learning architecture


a PhD in live projects and architectural education

Published: Intercultural interaction in architectural education

It’s a pleasure to finally hold in my hands a copy of Intercultural Interactions: in Architectural Education (eds. Peter Beacock, Geoffrey Matstutis and Robert Mull) – to which Ruth Morrow and I contributed a chapter on the first Street Society live project at QUB. If you’re interested in reading it and thirteen other chapters on participatory practices in architectural education, you can buy the book now for just £10 from Amazon or from your preferred retailer (ISBN: 978-0956353214).

If you’re in London on 3 November, there’s a book launch alongside a lecture and exhibition on Capturing Urban Conflict by Wendy Pullan, author of Chapter 5 in the book. Details are on the ASD blog.

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The loneliness of the long distance consumer

This has not been a good year for me to write my thesis. While my attention span has definitely improved since I was a teenager, and while  I can turn the radio, television, internet, phone and Twitter feed off, there is still too much god-damn stuff going on.

Having dipped into some of the doctoral thesis written by past students (and now available for all via the British Library Ethos project) I am fully aware that while the higher education sector may be feeling a financial squeeze, I am nonetheless living in an exceptionally privileged digital age. Whereas less than a decade ago the same tasks involved hours of manual clerical labour, my computer can now manage, sort and output all my academic references in countless formats. Whenever I discover a reference to an academic paper in someone else’s bibliography, I can usually access it and download a PDF copy to my desktop in seconds. And using proprietary music and word processing software, I’ve been able to transcribe and code about 21 hours of interviews without encountering the delights of a micro-cassette tape recorder or insolent foot pedal control.

But for the PhD candidate in 2011, the flipside of all this technology is that information overload is now a serious threat to one’s productivity. The mental muscle that can make strategic decisions and editorial choices now has to work harder and harder. Because I can now work half as much to access tens of thousands of pages of information that is possibly relevant to my study, it means I have to work twice as hard to decide what I actually need.

At some point in the last decade, I forget when, I recall reading an article that described recent scientific research into children’s dextrous skills. The sudden rise in popularity of mobile phones, and the relative cheapness of Short Messaging Services (SMS) had produced a noticeable evolutionary quirk in young people in developed nations. Their opposable thumbs and fingers were getting stronger. It was posited that this was because having grown up firstly with computer games and then secondly with mobile phones, a new generation of humans was using their thumbs and fingers in an entirely new way, manipulating the miniature buttons on these devices.

A few weeks ago, I was told about a friend’s child, who has just learnt to walk. Having been allowed to play with the family’s iPad, and having learnt to make primitive gestures and ‘drawings’ on the screen, he had subsequently been seen to approach a television and try repeatedly to change the channel by swiping the moving pictures to one side with his hand.

As I consider the passing summer and coming autumn that will be spent writing up my thesis, I have become more and more aware how the information revolution has turned me into a digital consumer. Through seamless and wireless internet connections, my smartphone, laptop computer and tablet all provide continuous access to information that is updated by the second. As riots have exploded across London, for the first time I have television news channels being eclipsed as the up-to-the-minute sources of information. Up-to-the-minute? I’m getting updates up-to-the-second. Prior to returning to the UK, the Prime Minister was widely lampooned on Twitter for receiving “hour by hour reports” on the situation in London. That made all of Twitter better informed than him.

Amongst all the chaff floating around my desk today, one article has stood out head and shoulders above the rest. Zygmunt Bauman writes on Social Europe Journal:

These are not hunger or bread riots. These are riots of defective and disqualified consumers.

There is no European nation that has embraced the neoliberal culture of consumerism to a greater degree than the UK. And while politicians have struggled to make vacuous statements about the base criminality of those looting shops and businesses, I am becoming more and more aware of the tipping point over which we teeter. If an entire nation is sold a dream based on consumption, there will inevitably be an underclass that will never be afforded the same social, cultural or financial capital to consume as much as we are told we should do.

Postscript: this is a frustrated work in progress. It may be amended, edited, extended, shorted or deleted after publication. Please comment if you have any thoughts.

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Tough Times

RIBA Library, Portland Place, London. Photo: Nick Garrod

Tomorrow afternoon, the Education team of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) will be contacting thirty students of architecture who have been selected to attend the following event:

Tough Times RIBA Student Forum
Tuesday 21 June: 18.00-21.00 at RIBA, London

Establishing a shared understanding of how the architectural community can best support architecture students in tough times. 

This unique forum is open to students from UK schools of architecture. It will be chaired by Niall McLaughlin and give you the chance to share your thoughts with RIBA staff, practitioners and students from other schools. 

You will hear about some of RIBA’s recent initiatives and have the opportunity to:

• Help consider future policies to improve pay and conditions in practice
• Debate employment options and alternative career paths for graduates
• Discuss how to survive architectural education in a new era of university financing 

The forum is open to thirty students, ideally representing a range of architecture schools and students at different stages of study. As capacity is limited, at this stage we cannot promise a place to every applicant. If you secure a place we will reimburse UK travel expenses (second class, advance booking on set tickets). 

The forum was promoted on RIBA Education’s Facebook stream earlier this month and was covered briefly in Friday’s Building Design. The subsequent “conversation” amongst online readers of the article (of varying shades of anonymity) reveals some of the usual perspectives on the relationship between the RIBA and architectural education today.

“Why should firms contribute to UK architectural education if it is no use to practices?”

“The future of a the profession and of the lives of all of its members requires a sense of SHARED responsibility. These young architects are the FUTURE of our profession – something that all of us surely want to INVEST in.”

“It appears to me (a 26 year old currently studying for part 3) that the current process of obtaining an architectural education is woefully removed from the wants and needs of modern architectural practice.”

“Let’s hope that the selection considers students from at least ALL the UK schools of architecture and not just the usual ones.”

For my part, I’ve emailed the RIBA with an expression of interest, and I fully expect not to be invited. I may be (as far as I know) the only person in the UK writing a PhD on architectural education at the moment, but I expect the RIBA to prioritise the very limited number of just thirty places to just students on taught courses. The attitude of the RIBA towards students of architecture – both through the validation procedures that accredit UK schools of architecture every four years, and events such as these – is that traditional architectural practice in a commercial environment is the principle aspiration for everyone. And yet anecdotal evidence and fag packet calculations of recent RIBA statistics would suggest that as many as two thirds of all students who commence RIBA Part I (undergraduate) studies in architecture never complete Part III (professional examination that follows the postgraduate degree or diploma and a minimum period post practice-based experience).

While it is a recurring feature of architectural education to call for its reinvention, the difference between previous upheavals and those of today is that they’re now out of the control of the profession or academe.

Architecture has always been expensive to study. Now, however, the stable little ecosystem of five years in university and two years in practice has been received a blinding broadside by the sudden reality of £9,000 p.a. tuition fees. While the interface between academe and profession adapted begrudgingly when the Labour government first introduced tuition fees, the disrespect between the two has suddenly been brought into sharp relief.

Whereas foundation level doctors in the UK (who will by the end of their education have spent the same amount of time at university as architects) earn a starting salary of between £22,000 and almost £28,000, a Part I graduate (after three years of study) is lucky to earn £20,000 (graduating in 2004, I started on £10,000 pre-tax). After Part III, an architect can expect £30,000 – £34,000, whereas a newly qualified GP can start on a salary of well over £50,000. If a medical student chooses to train as a consultant, they can expect to earn in excess of £70,000. (Sources: RIBA and NHS)

While few architects save lives in their day to day line of business, because of the RIBA Validation criteria and the established system of architectural education in this country, both they and doctors have to spend lengthy periods at university. And now that a three year degree at pretty much every self respecting university costs £27,000 before living and ancillary costs, the maths doesn’t add up for architecture.

As those selected comments on the BD article above show, students are reluctant to spend such a huge sum of money without better employment prospects or remuneration, and employers are reluctant to pay their graduates more without education becoming demonstrably more vocational. A stubborn rump of practicing architects expect graduates to be ready for professional practice, even though as little as one third of graduates ever take up a career in the profession.

Neither the RIBA, nor the schools of architecture, nor the profession itself, can do anything to reverse the Conservative-led government’s decision to charge (and the Liberal Democrat’s failure to obstruct) university tuition fees of £9,000 per annum. It is, therefore, up to practitioners, educators and the RIBA to negotiate a future for architectural education and practice.

The RIBA are to be congratulated for the apparently genuine intent to see a diversity of students represented at the forthcoming Tough Times forum. Reimbursing travel costs is also to be commended, especially for those students selected to represent schools far from London. However, given the RIBA’s diversity of spacious venues, it’s regrettable that only a small number of students can attend. While I appreciate the venues are commercially available to others and are likely booked up, it’s a shame that the strategic decision wasn’t taken to open the event to a wider number of delegates. If RIBA funds are too tight to reimburse all attendees, then some students, like myself or those studying in London, could have attended without necessarily claiming travel costs. Thirty travel bursaries could then have been provided for those in genuine financial need.

I hope to see you at Tough Times. But then I doubt I’ll be invited.

Postscript, 24 hours later: I’ve been invited to attend. Egg, face, etc.

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Video: Ken Robinson – Changing Educational Paradigms

By now you will, of course, have seen one of Ken Robinson’s TED talks on education and creativity. You might not, however, have seen this one, delivered to the RSA last year, and beautifully animated by Cognitive Media.

It’s good to have people like Ken Robinson out there talking about the things he talks about. I never thought I would become interested in education, but I am. It’s too important and fascinating for me not to be.

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Engaged and Enraged: in the absence of more coherent notes…

On Friday 1 April (well into the evening, so no foolin’ involved) a lively audience of about forty to fifty architects, academics, students and interested others convened in the office of Public Works in Hackney, East London, to listen to eight trigger papers and to discuss the state of architectural education in this country today. This was Friday Session No. 45: Engaged and Enraged.

The event was convened by Public Works and (full disclosure: my supervisor) Prof. Ruth Morrow of QUB as an opportunity to talk openly and frankly in a non-academic and non-institutional environment about architectural education. Speaking were Helena Webster, Bethany Wells, Alex Warnock-Smith & Elena Pascolo, Colin Priest, Trenton Oldfield, Ro Spankie, Ruth Morrow and Torange Khonsari.

Feeling an opportunity to be all cutting-edge-and-the-like, I experimented with some live social meeja, and attempted to summarise and live stream the event via Twitter. As a result, I wasn’t able to keep detailed notes of what caught my attention, just little snapshots from throughout the evening. It was something of an education to try and surmise the opinions and positions of so many speakers, and it was nigh-on impossible to keep up with the open debate from the floor.

So while this is by no means a complete or adequate recording of the evening’s event, I did at least want to collate in chronological (as opposed to Twitter’s usual anti-chronological) order my tweets from the evening. With a few redactions (namely my repeated disclaimer that I was responsible for interpreting, transcribing and condensing what was being spoken), here’s the evening in no more than 140 characters at a time, parsed from my Twitter stream.

  • Depending how much beer I consume I will attempt to tweet some of the proceedings from Public Works’ Friday Session http://bit.ly/gU5y1Z
  • #PublicWorks #FridaySession ‘Engaged and Enraged’ getting under way now. Latecomers welcome, 1-5 Vyner Street, London E2
  • http://twitpic.com/4frjhu #PublicWorks #FridaySession
  • Good news, there’s soup. Bubbling away as we begin …
  • Speaking: Helena Webster, Bethany Wells, Alex Warnock-Smith & Elena Pascolo, Colin Priest, Trenton Oldfield…
  • … Ro Spankie, Ruth Morrow, Torange Khonsari. Andreas Lang introducing the concept and history of Friday Sessions.
  • Lang: Everyone speaking tonight involved in and somehow frustrated by teaching.
  • Lang: Tonight an opportunity for an informal discussion about architectural education, initiated by Ruth Morrow.
  • http://twitpic.com/4frmzp http://twitpic.com/4frnh2
  • Warnock-Smith: teaching architecture is doing architecture.
  • Warnock-Smith: at worst, architectural education the deliverance of finite and calculable skills.
  • Warnock-Smith: trying to reduce the chance of “inevitability” in teaching architecture. Not knowing what you’ll get out of a project.
  • Webster: “I have all the symbolic capital that makes me a pillar of the establishment. However…”
  • Webster drawing parallels with the training of soldiers (marching, singing, casting off old self) with architectural education.
  • Webster: formal education can escape being a tool of those in power.
  • Webster: all education a form of symbolic violence. Creating architects outside the system could subvert this act of violence.
  • I’m tweeting from #PublicWorks#FridaySession on architectural education. Nine speakers speaking for 5 minutes each. Next up Colin Priest
  • Priest: four years of live project experience started with an intervention for Hungerford Bridge that was vetoed by South Bank authorities.
  • Priest: live projects take students out of the chain of authority. Students take control. Status quo inst’l authority is removed.
  • From the floor: the universities, not the architectural profession (RIBA/ARB) should be determining how we teach and research architecture.
  • From the floor (cont): RIBA/ARB should get out of architectural education.
  • Next up: Ruth Morrow, QUB
  • Morrow: Once asked “how did you get to be a professor of architecture?” Morrow: “Wrong place, wrong time.”
  • Morrow: Practising architecture in Belfast makes you really question what we [ architects ] are here to do.
  • Morrow: all the interesting people I studied with dropped out by the end of architectural education.
  • Morrow: 72% of all people who start architectural education do not complete RIBA Part III.
  • Morrow: Things about architecture I don’t accept: its traditions; its trad’l forms of practice; its seriousness; …
  • … its inability to explain its value; its refusal to relate to money; ARB/RIBA ringfencing themselves to be stronger; …
  • … notion of “retreat” to the studio; the refusal to accept responsibility for fabrication.
  • Morrow: accept and want permeability of arch’l practice; places to debate; an idea of how to manage critique.
  • Next up: Torange Khonsari. “T-Orange” for those writing notes.
  • Torange Khonsari http://twitpic.com/4fs59s
  • Khonsari: model of Taliesin much more interesting than the work produced
  • Khonsari: Sense of collectivity at Taliesin School expressed through growing of vegetables, eating together, building stuff.
  • Khonsari: live projects are not about the master architect teaching the intern, but about the collective.

  • Khonsari: Second example the Really Free School. “Education can be re-imagined… knowledge a currency everyone can afford to trade.”
  • Khonsari: referencing http://reallyfreeschool.org/
  • Khonsari: can postgraduate architecture become a non-institutional platform where different practices come together to teach?
  • Khonsari: arch’l edu. does not need to be bound to a place. It can be nomatic and the students travel to different projects to learn.
  • Khonsari: conceiving architecture students as [sic] journeymen.
  • Khonsari: can there be a hybrid model between residencies and apprenticeship?
  • Khonsari: in Iran students are called those who seek knowledge, not those who are given knowledge. Study is about the seeking of knowledge.
  • Khonsari: how do we certify this? Perhaps the UN universities scheme.
  • Khonsari: the space where collective discussions happen can replace the crit space. Skype? Internet? Community centres?
  • Brief break in the tweets while I make a point to the floor…
  • I’m tweeting from #PublicWorks#FridaySession on architectural education. Nine speakers speaking for 5 minutes each.http://bit.ly/emf9Zp
  • Morrow: referencing Leslie Kanes Weisman’s Women’s School of Planning and Architecture (1974-1981) http://bit.ly/dG4h10
  • Student, speaking from the floor: learnt more about self and direction from a one week live project than in rest of course.
  • Same student: “studying outside the school is a lot better.”
  • From the floor: beautiful drawings are so time consuming we struggle to escape the school of architecture.
  • Lang: I am struggling with the use of the word “we” tonight [ that one is partially directed at my earlier point… noted ]
  • Priest: Careful of sweeping statements. It is possible to have an establishment that allows us to engage more.
  • I’m tweeting from #PublicWorks#FridaySession on architectural education. Next up: Bethany Wells, architecture student at RCA.

  • Wells: so much of secondary and tertiary education focused on the neoliberal structure of output, output, output.
  • Wells: proposing interested architecture students pool fees into learning cooperative. Tuition fees go directly to funding engagement.
  • Wells: we [students] should walk with our feet and talk with our money.
  • From the floor: RIBA/ARB criteria don’t make any mention of talking to people. So I re-wrote them for my thesis project.
  • Morrow: ARB/RIBA criteria are put out to consultation every few years. Just not to anyone outside the architectural profession.
  • From the floor: open school model in Denmark that allows students to seek own courses. Took c. decade to be accepted for university entry.
  • From the floor: there is a lack of choice in education. How good your education is depends on luck.
  • Lang: I miscounted. Only 8 speakers, not 9. Proposing we have the remaining 2, then soup. Whoop.
  • Next up: Ro Spankie. All speaker profiles linked here: http://bit.ly/emf9Zp
  • Spankie: architects always rattle the cage, but never let anyone in.
  • Spankie: student decides future education c. age 18 using A-level grades. Not based on experience of subject.
  • Spankie: lots of non-architects create good architecture. Why are we so obsessed on how we train architects?
  • Julia Dwyer is co-speaking with Jo Spankie. Why are parallel disciplines that make space considered peripheral to architecture & architects?

  • Dwyer: if some is to be an architect, what is it that they should study.
  • Next up: Trenton Oldfield. All speaker profiles linked here:http://bit.ly/emf9Zp
  • Oldfield: referencing project / book: http://www.criticalcities.net/
  • Oldfield: seeking to create environment to live in continuous critical condition. Approached the brief this way.
  • Oldfield: the urgency and gender mix of this session is really unusual for a discussion about architectural education.
  • Oldfield: reminded of regeneration conference when he tweeted “I’m at the death of a profession.” Architectural education is collapsing.
  • Lang: I find that quite comforting.
  • Oldfield: who are we? what are we meant to be doing? Reminds me of the deep irrelevance of the Royal Family. Trying to be useful, important.
  • Oldfield: both architects / architecture and Royal Family are completely irrelevant.
  • Morrow: but architecture is what architects make it.
  • Trenton Oldfield speaking: http://twitpic.com/4fsndm
  • Oldfield: a parallel between architectural education and Libya. Is this system change or regime change? There is nothing deeply radical here
  • Oldfield: it is fair and legitimate to want change in architectural education. But it’s not going to revive a dying system.
  • Oldfield: a Royal Wedding can’t revitalize the monarchy.
  • Oldfield: so who is going to resign? Who is prepared to work for free? Who went on strike? Who marched? Who educates their kids privately?
  • Oldfield: The future of architecture education has already been discussed. It’ll be discussed again and again. So much work that needs doing
  • Oldfield: it’s very easy for well educated, well connect people to do very good work. Doesn’t address the real issues.
  • Oldfield: everyone in this room can do something to resolve the unbelievably bad conditions in which people live.
  • Oldfield: now come at me with your critique.
  • Priest: need to open up debate about how institutions can change, we can never get rid of them. Could they be different, with new relations?
  • From the floor: we live in a fantasy world of ‘architectural education’. This is a world we created. We work hard, but no-one’s interested.
  • From floor (same speaker): we are too inward looking, inward speaking.
  • From the floor: release the pressure. I am more optimistic. Don’t try and die for the cause. Discussion must be more positive.
  • From the floor: “It’s too easy to sit down in the corner and cry.”

  • Morrow: a saying in my house – “if you’re in the shit, learn to love shit”
  • Morrow: that’s my tactic. It as brave a tactic as walking way or resigning.
  • From the floor: we are really really bad as a profession at explaining what we do, how we do it and why.
  • From the floor: we need to be better, clearer, at explaining what it is we do. Other professions are better than us at doing this.
  • Khonsari: I don’t understand why we as a profession still protect the term ‘architect’
  • From the floor: that protection is to protect the consumer, not the architect.
  • I’m tweeting from #PublicWorks#FridaySession on architectural education. Eight speakers on architectural educationhttp://bit.ly/emf9Zp
  • Lang: education should be a political issue about how we empower ourselves. I left behind the middle class hobby of architecture.
  • OK, that’s a wrap. I can’t keep up with the developing discussion now that the floor has opened up.

More photos in my Flickr photoset from the evening.

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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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A flying pigeon interfering

On Wednesday I began the long journey home. For three short days I’d been in the south-west and south of England meeting with academics at schools of architecture to talk about live projects and architectural education. I began this research trip – which covered six meetings – with an early morning flight from Glasgow to Cardiff. The journey home would be much slower, this time by train. After my last interview in Portsmouth, I turned north and headed for home, all the way from the south coast towards the central belt of Scotland.

For the first leg of my journey, the cheapest train ticket to London was also on the slowest train. So I had some time to begin transcribing the interviews I’d conducted in the previous days. Upon arrival at Victoria and with a couple of hours in hand before my connection from Euston, I skirted around the livelier distractions of London town and went directly to Tate Britain. Until 16 January 2011 you can catch the excellent exhibition on Eadweard Muybridge here, and I strongly recommend that you do so. As you may be aware, my previous research investigated the intersection between the sequential art of comics and architecture. Were it not for William Hogarth, you might say that Muybridge created the comic strip: a sequence of frozen moments, each presented graphically in a sequence that could read, releasing the narrative into a user-controlled recollection.

Most striking for me was this print,  Head-Spring, a flying pigeon interfering, exhibited courtesy of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC (who, it seems, have sadly not permitted a postcard or poster reproduction to be sold by the Tate). Muybridge set out to capture, from two angles, the human form as it performed a head spring. As part of a long lineage of such sequential photographs on show at Tate, it is nothing special, but for the interruption in the images of a pigeon meandering and then flying through the set naturally captivates the viewer. The print has become not only a sequence of a human but also a bird in flight. No matter how hard you try to establish the scientific conditions for your research, something fuzzy from the real world will always creep in. And it will usually surprise you with something quite beautiful.

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colloquium |kəˈləʊkwɪəm|

noun ( pl. -quiums or -quia |-kwɪə|)

an academic conference or seminar.

ORIGIN late 16th cent. (denoting a conversation or dialogue): from Latin, from colloqui ‘to converse,’ from col- ‘together’ + loqui ‘to talk.’

I enjoyed a very nice long coffee (well, actually, two annoyingly short coffees, extended shamelessly over three hours to spite the waiter who took 20 minutes to deliver a substantially smaller coffee than I asked for) in London on Friday. A friend and I were plotting something educational, enjoyable and hopefully of practical value to research students in the built environment. Watch this space in the next month or so for an announcement and an invitation.

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Straddling the North Channel (pt. II)

As some of you may know, I choose to lead a bit of a double life. I divide my time between sunny Belfast and sunny Glasgow. Although neither is really my home town, I have close family connections on either side of the Irish Sea and I have very similar love/hate relationships with both cities. Surprisingly I’ve been mugged more times in Belfast than in Glasgow, but it still seems to have a stronger hold on my heart.

A week or two ago I ranted and raved over here about the imminent demise of Northern Ireland’s last remaining ‘Rail and Sail’ connection to the mainland. The upshot of the situation is that Stena Line desperately need to find a more fuel efficient boat than their last remaining HSS fast ferry, which plies the North Channel four times a day between Belfast and Stranraer. Having already moved to a new terminal as close to the mouth of Belfast Lough as they could get, they’ve now won permission from the Scottish Government to build a new ferry terminal closer to the mouth of Loch Ryan than the existing (and admittedly very shabby) one in Stranraer. This has lead to all manner of excitement about shorter sea crossings between Northern Ireland and Scotland, when in fact they will be shorter only in geographic length, not actual journey times. By replacing the Stena HSS with conventional ferries, journeys to the new port will be no faster than they currently are.

In their wisdom, and with complete disinterest for the people of Northern Ireland whom they do not represent, the Scottish Parliament’s Loch Ryan Port (Harbour Empowerment) Order 2009 breaks the link between the ferry and the train. Prior to the privatisation of British Rail, multiple daily trains connected with British Rail Sealink ferries at Stranraer. There was a direct overnight train to London, as well as regional trains to Newcastle, Carlisle, Dumfries, Kilmarnock and Glasgow. Only the last two survive, and they look very vulnerable without a ferry that “supposedly” (see my rant) connects with them.

To rub some salt in the wound, although without much surprise, Ryanair announced yesterday that they are quitting Belfast City Airport. Three years to the day after they started service to the airport (who would dare accuse Ryanair of being subsidy bunnies dependent on 36 month deals with airports?) the last flight will depart on 30 October 2010. If nothing else, the McClay Library and David Keir Building will be more peaceful places for me to work in, without the meaty roar of Ryanair’s Boeing 737-800 aircraft flying overhead.

As usual, Ryanair are blaming everyone but themselves for the end of these services. They also claim as many as 1,000 will lose jobs as a result of NI’s planning system, which has yet to approve an extension to Belfast City Airport’s runway. Ryanair need the extension because their planes (unlike those of Easyjet, BMI and FlyBe) can’t reach any international destinations with a full load from the existing runway. They could of course head up to road to Belfast International Airport (you know, the one with ‘International’ in it’s name) but generally don’t like going head to head with their competition. Easyjet, Jet2 and others who offer plenty of escape routes to continental Europe from the International.

My sympathies are with the friendly and professional Ryanair crews based in Belfast. They often greet me by name, and are the hardest working I’ve seen anywhere, completing all inflight sales and services in the 20-25 minute journey over to Prestwick. They now have two months notice to pack their bags, get out of their residential leases, and move to another Ryanair base.

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Rural Studio at the V&A: “there’s a statement in there somehow”

This is a floorplan of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, indicating the locations of the seven built installations that make up 1:1 Architects Build Small Spaces. Being, as I am, on top of the throbbing pulse of London’s architecture scene, I only discovered the exhibition at the end of a long weekend, while killing a few hours before heading back to Heathrow for my flight home. (What can I say; the V&A is on the Piccadilly Line to Heathrow and has free luggage storage in the cloakrooms.)

1:1 Architects Build Small Spaces invited 7 architects to construct small architectural interventions throughout the museum. Nineteen paper and model submissions to the call for entries, including the seven that have been built, are on display in the dedicated architecture gallery. Of the seven built structures, while it was far from the most enthralling or entertaining, the most interesting to me was the ‘woodshed’ designed and built by students of Auburn University’s Rural Studio (application rendering below).

The ‘Woodshed’ is a monopitch open-ended structure built of unseasoned thinnings – immature timber harvested from commercially managed forests to allow stronger trees to grow taller and straighter. This suggests a material of inconsistency and distortion, but the structure is stoically angular. Despite the opportunities for exploring the complimentary characteristics of seasoned and unseasoned wood, such as joints that shrink into one another for structural tightness and rigidity, the entire stucture is made up of 49 identical monopitch frames, assembled alongside one another to form the shed. Their expected shrinkage is managed by the inclusion of five threaded rods, drilled through the length of the shed, which can be tightened during the course of the exhibition.

Rural Studio director Andrew Freear and student Danny Wicke explain the installation in this short video, one of seven produced to compliment each structure.

The Rural Studio is no stranger to exhibitions located firmly in art galleries, but for a studio so rooted in the social obligations of architecture as practice, profession and product it is always a provocative experience to encounter their work so removed from any meaningful context.

1:1 Architects Build Small Spaces continues until 30 August 2010.

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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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