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New UEL professor Tony Fretton: ‘Self-confidence is the key’

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Tony Fretton reveals his thoughts about the University of East London and what he hopes to contribute as its new visiting professor

Do you put much store in last year’s Guardian architecture school rankings that put the University of East London (UEL) at the bottom?

In my experience, the range of abilities of students at UEL is about the same as in TU Delft, where I am chair, and Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich and Harvard, where I have been guest professor. The big difference is in the self-confidence of the school, which is where I believe I can be effective.

What will be your core priorities in the new role?
I have been asked to teach, which I’ll do with pleasure. I can also use my experience at TU Delft, carrying out research and supervising PhDs. My style there has been to give space and support, and take the tough decisions when needed. UEL has a good structure and committed staff; any further role will come through discussion with them.

What is the most important thing a school can teach students?
Skills in creative thinking, awareness of how other people think and feel, confidence in their own ideas and a love of architecture.

Is the perceived elitism of leading schools, like the Architectural Association, a problem for UK architectural education?
I graduated from the Architectural Association and taught there so I am immune to its allure. I made a conscious decision to teach at TU Delft because of its commitment to the craft and practice of architecture, and engagement with society. These are concerns I also find in the University of East London so it is natural that I should accept a professorship there.

What is the biggest issue facing architectural students?
Nothing they cannot handle.

Do you agree with Ryder’s Peter Buchan that there is over-regulation and sterility in the schools?
All schools of architecture everywhere are problematic in that they cannot teach what architects need to know.

Are you a supporter of the AJ-backed Ryder Architecture-led Future of the Built Environment Education Campaign?
I cannot disagree with its propositions as read in the press, and a collective rather than governmental approach is welcome. But I wait to see how effective it will be.


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