learning architecture


a PhD in live projects and architectural education

How Keanu Reeves rocks my world

It is with no small pride that I can tell you about a project that my better half (intellectually and aesthetically) is working on. How Keanu Reeves Saved the World, in which the Speaker takes the audience on a journey through the career of the essential postmodern hero, Keanu Reeves. This new theatre piece will premiere at Arches Live in September.

If you’re interested you can find out more about the development of the piece on the blog, buy tickets to the festival here or (more pressingly) buy tickets for the show’s fundraiser on 12 September here. Tickets are just £25, and include a three course meal, live entertainments and entry into a prize draw. You could even win a BMW (sort of).

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Straddling the North Channel

Two unrelated events tomorrow, one on either side of the North Channel between Britain and Ireland, are drawing the attention of architecture students and practitioners to the city around them.

In Belfast, you can catch up on the progress of the second annual Forum for an Alternative Belfast (FAB) Summer School. It’s been running all week, with groups being assigned different sectors of the city to investigate and study. At 16:00 tomorrow in the ground floor of the University of Ulster’s York Street complex, you can see the culmination of the week’s events. FAB seems to be keeping their activity close to street level, so their website hasn’t been updated since 2009. From the email I received announcing the event, here’s the skinny:


The 2nd Forum Summer School will take place on the ground floor foyer area of the University of Ulster’s York Street campus. This year’s focus is on part of inner north Belfast. The primary purpose of the School is to respond to the ‘Missing City’ agenda; the outcome of last year’s Summer School. This will see a particular focus on the three areas outlined below. Importantly though, the School will promote a strategic understanding and a strategic response to each focus area. Key themes for the week’s work, therefore, will include: connectivity; the pedestrian experience; ground floor animation of buildings; good quality public spaces; workable street layouts; high standard sustainable urban housing; and robust block design.

The School Event

In order to promote a strategic analytical approach to the development of the city, the Summer School process will facilitate ongoing discussion around a large table with a map of the entire study area. All the main discussions/workshops will take place around this table. Satellite study groups will focus on specific areas/ Issues within this strategic context. Evening sessions which will be open to the public will sum up each day’s work.

The Outcomes

The Summer School seeks to demonstrate the benefits of a thorough analysis of city form and structure and a design process that is strategic, imaginative and inclusive. It anticipates that the outcomes will help steer and guide a number of existing and proposed individual projects within the study area. A poster map will be published initially and later a booklet documenting the results, all contributors will be acknowledged. The work will be copyrighted to Forum for Alternative Belfast as a Community Interest Company.

Meanwhile, in Glasgow, there’s a whole day of events running throughout the city as part of the inaugural workshop of the Scottish Architecture Students Assembly. Entitled Collective Identity: Past, Present Future Glasgow, you need to register for participation, events include a pop-up cinema matiné in the Barras market and evening soirée at Mono. The ‘wegies seem to be more down with the interwebs than their Belfast compatriots, so you can join the Facebook event page or follow their blog.

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Unique art work involving shipping containers

You have less than a week to get yourself to Glasgow if you want to catch Christoph Büchel’s mildly controversial art installation Last Man Out Turn Off Lights, which is on show at the Tramway until Sunday. I describe it as ‘mildly controversial’ because there are will always be vocal critics (generally Daily Mail readers or people who find time to phone in to Radio 5 Live) who disagree with a six figure sum being spent on a temporary piece of installation art. If you don’t fit into either of those groups, excuse the distraction.

The Tramway is a great space for performances and visual art, but I’m under no allusions as to the straightened circumstances in which it is now operating. The Tramway is unique in Glasgow as an arts and performance venue that can pull in world class international artists. Nowhere else in the city has quite the same international reputation or appeal as a venue, and as I picked my way through Büchel’s piece on Sunday I was struggling to think of another venue in the city that could have accommodation Last Man Out so well. When the work at the Tramway is good, it’s very good (such as Forced Entertainment’s Spectacular in 2008 or Jan Fabre’s Orgy of Tolerance in 2009) but when it’s bad, it’s very bad (the insanely expensive and insanely awful Marat/Sade, back in 2008). Last Man Out was a reassurance that the Tramway hasn’t lost its expertise at commissioning great international work.

Photography is not permitted in the exhibit, and Googling for images hasn’t produced anything worthwhile for this post. One of Scotland’s listings magazines gave it the fundamentally accurate but somewhat narrow summary that has given this blog entry its title. It is a strange and beguiling piece, one that does indeed involve a number of shipping containers, but which also involves the airframe of a former British Airways Avro regional jet, apparently re-assembled for crash investigation after some kind of accident.

Entering through a series of shipping containers adapted to resemble prison visiting rooms, one discovers a series of dank, clammy and filthy recreations of a jail. A dormitory in here; utilitarian shower rooms in there; disorganised offices in another. The prison spaces, apparently furnished and decorated using objects and items from a decommissioned facility on the Isle of Man, surround the ruptured, destroyed and painstakingly re-assembled aircraft. All around it are the remnants of the plane and its passengers: partially burnt clothes, toys, books and luggage; a toy plane; rows of airliner seats and misplaced components such as the toilet or bulkhead door.

If you’re the kind of spectator who demands meaning in contemporary art, you may be frustrated by Last Man Out. But you won’t be short of material to fuel your curiosity. Why have the a prison and an aircraft crash investigation been re-created alongside one another? Why the appropriation of such diverse materials and objects?

Last Man Out Turn Off Lights runs until Sunday 18 July 2010. Enclosed footwear only, no under-16s.

Addendum: G-BXAR probably visited Ronaldsway Airport on the Isle of Man some time during it’s operational life with British Airways Cityflyer and British Airways Connect. It was written off following a hard landing at London City Airport in 2009. No-one was injured. But why do I feel compelled to re-assure you of those details?

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Field: Let loose the loganberries of war. No really, you can let them loose now

Six months ago I plugged an article co-written by myself and Tom Warren entitled Let loose the Loganberries of war: making noise and occupying space in Govanhill, which had just been ‘published’ in volume 3 number 1 of the peer-reviewed journal Field. Due to technical difficulties, it hasn’t been available for download until now. (pdf)

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Streetland: 30 April – 2 May

Click on the image above to find out more about Streetland a micro-festival that’s happening on my doorstep in Govanhill, Glasgow. It’s happening as part of the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art and will draw upon the modest wealth of creative activity that takes place on and around Westmoreland Street in Govanhill. It’s on next weekend and it’s all freeeeee…

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Field: Let loose the loganberries of war

An article co-written by myself and Tom Warren entitled Let loose the Loganberries of war: making noise and occupying space in Govanhill has just been published in volume 3 number 1 of the peer-reviewed journal Field. It’ll be available for download later this month.

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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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AJ: Glasgow Lighthouse to go into administration

Am I surprised? No. Am I saddened? Yes. I understand that 57 people are employed by Glasgow’s architecture centre.

Source: http://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/news/daily-news/the-lighthouse-to-go-into-administration/5207164.article?referrer=RSS

The Lighthouse to go into administration

25 August, 2009 | By Andrea Klettner

Scotland’s centre for architecture, the Lighthouse, is set to go into administration

The news, which has been blamed on a lack of income from commercial activities, follows a board meeting last night.

In a statement released to the AJ chairman of the board of trustees-Eleanor MacAllister OBE said: ‘It has been a heartbreaking decision for me and the board to bring in administrators to the Lighthouse Trust.

‘We know the devastating effect this will have on our staff and on the partners working with us on our projects. We have done everything possible to avoid this, but the options before us were very limited in the current economic downtown.

‘Last year we put in place, with additional support from our main funders the City Council and the Scottish Government, a crisis package to secure our immediate future to enable us to continue our education and exhibition programmes at the Lighthouse.

‘Unfortunately that new package was very dependent on maintaining the income generated from our commercial activities. The Lighthouse business model has always required commercial income to subsidise its extensive programme.’


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This weekend, I was not reading at all.

Apologies, but my usual habit of posting details on my weekend reading plans came to nought this week. After a few days down south, we headed directly to the Isle of Arran for camping, eating, drinking and inhaling midges. Normal service has now resumed, although my legs are still itchy as hell…

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AJ: Glasgow students told ‘not to come back’ after summer break

The AJ is dropping off my radar (perhaps because I’ve ditched Twitter?) so I apologise for being more than a week late on this one…

Glasgow students told ‘not to come back’ after summer break
24 April, 2009 | By Ren Deakin
Source: http://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/news/daily-news/glasgow-students-told-not-to-come-back-after-summer-break/5200879.article

Third-year students at Strathclyde University, Glasgow, have been told to ‘do anything, but don’t come back here’ after this year’s summer break Among the suggestions offered by the school of architecture was for students to teach surfing in Australia.

Many Part One students had been hoping to continue with their studies at the university after being unable to find year-out work experience placements due to the impact of the credit crunch on practices.

However, the university told students that if a significant number decided to stay on it would put pressure on resources. It proposed they look at filling their year any way they can.

One of the students, who had attended an informal meeting held by staff for year-three and year-five students, said. ‘It was a feeling of disillusionment. People interpreted it as a “Don’t come back” message.’

Head of Strathclyde University’s school of architecture Gordon Murray felt that the actions were justified and that taking time out would ‘better equip’ students for their fourth year. He said: ‘We advised against returning in the case of year three.

‘All schools recognise, with evidence to back it up, that students who spend time out after year three – gaining life experiences – return as better students and improved in themselves.’

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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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