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New architecture-school figureheads talk to the AJ

Three new architecture-school figureheads talk about CAD monkeys, the credit crunch, and why they’re not in London.

Tom Jefferies

This summer, Tom Jefferies was named head of the School of Architecture at Birmingham Institute of Art and Design (BIAD), Birmingham City University. Jefferies, 45, was previously senior lecturer at Manchester School of Architecture. He began teaching at the University of Liverpool School of Architecture, where he also studied, in 1991. He replaces former acting head Hannah Vowles.

Why Birmingham?
What interested me was the potential to develop the School of Architecture in Britain’s largest industrial city. The school is small, with a strong focus on professionalism and working within a construction industry context. Cross-disciplinary engagement and growth will expand these core values.

In 2004, the University of Central England [the former name for Birmingham City University] had a 93 per cent failure rate. Do you think these results still plague the school? Every school of architecture has had turbulent periods in its history. The consequent restructuring for us produced Birmingham School of Architecture BIAD and the school now sits within one of the strongest centres for visual culture and design in the UK, with expertise from jewellery to landscape. In my view, an art institute is the natural place for a vibrant architecture school.

What does Birmingham offer?
Birmingham School of Architecture BIAD is unique in having both the RIBA president-in-waiting Ruth Reed and the recent president of the Landscape Institute, Kathryn Moore on its staff. Both bring exceptional profiles – they’re fantastic role models. This quality reflects the school’s ambition and we intend to develop these links.

Is there too much focus on London in architecture?
Ruth Reed ran her successful presidential campaign on regional representation and
I’m looking forward to working with her in my new role. My professional and academic focus has always been international.

Will you be making any major changes in your first year as head?
Course restructuring will enable
maximalism and cross-disciplinary working. I’ve only been here for two weeks and have already been in discussions with professors of other disciplines such as jewellery, 3D design and fine art.

Will you continue non-academic work with urban renewal project HMRI Pathfinder?
All my work in consultancy, such as that with Maccreanor Lavington, directly informs or grows out of my research. I intend to continue this strategy. However, the practice Wilkinson Evans Jefferies, which we set up for a Europan 3 scheme in Holland, is in hibernation.

What is the biggest challenge facing architects over the next three years?
Maintaining the importance of quality – this means producing work that responds to the demands of energy costs, zero carbon and rising consumer expectations within a shrinking economic context.

Do you worry that the students training now won’t find a job?
The 1990s’ recession taught me that architects are mobile and the world needs buildings.

Which architects will feature on your course?
Ernst Neufert and PPS3 will feature heavily.

Name one thing people may not know about you.
Glenn Howells used to live on my street.

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