The student, who has asked not to be identified, told course tutor Mike Richards that he was uncomfortable at the prospect of working to a brief – which is illustrated by a skull and a plan view of a Gestapo torture table – which asked the 12-strong class to ‘design, construct and draw a full-scale operable prototype torture device based on ergonomic principals’.
The brief continued: ‘By employing the tactics of shock, our ambition is […] to elicit strong opinions and oblige you to adopt an ethical position on the practice of torture.’
The head of the architecture department, Professor Don Gray, confirmed that the student had lodged a complaint but said the module was justified as part of the ‘contemporary artistic debate’.
He said: ‘No-one has been forced to do this. The only person who has raised any objection has been given the opportunity to address the project from a different angle.’
He added: ‘I agree that it is a slightly shocking introduction to a very serious long-term design project. I’m neither justifying it or defending it, but that is how we are going about it.’
But David Gloster – director of education at the RIBA – said: ‘[This brief] might have potential to give offence to some, and cause misunderstanding of its purpose.’
However, former RIBA president George Ferguson, described the course as ‘stark raving bonkers’ and added: ‘I have seldom read such pretentious tosh!’
He continued: ‘Of course it is part of the role of architectural education to stretch our minds – but not towards extreme discomfort and ugliness. Now is the time to think about the making of attractive places. The built environment is not some sort of “Brit Art” gallery designed to shock – or certainly should not be.’
The two-week project is in advance of a major project to design a new headquarters for human-rights group Amnesty International.