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Leader - Kent's torture design

Leader Kent’s defensive reaction to the AJ’s report on its torture design module is a missed opportunity for serious debate, writes Kieran Long.

Our story last week about the Kent School of Architecture’s module to design a torture device has sent the school into a bit of a tizz. The story caught the imagination of many, winning national press and broadcast media attention. Now we have received a number of letters about the issue (see page 22).
The school’s reaction has been to batten down the hatches. We have received letters from all concerned – head of school, unit tutor and students – implying that the AJ was somehow neglectful in its duty in mentioning the course on our pages, and saying that the brief was never intended for the eyes of the ‘public’. Kent makes a distinction between those who study and the public, which is not supposed to know about what goes on within its walls.
I think Kent’s perception that it is under attack is wrong, and it is a shame that schools are not more proud of their most provocative projects. Defensiveness exacerbates the gap that everyone perceives there to be between practice and education. In fact, a magazine picking up on a course about torture should be an opportunity for the institution to talk about the issues behind the brief, not defend itself against perceived brickbats. It’s not as though Kent is the only school tackling morally ambiguous methods to achieve critical aims. I am convinced that if you search hard enough you could find a course at an architecture school covering each of the deadly sins. We have already found one on ‘Decadence’ at the Bartlett, and I’ve seen more than a few ‘humane urban brothel’ projects in my time.
The University of Kent raised an important issue that subsequently gained national attention, but it has mistaken reporting for criticism, and has filled half a page of the AJ with self-justification when it could have raised what are no doubt sincere and serious opinions.

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