We have four openings in the School of Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering which you may be interested in. Click on the links for more information. Applications close on 7 October.
21 September, 2011 • 12:02 0
We have four openings in the School of Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering which you may be interested in. Click on the links for more information. Applications close on 7 October.
30 May, 2011 • 18:41 0
With apologies for the slight blogging backlog (backblog?) it’s only today I’ve been able to get round to reviewing my notes on the 2011 Big Crit at the Scott Sutherland School of Architecture. This was the second year that I’ve roused myself early enough to catch the deliciously timed 05:55 train from Glasgow to Aberdeen (scheduling it just five minutes later would make it much more bearable). That meant that by the time I was home late that night I was too wrecked to process, let alone share, any cogent thoughts on the day.
The Big Crit is, first of all, a fantastic idea and a fantastic experience. For the last three years, an evolving group of staff and students have volunteered their time and energy to organise a one day event that’s open to the public. Over the course of one day, a selection of students from every year group in the school present their design projects to invited critiques and a public audience of students and guests. Scheduled after (most) students have finished their submissions, it comes at a point when the school (internal examiners notwithstanding) can breathe a sigh of relief after the stressful final weeks of term. The school dusts itself down, projects itself against a wall and considers its progress.
The guest critics this year included Annalie Riches (Riches Hawley Mikhail Architects), Peter St John (Caruso St John Architects), William Mann (Witherford Watson Mann Architects) and Ellis Woodman (editor, Building Design). This tranche of London and south-east-England based critics was balanced by visiting professors Alan Dunlop (Alan Dunlop Architects) and Neil Gillespie (Reiach and Hall Architects) who provided an informed voice both from within the school’s own faculty and Scotland’s central belt. They were supported by lecturers Neil Lamb, Penny Lewis and David Vila-Domini. It was, as always, also a particular pleasure to catch up with the head of school, David McClean.
The role of ‘the crit‘ in architectural education is far from assured. At its best, it can be at the heart of an inclusive, discursive and critical architectural education. At its worse, it can be an inhumane, destructive and pointless waste of time. By scheduling the Big Crit away from assessment and after final submission (for most students), the Scott Sutherland School proposes an interesting twist on the old format. Over the course of one day, about three dozen students “pin up” (electronically) their projects from the preceding academic year, and present them to the visiting critics for reviewing and conversation. The conversation is opened to the floor for varying degrees of interaction.
Over the course of the day, I skipped between two of the three parallel sessions, witnessing a variety of projects and a variety of critique. As might be expected, the day starts with first year students and works its way up towards five year thesis projects in the late afternoon. All of the projects I saw were located in or close to the city of Aberdeen itself, starting on the very campus of the Robert Gordon University and working out through the city towards the mouth of the Dee and the city’s lively port.
As is the template in schools of architecture the world over, projects start small and get progressively bigger, peaking with somewhat uncomfortable thesis projects that survey vast areas before settling down to design a singular object or set of objects at an architectural scale. The fact that, unlike in France for instance, planning is a discipline taught separately from architecture is immediately apparent. However the gradual rise in design sophistication from first to five years is palpable, as is the confidence with which students describe the ideas behind their projects. Some of the undergraduate projects felt, to me, as thought an early “good idea” had been pounced up and not let go off until it had yielded a building. By the later years it was pleasing to see students making informed executive decisions about which themes and concepts to develop and which to abandon as they progressed their designs.
The inverse complexity of designing that most basic of architectural forms, the residence, was apparent throughout the days. As I offered in one comment from the floor, “housing is damned difficult,” and none of the residential projects I saw was entirely satisfactory. The decades of experience of the guests critics will, hopefully, have reassured students that it takes a long time to get housing – especially apartments and sheltered accommodation – just right.
In the afternoon I got to see a number of fourth and fifth year students present their schemes from their penultimate and final projects. Having now spent more than two years learning how to research, I can look back at my own M.Arch projects as well as those at the Big Crit and see a clear cultural deficiency in Part II architectural design research. Just as in my own thesis project a few years ago, there was only a vague understanding of the difference between subjective and objective data, and never quite enough time to really get inside the information that was being presented. That said, the standard of work I saw was, across all five years, consistently high. I was assured that the students were not just selected based on academic performance, but represented an accurate cross section of the school. Given the small size of the student body and the enviable location, the Scott Sutherland School is for me one of the most interesting architecture schools in the country.
There remained, at the end of the day, just one sad observation. While the projects presented were of a remarkable range, depth and quality; and while the critiques from the guests were informed, thoughtfully provocative and intelligent; the overall level of conversation between the floor and the panels was disappointing.
I was reminded, on the long journey home, of this remarkably handy sketch prepared by the Glasgow-based architect Simon Chadwick (click to enlarge):
Reviewing options. Drawing credit: Simon Chadwick.
Drawn in the oddly specific language of the architect’s sketch, this diagram explains neatly to visiting critics the aspirations of architectural educators who want to curate lively, inclusive and public discussions about students’ work. Since architectural education depends to a great extent on part time tutors and visiting critics, such guidelines can be extremely helpful in ensuring a school’s pedagogic aspirations aren’t lost when guests are invited to review work.
In the first option, as has been practiced in schools of architecture across the world, the critics sit at the front of the room to get the closest view of the student’s work pinned on the wall. A disaffected audience of non-presenting students lingers in the background, doubtless exhausted by their own deadlines and only half-engaged with conversation between student and reviewer.
In the second option, a simple relocation of the three critics to different points of the room encloses and engages the audience. While not guaranteeing the engagement of the audience, it does at least establish the landscape of a room in which students and educators can interact.
At the Big Crit (see my shitty five minute SketchUp illustration above), guest critics sat at either or one end of a table arranged lengthwise beneath the projected image of the students’ work. Models, books and pamphlets supporting the project were placed on this table. The audience sat in the body of the room, on rows of chairs facing the screen. When the critics engaged in conversation with the student, the audience continued to sit in silence. Turning to the audience of students with specific questions rarely initiated more than a simple response to the stated question.
While I love the post-evaluation timing and format of the Big Crit, it demonstrates that there is still some room to develop the way we present and discuss design projects in architectural education. While I share the sentiments of David McClean who, at the end of the day, expressed a desire to see Big Crits starting at other schools of architecture, I’d like them to push for an even greater inclusiveness of critic and student. As Simon Chadwick’s diagram suggests, a simple move might be to re-arrange the spaces in which guest critics are invited to review student work. Without disrespecting the valuable experience and opinions of the invited critics who give their time to come to schools of architecture to review the work of students, I would propose a quick 90º rotation of the critics’ table. Instead of reinforcing the front/back relationship between “stage” and audience, it could penetrate the body of the room like the perfect proportions of a dining table in a large kitchen. Or, more appropriately, like a university’s seminar or business’ conference room. Critics and students can then take their place around the table, turning to face the screen, presenting student, or one another as appropriate.
There are naturally some flaws. You can fit more people into the room if you arrange the seats in rows. You will also likely struggle to get everyone at the table itself in the alternative proposed above. But you might well be able to get everyone within at least one row of it, making it easier to reach models and books.
The increasing availability of digital data projectors in the academic environment has made great things possible in architectural education. Whereas my early experiences of them were dominated by illegible drawings projected by students who thought it was a straight substitution for plotting A1 sheets, there is an increasing sophistication of the visual language used by the students to present their work digitally. While high resolution plots and prints of drawings are still irreplaceable for the detailed examination of projects (especially when they’re being assessed) an event like the Big Crit benefits hugely from being able to present a large quantity of student work with relatively little disruption between presentations. Furthermore, the critics and audience are no longer beholden to the physical spaces of the school, being able to see all projects under consideration in one space (rather than moving peripetically around the studios and crit rooms, audience in tow, perched on whatever furniture is near-by).
Regardless of my beef about how schools of architecture arrange and populate their crits, there is no doubt in my mind that the Scott Sutherland School’s Big Crit is one of the most engaging and valuable events of the summer exhibition season. I’ll be making a date for next year’s event, and invite you to join me for a day out at the country’s northernmost school. It might provide the perfect model for a public day of reviews at your school of architecture.
30 May, 2011 • 14:30 0
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.
15 April, 2011 • 22:17 Comments Off on Gaunt and opinionated
There’s a little something (subscription req’d) from me in today’s Building Design on the question of whether architecture should be taught in secondary schools. This follows the appointment of Classic FM’s M.D. by the coalition government to lead a review of cultural education in secondary education. I tried to trace where the proposal for teaching architecture in schools actually came from, because neither Ed Vaizey nor Michael Gove appear to have explicitly floated the idea in launching a review into cultural education in secondary schools, but it was an interesting opportunity to revisit the idea.
On a complete tangent, this is actually my first contribution to the opinion pages of BD, so I my words now necessitate a headshot. Ever the dutiful son, I emailed the link to my family, but since they’re not subscribers the only response of note that came back was that I’m looking a bit gaunt.
Will remember to submit under pseudo-anonymity in future…
5 April, 2011 • 19:20 0
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.
More photos in my Flickr photoset from the evening.
4 April, 2011 • 17:30 0
On 25 March we had the pleasure of welcoming some twenty-five delegates from thirteen schools of architecture across Britain and Ireland to Live Projects 2011, a colloquium at Queen’s University Belfast. With the support and guidance of our steering committee partners (Anne Markey of London Metropolitan University and Rosie Parnell of the University of Sheffield) Ruth Morrow and I had received significant financial support from the Centre for Education in the Built Environment (CEBE) in the form of an Innovative Projects in Learning and Teaching grant to make the event possible.
The intent of the colloquium was to build upon research into live projects in architectural education currently being undertaken at QUB, inviting participation from live project practitioners and academics from across Britain and Ireland through the presentation and discussion of live project practice and research. On the morning of the one day event we were delighted to host seven excellent presentations.
Martin Andrews and Francis Graves of Portsmouth School of Architecture spoke first, co-presenting Live Projects at the Portsmouth School of Architecture: A Critical Review, which provided an excellent insight into the work of the students and project office at that school. It also asked with some aspiration what role project offices might have at a city-wide level. Sandra Denicke-Polcher of London Metropolitan University had been due to present a review (co-written with Torange Khonsari) of the live projects programme at that school, but was delayed en route to the airport and missed her flight. With some last minute jimmying we were able to improvise a Skype connection and Sandra presented remotely, discussing a live project programme that explicitly seeks to contradict and interrogate some of the very assessment criteria that the ARB and RIBA apply to schools of architecture. Sandra spoke with some insight about how live projects could be used to extend the traditional role of the architect towards a more positive contribution to society.
Speaking with the background of another school that now has more than decade’s worth of experience in live projects, Carolyn Butterworth presented Liveness: building on 13 years of Live Projects at the University of Sheffield. Carolyn placed participation at the heart of live project teaching and learning, and therefore used it as the key to developing a theory and critical framework for live projects. Carolyn went on to explore the work of Philip Auslander’s theories of performance to suggest that live or real projects offer a place for criticality not located in the real world. Live art was also suggested as a framing device in which we can experiment with alternative practices.
After a brief pause for refreshments, Prof. Murray Fraser introduced Yara Sharif, both from the University of Westminster, to describe the ‘Palestine Regeneration Team’ (PART), a co-operation with RIWAQ. This area is the focus of Yara’s doctoral research, and presented a series of live interventions in a highly charged political landscape.
Jane Anderson of Oxford Brookes University presented a paper entitled OB1 LIVE: an Agent for Architectural Education and Practice (co-written with Oxford Brookes colleague Colin Priest) that described live project activities in first year of architecture and interior architecture at their school. Anderson and Priest proposed John Hejduk’s nine-square problem as a means of introducing architectural practice to early students, one that could “teach students to imagine and act simultaneously.”
Rachel Sara, of the University of the West of England, presented Learning from Life – exploring the potential of live projects in higher education, locating live projects between the either/or binaries of education, such as theory/practice, designing/making, and student/professional. It also challenged the preconception of study as an isolated singular activity as opposed to work as being a collective and social activity. Finally of the morning papers, Alan Chandler of the University of East London spoke about risk in architectural education and practice, notably how RIBA Part III qualification measures success based on the avoidance of risk. Alan suggested that the risk assessment could become a creative tool.
The morning concluded with an open discussion between the speakers and the delegates of the floor.
After lunch I had the (nervous) pleasure of presenting some of my own research to the delegates, before Rosie Parnell took the helm and we divided into focused groups for a workshop session to develop the themes of the morning. These centered on the largest or most contentious branches of a mindmap that was drawn live on screen (click on the image for larger image).
These workshop groups developed themes that, along with some of the papers presented in the morning, will be discussed at greater length in a forthcoming special themed issue of the Journal of Education in the Built Environment (JEBE) which will disseminate the proceedings of Live Projects 2011.
The day closed with presentation from invited keynote speaker Professor Ashraf Salama of Qatar University. Prior to his appointment at Qatar, Ashraf was briefly my second supervisor, and we were delighted to welcome him back to Belfast to present them possible avenues for the theorising of live projects. Professor Salama is an acknowledged and widely published expert on the field of architectural education, and he was able to conclude the day with some very helpful directions to existing theoretical frameworks that might inform those educators who currently or aspire to use live projects in architectural education.
We are especially grateful to Qatar University for enabling Prof. Salama to attend Live Projects 2011. Sincere thanks are due to all our delegates for coming to Belfast and participating with such interest and engagement, especially those who presented such concise and well developed papers. We look forward to continuing our relationship with them as we work towards the themed issue of JEBE.
A longer and more detailed report of the colloquium will be submitted in due course to CEBE, and will be available for download.
25 February, 2011 • 11:33 0
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.
12 November, 2010 • 16:37 0
James Benedict Brown and Prof. Ruth Morrow of the School of Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering (SPACE) have been awarded funding from the Innovative Projects in Learning and Teaching initiative of the Centre for Education in the Built Environment (CEBE).
The grant, totalling £4,360, will be used to develop a colloquium for academics and practitioners employing live projects in architectural education to be hosted in Belfast by SPACE in spring 2011. The event will be jointly curated with Anne Markey, Director of ASD Projects at London Metropolitan University, and Dr. Rosie Parnell, Director of Outreach at the University of Sheffield School of Architecture.
UPDATE: The Live Projects 2011 website is now live at liveprojects2011.wordpress.com, with details of the call for participation and registration.
20 September, 2010 • 17:31 0
Via the BBC. For those beyond our shores, British undergraduate degree classifications are generally (in ascending order): Fail, Ordinary Degree (a three year degree in Scotland, where Honours degrees require an additional year), Third Class Honours (a “third”), Second Class Honours Lower Division (a “two-two”), Second Class Honours Upper Division (a “two-one”) and First Class Honours (a “first”).
Student challenges 2:2 degree awarded from Queen’s
20 September 2010 Last updated at 17:13
A Belfast graduate has taken his university to court after they awarded him a 2:2 degree.
Andrew Croskery, from County Down, applied for a judicial review of the grade he received from Queen’s University in Belfast.
Mr Croskery claimed if he had received better supervision he would have obtained a 2:1, the High Court was told on Monday.
A lawyer for QUB said the court was not the place to resolve the matter.
Mr Croskery graduated in June with a degree in electrical engineering.
His barrister claimed he had been denied a right to appeal against his classification because he had already graduated from Queen’s in the summer.
Tony McGleenan argued that the university’s stance was not compliant with his client’s human rights.
“It is obviously an important case for the applicant. He avers his employment prospects have been jeopardised… in this competitive job market,” he said.
“It’s also clearly an important case for the university.”
The court heard how a Board of Visitors at Queen’s, whose members include two judges, considers student appeals and complaints.
Nicholas Hanna QC, for Queen’s, argued that the judicial review application should be dismissed as the court was not the proper forum for the challenge.
“The jurisdictional issue is so clear that it is unarguable and therefore, I submit, leave should be refused,” he said.
The judge, Mr Justice Treacy, adjourned the case and will determine if the legal challenge can go ahead next month.
Good to know I might have a back-up option if things go badly in the next 18 months. Just kidding, I promise.
7 April, 2010 • 13:12 0
In a moment of unusually zealous environmental awareness, and after months of prevarication, I emptied our apartment’s paper and card recycling bin earlier this week. The morning afterwards the blue bins in our back court were emptied, and I realised I’d dumped one a recent copy of the monthly New York Review of Books taster supplement published once a month in the Saturday Guardian.
In it was an article with the fairly concise title Britain: The Disgrace of the Universities by Anthony Grafton of Princeton University (note: the article as published is hidden behind the NYRB’s paywall, but it seems to have been published in its original form on the NYRB blog here).
Universities become great by investing for the long term. You choose the best scholars and teachers you can and give them the resources and the time to think problems through. Sometimes a lecturer turns out to be Malcolm Bradbury’s fluent, shallow, vicious History Man; sometimes he or she turns out to be Michael Baxandall. No one knows quite why this happens. We do know, though, that turning the university into The Office will produce a lot more History Men than scholars such as Baxandall.
Accept the short term as your standard—support only what students want to study right now and outside agencies want to fund right now—and you lose the future. The subjects and methods that will matter most in twenty years are often the ones that nobody values very much right now. Slow scholarship—like Slow Food—is deeper and richer and more nourishing than the fast stuff. But it takes longer to make, and to do it properly, you have to employ eccentric people who insist on doing things their way. The British used to know that, but now they’ve streaked by [ our American university system ] on the way to the other extreme.
NYRB blog post with article: http://blogs.nybooks.com/post/437005501/britain-the-disgrace-of-the-universities