learning architecture


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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Street Society 2011: call for proposals

In addition to the forthcoming Live Projects 2011 colloquium (of which you’re probably bored of reading by now), Belfast readers from within and outwith the architectural community may be interested to hear about the ongoing call for participation in the 2011 Street Society 2011 (pdf, text below). This will be the second year we’ve run this one week vertical live project between our first and fifth year students of architecture. We’re on the lookout for potential clients (community groups, organisations, charities etc) who would be interested in working with our students for one week in March.

the 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 QUB, to work on a range of projects for clients.

It will run between Monday 7th and Friday 11th March 2011.

The Street Society is now looking for potential clients – external organisations, architects, built environment professionals, community organizations, charitable bodies 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.

Possible projects might include:

  • design proposals
  • consultations
  • exhibitions
  • installations
  • historical / theoretical research
  • research piloting
  • temporary constructions
  • material exploration
  • curated spatial events
  • post-occupancy evaluations

The Street society will be made up of 10-12 groups with a mix of undergraduate and postgraduate students in each. The postgraduate students will act as project managers and as contacts for each client.
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:

…no later than 12.00 midday, Wednesday 2 February 2011.

Project submissions will be reviewed and accepted on the basis of an overall coherence within the Street Society programme / aims and in terms of achievability of outcome within the five day time frame.

Applicants will be notified of their inclusion no later than Friday 11 February, and should be available to attend preparatory meetings and consultations on Friday 4 March.

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AHRA 2011: Peripheries – call for papers

Save the dates, and we hope to welcome you to Belfast in October.

Call for Papers

27-29 October 2011

Architectural Humanities Research Association Conference 2011
School of Planning, Architecture & Civil Engineering (SPACE)
Queen’s University Belfast

Peripheries are increasingly considered in contemporary culture, research and practice. This shift in focus challenges the idea that the centre primarily influences the periphery, giving way to an understanding of reciprocal influences. These principles have permeated into a wide range of areas of study and practice, transforming the way we approach research and spatio-temporal relations.

The 2011 AHRA Queen’s Belfast Peripheries conference will invite discussion via papers and short films on the multiple aspects periphery represents — temporal, spatial, intellectual, technological, cultural, pedagogical and political – with, as a foundation for development, the following themes:

  • Peripheral practices
  • Practice-based research
  • Urban peripheries
  • Non-metropolitan contexts
  • Peripheral positions

From these themes might arise a series of questions:

  • How do notions of periphery and proximity impact on the construction of cultural memory?
  • Is globalization facilitating the inclusiveness of peripheries or denying their local value to favour the centre?
  • How does architecture respond to the challenges of temporal peripheries in varying historical, spatial and political contexts
  • Does being on the edge heighten or transform architectural practice?
  • What infrastructure is required for peripheral positions to exist? How are peripheries networked to one another and to centres?
  • Can architecture support peripheral populations, and can these voices offer critique of architectural practice?
  • How does interdisciplinarity — the communication between perceived peripheral disciplines — affect architectural practice?
  • What are the shifting boundaries of alternative or peripheral currents of education, research and practice? Do architecture schools recognize the importance of peripheral subjects in their teaching?

Queen’s University’s School of Planning Architecture and Civil Engineering operates within a context of an increasingly non-metropolitan society, on an island of rural communities resistant to normative patterns of urbanisation. The culture, economies, politics and social networks in Ireland are often perceived as “on the edge of Europe”; it is a place of experimentation, translation and evolution.

Belfast is thus an ideal setting in which to pose questions of periphery: it is a city in simultaneous states of flux with multiple political and social reiterations and repositionings. In a city where extremism was once the norm, there is much to ask about how to moderate and manage the tensions and potentials that exist between the edge and the centre.


  • abstracts of papers (500 words) and digital video (5-8 minutes in length:) 15 February 2011
  • notification of acceptance: 15 April 2011
  • registration open: 1 June 2011
  • submission of summary paper based on abstract (1000-2000 words) or film: 1 August 2011
  • categories/sessions determined and session chairs chosen: 1 September 2011
  • chairs of sessions distribute expanded abstracts/films to co-session paper presenters; all chairs and paper presenters asked to provide structured feedback/reflection on session papers: 1 October 2011

Submissions and registration via conference website: http://www.qub.ac.uk/peripheries2011

Contact peripheries@qub.ac.uk with any questions.

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CEBE Innovation in Learning and Teaching funding award

James Benedict Brown and Prof. Ruth Morrow of the School of Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering (SPACE) have been awarded funding from the Innovative Projects in Learning and Teaching initiative of the Centre for Education in the Built Environment (CEBE).

The grant, totalling £4,360, will be used to develop a colloquium for academics and practitioners employing live projects in architectural education to be hosted in Belfast by SPACE in spring 2011. The event will be jointly curated with Anne Markey, Director of ASD Projects at London Metropolitan University, and Dr. Rosie Parnell, Director of Outreach at the University of Sheffield School of Architecture.

UPDATE: The Live Projects 2011 website is now live at liveprojects2011.wordpress.com, with details of the call for participation and registration.

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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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Little ginger biscuits

I’m over in Sheffield (nine years after starting undergraduate studies here) to attend tomorrow’s CEBE conference Innovation in Built Environment Education (iBEE) 2010. This is the view of one of my old haunts, one that I miss a great deal, the Showroom Cinema. I spent far too much time here during my studies, largely thanks to the extremely well priced student tickets.

After iBEE, I will continue a week of ricocheting around Britain and Ireland. It’s back across the water tomorrow, but to the other end of Ireland, for the second meeting of the All Ireland Architectural Research Group in Cork. Then it’s back to London for some meetings and interviews before I head home, exhausted, on Friday night.

I’m now engaged in these interviews as part of my first major phase of empirical research. I’ve been designing, redesigning, redesigning, piloting and redesigning my interview schedule for several months now. The time has come to roll it out, nerve wracking though that is. My transcription skills are being refreshed, and I expect to spend a substantial portion of the coming autumn with headphones plugged into my MacBook as I flip between iTunes and Pages, trying to understand why I am so bad at interrupting interesting people mid-sentence.

Do say hello if you are also attending either of those events.

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Derry named 2013 UK City of Culture

Via the BBC (and video here).

Londonderry named the UK City of Culture
15 July 2010 Last updated at 20:00

Londonderry has been named the UK’s inaugural City of Culture at a special event in Liverpool.

Derry won the title ahead of Birmingham, Norwich and Sheffield. The accolade could bring up to 3,000 jobs to the city and boost tourism

It follows Liverpool’s successful tenure as European Capital of Culture in 2008.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the award was “a precious gift for the peacemakers” in Northern Ireland.

“This is when the real work begins,” he said. “I don’t see this as something that’s only going to revolve around 2013. This is a project for us that will last for something like five to 10 years.

“I think there’s a huge opportunity now for us to move forward and make sure that, particularly areas that are socially disadvantaged, gain the fruits of this accolade.”

Mr McGuinness said he felt there was “a huge amount of goodwill” behind the Londonderry bid, including from US President Barack Obama.

Derry’s renowned jazz festival attracts more than 30,000 people and 300 performers.

But it also has the highest unemployment in Northern Ireland and many of its most deprived estates.

Sculptor Maurice Harron, who was born in Londonderry and was part of the bid team, told the BBC he was “overjoyed”.

“This is a multi-cultural city and always was – that’s why it’s got two names,” he said.

“It’s famous for great musicians, dancers, writers, artists, and now they are going get a chance to showcase that to a wider audience.”

Actor James Nesbitt is Chancellor of the University of Ulster, which has a campus in the city.

He said: “This decision confirms what many of us in the province and further afield have known for many years – that Derry-Londonderry is a cultural powerhouse.

“Whether it is writers like Seamus Heaney and Seamus Deane, songwriters and performers like Phil Coulter or the Undertones, artists like Willie Doherty, film-makers like Margo Harkin and Tom Collins, or actors like Amanda Burton, Roma Downey and Bronagh Gallagher, the city has asserted a huge influence on the arts internationally.”

No state funding

Supporters in the four shortlisted cities gathered to hear the news from Liverpool.

Television producer Phil Redmond, who headed the panel which judged the final four bids, was joined by Culture Minister Ed Vaizey for the announcement.

Mr Redmond said the award was “a cultural tool to bring people together”.

“When people read Derry’s bid… it’s about acknowledging the past, not shying away from the past, and using that point that the past informs our present and helps shape our future,” he said.

“If that is not the role of culture then I don’t know what is.”

The first UK City of Culture is likely to host a number of nationally significant events, but will not receive any government funding.

Liverpool City Council leader Joe Anderson attested to the success of 2008, saying: “Beyond the £800m impact of the year, 2008 also injected a huge amount of self-confidence.”

“The experience of delivering the most successful year as a European Capital of Culture has reshaped Liverpool – the way it looks, thinks and acts,” he added.

More from Alan in Belfast, guest posting on Slugger O’Toole.

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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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