learning architecture


a PhD in live projects and architectural education

RIBA Building Futures report

The RIBA Building Futures report is now available for download. You can access it here:


I’m too busy coding (focused, then axially, if you’re interested) some of my own interviews today, but I hope to read and comment on the report more closely soon. Until then, the usual completely predictable provincialist observation from me. The report based its findings on a survey that included a fourteen question interview with eleven architects, eleven engineers and fifteen students or recent graduates. The fifteen students interviewed were from from 8 schools, 7 of which were in London. There are, if my maths and short term memory serves me correctly, currently forty-three RIBA validated or part-validated schools of architecture in the UK.

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PhD Opportunities in architecture at QUB

I forgot to post this last week, but there’s still plenty of time to consider. The Centre for Built Environment Research (CBER) cluster – of which I am a member – at the School of Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering (SPACE) here at QUB has a range of PhD opportunities for a 2011 start. Eleven interdisciplinary subjects have been selected for funding, and in addition there are four broad themes that propose research under the guidance of academic staff. For more information on all the opportunities, click:


Might I draw your attention in particular to:

A8.      Architecture and Education

Architecture and Education is a rich area to investigate not only since architectural education is still a relatively under theorised and critiqued area but also because it bears close witness to the nature of practice; its strengths and weaknesses. Research in this area may enquire into the historical context of architectural education, the surrounding context of other related disciplines or at new educational models or drivers for change in architectural education and hence practice. Many questions and challenges face contemporary architectural education not least its position within the academy and its relationship to practice.

Supervisor: Professor Ruth Morrow

A9.    Prefabrication and craft

This research area looks to investigate such issues as the potential overlaps between prefabrication and craft, how digitalized prefabrication may or may not open new opportunities for specificity and detail to evolve and whether this then echoes and/or extends traditional definitions of craft in architecture. There is also the opportunity within this area to consider architectural components, their design and manufacture; and how they in turn inform, define and refine architectural quality and human interface with the resultant spaces. Certain aspects of this research may necessitate the investigators to establish contact with the construction industry both locally and internationally.

Supervisors: Professor Ruth Morrow & Professor Michael McGarry

A10.    Non-metropolitan architectures

This research area raises such questions as the following. What is it to practice architecture in non-metropolitan cultures and/or locations? What are the theoretical and typological influences on the built realm in rural areas? What impact do access to and the nature of resources, both the physical and human, have on the process and built form? Have such issues differed historically and do they differ currently from metropolitan areas? Are urban forms and spatial configurations (e.g. in cultural, commercial or public buildings) appropriate to rural (non-urban areas)? Finally, what lessons can be learnt from non-metropolitan practice that bears relevance to urban practices?

Supervisors: Professor Ruth Morrow & Dr. Sarah Lappin

A11.    Architecture as discipline or practice?

This area of research may investigate such questions as the following. Where can a line be drawn between architecture as a profession and architecture as a discipline? What is the nature and extent of the relationship between the study and the practice of architecture? What knowledge, skills and values are aligned to the discipline and the practice, and which of these are best delivered within the abstract learning environment of the academy in comparison to the situated learning of practice? Within this context, also sit the influence of architectural research and how it speaks to the discipline and the profession (education and practice). Identifying and mapping existing case studies where the interface between practice based learning and university base learning is more interrelated and mutually responsive to the strengths and opportunities of each context.

Supervisors: Professor Ruth Morrow & Keith McAllister

A12.    The market for architecture

The area of research investigates the age-old relationship of practice to money. To what extent architecture currently sits outside traditional financial determinants of product client relationships? Considering and defining the multiple natures of the architectural ‘product’ – (process/service?), evidence of its consumption and the customer profile. Whether the market ever constructively informs the form and nature of the product? Case studies of architectural practice that manipulates or creates markets; perhaps also identifying practices that sit across disciplines and hence markets; or those which move from a position of professional services, dependent on external resources, to one that brokers potential funding sources, hybrid forms of architectural programmes and non-traditional clients.

Supervisor: Professor Ruth Morrow

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Reading: 101 Things I Learned at Architecture School


Not an essential item on my reading list, but an entertaining distraction that caught my eye while browsing the library a few weeks ago, is Matthew Frederick’s 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School. In the introduction, Frederick invites ‘you to leave this book open on your desktop as you work in the studio, to keep in your coat pocket to read on public transit, and to peruse randomly when in need of a jump-start in solving an architectural design problem.’ Unfortunately, I followed his advice too closely, and have just been advised by automatic missive that its a week overdue for return to the library, so I will shortly be skidaddling back to town with it.

Sadly, of all the words on the cover of 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School, the most important word is also the shortest. Or, to put it another it another way, perhaps it should be sub-titled 101 Things Matthew Frederick Learned in Architecture School. The trouble with this book (and I’ll be brief, because I’m writing under the pressure of accruing an ever greater library fine) is that it somewhat rashly assumes – or more importantly fails to deny – that architectural education is a universal experience, and that these 101 lessons are applicable for every student.

The book is beautifully designed and made. Two rough boards imprinted in red and black with a red cloth spine frame the book, which is made up of beautifully clear facing pages: diagram or cartoon on the left, lesson on the right. These include:

  • 1) How to draw a line
  • 28) A good designer isn’t afraid to throw away a good idea
  • 42) Those tedious first-year studio exercises in “spots and dots” and “lumps and bumps” really do have something to do with architecture
  • 85) Gently suggest material qualities rather than draw them in a literal manner
  • 98) The Chinese symbol for crisis is comprised of two characters: one indicating “danger,” the other, “opportunity”
  • 101) Architects are late bloomers


All very pithy, closely observed and no doubt true to many architectural students’ experiences. But time and time again (such as in the cartoon illustrating number 42 above) are revelations that Frederick’s book is conceived from and targeted towards the standpoint of an utterly normative master-apprentice style of learning architectural design.


And such background details as a frustrated student of architecture preparing a noose in a studio is not funny, appropriate, or at all sensitive to the unsustainable working practices that architecture schools have been shown to inculcate in their students.

Likewise, lessons 20 and 21 are gallingly insulting, narrow-minded and unhelpful in their attitude towards those who are frequently our most important collaborators. They’re also just plain wrong in so many instances.

  • 20) Engineers tend to be concerned with physical things in and of themselves. Architects are more directly concerned with the human interface with physical things.
  • 21) An architect knows something about everything. An engineer knows everything about one thing.

Should this book even be in a school of architecture library? Yes, but I’d argue for a health warning. Should it be on any school’s reading list? Definitely not.

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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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