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a PhD in live projects and architectural education

Academic opportunities in architecture at QUB

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.

Lecturer in Architecture Design

Lecturer in Architectural Technology or Construction Management

Senior Teaching Fellow in Construction Management

Senior Teaching Fellow (0.5FTE) in Professional Studies

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Forthcoming: live projects as border pedagogies in architectural education

Above: an unexpected road sign, seen on Shetland earlier this month

It continues to be a busy summer, even if the weather hasn’t been particularly summer-like. In between weeks at home working on the thesis, we’ve managed to make a few escapes to (appropriately enough) the “peripheries” of Scotland, first the Outer Hebrides and subsequently the Shetland Isles. As previously mentioned, I’m working towards the delivery of a first draft of my thesis to my supervisors in late October / early November, depending on how we all cope with the forthcoming International Conference of the Architectural Humanities Research Association (AHRA) which we are proudly hosting at Queen’s University Belfast from 27 – 29 October. For more details, and to register, see the Peripheries 2011 website.

A handful of colleagues at QUB will be presenting papers at Peripheries, and below is an expanded abstract of the work that I am preparing to present in Belfast. Although the eventual paper will likely have evolved by the end of October, I hope that it’s a helpful preview of some of the thoughts that have been ricocheting around during this phase of writing. For more, come along to Peripheries!

Back to the edge: reconsidering live projects as border pedagogies in architectural education

 James Benedict Brown, Keith McAllister, Ruth Morrow (Queen’s University Belfast)

 According to recent definitions by Sara (2006), Watt & Cottrell (2006), and Charlesworth, Dodd & Harrison (2011), a live project in architectural education is one that engages students with people outside the academy. Through the live project, students’ produce work that is of some value to an external ‘client’ as part of their academic studies. Drawing on the radical pedagogies of Paulo Freire, Ivan Illich and others, this paper emerges from a project to re-consider live projects as examples of critical pedagogies in architectural education. Charlesworth, Dodd & Harrison explain that live projects in architectural education “tend to work in marginal communities where there is both a willingness to accept alternate modes of practice, and a need to operate outside of commercial design parameters of budget.” (ibid) Examples might include those of the American tradition of “design/build” projects[1], such as the Rural Studio of Auburn University in Alabama, through which relatively privileged university students design and build small projects that hopefully improve the conditions of the lives of some of the poorest and most impoverished people in the USA. (Dean, 2002, 2005; Real, 2009) While not all live projects serve such clearly marginalised clients, it is perhaps useful to consider them as marginal pedagogical practices, ones which suggest an excursion away from the mainstream of architectural education towards, and sometimes across, the boundaries of normative practice.

 This paper asks how architectural educators who use live projects may go about interrogating this possible intellectual position against an established pedagogical framework. It poses this question by expanding upon the struggle of architectural education to escape the influence of modernist, cognitivist epistemologies, (Till, 2005; Webster, 2008) principally David Kolb’s (1984) theory of experiential learning and Donald Schön’s (1983) notion of the reflective practitioner. This paper, instead, brings into play Henry Giroux’s concept of a Border Pedagogy as a site of resistance in education. Giroux, an American critical theorist and pedagogue introduced this pedagogical viewpoint directly to our discipline in a 1991 paper in the Journal of Architectural Education that has since been widely overlooked by our discipline. [2]

It is hoped that this paper will contribute to the issues surrounding the transformation of architectural pedagogy and practice that is ‘on the edge’ while also building a critique of pedagogical positions that are peripheral to mainstream architectural education. This epistemological shift could be illustrated by a continuum of postmodernist thought, with extreme postmodernists at one end and moderate postmodernists at the other (Best and Kellner, 1997). This is the difference between positing that there has been been a complete break between Modernist theory and Postmodernist theory, and suggesting that there has instead been a more nuanced and complex Postmodern turn. Giroux’s project of developing a hybrid pedagogy that draws on both Modernist and Postmodernist theory places his work clearly at that moderate end of the continuum of postmodernist theory. Whereas European (including predominantly French) discourses were marked by a sense of defeat following the failure of the events of May ’68 to contribute to lasting change in European thought, North American discourses appear to have been seeded in a more positive intellectual milieu. The language of Giroux and other critical pedagogues is, therefore, one of hope and possibility.

This paper also develops a position that practice, pedagogy, and research form an inter-dependent triumvirate, and seeks to speak to all three of those component parts. By practicing, teaching and researching architecture, it is argued that architectural educators (unlike many other disciplines in the university) may be in a privileged position of being able to see how these three acts can intersect. This paper proposes that in their simulation or interpretation of architectural practice – namely the provision of architectural services to a client – that live projects are extremely valuable sites in which to interrogate the role of pedagogy. If pedagogy is understood as “the method and practice of teaching, especially as an academic subject or theoretical concept,” [3]

 it could be argued that pedagogy is not only inter-connected and inter-dependent on its fellows in a triumvirate of practice, pedagogy and research, but that it may be considered as an intermediary between practice and research, and that it can release the potential of both. In the words of Paulo Freire, it can be argued that we are all ‘unfinished’ (Freire, 1996). If we never stop learning, therefore, it could be argued that we should regard pedagogy not as an isolated theory relevant only to formal periods of education, but an opportunity to interrogate our daily practice and research.

This paper begins by clearly articulating the realities of the relationship between the theory of education and practice of education, both within and outside our own discipline. The relocation of architectural education – Crinson and Lubbock (1994) suggest that this is part of a wider project of professionalisation for the discipline – has only been completed relatively recently. The majority of people involved in the frontline delivery of architectural education are drawn primarily from architectural practice rather than (as is the case in many other disciplines) academia. Helena Webster (2008) describes this as the way in which the spaces, tools and methods of architectural apprenticeship in practice were replicated in the educational setting of the university (p. 64). The fact that architecture is first and foremost envisaged as a professional training is reflected not only by the intent of its curricula (shaped in no small way in this country by the validation joint criteria of the RIBA and ARB) but by the overwhelming tradition for its educators to be drawn primarily from practice rather than academia. Webster (2004, p. 4) has gone so far as to suggest that approximately 60% of architectural educators are part or full time practitioners. However, this paper does not seek to criticise architectural education for being pedagogical under-developed. Interviewed in 2006, Giroux described a qualification to the poor understanding of the relevance of pedagogical theory to teachers, namely that many teachers “often find themselves in places where time is such a deprivation that it becomes [difficult] to really think about what role theory might play in their lives.” (Giroux, 2006a) While invoking a theorist who has written or co-written 47 books, 320 articles, 186 chapters and held several prominent chairs and professorships of education, it’s important to emphasise that like many pedagogues, Giroux began his theoretical project with a desire to better understand an intuitive pedagogical act. Born in 1943 in Providence, Rhode Island, Giroux started working as a high school teacher in the early sixties. He describes the friction between himself and his school principal following his decision to re-arrange “a very rigid, militaristic, utterly barren sterile” classroom into a circle (Giroux, 2006a). Demanded by his principal to explain his changes, Giroux reflected: “I didn’t have the language to justify it. I felt it was right, but I couldn’t really talk about it in a way that was convincing.” (ibid) Pedagogues will appreciate that sometimes the most important actions that educators take in the classroom, lecture hall or design studio are instinctive. They may not know immediately why they do them, or even why they’re important, but they feel right, and they can only understand them by doing them first and reflecting, theorising and critiquing them afterwards. Just as in practice, just as in research, the first moves a teacher makes are often instinctive. In order to frame, reflect upon, theorise, justify and critique those moves, designers, researchers and teachers need to discover a language, especially at a time of diminishing resources in higher education.

There are five thematic projects in Giroux’s writing (Giroux, 2006b; Kincheloe, 2008): the sociology of education, democracy and education, cultural studies, the “war against youth”, and the politics of higher education. Although there is much of value to architectural educators across all these periods, this paper focuses on the period in which Giroux focused on cultural studies, namely around his book Border Crossings, considering architecture educators, architecture students and architects themselves as cultural workers. πThrough his notion of Border Pedagogy (Giroux, 2006b, 2005, 1992, 1991a, 1991b, 1991c) Giroux proposed that existing theories of critical pedagogy could be reinterpreted by combining the best insights of both Modernist and Postmodernist theory (rather than settling in either one theoretical camp or the other) and that Border Pedagogy would enable students “to engage knowledge as border-crossers, as persons moving in and out of borders constructed around co-ordinates of difference and power.” (1991a:72) By ‘de-centering’ education, Giroux proposed that “critical pedagogy can reconstitute itself in terms that are both transformative and emancipatory” (p.72), suggesting a reinterpretation of critical pedagogy that “equates learning with the creation of critical rather than merely good citizens.” (2006b:50). The aim of this paper is to suggest that is it through live projects that we can begin to formulate possible ‘Border Pedagogies’ in architectural education. In engaging students with communities outside the academic environment, this paper asks what is it to go away from the centre, towards the edge, or towards the periphery of architectural education practices? How can live projects allow us to both test the possibilities of architectural education, and simultaneously prepare our students to engage with knowledge and practice as confident yet sensitive crossers of the borders that they will encounter in their own future practice?

Notes

[1] As opposed to the British procurement method.

[2] A reverse citation search for the paper on Google Scholar lists only eleven references to the paper in more than twenty years.

[3] Oxford Dictionaries. April 2010. Oxford Dictionaries. April 2010. Oxford University Press. http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/pedagogy (accessed June 19, 2011).

References

All references may be found in the Bibliography.

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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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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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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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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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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…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More photos in my Flickr photoset from the evening.

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Live Projects 2011: a colloquium

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.

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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.


Bibliography

Click here for the bibliography to date.


Words

Click here for a selection of peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed writing.


Glossary

Click here for a glossary-in-progress of key terms used in the project.


Conference diary

Conferences and seminars of interest to the project.


Note

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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