learning architecture


a PhD in live projects and architectural education

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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Opening: A Space for Learning

IAF and NCAD present A Space for Learning, opening tonight at the NCAD in Dublin. Hope to see some of you there.

Dates: 5th November 2010 – 29 January 2011
Opening View: Thursday 4th November, 6-8pm
Exhibition continues: Saturday 29th January 2011 (closed December 18-January 2).
Opening hours: Monday – Saturday, 10am – 5pm. Admission Free.

The NCAD Gallery is pleased to present ‘A space for Learning’, an exhibition by the Irish Architecture Foundation, opening at the NCAD Gallery on November 5  and running until January 29, 2011. Earlier in 2010, 120 architects, 1,500 students and 90 schools all took part in a competition in which architects and transition year students worked together to imagine their ideal educational space. This exhibition showcases the top ten designs from the competition.

Ten winning architect-student teams from counties Cavan, Limerick, Louth, Cork and Dublin have created films, installations, models and drawings to illustrate their ideas about learning spaces and environments, which will tour to various locations around Ireland, beginning with the NCAD Gallery, located at the National College of Art and Design, Dublin.

Funded by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government with additional funding from the Department of Education and Skills, this exhibition will showcase a unique collaborative project, created by the Irish Architecture Foundation (IAF), to raise public awareness of the importance of school design.

The exhibition of A Space for Learning is accompanied by an education programme, which includes school visits, teacher training on incorporating architecture into the classroom, NCAD student events, public lectures and lunchtime talks by the participating architects.

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I’m back from a two day trip south to the Republic to conduct interviews for my research. Once again I’ve been touched by the warm welcome extended by the academic I’ve been speaking to and am looking forward to transcribing our conversations.

No, really, I am. Transcription of interviews is a major part of this phase of the research, and it’s a strangely cathartic process. As raw data flows in, the first steps towards a grounded theory of live project pedagogy is emerging. It’s entangled with all kinds of other issues relating to education, practice, the economy, society and (who could forget) students, but its a rich seam of informed, thoughtful and experience-laden data.

I’m using an interview schedule designed with my supervisory mentors and piloted in Belfast and Glasgow. The simultaneous collection and analysis of data helps refine the analysis further. On a practical level, I’m using my (usually) trust iPod Nano and compatible microphone, the latter turning the former into a compact and high quality dictaphone. Once uploaded and secured, it’s then a relatively straight forward process to start and stop the audio file while I type the transcription. I’m surprisingly myself with the speed at which I have been able to transcribe so far, although I’m not underestimating the mountain of work ahead.

There are some more research excursions in the next few weeks, so more early starts and more train journeys, but also more excuses to meet people at universities across these two islands and ask them about their teaching and research practice. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a great privilege.

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Opening up in Dublin

It’s the weekend (7-10 October) of Dublin Open House. I’m in town just for the day to catch curator Jennifer Goff’s gallery talk of the Eileen Gray exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland and tonight’s Irish Times Open Debate at Lansdowne Road the Aviva Stadium.

I picked up the chunky printed copy of the Open House programme from the Culture Box in Temple Bar, and wish I had the time / money / diary to stay all weekend. Lots of rare opportunities to see inside new and historical buildings that are usually closed to the public. Don’t be an eejit (like me) and miss out.

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There’s something in the AIARG

Group photo by Alan Jones

Today marked the first meeting of the new and as-yet un-acronym-ed All-Ireland Architectural Research Group (AIARG). The preliminary meeting, hosted by Queen’s University Belfast, was the first formal encounter of a body of architecture schools from across Ireland, both north and south. Although the island of Ireland is home to just seven schools of architecture (as opposed to the forty-odd on the island of Great Britain), each was represented today, and a wealth of research activity was discussed.

From UCD, Hugh Campbell described three strands of research – design innovation, analysis and enquiry, and scholarship and survey – across scales from detail design up to landscape. In so doing, a helpful matrix of research strengths emerged, breaking the ice on a day that principally introduced approximately thirty people to one anothers’ work.

For the School of Architecture at the University of Limerick (SAUL), Merrit Bucholz described the intensive period of research undertaken by staff and students in the early years of this very young school of architecture. The recognisable post-Celtic-Tiger condition of the city of Limerick and surrounding suburbs, towns and villages was discussed: a medieval infrastructure of roads and townlands overlaid with frantic and incoherent subsequent development. The notion of a university as the place in which different public bodies and stakeholders may come together to “speak freely” caught my attention. As Ireland faces up to the horrific economic crash it has experienced, its schools of architectures seem conscious of their unique opportunity to work with the slack in the architectural profession.

Steven Spier of the University of Ulster plotted out a brave path for his school of architecture – a similarly young institution that he foresees building on its identity as Ireland’s only real “art school school of architecture”. With intakes of just fifty and twenty-five to the undergraduate and postgraduate architecture courses respectively, he described a scenario in which the school would focus on both practice-based research and scholarly work in the humanities. The polytechnic background of Ulster led into a presentation by Stephen Best, Senior Lecturer at the Dublin Institute of Technology, who described the process of shifting from just teaching architecture to both teaching and researching architecture. I was encouraged to hear of a developing strength in pedagogy, as a large intake of new staff are now required to complete a thirty credit teaching and learning certificate equivalent to Irish level 9 (Masters level) studies.

Máire Henry of Waterford Institute of Technology provided an enthusiastic and compelling presentation: her school is only five years old and in an institute that has been in existence for just forty years. She desribed the importance of developing a research culture at both staff and student levels – something I feel passionately about since I believe so many second stage students of architecture develop acute research skills in the course of their architecture diplomas or Masters degrees.

Gary Boyd of the CCAE in Cork descibed the unique situation of his school: situated between University College Cork and Cork Institute of Technology, with teaching and research coming into the school from both of those institutions. CCAE offers a two stage programme in architecture that is not dissimilar the Scottish model: a four plus one combination of BSc and MArch. The March is twelve months and three semesters in duration, and is focussed on studies relating to architectural practice. Through the afternoon’s conversation session, it was tentatively agreed that the next meeting of the group should be at the CCAE in Cork in September 2010 when the school will be hosting the Ordnance: War, Architecture and Space conference.

What the AIARG will become is still be agreed upon. But it seemed to me that we witnessed today the foundation of a promising network of research-active academics and practitioners from across Ireland. This is unlikely to be manifested in another academic journal or conference, but through dialogue between eloquent and passionate academics. Some are located firmly in practice, some are in the academy, others are finding their own position between the two. As an early-career researcher, it was encouraging to meet and talk with so many people from Ireland’s seven architecture schools. I very much look forward to meeting them again soon.

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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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