learning architecture


a PhD in live projects and architectural education

Shortlisted: RIBA President’s Award for Research 2013

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I’m delighted and honoured to announce today that my PhD thesis A Critique of the Live Project has been shortlisted for the RIBA President’s Award for Outstanding PhD Thesis 2013. The winner will be announced in the autumn. The other shortlisted candidates in this category are:

  • Ricardo Agarez of University College Dublin: Regionalism, Modernism and Vernacular Tradition in the Architecture of Algarve, Portugal, 1925-1965
  • Yara Sharif of the University of Westminster: PhD by Design Searching for Spaces of Possibilities and Spaces of Imagination within the Palestinian/Israeli Conflict

The full RIBA Press Release is available here.

Remember, you can download the full text of the thesis from this blog on this page.

Thanks again to Professor Ruth Morrow, Mr. Keith McAllister and Professor Ashraf Salama for their supervisory guidance, without whom I wouldn’t be in this position today.

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Statistics: the numbers behind UK architectural education

I have the somewhat ambitious (but highly strategic) target of fleshing out, structuring and mostly writing one draft chapter of my thesis per month through the summer. If I can complete this task by October, I’ll be able to enter the long dark nights of winter with six months in hand to beat the thing into shape before I submit in it March 2012.

Hence, this month, my primary writing pre-occupation has been a chapter on the general context of higher education (HE) over the last three decades and the more specific context of architectural education (AE) over last two decade and a half. It’s given me the opportunity to get into some of the numbers that are in the public domain relating to both HE and AE.

The graphs I’m presenting below are all generated from the data I’ve scraped from the relevant websites, statistics and annual reports. Some of the data will find its way into the chapter, some not. But taken together, it’s been a helpful opportunity for me to crunch some numbers and test some hunches. It has been a task to download countless .csv and .xls files from government websites, and then a painful chore to manually scrape other data from annual reports that are helpfully published only in pdf format (I’m looking at you, RIBA and ARB). The data is all Copyright of its respective owners / publishers, and the graphs presented here are my own. All this is work in progress; I may one day be able to publish this data with a more rigorous analysis and carefully verified sources, so for the time bring trust this only as far as you can throw it.

Data recording the number of students in higher education in the United Kingdom is available from two sources: the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which provides archived ‘Social Trends’ data for at ten year intervals between the 1970/1 and 2000/1 academic years, and the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), which provides data annually between the 1995/6 and 2009/10 academic years.

Combining the two sources on one graph (and plotting an exponential trend line from the ONS data) indicates the clear continuation of the trend in growth of student numbers between the academic years 1995/6 to 2000/1, when there were 2,553,250 part and full time students in HE. The growth in student numbers during the last two decades is significant, but is broadly in line with the growth experienced since 1970.

As you might notice (clicking on all of these graphs will load a larger version) for the one academic year of overlap between the two sources of data (2000/1) there is a slight discrepancy between the two sources (89,395 students, or of 3.9%). I can’t determine the cause of this, and while its within a reasonable proximity not to be worrying I’d be interested to hear any suggestions why the ONS and HESA disagree.

The data gets more interesting when you break it down by the four constituent countries of the UK. As you can see from the next graph, almost all of the growth in UK student numbers has happened in England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have maintained modest growth.

I still need to collate the opening dates of new universities in the UK, so I expect some of the growth in student numbers in England to have been caused by new universities opening during this time frame.

Over the four academic years between 1996/7 and 1999/2000, student numbers increased at average of 2.8% per year. This relatively stable period of growth was disrupted in the 2000/1 academic year, with an increase of student numbers by 9.1%. Over the four academic years between 2000/1 and 2003/4, student numbers increased at an average of 5.4% per year. This rate of growth relented slightly 2003/4 and 2007/8, but for the two most recent years available the data would suggest a return to growth above the rate established between 1996/7 and 1999/2000.

So, despite a few blips here and there, the number of students in higher education in the UK is growing exponentially, and it has been growing for some time. The widening participation agenda of the New Labour era has had a lasting impact on HE, with more people going to university or other forms of HE now than ever before.

So what about architecture? Since the 2001/2 academic year, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has published an annual report compiling statistics provided by RIBA validated schools of architecture and statistics relating to office-based candidates for RIBA Parts I, II and III (they’re online here). Complete or partial participation in the survey supporting the RIBA Education Statistics is voluntary, and as a result some reports do not represent the statistics of all validated schools, and I’m presuming that not all schools completed (or were able to complete) all parts of the survey. The implications of this voluntary participation are discussed below. Whereas the ONS data can supplement the HESA data on general HE statistics, without published statistics pre-dating the 1997/8 academic year, conclusions regarding the number of students studying architecture should be limited to the twelve years available (data for the years 1997/8 was provided retrospectively in the first 2001/2 RIBA Education Statistics report).

The next chart illustrates the total number of students in all academic years of RIBA validated architecture courses with the number of new entrants to RIBA validated Part I and Part II courses.

Things are pretty stable from 1997/8 until 2002/3. The sharp rise in the total number of students studying architecture in the 2004/5 academic year is notable, representing a year on year increase of 19.67%.

Presented at a slightly larger scale, here are the new entrants to Part I and II courses.

While the RIBA Education Statistics Report 2004/5 was correct in reporting an unprecedented near-20% increase in total student numbers that year, it is clear that this jump in student numbers was heightened by an anomalous drop in 2003/4, visible in both preceding graphs. Although the RIBA Education Statistics Report 2003/4 does not explain that year’s drop in student numbers, it should be noted that fewer schools chose to participate in the that survey than in any previous or subsequent year. Problematically, after 2002/3, RIBA Education Statistics Reports do not expressly state the number of schools participating in the survey, only the number of validated schools that chose not to participate in either the entire survey or that did respond to certain questions. For example, the 2003/4 Report notes that “all but three Schools of Architecture provided information for this report.” I’m still trying to work out the total number of validated courses at each year for the duration of these surveys, but will hopefully find that and other data next week when I have a few hours spare in the RIBA Library. Given the difficulty in ascertaining the comparability of the 2003/4 survey against other years, it would be apposite to consider that year’s results as an exception. In doing so, the number of students entering RIBA validated courses maintained a steady year-on-year growth between 2001/2 and 2008/9 of 5.45%.

Given that the RIBA validated track to become a registered architect takes at least seven years, the data gets more interesting when you consider the statistics not just at entry into a course, but at its natural conclusion. For instance, the following graph shows the number of students passing RIBA Part III courses and the number of new admissions (not including re-admissions) to the Architects Registration Board (ARB) – that data being extracted from the ARB’s annual reports. Again, with the exception of the RIBA data for 2003/4, which I’m treating with caution, there’s a broad correlation of the numbers: more people pass RIBA Part III, more people register with the ARB (a legal requirement to trade as an architect in the UK).

The data behind the green line was supplied by ARB; the blue line by RIBA. Note, again, the blip in 2003/4 when there was lower participation than normal in the RIBA survey. The modest increase in the number of newly qualified architects registering with the ARB over the last decade or so has contributed to a steadily increasing number of registered members: almost 33,000 across the UK in 2009.

Looking back through the RIBA Education data, we can go into more detail about the number of students passing the three stages of an RIBA validated architectural education.

The next graph illustrates the total numbers of students passing RIBA Parts I, II and III. As discussed earlier, the first half of the ‘noughties’ represented a turning point in the number of students entering RIBA Part I validated courses. This is reflected in the number of students passing those same courses three years later:

As you can see from the above chart, however, the number of students passing Part II and Part III remains relatively stable, largely because the spike in entries to Part I courses in the early ‘noughties’ hasn’t yet progressed that far through the system. The RIBA Education Statistics report from 2010/11 (due around about October) will perhaps begin to tell us more about the longer term effects of that rise in Part I entrants and passes.

Of greatest concern, however, for the shape and structure of architectural education today, are the numbers presented in the final chart below, mapping entries to RIBA Part I courses and passes from RIBA Part III. This is something that my supervisor, Prof. Ruth Morrow, has talked about at some length in recent lectures at QUB and elsewhere.

Regardless of the fact that the shortest amount of time a student can spend between starting Part I and finishing Part III is seven years (and that the spike in admissions from the early 2000s onwards has yet to be reflected in Part III passes), there is a dramatic drop-off between the number of people who enter RIBA Part I and complete RIBA Part III.

In 2000/1, for instance, less than half the number of people passed RIBA Part III (and received the accreditation to become a legally registered architect) as passed RIBA Part I. Notwithstanding the effects of the last decade’s expansion of numbers in HE and AE, there has long been a massive drop off between the number of students who start studying architecture as do who finish and enter the profession.

As Prof. Morrow herself asked at her QUB inaugural lecture last summer, where do these students go?

Many of its fiercest advocates will argue that AE’s strength is its quality and richness as a broad education in the humanities that can prepare students for any number of career paths. But as we approach the 2012 introduction of student fees of up to £9,000 per annum, I’m increasingly interested not only in where these students go to, but how AE itself can be better design, structured, and validated to support the aspirations, needs and demands of students who are increasingly likely to never practice architecture in a traditional sense.

On Tuesday, I’ll be traveling to London to take part in the RIBA’s ‘Tough Times’ Student Forum. I’ll be particularly interested to take the pulse of AE from the perspective of those students on taught courses from up and down the country. The experiences that they’ve had and the ideas that they put forward will, I hope, shape the continuing evolution of AE in this country.

Meanwhile, if you have any comments, corrections or suggestions regarding my handling of the data, please drop me a line.

Sources available on request.

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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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ASA at MSA, 20 June 2011

As a follow-on from EASA 2010 in Manchester last year (which I sadly couldn’t attend), the newly formed Archiecture Students Assembly (ASA) will be having its inaugural meeting in Manchester on 20 June.

While every passing week makes me feel less like an oppressed student and more like a member of the oppressor class (sic) I look forward to attending the event and hearing more from the mouths of the current and next generation of architecture students. Here’s the skinny, courtesy of archistudents.info:

The Manchester School of Architecture (msa) is prepared to host an inaugural meeting of the ASA – Architecture Students Assembly.  ASA is the provisional name for a network of student representatives from the schools of architecture within the United Kingdom.  The ‘assembly’ is part of the easa010 legacy and has grown from a generally shared desire for the establishment of a viable network that promotes communication between students in UK schools.

The inaugural meeting will promote the idea of ASA as essentially a communication network that could to support and promote architecture student events, have the capacity to harness student opinion and to engage with other established, relevant, education organisations, both nationally and internationally.

At the initial conference delegates will assume the role of representatives and will have opportunity to formulate this student centred and led organisation.  It is anticipated that there will be presentations by easaUK, a European focused network who will talk about the annual student summer school event, and by established education bodies who would value a dialogue with architecture students across the UK.  The aim would be that delegates establish a mission for the organisation and a basic operational structure that could be the subject of evolution.  

Support from the msa will aim to ensure the durability of the network by maintaining an up to date database of student representative contact details for each school.  The msa will provide a paid network coordinator for this group as part of its support for the mssa (Manchester Student Society of Architecture) that includes an office base with internet / email / phone connectivity.

The initial development and organisation has been undertaken by people involved with easa010 and they will continue to coordinate the inaugural meeting and provide advice on the establishment and development of the network.

The baseline aim is to establish an active communication network with one key annual event (conference style) that could be used to engage with SCHOSA (and potentially the RIBA and ARB) – This would conditionally maintain the support of the msa and potentially SCHOSA who have assisted student networks in the past.

In order to begin Heads of UK Architecture Schools will be requested to provide the email contact details of two named student representatives from their school who could be invited to attend and / or receive details of the inaugural meeting.

Perhaps, finally, a worthy spiritual successor to the long extinct BASSA and the practically extinct ARCHAOS? The proof will be in the pudding, although I support any initiative to establish a truly national representative body of architecture students.

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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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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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Acme wins 2010 RIBA Manser Medal for Hunsett Mill

Congratulations to Acme and the whole team behind this year’s RIBA Manser Medal winning house, Hunsett Mill in the Norfolk Broads. It’s a subtle and beautiful adaptation of an existing cottage in a part of the world very close to my heart, and I am distinctly jealous of the house’s owners.

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Apply now: RIBA Research Trust Awards

Later this year, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) will be making up to four awards of up to £7,500 each to support early-career researchers. If you’re interested, follow the link. The deadline is in less than three weeks.

Official release:

RIBA Research Trust Awards have been offered since 2009 following a mergence of the Modern Architecture and Town Planning Trust and the Historical Research Trust.

The scheme is administered by the RIBA Education Department is open to applicants interested in a wide range of subject matter relevant to the advancement of architecture, and the arts and sciences connected therewith, in the United Kingdom. Applications from outside the United Kingdom may be submitted; however, the research work must in the main be undertaken within the United Kingdom. The supervisor must be domiciled in the United Kingdom. Project proposals where research is carried out outside the UK will be accepted only in exceptional circumstances.

In 2010 four awards not exceeding £7,500 each will be made.

The primary objective of the awards scheme is to help graduates at the beginning of their career further understand the role of research. It is hoped that a number of recipients will go on to be accomplished researchers in the architectural field.

RIBA Research Trust Awards are awarded for a closely defined piece of architectural research and are not available to pay course fees and subsistence costs whilst enrolled on PhD/MPhil or Masters programmes.

The closing date for submitting complete applications is Friday, 25 June 2010.

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Changing Practices: 2009 RIBA Research Symposium

I was in London last week for the annual RIBA Research Symposium Changing Practices. This was the fourth installment of this annual event, structured to bring practitioners and researchers together for a day of papers and discussions. The event was curated by Tatjana Schneider of the University of Sheffield and Prof. Jeremy Till of Westminster University (but formerly Sheffield).

Anne Lacaton opened the proceedings with a keynote on recent work by her French practice Lacaton & Vassal, and set a promising tone for those architects who were basing their presentations around recent work. While my research is about actual building work in schools, I’m always interested to see instances where actual research goes on in architectural practices. Lacaton discussed some of her firm’s recent social housing projects, each of which sought to demonstrate how existing modern-era buildings could be adapted to exceed current space standards more efficiently than if they were simply demolished and replaced with new buildings. A new-build scheme in Mulhouse introduced the idea of semi-enclosed winter gardens in a scheme of suburban houses. Although Lacaton spoke passionately for social housing that was more than just the cheapest option, and larger than the minimum space standards (reminding me of Giancarlo de Carlo’s famous appeal in the late sixties: why does social housing have to be cheap?) the project employed inexpensive industrial materials and construction techniques. The winter gardens were located on the first floor, and directly accessed through full height and width French windows. Providing unheated and technically exterior space, they dramatically increased the liveable area of the houses, simply by adding enclosed external space that is warm enough for habitation most of the year. Adding value to the properties without adding what is technically internal space plays with the local laws on property sizes, and is a refreshing example of what happens when housing is designed with aspirations beyond the basic specification. Looking beyond the traditional family shape, and considering modern day families with single parents or children from multiple relationships, the houses aspired to be significantly more flexible than more traditional cellular homes, notably those found in most recent developments in the UK.

Lacaton & Vassal have gone on to develop this concept in the rehabilitation of problematic modern-era tower blocks, notably the infamous suburban French HLMs (habitation à loyer modéré or ‘moderated rental housing’). Politicans love to dynamite problematic social housing, but Lacaton spoke up for buildings that could yet be saved, acknowledging that it is rarely the architecture that is at fault but surrounding social conditions. In this instance the winter garden (and additional rooms) are new-build complimentary structures that are built alongside or around the tower blocks. Internally, apartments can be re-configured as required, but most interestingly Lacaton & Vassal simply propose replacing the existing external façades of the apartments with French windows that open out onto these new semi-external habitable spaces. While not necessarily adding more internal space to these (often miniscule) apartments, they once again add usable space that adds value and space for the majority of the year. I was, however, concerned to note in one floor plan the addition of an extra bedroom to an apartment, only accessible through this uninsulated balcony space. I would like to know more about the efficiency of this scheme, although it was presented as a more cost effective option that demolition and construction of equivalent new housing. I was also amused to note that the spirit of le Corbusier continues to permeate through even the most socially progressive of French architecture. Lacaton also included some images of an unbuilt project for a new social housing tower block (featuring double height winter gardens to all apartments of course) that featured the distinctive Corbusian model of landings on alternate floors serving up-going and down-going flats. It seems sunlight and fresh air are still the prescribed cure for urban ills.

Simon Pepper of the University of Liverpool spoke on the evolution of practice, focusing on the sad decline of architectural design in the public sector in the UK. Tatjana Schneider plugged a forthcoming book on alternative architectural practices (which I look forward to reading) and Albena Yaneva of the University of Manchester offered an anthropological insight into the workings of Rem Koolhaas and OMA, although I was left unsure of the motivation behind the study.

Entering the second session, Jim Saker of Loughborough University reminded me of my childhood aspirations to design cars rather than houses, bringing an entertaining and articulate view of the architectural profession from his field of automotive design. He developed a theme presented by Anne Lacaton of the need to respond to the changing shape and size of the contemporary family. Fewer and fewer people need a home or a car designed for two adults and two children, and even fewer need them to serve the same people and functions seven days a week (hence Lacaton & Vassal’s open plan social housing, and the expanding market for compact people carriers with almost endless seating configurations).

Fresh out of another round of redundancies, Keith Bradley of Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios attempted to remain upbeat with a whistlestop history of this established British practice, which has for some time operated as a collection of semi-autonomous studios. Harriet Harriss of Oxford Brookes presented her newly commenced PhD studies, although the presentation suggested to me that it was too early in the process to be speaking in this forum.

Evidently dealing with ever-straightened circumstances, the RIBA took me back to my childhood with a packed lunch reminiscent of a school trip. Luckily it was a basking day outside, so the majority of delegates decamped out to the street to consider the site of Jonathan Hill’s Institute of Illegal Architects.

Jonathan Charley couldn’t escape from the University of Strathclyde to be with us, so a brilliantly sharp ten minute video was presented in his absence. Charley called for a radical and critical charter for architects, encouraging us to aspire to a practice that was practical, critical and radical. It will be Youtube’d shortly, and I’ll share it here when it is. Liza Fior of muf slipped dangerously close to a twenty minute talk on her practice’s work, but nonetheless provided fantastic insight and anecdotes into working as a non-conventional practitioner. Fior proposed three steps to an inclusive design process: value what’s already there, define what’s missing and then nurture the possible. Stephen Hill of futureplanners followed, in a way, from Simon Pepper, discussing the architectural profession and its evident erosion during the years of the ‘Thatcher-Blair-Brown project.’ Although he didn’t answer the question, he indeed left me wondering whether architects are smarter than slime mould, appealing for us to all consider how the architectural profession can develop sustainably.

Christian Derix of Aedas singularly failed to hold my attention as he demonstrated digital design simulation as a means of sharing and developing design knowledge. But that was as much due to my disinterest as anything else. The afternoon session concluded with two phenomenal speakers: Robert Webb of Quiet Revolution on the architecture of energy, and Indy Johar of 00:/. Both held my attention so well that my notes cease at this point, and I simply you recommend you download their papers from the RIBA Research website when they become available.

Jeremy Till concluded the day with a final keynote, presenting a fierce but not unexpected attack on the hypocrisy of the profession’s stance towards its ethical responsibility. That these opinions can be expressed from within the RIBA is no small feat, but it’s just a shame that their sound is unlikely to be carried far.

This was a day packed with interesting speakers and topics, but sadly short on the much needed discussion in between. I was hopeful that the drinks afterwards might have provided an opportunity for that interaction to occur, but the RIBA needed to make money out of its bar, so our group repaired to a pub round the corner instead.

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Reading: Architecture – art or profession?


In the quiet rainy afternoon I had set aside to prepare a critique of Mark Crinson and Jules Lubbock’s 1994 book Architecture – Art or Profession? we repaired to our favourite Southside Glasgow café for potent coffee and delectable freshly baked scones. My output was low, however, as I foolishly picked up a copy my preferred newspaper the Guardian, and become incensed once more at the nerve of a certain royal who likes to express his opinion about modern architecture rather aggressively. This follows a similar such article relating to another such incident, which subsequently inspired said newspaper to churn out a fairly predictable piece critiquing said royal’s pet project, a badly-built haven of kitsch-dom that was designed without consideration for crime reduction or contemporary living requirements. The architectural press has also picked up on the story. This reponse to this flurry of investigative journalism has been trenchant and opinionated, descending into unfounded statements that generally miss the point. For example: “Prince Charles speaks for most people’s ideas about buildings, towns and cities, and architects can’t stand that.” It’s true that architects can’t stand Charles’ opinion, but not because Charles even has the slimmest clue of what “most people” think. In the beautiful, eloquent and razor-sharp words of one Guardian reader, Prince Charles is “a none too bright, semi-unemployed middle-aged man, who by an accident of birth, has been brought up with the impression that his views actually mean something.” I, however, am more than willing to chip in my £0.69 per year to pay for the Royal Family, and will also gladly pick up the tab for a couple of republicans, but I feel aggrieved that a Royal thinks he can push a largely accountable planning system around to his taste. Architects generally “can’t stand” Charles speaking his mind because architects never get the chance to air their opinions as freely and as widely as he does. And most architects have substantially more qualifications to comment on architecture than 5 O-levels, 2 A-levels and the lowest possible degree classification the University of Cambridge offers short of a fail (that wasn’t even in architecture).

Why the tirade? Architecture – Art or Profession? is a detailed, rigorous and appreciably complete history of architectural education in Great Britain. However, it features a laudatory forward from HRH the Prince of Wales, and the authors benefited from a research grant offered by the Prince of Wales’s Institute of Architecture. The nature by which a piece of research is procured and financed should always be considered in relation to its content. [ Please see the comment immediately below this post for an important correction. ] But to clarify, do not confuse the Institute with the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment: the first evolved into the latter. The Institute became the Foundation, after it failed in its original mission: to establish a new school of architecture that would educate architects in a purely classical and traditionalist manner. The Institute would have been Britain’s only style-specific school of architecture, and it understandably failed to attract enough students or get exemption from RIBA examinations. That the RIBA should be so opposed to Prince Charles’ opinions on modern architecture is no surprise, but that it should continue to carry its royal charter with such pride is somewhat amusing.

So we have – and I must stress this – an excellent piece of historical research here. There is no book that offers such a detailed and well argued narrative about the history of architectural education in Great Britain However, from the point of view of my study, it frequently descends into a problematic and unhelpful tone that leads to a somewhat conspiratorial interpretation of history. I do not expect to find in such a scholarly work the problematic term ‘Young Turks’ to describe the mid-twentieth-century modernisers of English architectural education.

Crinson & Lubbock divide their history into four chapters, covering the periods 1660-1830, 1834-1938, 1938-1960 and finally from the sixties the early nineties. These timeframes permit an elegant narrative to be constructed, discussing firstly the many routes into architecture of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the early-industrial-era professionalisation of architecture, the post-world-war-two modernisation of architectural education and finally the concept of a Kuhn’s scientific paradigm to explain why one system can replace another so quickly and completely. The book becomes increasingly and unapologetically conspiratorial as it builds towards the third and fourth chapters.

I worked hard not to colour my reading of the book with my own opinionated preconceptions about HRH Prince Charles and any history associated with his viewpoint, but Architecture – Art or Profession left me with a lingering suspicion that Crinson & Lubbock prefer the notion of a pre-Industrial-Revolution architectural profession which may be entered by any number of different routes. Chapter two is entitled ‘The Design of Professionalism and its resistance’, and to my mind is perhaps unfairly forgiving of pupillage, the entirely patchwork system of apprenticeship that saw aspiring architects and their families pay established practitioners for office experience and tutoring. The most famously cited criticism of pupillage as a means to acquire an architect’s training is by Charles Dickens in Martin Chuzzlewit (1844), a damning caricature of lazy apprenticeship. While the faults of pupillage are acknowledged, Crinson & Lubbock are eager to emphasise that this portrayal is only an ‘extreme example’ and that it only served to fuel the ‘scientifically-minded radicalism’ (p.46) that would contribute to the downfall of informal education through pupillage. Likewise later in the book pupillage is defended once more from ‘its myths of neglectful and corrupt practices.’ How Crinson & Lubbock can vouch for such an unregulated system is difficult to conceive.

Of most interest to me is the description of the twentieth century. It was during this period that, under increasing pressure from the RIBA and modernising figures within schools of architecture, that architectural education moved away from being located in the profession to within the universities. This is very much a delayed and arguably tardy reaction to the Industrial Revolution, and the changes in the construction industry that threatened architects’ previously undisputed leadership of the building team. As larger and larger construction firms began to sub-contract various elements of their work, the building designer became less and less important, especially in an industrialised society in which mass production of standardised elements lessened the need for a unique design solution in every instance. Ulrich Pfammatter discussed this reactive nature of British design and engineering with particular reference to the 1851 Great Exhibition, at which Britain’s position at the vanguard of the industrial revolution was suddenly undermined by the discovery of greatly advanced machinery and products from abroad, and which the foundation of an entire generation of regional technical schools. (Pfammatter:2000, pp. 293-296) I agree wholeheartedly with Crinson & Lubbock’s assessment of architecture in Britain as being an extremely weak profession. (p.2)

The twentieth-century process of modernisation is described in mildly militaristic terms, with the ‘modernisers’ forming a ‘coterie’ that ‘hatched’ ideas as part of a long ‘campaign’ to ‘infiltrate’ the RIBA and it’s Board of Education. Crinson & Lubbock admit that they are not content to believe in solely evolutionary changes (p.165) to explain the remarkable shift of the nineteen-fifties and sixties from a system of architectural education that was predominantly influenced by the École des Beaux Arts and historical continuity to one that was favoured a blank-canvas approach to teaching design. Chapter four describes their interpretation of Kuhn’s theory of pardigmatic change, which they cite as an explanation for the total manner in which ‘modern’ architectural education replaced the largely Beaux Arts inspired system that preceded it.

The modest but highly influential 1958 Oxford Conference on architectural education is – wisely – debunked as a clean turning point between chaotic and inconsistent routes into the profession and a modern university-centric system. But again and again I was frustrated by a language that sought to view this key period through a conspiratorial veil, referring repeatedly and disdainfully to the conference organisers as a ‘coterie.’ Traditionalists did indeed view it as a ‘rigged’ conference, with only fifty-three invited speakers and a programme that carefully focussed on modernising issues. But why did advocates of Britain’s classicist and traditional (École des Beaux Arts derived) architectural education not protest or respond? I read Architecture – Art or Profession? with the sinking feeling that Crinson & Lubbock are reluctant to admit that before the changes recommended by the 1958 conference, and the gradual shift of architecture courses into universities that were monitored by the ever powerful RIBA, that British architectural education was inconsistent, exploitative and generally of poor quality. Pupillage and Beaux Arts teaching died out so cleanly because it was a staid system of learning-by-copying, that allowed no room for reflection on process and practice. There was, I believe, no adequate response to the 1958 conference from traditionalists because they genuinely had no convincing alternative to offer. At both the 1924 International Conference and in the 1946 RIBA Report, the aspiration was voiced for architecture to be taught within the university context, thereby conferring the profession with a status equal or similar to that of law or medicine. A key matter for exploration in my study of architectural education is understanding why this happened, and to an extent whether architecture continues to suit the university setting. Crinson & Lubbock’s book is, unfortunately, suspicious of research in the context of architectural education. I would like to believe that the authors were simply dissatisfied with the ‘modernisers’ concept of research, but the tone of the book unfortunately suggests that they simply regard all research in architectural education as a waste of time. For example:

At this point it is worth broadly signalling the consequences for British architecture of this emphasis on a particular, and apparently innocuous, notion of research. It was not, of course, an idea limited to postgraduate work, but permeated the ideology of modernist architectural education … This necessitated the recruitment of specialists who could teach a range of non-architectural subjects as a grounding for future research. This in turn had the effect of limiting the time spent on design as well as on professional, drawing and building skills in favour of an orientation towards new subject areas in the pure and social sciences. Such a conception of research picked up on the Bauhaus notion that all assumptions should be questioned and research as if no satisfactory solutions had been reached previously. This led to that most airily ‘systematic’ of 1960s pursuits, systematic design methodology, in which the inductive methods of science were to be applied actually as methods of design. (pp.142-143)

Heaven forbid that students of architecture might be taught the skills to research and question establish ideas for themselves, and that anyone from outside the profession might have something of value to teach these architects. Sadly being able to associate these notions with the understandably mixed results of the Bauhaus’ Vorkurs teaching means that Crinson & Lubbock construct an anti-academic view of architectural education, regarding the shift to university-level education as a trick played by the modernisers to exert greater control over the content of what was being taught to architects. This distrust of all things modern does have its comic moments though; on page 134 Crinson & Lubbock are quick to point out the symbolism of the RIBA Journal adopting a sans serif typeface as a key moment in the modernisation of the Institute. But Crinson & Lubbock are frankly sloppy in their criticism of the socialising practices of the ‘modern’ architectural education:

Both the avant-garde and the founding fathers shared the premise, enshrined in the Vorkurs, that the fledgling architect needed to be thoroughly laundered of his or her lay culture so as to be able to set themselves throughout their future career against the likes and dislikes of ordinary people, because that had been initiated innto a higher and more creative form of wisdom. (p.174)

This attitude seems blind to undeniable socialisation practices of the architectural education that preceded the modernised Vorkurs or academic vision. Any applicant to an architect (through articuled pupillage) or student of a Beaux Arts derived school was submitted him or herself to an equally overwhelming process of formation and socialisation.

At the time of publication, in the early nineteen-nineties, Crinson & Lubbock seemed deeply concerned by the continuing dominance of the ‘Official System’ (as they name the post 1958 Conference university-based system of architectural education) and bemoan the ‘triumph of a professionalised vision of the architect that was both narrowly focused and extraordinarily powerful.’ (p.38) Britain’s economy was far from health and the government were investigating the possibility of removing the legal protection of the title ‘architect.’ Into this context, Prince Charles’s attempt to found a school of architecture that plugged a ‘hole in the market,’ with a ‘course where those who wished could study what might broadly be termed ‘traditional’ architecture’ (p.6) seems to have been both overly optimistic and simplistic in addressing Crinson & Lubbock’s concerns with modern architectural education. And it is somewhat sad to have this book associated with that attempt and that standpoint. The authors’ critique of the RIBA’s questionable quasi-governmental position as a regulator of practice and entry to the profession is astute and coherent. Likewise their postscript suggestions for the future of architectural education are eminently intelligent. As I continue with my studies, Architecture – Art or Profession will provide an invaluable point of reference for the history of architectural education in Britain. But to do so, I will have to carefully disentangle an excellent history from an often questionable narrative.

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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.


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