learning architecture


a PhD in live projects and architectural education

Detroit gets growing

Last month I shared with you a cheekily YouTube’d video of BBC 4’s documentary Requiem for Detroit. Perhaps Observer journalist Paul Harris also saw that film when it was broadcast earlier this year, because he reports today (with video) from just one of the nine hundred urban gardens established in Detroit last year.

If you think that number is impressive, then consider this: there still remain approximately 33,000 vacant residential plots of land in Detroit.

Being a novice allotment gardner with more than a few ties to the mid-western United States, a trip to Detroit has never been so tempting.

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Video: Dr. Jonathan Charley for the 2009 RIBA Research Symposium

A few weeks ago I blogged about some of the more memorable and provocative papers delivered at the 2009 RIBA Research Symposium. A highlight for me was the video offered by an absent Dr. Jonathan Charley of Strathclyde University, who couldn’t attend in person. It’s good to now see it up on Youtube, and I’ve also shared it on the blog of a fifth year elective module I’m involved with. You can find out more on ARC8014: ‘Examining Architectural Practice through the lens of Architectural Education’ on that module’s blog: archedlens.wordpress.com

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A wide angle on day one


Arrived in Belfast yesterday afternoon. As with my previous visit, I touched down under beautiful blue skies, with a warm breeze filtering into the cabin as the aeroplane doors were opened. I can do this journey in about three and a half hours door to door: it is theoretically possible to do it in less time (and any opportunity to spend less time waiting in the Prestwick departure lounge is surely to be embraced) but I’m reluctant to take any chances missing the one daily Ryanair flight to Belfast.

Met with RM (my supervisor) for the first official supervision, and began with a wonderfully broad and discursive sweep about where I’ll be going and what will be happening. The first important strands have been identified and I’ll be expanding on those individually here this week. Yesterday and today have been focused on settling in to a new office, fixing up a computer, and generally standing with abject fear on the precipice of a three year PhD.

What better way to calm my nerves and end my first day than with a rare 35mm screening of Barry Lyndon at the Queens Film Theatre, as part of the Belfast Film Festival? Pure cinematic pleasure: a magnificent film (so magnificent it needs an interval, and despite its three hours didn’t feel a second too long) with a grand understanding of the picturesque. Also a great opportunity to see some exquisite scenes lit solely by cande light, and filmed using the largest aperture lenses ever used in film.

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I predict a riot

Over in Belfast for two days of enrolment, admin and consideration as a lodger. As a result of a rather unkempt haircut I also now have a student ID with a photo that will haunt me for years to come. Better that than a criminal record, however, which looks set to be haunting a number of Belfast students after the usual descent of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the Holyland into a drunken riot.
Killing time before my flight back to Glasgow and under the dreamiest of blue skies, I crossed the Lagan and went to take in the sight of a monstrous apartment complex to which I contributed many hours and not that much good design. It being under construction, I wasn’t able to see whether the 55 square metre studio apartments still had any mark of my hand, nor whether my anyone had managed to resolve the problem of getting enough car parking spaces under the buildings and between the radially arranged structural columns.
Back in town at the end of the month for my first supervisions, and hoping for similarly delightful weather. If not, I will at least be in town for some of the usually excellent Belfast Film Festival.

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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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