Radical Pedagogies in the UK

Students and educators are on the lookout for new models of architectural education in the UK. Yes, we are not just talking about alternatives anymore—neither about substitutes, seconds, or stand-ins. If you were looking for ‘radical’ in architectural education, you came to the right place. But what is radicalism, and can you teach it? Is architectural education really in crisis?

Choreographed and edited by Daisy Froud (formally AOC, currently teaching H&T at the Bartlett) and Harriet Harriss (illustrator extraordinaire and program lead for the Masters in Applied Design in Architecture at Oxford Brookes), Radical Pedagogies: Architectural Education and the British tradition has quite a pricetag at £35.00. You shouldn’t be discouraged by it, though, since the book sits comfortably not only between critique and preposition, but also between tough academic stuff and anecdotal recounts of educational experiences. The Chapters are divided into four sections, making it easy to dip in and out of each of the contributions. In their majority, the latter share views shaped by their authors’ experience in quite a candid and refreshing way. Even the heavier theoretical references remain accessible to the reader, focused on the topic at hand. With institutional voices interspersed with those of seasoned practitioners, recent graduates, and historians, the book is definitely a joy to read.

Powers’s historical analysis offers significant context for the later chapters of the book by providing a digestible journey through a brief history of British architectural education. Powers is course advisor to the newly created and much discussed London School of Architecture. An interview with the school’s founder Will Hunter, rounds off the book at the end. More specifically, Powers explores whether architectural change comes from within the education system.

Chapter eight might beg to differ, though. Dutton and Telbergs’s polite and quickly rebuffed request of introducing Part 2s as assistant tutors is both saddening and surprising at the same time. Postgraduates already act as ‘expert students’ that pass on software skills to undergrads. They therefore play a vital role in showing Part 1s ‘how to work as much as the content of the work itself’. This is already the case in many UK schools of architecture.

Selfs’s candid reflection on his own education at the AA is elegantly woven into a discussion about neoliberal education. His contribution explores the value of educating oneself for its own sake rather than for a set of skills to be quantified and sold to a future employer. The theme is picked up time and time again throughout the book that one is left wondering whether this summarises the entire debate over the change in architectural education.

Chapter four discusses the AA Night School, Learning from Kilburn, Store and the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) from the mouths of its directors and participants, respectively. These are crucial contributions to the conversation, as they explore models that are currently working on the fringes of schools or universities with collaborative and open-ended aims. The proven success of these projects lies in the fact that they do not promote knowledge through the institution—but through networks that can be made up of other disciplines, not least the local communities in which they are grounded. These projects are following in the footsteps of Schneider, Dodd and Ash Sakula who encourage us to be daring and defiant in our approach to self-education and practice.

The book consistently reminds readers of Britain’s current political structures and their relationship to market forces, where the ‘creation of space is inseparable from economic capital’, as Wingham succinctly puts it. Wouldn’t this cognisance be extremely useful to a fresh undergraduate? Why not teach economics alongside technology and history and theory, then? This would satisfy (valid) student concerns regarding their understanding of what building things for real clients involves, how much do projects cost, and how can design make money. Subjects like these are often only skirted over towards the end of third year undergraduate studies—by which time students are disengaged and preoccupied with finessing their final design projects.

In some way or another, each chapter encourages students to not rely solely on knowledge provided by the institution but be open to entrepreneurialism, self-reliance and auto-didacticism in approaching their own architectural education. The book gives clear (albeit mostly London-based) examples of how this can be done.

Another clear distinction brought forward in the book is that between architecture as a vocational training and architecture as the object of academic and intellectual enquiry within institutions (architecture school versus architect school). Arguably, the crux of this debate lies exactly in the meeting point of professional practice with intellectual enquiry, which has now flipped when compared with the first full-time architectural training programmes within universities in 1894. For a student purely interested in learning all the necessary practical skills, training could probably be completed in 3 years. If students did not ‘have to go back’ to study, then more architects might be willing to invest in their employee, allowing the student to be exposed to more responsibility within practice at a younger age. As Self put it, demonstrating knowledge is different from demonstrating understanding. Pragmatic training is specific whereas a devoted study to architecture’s cultural, economic and societal influences can be applied to many other lifetime vocations.

With architectural education, tutors, students, and practitioners alike, always striving to renew themselves, the book offers both an empowering collection of experiences, and a lively forum to keep the conversation going.