Wednesday, 31 December 2008

informal architectures and urbanism

In my work in architectural education in continental Europe, in Mongolia, and recently in Latin America, I found in general that urbanism as a discipline is approached more integrally in architects' professional education than in the Anglo-Australian systems where I previously studied and worked. Urbanism is fundamentally cross disciplinary work. If urbanism for architects is not regarded as a separate discipline, it may be feared by traditionalists because effectively the architect's role is demoted from leader-author to one of many cross-disciplinary collaborators.

Since I taught Landscape Urbanism with Sarah Chaplin in the architecture course at Kingston University, UK, where I found it a great challenge to engage students in debate about popular politics and the 'street occupations' I was writing about, I became increasingly interested in English and continental European Do-It-Yourself urbanism movements. A major urbanism conference in Gothenburg at the time suggested there was much interest in informal movements to complement the established policy and academy. I began to study the growing practice and knowledge base. The recent AHRA conference in Sheffield expanded on the idea of Agency and launched the publications Urban Act, and Field, and the research practice The Agency.

Lately I wondered if the teaching and research approach to self-build, informal settlements and informal urbanism might be further developed, taking a multi-disciplinary approach. A model example I noticed is Vienna University of Technology's recent work in peri-urban Ulaanbaatar, studying the social mechanisms of informal settlements as well as the physical environment, with architects, anthropologists and sociologists.

Friday, 5 December 2008


The international architecture students prize programme I previously managed was presented on Wednesday in London, with 217 schools 'worldwide' now invited. The Dissertation Medal, awarded for a work on 'Rookeries and No-Go Estates', and the Part 1 Serjeant Award for Drawing winner were highlights. Hearing the term "UK and abroad" (with an Oslo project for Glasgow being the only premiated trace of the latter schools) I wondered about two respective standards of internationalisation.

The inaugural World Architecture Festival was held in Barcelona in October, a new, internationalist enterprise by Emap, with 26 media partners, and pre-recession funding. For its Student Charette, I was told last year, on enquiring from Mongolia, that only the ten 'best' architecture schools in the world would be invited to participate. Exciting, then, that of the five teams participating, the winners came from the hitherto little-known HafenCity University Hamburg, (est. 2006), a specialist University of the Built Environment "under construction".

Meanwhile, a friend now teaching at LKW in Botswana, (a former Curtin LICT student), showed interest in the architecture teacher training project in Mongolia and suggested publications...