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East London spreads the word about the atelier sytem


The University of East London, which received an 'excellent' rating in the Higher Education Funding Council for England's teaching assessment, is being paid to show others how it is done. The school operates the atelier principle of teaching (sometimes called the unit system), and has been given funding to produce a guide and video explaining the system. It has also set up, with the university's educational development services, a 'teaching in architecture' qualification featuring atelier practice.

The guide explains why the atelier system is appropriate to the teaching of architecture. It is a problem-solving approach through which students can acquire the most important skill - learning to 'think like an architect'. For this to happen however students have to have the right kind of experiences, organised in architecture through the design project.

All education requires both the acquisition of basic knowledge and the ability to apply it. The balance between the two should shift during the educational process from primarily knowledge acquisition, to an even balance between knowledge and application, and finally to a dominance by application.

It is the application skills which are acquired in the atelier, and the booklet outlines how this should be done, from the setting of 'limbering up' exercises, through the system of tutorials and the crits. It explains that students stay in an atelier for a year and then move on to get a different kind of experience.

It also explains the genesis of the system under Alvin Boyarsky at the aa in the 1970s and its adoption at East London in the mid-1980s, when this school nearly lost its accreditation and was slated for closure by government. 'Through the introduction and development of the ateliers,' it says, 'the school recovered from what looked like terminal decline to become a model of good practice.'

The tutor training programme includes the following elements:

practice as an atelier tutor

contribution to contextual, technical and supporting studies

exposure to masterclasses and creative workshops

criticism and dialogue about practice

consideration of current models of professional knowledge and learning in he

strong peer interaction and mentor support and guidance

interplay and integration of theory, practice and inquiry.

Final assessment is based on a portfolio developed throughout the programme, which includes:

an indicative sequence of extracts from a reflective journal which participants are expected to keep

a log of the atelier process

an account of the student experience of learning in the atelier

a commentary on crits and final assessment of student work

documentation of specialist inputs

feedback from a mentor and others

a reasoned proposal for an atelier.

The programme has been designed to be compatible with the University's Certificate in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, so credit may be claimed towards the certificate or further study to pgDip/MA.

For details of the booklet, video and course, contact Nicholas Weaver, deputy head of school and hefce Atelier project leader, tel 0181 590 7000, ext 3200, or e-mail

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