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PhD by design

Kaye Alexander looks into a new PhD progrmme offered this year by London Metropolitan University

The Department of Architecture and Spatial Design at London Metropolitan University is launching a new PhD programme for autumn 2009. Led by Peter Carl, the programme offers a unique opportunity for practitioners to expand on existing work and research for an academic qualification.

The aim of the course is ‘to investigate practical knowledge, which is often ignored by conventional research,’ says head of school Robert Mull. ‘We are open to alternative mechanisms for discussing practice and research.’

The course has already received interest and formal proposals for research topics (see page 39) from people in practice and recent graduates – almost all of whom have an interest in teaching.

For the PhD by design, the first six months will be spent researching and refining the initial proposal to identify a question, and by the end of the year a 10,000-word (or equivalent) outline will be submitted.

Two further years of full-time study conclude the programme with an appropriate design submission and 30,000 words.

Despite the independent nature of a PhD, the department is keen for students to collaborate. A series of seminars, field trips, exhibitions, lectures and debate will form part of the curriculum.

The current economic climate provides an opportunity for practising architects to articulate their design or research agenda, and London Met hopes that big practices will eventually sponsor employees to take the course.


Current Proposals

  • Typicalities of dwelling in a shanty settlement near New Delhi
  • Urban topographies in London that support political and social praxis
  • Issues pertaining to the design of a school in Luanda, Angola
  • The nature of the material imagination using recent works in Norway and Mongolia
  • The status of digital modelling and manufacture in BIM between production and creativity
  • The relation between architecture and sculpture in traditional and contemporary contexts
  • The nature of light in the work of Josep Puig I Cadafalch


‘Setting the scene; by Peter Carl

We use odd terms nowadays – such as ‘form’, ‘space’, ‘ideology’ – to understand architectural and urban order. Such terminology has arisen as architecture made itself available to ever more sophisticated concepts from the humanities and the sciences.

Admitting that the 100-year history of theoretical and formal innovations comprised successive markers of taste fuelling the consumerist economy, we seem to have arrived at a current realism that finds embarrassing the previous claims for emancipation of marginalised classes, revolution, beauty, truth, and so on.

We find ourselves living in the topographies of a late capitalism which now is struggling to redefine ‘economy’ in equitable and sustainable terms. All the important issues are ultimately ethical, and difficult to reconcile with the prevailing concepts and methodologies.

But identifying what is worth saving, what requires adaptation, what needs to be binned cannot be performed at the conceptual level alone.

Architecture and cities happen at many levels of understanding and participation – through conflict, negotiation, accommodation, collaboration – and design is the basis of its civic participation.

Architecture is a praxis whose topic is the mediation of deep contexts for the sake of political and social life.

Liveable cities and architecture are messy, implicit affairs, able to accommodate systems. Rooted in the cultural conditions, practical knowledge can make sense of, for example, the decorum of justice in a law court or a sickness in the office in relation to discussions about the depth of a structural beam or about Badiou’s ‘edge of the void’.

Too often regarded as surplus to the quest for quantifiable certitudes or for other mono­thematic motifs

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