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a PhD in live projects and architectural education

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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Thesis status check: chunky with revisions

Brief emergence from the thesis lair for an update. Very productive supervisions in Belfast a week and a half ago (during our third annual Street Society vertical live project). I’ve taken the liberty of pushing my deadline back a few weeks to Friday 13 April.

You know, for luck, and stuff.

If you’re in Belfast that evening, give me a buzz and I’ll give you directions to a hostelry where you can watch me sob into a Guinness.

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Call for participation: 2012 Street Society live project

The School of Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering (SPACE) at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) will be running its third annual Street Society live project for one week in March. We’re now actively looking for potential clients and projects located throughout Northern Ireland, ideally in rural locations. If you’re interested, or know someone or a group who might be, please ask them to contact my colleague Paul Bower (details below) by next Tuesday.

Street Society is a one-week design research office. 

It brings together first year students from both the undergraduate BSc Architecture and the Masters in Architecture course in the School of Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering at Queens University Belfast, to work on a range of projects for clients.

It will run between Monday 12th  Friday 16th March 2012.

The Street Society is now looking for potential clients – external organizations, architects, built environment professionals, community organizations, etc. Potential clients will have a question that architectural students can help to answer; a design problem; a site to evaluate; a building, material, or construction process to investigate, document, or better understand. 

This year the emphasis is shifting from the urban to the rural, and we are looking in particular for clients and projects that are in someway set, related to, respond to, or operate in the countryside of Northern Ireland.

If you are interested in submitting a project proposal for one of the offices of The Street Society please forward a 300 word description to pbower02 <–AT–> qub <-DOT-> ac <-DOT-> uk no later than 12.00 midday, Tuesday 21st February 2012.

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The road less taken

(Post updated to include a PDF of the AIARG programme)

Happy new year to all who kindly follow this blog. After a brief excursion to celebrate my fiancé’s thirtieth birthday somewhere warmer than the northern half of the UK (re: the photo, we did not turn right), I’m now back at my desk and knuckling down (minor administrative duties permitting) to the final three months of my PhD. I am extremely excited (if not a little bit nervous) to have received a tentatively positive response from a highly regarded academic who may be able to be external examiner. The intention is to submit my thesis for examination at the end of March, with a viva to follow sometime in the spring.

In the meantime, I’ll be presenting a paper tentatively entitled Negotiating pedagogies: developing a grounded theory of architectural education at the inaugural conference of the All Ireland Architectural Research Group (AIARG) at Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) on Friday 20 and Saturday 21 January. The conference costs just €50 for two days and more than thirty-five papers, plus a keynote from Adrian Forty. You can download the finalised programme from here. For more info, contact Brian Ward at DIT by email on: brian <–DOT–> ward <–AT–> dit <–DOT–> ie

Other activities will be posted here in due course. But for now… onwards with 2012.

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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

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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?

Notes

[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).

References

All references may be found in the Bibliography.

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The Belfast Lyric Theatre

We’re less than a month away from the long awaited re-opening of the Lyric Theatre in Belfast. Last Thursday afternoon I had a quick peak at the new complex, designed by O’Donnell and Tuomey. It wasn’t possible to go far into the new building, what with it still being a building site in some places and rehearsals apparently being in progress in the foyer for the re-opening celebrations.

Although I’m guarding some reservations about the quality of the brickwork on some parts of the façade, it is a fantastically sophisticated form – O’Donnell and Tuomey have, as one colleague put it to me, really nailed the problem of negotiating such a large set of volumes into what is basically a residential neighbourhood of small terraced houses. I’m excited for not only the opening of this fantastic new building, but also the exciting programme of shows and events that’s been lined up.

You can see some more photographs from my afternoon look-see over on Flickr.

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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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TEDx Belfast: Creativity and the City, 16:00 23/3

TEDx Belfast will be taking place in the city on Wednesday 23 March at 16:00 in the Belfast Harbour Commissioner’s Office. Tickets for this independently curated event are £30, and amongst those confirmed to speak will be

  • Mark Dowds, BrainPark, California
  • Professor Paul Moore, University of Ulster, Head of School of Creative Arts
  • Professor Ruth Morrow, Queens University School of Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering
  • Maureen Piggott, MENCAP
  • Sinclair Stockman, Active Minds, Paris
  • Colin Williams, Sixteen South

Details and booking here.

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Things

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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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.


Bibliography

Click here for the bibliography to date.


Words

Click here for a selection of peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed writing.


Glossary

Click here for a glossary-in-progress of key terms used in the project.


Conference diary

Conferences and seminars of interest to the project.


Note

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.


Visitors

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