learning architecture


a PhD in live projects and architectural education

PhD opportunity in practice-based architectural research

Another excellent PhD opportunity has come across my desk this week. The deadline is very close, but the project is very appealing, with full funding and an excellent supervisor.

PhD Studentship – Architecture by Design

Newcastle University and the University’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape
Closing Date: 21st July 2011

The School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape is pleased to offer one funded studentship for a three-year PhD to begin in September 2011, to conduct practice-based research in architecture. It is an opportunity to conduct a PhD by design with the School’s Design Office research consultancy; to collaborate on – and construct a thesis around – a series of live and theoretical architectural projects in the Office, under the supervision of Professor Adam Sharr.

Value of the Award and Eligibility

The studentship attracts a bursary of £15,000 p.a. to cover fees and living costs for three years. International students are welcome to apply for this award, however, a successful non-EU applicant will therefore have a lower stipend for living costs because of their substantially higher fees.

The studentship carries an expectation that the student will work with the Design Office as part of their thesis studies.

Person Specification

Applicants are expected to have a background in architecture – a BArch or MArch (RIBA pt.2 or equivalent) is highly desirable – and the motivation to develop and complete a suitable PhD thesis.

(It is possible that the candidate might also be able to use their work in conjunction with the thesis and the Design Office towards a qualification at RIBA pt.3).

How to Apply

You do not at this stage need to apply through the University’s online postgraduate application form.

Applications should include a covering letter, a brief, edited portfolio of design work, a statement of research interests, a CV and the names of two academic referees.

Applications should be submitted by e-mail to Marian Kyte, Postgraduate Research Secretary (marian.kyte <—at—> ncl.ac.uk). Please indicate clearly the reference number “APL10” in your letter/email header.

Closing date for applications: Thursday 21 July 2011.

For further details, please contact Professor Adam Sharr, adam.sharr <—at—> ncl.ac.uk

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PhD Opportunity in community led design at the University of Sheffield

This just in, another great opportunity to undertake fully funded research in collaborative design. Not only a great sounding brief, also a great partnership, and (as my alma mater) I’m obliged to point out a wonderful city to live and work in.

Glass-House and University of Sheffield AHRC Collaborative PhD Studentship in community led design
3 Jun 2011

Great news! The Glass-House and Bureau – Design + Research (a research unit within the School of Architecture, University of Sheffield) have been successful in securing an Arts and Humanities Research Council (www.ahrc.ac.uk) funded Collaborative Doctoral Award. The topic of this research will be community led design. It will investigate, within the context of community involvement in the design process across the UK and Europe, the practice and projects of The Glass-House since its inception.

The award:

  • funds the UK/EU tuition fees and a maintenance stipend of approx. £14k for one person to undertake a 3 year PhD
  • both the University of Sheffield and The Glass-House will oversee the research collaboratively

What we are looking for:

A person with a passion for community inclusion in the design process. The candidate could come from a range of fields – you might be a sociologist, an architect, urban designer, a cultural geographer, or have other knowledge and experience.

You will be creative and passionate about the future, as well as the history and impact of, community led design, and feel that this is the right time for you to commit to the research over the next couple of years

Now more than ever, with the ‘Localism’ Bill currently going through parliament, communities are potentially being given the opportunity to play an active role in the physical and social regeneration of their neighbourhoods. However, far too many development and regeneration projects still fail to really include the community or develop an effective brief that draws on the aspirations and potential of local people.

It is now well recognised that allowing the public to have a say in the shaping of their environment leads not only to better physical outcomes, but also to empowered communities that are active in enlivening and managing their regenerated places and spaces. Indirect benefits can also include increased employability, improved physical and mental health and more cohesive communities. Surprisingly, very little study into this field has been undertaken at this level.

The collaborating partners are keen that the research should produce a tangible resource to support design practitioners in their work with communities, as well as informing future policy and practice.

Application info:

If you are interested in applying for the PhD studentship please apply via the Postgraduate Application Form at http://www.shef.ac.uk/postgraduate/research/apply and mention in your application that you wish to apply for this project.

Applicants must be UK or EU citizens and be ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom. Further information on eligibility requirements is available from the AHRC website (Annex A): http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/FundingOpportunities/Documents/GuidetoStudentFunding.pdf

If you have further questions about the area of research, please contact:

Prue Chiles at the University of Sheffield +44 (0)114 222 0312 p.chiles <—at—> sheffield.ac.uk

Rebecca Maguire at the Glass-House t: +44 (0)20 7490 4583 e: rebecca <—at—> theglasshouse.org.uk

Deadline for applications 15th July with interviews at the end of July, with a view to beginning the studentship on 1st October.

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Initiating Architecture: call for participation

A call for participation came in tonight from my good friend and colleague Anna Holder at the University of Sheffield. For her ongoing doctoral research she’s “exploring architectural projects with ‘social’ or ‘public interest’ motivations: projects in which the designer aims to influence or serve a wider community and through the development on an architectural project, critically engages with agendas of socio-economic change.” Anna writes:

I’m currently compiling a long-list of case study projects for my doctoral research project ‘Initiating Architecture’, and I would love to hear any ideas you might have for UK projects that might be interesting for me to look at, or people you think I should try to talk to.

Initiating Architecture’ is a three year research project carried out at the University of Sheffield and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, investigating the ‘who’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ of transforming the built environment to address everyone’s needs and rights. The main aim of the research is to better understand the processes, actions and knowledge involved in making social or public interest architecture, through exploring in detail how such projects are initiated. 

The focus of the research is the ‘initiating’ process – how a project moves from collection of needs, an idea, or a funding initiative through to a brief and the development of strategy to build. It considers the values and motivations behind transformative projects, and how power and knowledge is used in the early stages of creating buildings or spatial projects, exploring the power and agency of architectural practitioners, clients, building contractors, local authorities and building users to affect change in the built environment.

If you’d like to take part in the research, or if you would like to suggest a possible project or participant to be included in the study, you can contact Anna via her website: initiatingarchitecture.wordpress.com


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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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Out and about: Sheffield live project reviews


For the second time in two weeks, I’m at University of Sheffield School of Architecture. Cue much joking from staff and students about me not being able to stay away from my alma mater.

I’m here this week to do some research and to attend the 2009 student-led Theory Forum, which starts tomorrow. I was here last week to witness the end of project reviews of the 2009 live projects. With one of the live project teams proposing short and medium term solutions to problems surrounding Sheffield’s stalled £600,000,000 city centre ‘Seven Stone’ redevelopment, the event was held in a vacant department store just off the Moor, a once thriving street of low-end value shops and stores that has been earmarked for gentrification. With the financial crisis causing most of the money associated with the Seven Stone plans to evaporate into thin air, the city is now laced with empty shops, many of which were compulsorily purchased and/or vacated before it was realised there was little or no ready money to demolish, rebuild or refurbish. It is hard not to subscribe to the theory that there is some greater being who has decided that Sheffield should be forever trapped in a cycle of being shat on from a great height every decade. Who knows how long it will take for the city to solve this problem, especially as the only solution seems to be to wait for the end of the recession and then start building more shops. No-one has seemed to question why Sheffield needs so many shopping centres and chain stores. It’s not like the country needs another Birmingham.

Still the faded and (because the building was unheated) frigid ground floor space of the department store made for an interesting venue to present and review architectural projects. Not that much critical reviewing took place; the programme had compressed fifteen projects into a single day with only ten to fifteen minutes for each. It was hard to engage with this current crop of real-time student projects because there was not much room for dialogue or discussion. The presence of some project clients also suggested that this was not the time or the place to critique or probe deeply. The recognisable spirit and atmosphere was there, and the modular wall mounted suspension panels (once used for displaying electrical goods) made for a tolerable exhibition space. Two silent and non-functioning escalators sat in the middle of the building, leading up and down to dark unknown voids.

There was something particularly poignant about the display of student work in a derelict department store. Every year Sheffield (and most of the other forty or so schools of architecture in Britain) churns out about fifty final stage graduates in architecture. Nascent careers that are already counter-weighted by five years of student debt (now often unsecured as well as secured) begin as blurry eyed students enter the real world to find a job.


I was not the only person present to notice this old notice about the doors to the street. Thank you for buying your architectural education from us. Good luck out there, and remember that you generally only get paid when provide something in exchange that the market is prepared to pay for.

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2009 Sheffield live project blogs

The 2009 live projects of the University of Sheffield School of Architecture will be coming their conclusion at the end of next week. I’ll be in Sheffield to see the project presentations and reviews, but in the meantime you can catch up on their progress through the fifteen blogs started and maintained by students in each group.
Not sure which one to start with? Might I recommend group number seven, Remote Control? They’ve been over here in Northern Ireland, “mapping, analysing and abstracting the border situation of Northern Ireland in a social experiment culminating in a comprehensive body of work.”

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Ah, Adobe Illustrator, how I have missed thee. A Sunday afternoon doodle that tries to map the origins and output of nineteen-fifties’ and noughties’ live projects.

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The library-lover is impressed: Queens University’s new College Park library open


Queens University Belfast has a shiny new library, open ahead of schedule and with plenty of time for the finishing touches before the new term starts. I had my first look around this week, sadly with only a noisy and fuzzy camera phone to snap some shots.


Those of you familiar with my dissatisfaction of cheap, nasty and badly designed ‘information commons’ are re-assured that the signs are good. The new College Park Library, designed by the American architectural practice Shepley Bulfinch with local input from the Robinson Patterson Partnership, is an enticing place to study in. There is generous provision of study tables and the fit and finish of the materials and detailing is impressive. I particular like the furniture on the upper levels, like these overlooking the main atrium.


The main collection now fits comfortably under one roof (although I have no idea what provision has been made for the rate of expansion) with three lending levels that keep humanities, social sciences and the sciences together on their own levels.


The staggered stacks create a simple but attractive effect around the edges and through the middle of each floor.

The building claims some impressive figures with regard to energy efficiency. The only disappointment on that front is the usual insane pairing of motion detectors with energy saving lamps in some of the lesser used circulation spaces (namely between the main library levels and the secondary staircases). Energy saving bulbs and strip lighting are least efficient when turned on and off repeatedly, as they will be in lesser used through spaces such as the anteroom between a staircase and the library levels. However, luckily there is no sign of the faux-disco-on-off strip lighting and autistic colourschemes found in a certain building I no longer frequent. I very much look forward to discovering this new building in the coming months and years.

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I was in Sheffield earlier this month to deliver some long overdue work. Arriving in the city on a beautiful summer’s day, I found my old friend the Arts Tower sheathed in scaffolding and in the process of being wrapped in white plastic for a two year programme of refurbishment. As usual, I caught my first glimpse of the building as the train approached the city from the north-east, only this time it caught my eye for a different reason, it’s partial shiny white skin an unexpected change from the heavily weathered façade panels and single glazing that are due to be replaced.
The frankly awesome twenty-something stories of scaffolding that now envelopes the tower is practically a building in its own right. Oddly, the subtle additional width it gives to the building was (just) perceptible from the train. For so many years I’ve turned corners in Sheffield and seen it standing out from the hillside and come to recognise its form; to see it slightly wider than usual caused a strange double-take.
I spent a couple of very pleasant hours in the adjacent Main Library. This is also being refurbished, and my fingers are so tightly crossed that they don’t balls it up I may not be able to type for a while. The University of Sheffield Main Library is a beautiful place to study, one of very few Modernist buildings that I genuinely like. The means of entering and ascending up two broad flights of stairs takes you from the street to the lending hall in a gracious but functional way. The subsequent transition to the beautifully calm double height reading room that overlooks Weston Park is similarly special, carrying you from the noise of the university plazas to the tranquility of the reading room. The soft leather-topped desks are blissful to write notes on, and the atmosphere is reliably work-inducing. Any re-shaping of the Main Library in the form of the truly dreadful Information Commons across the street (the place to check Facebook and drink crap but expensive coffee) will be a heart breaking loss.
From the architecture collection (and at an upward looking angle that brings out the blueish tint of the windows) I caught sight of the scaffolding team fixing the white plastic sheeting. I imagine that this external skin will, by now, have enveloped the whole structure in preparation for the long façade refurbishment that will continue through at least one Sheffield winter.

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Summer show season starts

If you’re interested in seeing the output of Britain’s architecture schools, now is the time to catch the various summer shows on at schools around the country. This week I ticked off two, visiting the University of Nottingham’s Exhibit! 09 and the University of Sheffield’s Summer Exhibition. With free entry, they’re an unmissable opportunity to see inside your local school of architecture, and to clock which ones are proudly parading their investment in CNC-cutters, 3D printers etc…

I hope to catch some more in the coming weeks, including those in Glasgow very shortly.

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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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