new three year BA (Honours) degree in architecture, starting later this month.

Although my activity on this blog will now slow down, you can continue to follow me on Twitter (@jbenedictbrown) and on our (soon to be launched) NUCA blog and twitter account.

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New directions

Art School

After a few months of silence, some exciting news to share.

Having submitted by thesis for examination at the start of the summer, I now have a viva confirmed for 10 September 2012. As with many past academic work, the longer I’ve spent away from my thesis the more uncertain I’ve become of its strengths. While I place great importance on doubtfulness, I remain very proud of my work and will be actively returning to it in the coming weeks to rehearse its arguments and themes.

But that is not all that will happen in September. I will be getting married, turning thirty and – perhaps more significantly for my followers on this blog – starting a new job. I have accepted the offer of a Lectureship in Architecture at Norwich University of the Arts (NUA). I will be working with Course Leader Adrian Friend of Friend and Company as NUA launches its new BA (Hons) in Architecture this autumn. I’m very excited to be joining a small institution with a rich heritage and a great team of people across a focused portfolio of disciplines. The challenges and opportunities are equally immense, and I look forward to moving down to Norfolk (my home county) to start work in September.

Whether this particular blog will continue, or be found up and publicly archived (like my M.Arch dissertation blog) is still to be determined, but I very much hope to stay in contact with you, my followers. Stay tuned!

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Video: introduction to the 2012 Street Society live projects at QUB

2012 was the third year that we’ve run a vertical live project between the first and fifth year students of architecture at Queen’s University Belfast. It’s the last one I will be involved with in any capacity, and it’s really a delight to see the event growing under the careful supervision of my talented peers and faculty colleagues. PhD candidate Paul Bower replaces me as Street Society co-ordinator (and he did a cracking job).

This year, a documenting team of students made a series of amazing videos about the eleven different projects which were located throughout Northern Ireland. Posted above is Dr. Sarah Lappin’s introduction to the Street Society. Posted below are Prof. Ruth Morrow’s concluding thoughts.

A short documentary summarising all eleven projects is posted below. You can find eleven more videos, one for each project by visiting the Street Society Youtube channel or by clicking past the jump below.

Read the rest of this entry »

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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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