Rebuilding Architecture: Will Hunter, “The School as Start-Up”

Rebuilding Architecture: Will Hunter, “The School as Start-Up”


Great. Hi everyone, thank you for inviting
me here today. It’s a great privilege to come and talk to you about the future
education I would like to say I’d just pretty much agree with everything that’s
just been said already so hopefully we’ll get some more divisive opinions
coming up later. I’m talking about the school as start up because the London
School of Architecture is a start-up. We opened in 2015. I’m hoping we’re moving
into our stay-up phase but the startup one has been somewhat perilous but fun
to get off the ground. We’ve approached the architecture
school much more like an entrepreneur would approach it rather than academic. I
feel much more embedded with that entrepreneurial space here in VC I tend
to think venture capital rather than vice-chancellor and we’ve looked at much
more techniques that are used from business and startups and tech
entrepreneurs to think about how we approach the school. We looked at the
problem and I think we’ve all felt sometimes over faced by the problems of
architecture and what do you with that? We borrowed this technique from
business where he said what is the desired outcome and as soon as you reach
that point of desired outcome the problem immediately becomes smaller then
you do a projected backstory so that people understand what’s gone wrong
historically and you can make that first little step and we feel that the LSA in
our first two years has made that little step but that we have quite a long way
to go to reach that desired outcome and I’m going to talk about those three
parts through my talk. The other thing that we’ve been looking at that we
borrowed from elsewhere is agile working to make sure that the students aren’t
working in a plan-driven linear way but that they’re trying to test ideas as
they’re going along to reduce the risk in getting feedback iteratively as they
go and that the school is doing that too that we adapt on the ground as we’re
doing the projects and that we talked about the difference between incremental
versus disruptive innovation. We’re not looking at pure originality but actually
something that looks at history I can develop it either incrementally making a
little step forward or disruptively making a big game-changing step
and we’ve looked at this quote from Skip Butterfield about the real way to
measure of innovation is through changing human behavior and he was
talking about technology but we think actually in architecture how we occupy
cities and how humans occupy cities in architecture is of fundamental
importance to the design and education of an architect so we start each first
day of term with three questions and we ask them again and again throughout the
program. What change do you want to see in the world? How does your architecture
contribute to that change? And who do you want to be as a designer? And
we’ve seen these three things are super important what changed you want to see
in the world because we’ve seen that actually the world is changing and we
need to make a contribution to it how is your architecture contribute to it
because actually architects have a critical role to play in the un-
folding of the 21st century and who do you want to be as a designer but
actually you should use your education and your time in education to figure
out your real purpose and where you want to go in your future. So as an
organizational principle we wanted to really move away from the hierarchical
structures that Jeremy spoke about in universities and look at a much more
21st century way of building a network so instead of top and bottom look at
center and periphery and those expanding sets of relationships the first ring I
made of the school was actually of a group of people sat around a table
talking and it was about the idea of collaboration and discourse and that
that was how you form something new and powerful and this evolved into another
circular diagram which is the first drawing we made of the school the center
it was like a brain which is the school itself a permeable boundary around it
because we wanted to be porous and open to all the ideas from the beyond
architecture around that is a series of key words from the EU about what
architecture is becoming less and less relevant politically at the moment this
but it could be exiting quite shortly around all of that is all the different
knowledge bases that have new ideas that could have spatial consequences for
architecture and underpinning all of that is the City of London that we want
to be engaged with the city and how architecture can intervene
within it so the problem the why we set up first issue we looked at was student
debt in the UK in 2010 they put the fees up to nine thousand pounds per year
which probably gets a great laugh from American students you’d be very glad if
it was nine thousand dollars a year but in England we super worried about what effect this
would have that you’d leave with a hundred thousand pounds of debt but only
get a starting salary of 25,000 pounds and over the course of your lifetime
your career you predicted never to pay off that debt so there’s a huge
disparity between the cost of education and the value of architecture and how
can we address that second problem universities most architecture schools
in the UK over 90% are based in universities. Universities are brilliant
in many ways they organize things like this but they’re not always known as the
great centers of innovation sometimes reforming them can be a bit like moving a
graveyard that you did get much help from the incumbent and we really felt
that we wanted to look from outside of the sector to what we could do to make
something more interesting and innovative architecture schools also part of the
problem sometimes this is a picture of Zaha Hadid without and Alvin Boyarsky at the
architectural association and Alvin’s idea was that a great school is like a
compost heap you put more and more stuff on it and steam starts emerging on it
and things happen and he popularized the unit system which Jeremy spoke about the
idea of the master indoctrinating their students into a certain way of working
and it had this great moment at the AA producing REM and Zaha and Elia
Zenghelis and all these great people but it’s been popularized at all these
universities and for me abandons the central forum for the discussion of
the key purpose of design as units become ever more niche and compete on
their unit trips but also ever more rarefied and personal approaches and
really that’s quite a random way to teach design and ends up in some
instances just abandoning reality altogether producing propositions which
seemingly architectural but are made of materials do they have people in
them is there a front and a back are there any windows is there gravity all the
things that are kind of important to architecture seem to have been abandoned
in some schools and actually why invent an alternative reality when reality is
endlessly more fascinating the Howard Roark thing that Jeremy took out not the
world’s greatest team player the idea that in modernity we were here to use
nature to our own ends to rape resources and ash the 20th century was much more
about this lone genius model for the 21st century is about people working
together to collaborate on bigger issues quite a long quote but Howard Gardner’s
idea of how we have to change in the future to deal with instability five
types of mind, two of them super relevant to architecture: the synthesizing mind, how
you bring things together competing demands to make something that is much
more complete and the creating mind which kind of breaks new ground and that
the professions are all changing we’re at this point of instability where
people like Daniel Susskind about how increasingly sophisticated
digital systems will change all of the professions that are none of the rate
worked in architecture would increasingly be done that by computers
but actually this can present a huge opportunity to us by making architecture
more accessible to many more people and the core function of architecture in the
future we think will be spatial intelligence the ability to solve and
think about problems spatially as a core part of our discipline everything that
makes us super important for the 21st century and how we live here changes the
cities we live in an increasingly urban age part of humanity now is in cities
hugely unsustainable covered 3% of the earth’s surface but use 75 percent of
its carbon emissions and that presents design challenges in terms of how we
live in cities and increasingly how humanity lives on the planet and it
produces things at the moment where it’s object buildings it is designers
maximizing profit making buildings that are about an appealing or distinctive
silhouette that looks good at the sky down from a distance architecture is so
much more than just making silhouettes and a new book that’s just come out on
scale looking at cities and as they grow they become exponentially more
innovative and this great great cities grow super exponentially to keep
civilization on a treadmill of super exponential growth world-changing
innovations will need to happen more and more rapidly and resource demands will
become literally infinite within a finite time span and this is all done on
computer models and it presents certain opportunities and challenges for
architects in terms of developing these world-changing innovations a slightly
more we will think that we’re looking at is this idea of our sense of self within
the world that previously we felt that we are part of the world in a kind of
primal worldview modernism we got this idea there was an objective reality that
was separate from reality and in late modern world view that with this tiny
atomized individual completely separate from the things around us but actually
in science is increasingly showing that the world and the self are co-created
and that that will require different way of thinking about our environment so the
next steps what did we do about it I wrote an article in the Architectural
Review launching a think tank called Alternative Routes for Architecture and
I asked for people to get involved for people to get in touch which lots of
people did and we started having conversations about the future of
architecture and new educational models and a certain point we thought let’s
stop talking let’s start doing why don’t we know which a school so in 2015
the Evening Standard launched the London School of Architecture as an idea and we
opened in that October with 30 students we looked at the binary nature of
education from academia practice academia practice and we blended those
two things together to offer a two-year master’s program where the academia
practice blended together in the first year
students earned 12,000 pounds working in a three-day a week placement and the tuition
fees were said six thousand pounds per year so you earn exactly the same amount
as the tuition fees to try and widen access to education we looked at a
series of nested relationships so instead of hierarchy actually how do
we relate to the world in terms of staff students practices profession
professions and the public and these are certain spheres of influence that we
wanted to place architecture within we you also look to the kind of problem of
that you know theory and history teaching in schools is often seen as
very distant disciplines taught by different people they often don’t
intersect with design and often obfuscatory in terms of explaining how you might
design and we wanted to make sure that history and theory took place within the
design school and actually really could have an impact in how you theorized
design and how you think about history of design and this comes back to saying
Leon is in our academic Court was saying that actually if you want to be a true
innovator you need to theorize about yourself you need to understand your own
history you need to become aware of yourself as a creative practitioner and
that’s a lifelong journey for the students but also for the teachers and
for the practices involved and that we now have hundred practices in London
involved in our network so there will be growing movement and growing influence
of people within the city we also use the city as our campus so we don’t have
a building we don’t have a major space we didn’t want to raise all the money to
build something and we wanted to reduce overheads so we have we’re based at Somersett
House but we rent the workshop space in the basement which is a bit
like a gym membership we have a small studio up in the eaves where students
and staff work together in the same space so there’s no dean’s office sadly
I have my own sofa we also had our exhibition now at Somersett House then
it’s the free room to host and make a public audience
but we did all of our teaching around the city so this is Madelon Vriesendorp
teaching a drawing workshop in a railway arch creates a base to one of
our practices a lecture based in one of the engineers that we work with and we
found that there’s so much more space that you can use in the city as a way to
occupy it in a different way and break down those institutional boundaries and
also reduce the overheads that you can pass on to students as lower fees we
don’t have a unit system we got rid of the unit system instead that’s created
certain challenges about how do you really teach design so we’re looking at
community of practice all students decide their own community of practice
which is an evolving conversation they look at here with their creative
influences today but it also trace that back through history so that they
get a kind of fully rounded idea of where they sit critically on the first
day of term they have to say who is in the critical community of practice so
these were the top trump’s this year glad to say Peggy Deamer was in there
something Assemble Zero Zero Sarah Wigglesworth so
some of that the people involved here today were in part of that and the idea
is that actually as the world changes the people that are influencing the school
change too that it’s an evolving conversation we don’t want a unit master
to repeat the same thing year on year they want to be able to bring in new
influences every every year to the school collaboration hugely important we
make sure that our students work together and we also look at how we can
make them work together better so we do Beldon workshops which explore their
role within a group on the first day of term they have to also stand up and say
what their myers-briggs personality type is whether they’re mother Teresa or
Oscar Wilde or Winston Churchill and actually the degree to which you know
yourself also helps you work within a team and you know much more about others
and become much more effective and that Jeremy was saying he’s like I like the
writer I might believe that am i the coordinator you all have a different
role to play and it’s really good to find that out now so before we opened we
had no work at all so we have nothing to show anybody so
they wanted to set some values for the school that people could understand
so propositional you have to make a proposition you’re not just here to
critique you’ve got to offer some leadership relevant make sure you work
has some impact in the world innovative not just being original but
actually making a leap forward either incrementally or disruptively
metropolitan because we’re about the mess of the city entrepreneurial because
we look at different ways of doing architecture proactive making sure that
you find opportunities don’t wait for them to come to you resourceful finding the
spaces you need in the city the resources you need
intrepid making sure you’re at that cocktail party and you go and speak to
the person who might give you some work you know lenient as they say mature if
it all goes wrong don’t come crying to me experimental that actually you really
need to be testing something with your architecture and experimenting is not
just wobbling like a novel shape it’s like what is the thesis what are you
trying to test doesn’t matter if you fail but make sure you have some stake
in it so we have a two year program we kick off by looking at the city urban
studies and look at the city as a complex organism that’s shaped by
multiple actors and where architects fit within that we do a design think-tank
project which is collaborative with six students and six practices working
together on propositional design research we have critical practice which
is the practice component where students write a manual about the practice
they’re in and a manifesto about the practice they might like to be in in the
future in terms of where do you want to get to and how will you get there and then
the final project in first year is creating a critical roadmap for second
year what is it that you want to test and then testing that in the first term
of second year history we don’t teach as a written piece we teach it in the
studio and you pick an influencer from history who you’re interested in and
analyze them through drawings and analysis and that informs your own
studio work and then all this culminates in a synthesized wonderful
design proposition where all your knowledge is pulled together in a fully
realized architectural proposal so just some of the work we’ve done so
far one of the design team days I led was called edgy which they came up with
ethical dwellings for Generation Y it was worried about the housing crisis
for Millennials that they get the great scandal of capitalism all this student
debt but they can never afford to buy somewhere to live and what can we do
about it they developed a new business model and ownership model they
looked at the habits and the customs and rituals of the Millennial Generation and
then they generated this idea of sharing whether you go from very private spaces
very public spaces and explored that at three different scales low-rise mid-rise
and high-rise and had a much more public ground plane that offered lots to the
city and then culminated in more private spaces up above which i think was
probably influenced by Pier Vittorio colorful pallette another team did swarm
which was basically uber for architecture that how can you use an app to
bring together people places and professionals to regenerate the city
emerging tools did closed-loop ecology and economy for the creative industries
adaptive typology looked at the high street as retailers abandoning it
what other public uses can you make for it architectural agency looked at the
apprenticeship levy and how you could use that to regenerate brownfield sites
for lifelong learning metabolic City looked at all the spatial
typology of cultural infrastructure throughout history and then made a leap
forward for the 21st century assemble looked at death because they were the
youngest members and the least worried about it and they were looking at really
the problem if we’ve run out of burial space in London but it also you
cremating people is hugely energy intensive takes too much takes as
much energy as living for two months in London so what can you do you how to
make new ways of getting rid of dead people
and then we looked at some of the critical practice manuals which are
looked at all the different ways of working and
you can take from that whether that’s using modeling or using cultural
engagement or being a global practice some of the theory manifestos fake news
post truth architecture architecture against neoliberalism a glossary for
post digital architecture finally for integrating nature with the city so some
of the issues there kind of worrying us at the moment and what we think
architecture can do about them and then urban studies so we looked at a
different borough each year and in our first year we went to Soho which is a
kind of discrete area in London that’s about revelry and about fun and license
in the city and we looked at its infrastructure actually how it’s going to be changed
dramatically by Crossrail which is a big train link east-west across the city and
its idea of identity and character and the idea had the morphology of the
architecture creates these intimate spaces for license and letting off steam
and but it also allows very dense cross programming in terms of the very
particular nature of the circulation roots of these houses but is the center
of field within the city as well the most restaurants concentrated in any
part of London so we made very quick propositions in this first term about
actually in terms of heritage could you list the circulation rather than the
built fabric could you use the heat from cross rail to make other functions
happen in the city using looking at how you could
use adjunct spaces to make temporary workplaces for the creative economy
looking at infrastructurally making a series of soup-like layers so that
people don’t all come out into the city in one place but can emerge into the
city in the more dispersed manner and then some of these themes emerged in the
second year projects where we produced a book of the second year called change
which was what we wanted to see in the world and someone like Fiona was looking
at the problem of loneliness you know the elderly population how architecture
can address that Kiara was looking at the notion of creative workspace in the
generic Rath looked at how you can make Oxford Street into a great Civic spine
and use retail to generate income for community purposes Alex looked at one
trillion dollars worth of food waste in the world each year and the
concentration of that in Soho and how you can make an infrastructure that
makes new dining experiences that addresses this Dan looked at actually
the effects of Crossrail on suburban areas and how you can make it kind of
layered infrastructure around rail termini that makes new spaces for
working Jack looked at making a new typology of a town hall that had more
community engagement and he used his history as an example to trace the kind
of form-finding language of different influences and that really informed how
he designed himself and again Nick looked at new typology of office taking
the best bits of cellular working but then the more interactive bits of
open-plan working and developing that through exploring Boullee and modeling in
3d looking at how poche spaces could allow transition from public to private
in a more interesting way so that’s where we kind of are now we have our
first alumni who liked the mafia you can’t ever really leave us you’re
always going to be on our website so it’s like the who’s who and we wanted to
meet the school to grow more and more through our kind of network of the alumni
even though we only have so far and then finally the desired
outcome the future where do we think we’re going the future is saying that we’ve
been thinking about a lot because we have to do it for the government in
terms of three year cycles but it also in terms of my venture capital advisors
what’s the 25-year plan why would you be here in 25 years what what do you want
to be in 25 years we asked the faculty many of them wanted to be alive because
the big starting point I was hoping to still be around 2 but we were really
thinking in these longest term goals about architecture they started off with
looking at why and how and this business technique of asking why multiple times
to move up to your highest purpose and how to get down to you’re the greatest
specificity on how to deliver it so our vision is that people living in cities
experience more fulfilled and more sustainable lives and our school
educates future leaders not just architects future leaders to design
innovations that contribute to this change we’re still quibbling over the
exact wording so some of the faculty at the last meetings think that it’s
actually to envision cities that connect and fulfill people and planets in
alignment with new insights and we’ve got five pillars to our mission so
Network making sure we bring everyone together that we need in the
school-based talent pool institution that we want to remain solvent because
going bust would be embarrassing but also that we want to remain nimble
because we’re don’t want to become a big bureaucracy program that we’ve got a
cheeky little bracketed “S” program because they only offer one at the
moment but we’d like to offer more in the future talent that we really want to
look at bringing in the most talented people into architecture and removing
those barriers so that we make sure that the best minds are working on the
pressing challenges and impact how do we measure what we’re doing what is the
impact of our work so we did something called a theory of change which is
something that’s very big in the charity sector and the idea of theory of change
is that you set a goal which is way bigger than you can achieve yourself and
that you try and find funders who have a similar goal and the
see where you contribute to it so we looked at the inputs that we needed
students practices faculty found as physical resources our enablers London
met validation whose academic partner professional body recognition which
we’ve now completed a specific course designation which is about access to
student fees like you’re at university our activities of first year second year
in public program and the public programs really important to be engaging
more people we have two major outcomes graduates and design research and they
go on to the architectural profession but also to adjacent disciplines that we
don’t just feel you have to become an architect you can go and make a change
in the city in lots of different ways and we hope through this way we can
actually contribute in the long term the Omni accountability learn to our
ultimate mission but what else can we be doing so we think there’s probably lots
of other things we could be doing in the future whether that’s offering a
satellite school in different countries or an urban city making program or more
outreach to bring in people or more incubation to help people who leave us
and that there’s lots of other things over that five or ten year 15 year
period that we need to be doing but we can’t really think about the future
until we decide where we are now and one of our lecturers Peter Buchanan does a
series on humanity and the planet which is putting architecture in the biggest
context possible and he thinks we’re at a point of absolute
epochal change so the end of forty years of post-modernism a hundred years of
modernism moving from the information to the conceptual age from the second to
the third Industrial Revolution the end of five hundred years of modernity the
end of eight thousand years of a form of urban civilization that dominates nature
the end of a millennia of separation which is Charles Eisenstein thing about
the ascent of humanity and then ended a 65 million year period of the Cenozoic
era and moving to the Anthropocene and actually all these things are ending
simultaneously and that’s some big changes that architecture’s got to think about
that actually this is a huge shift that we’re moving to in the world
which will impact the next 1020 years but how do you even begin to think about
that in terms of architecture so we’ve looked at the UN sustainable development
goals and we’re using these in lots of the modules to get to use to think about
what what change they want and these are their goals from the UN for 2030 which
are quite punchy no poverty by 2030 zero hunger by 2030 but also more things that
are architectural sustainable cities and communities and where we’re using this
as a framework to discuss future changes but there’s also more interesting ideas
about how the world is changing we’ve looked at spiral dynamics which Peter
talks about a lot which is a theory of cultural evolution about how the whole
of humanity has evolved throughout history and actually how individuals
evolve throughout their life and these move through different stages at the
bottom you have loose bands tribes empires pyramids delegative egalitarian
interactive global and these have different motives from survival just
simply stayin alive all the way up to compassion and harmony and as examples
the most global compassion harmony holistic with Peter thinks Obama is sort
of super calm he seems to be existing on a different level but the red named
empires power dominance egocentric exclusive impulsive rebellious more like
your current incumbant I think that what we’re trying to say is that actually
culturally evolution can get is not not linear can go in different directions
and needs architectural input and that all of these structures have a spatial
organization attached to them and the architecture can do more to help us
reach a higher cultural understanding for the world how are we going to do
that when looking at integral theory as well which is a system of thought that
maps the whole of human history the whole of human history onto four
quadrants starting from the center starting like a
hockey game starting from the center and moving out and the interior exterior
individual collective and in in one of them it looks itself in consciousness
which is about experience and thank you another is about behavior
and body another is about culture and worldview another is about system and
environment and all of those things have architectural resonance but our critique
is that often architecture exists or predominates in one of those quadrants
so we use this as a method to get students to think about the richness and
purpose of their architecture in all those four quadrants and then to try and
synthesize that into a much more thorough and convincing proposal
so Peter architecture’s the Nexus where all disciplines and fields of knowledge
converge as fundamental as language I mean I think that’s a really interesting
point as architects when we’re doing the day to day producing buildings we forget
that actually what’s throughout our environment is a man-made environment
and that architects are absolutely central to creating that this is our
most fundamental noble purpose that we should never forget and that we will
never reach true sustainability and so we regenerate culture so finally how we
look at the work that we’re producing is measured in three ways intentionality
is the is the project worth doing synthesis how much is the the work being
reconciled into a proposal and impact what change would make in the world and
we think we’re at this point break down or break through and we really want
there LSA to be at the vanguard of finding a new way to help through the
design of our spatial environment to move the world to a different level of
culture that is much more sustainable thank you

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