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Rosbottom replaces Fretton as Delft chair

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Daniel Rosbottom has been announced as Tony Fretton’s replacement as chair of architecture and interiors at TU Delft, Holland

Rosbottom is leaving his post as head of the school of architecture and landscape at Kingston University after seven years to join the Dutch school.  

The DRDH co-founder will replace Fretton, who had held the post since 1999.

Commenting on his successor, Fretton said: ‘Daniel was chosen through a lengthy and rigorous process as the right person to lead the chair in the next phase of its development, combining as he does significance as a practitioner, a strong feeling for ideas and very good skills in academic management.’

The school was recently ranked third in the world by higher education data specialists QS.

Kingston is now going through a reorganisation and until a replace for Rosbottom is found will be managed collaboratively by its senior staff.

Q&A with Daniel Rosbottom

Does your new appointment mean you are leaving Kingston? Is there someone else set to take over that role?The Faculty of Art Design and Architecture, in which the school sits, is currently going through a process of reorganisation. For the immediate future the school will be managed collegiately by an excellent group of senior staff. Personally I hope that model continues, alongside the appointment of a new professor, who might be either a practitioner of note or a historian or theoretician with an interest in the practice of architecture, either of which would allow the school to develop from its current situation.

The school is in a strong place at the moment with an established reputation amongst exemplary practice across Europe. It also has a long tradition, as the second validated school in the UK, which played its part in the education of many great architects from James Gowan to David Chipperfield and Jonathan Woolf. I have been privileged to play a small part in its continuing success and hope that its position will only be strengthened in the future. 

How will you balance your role at the university with work at your practice DRDH?
I have spent the last 12 years doing exactly that, five at the CASS and seven in my role as the head at Kingston. I used to say that the way to do it was not to think about it! However changed circumstances in both the practice and university education more widely, alongside family life, oblige one to. The first line of the job advert for the post in Delft stated that applicants should be practitioners of international reputation, illustrating the very different attitude that European universities take to the balance between practice and the academy, in comparison to the current situation in the UK, where thirty years of ongoing managerialisation have made it ever more difficult to find that balance.

What will be your core priorities in the new role at TU Delft?
Being part time and freed from the administrative burden of managing a school, my role is to focus on teaching, research and academic direction. I feel honoured to be asked to follow on from the work of the previous professor, Tony Fretton. Through the work that he and the team there undertook, over a period of fourteen years, the chair established an international reputation and a strong tradition of study across the scales of interiors, buildings and cities, reflecting upon the physical and social relations of public life. It is a critically important conversation in the context of Dutch and European architecture and a trajectory I plan to continue and develop from, in dialogue with the existing staff. Delft as a whole has a long tradition of typological thinking to which I would hope to bring the influence of topography and place. I am also interested in the reclaiming of the interior as a contiguous part of the city, from which the urban experience unfolds, rather than an addendum, fitted out after the fact.

Schools can teach students to be cultured, open, and observant


What is the most important thing a school can teach students?
To be cultured, open, observant and creatively rigorous in the translation of ideas into form, space and material relationships

What is the biggest issue facing architectural students?
One answer might be a pragmatic one about economic survival and coping with an ever more pressurized educational environment. However the real answer is more fundamental. As future architects, students need to be critically engaged and take responsibility for the future of our collective built environment at a time of environmental crisis and fundamental urban change on a worldwide scale. This means developing the social, political and environmental awareness, in order to think beyond the recent obsession with building image. Beyond the demands of client and programme, they need to consider the appropriate role of architecture within the city and the landscape and in response to the needs and aspirations of people and communities. Above all they need to find ways to be eloquent makers of buildings, in an ever more complex culture of procurement, where it is easy to be marginalised.

In Europe teachers are still allowed to be teachers

What is the difference between teaching in the UK and in Europe?
I am yet to find out. The strength of the way that we educate architects in the UK, at least within the schools that I am familiar with and feel empathy towards, is that there is a focus on the wider situation, in both time and place. The pace of projects is different in Europe and my own teaching will need to adapt to that. The key difference for me though is that teachers are still allowed to be teachers, rather than managers.

With increases in UK tuition fees will we see an influx of students travelling to Europe to study architecture?
It’s an interesting question, I have continued to teach in the UK, until now, through a desire to be part of the public education system in this country, which allowed students from all backgrounds to become architects. However the effective privatisation of the system, through the introduction of £9,000 fees broke that bond for me. It is quite possible that neither my business partner, nor myself would have been in a position to study architecture in the current situation, with the enormous debt burden it places on students due to the its elongated programme of study. DRDH might not have existed. The current system has also politicised the system of funding. The protest around the introduction of fees makes it extremely difficult for any government to raise them, leading to a net reduction, against costs, in university incomes and hence school budgets year on year. This allied with the parallel shift of money towards ‘quality management’ and governance means students are not only paying more, they are getting less. Whilst teachers in schools of architecture are working incredibly hard to mitigate this ongoing situation, it is unlikely to improve in the immediate future and I would certainly encourage students to look at Europe as a viable alternative, particularly as many courses at postgraduate level, including those at TU Delft, are taught in English. Of course there is the real concern that we may not be in Europe in a couple of years.

TU Delft came third in a recent league table of the world’s 100 best places to study architecture, what do you think of ranking schools of architecture?
Of course it’s very nice that Delft has such a good reputation and I am proud to be appointed as a professor in such a prestigious institution. However in reality I have little faith in league tables and rankings as a measure of the quality of education within architecture schools. One only has to look at the placing of schools of architecture within the Guardian league tables for example, to see what a disservice the skewed priorities of their metrics offer to prospective architecture students. Such rankings have little to do with where I understand excellence to be. Indeed their value added score, which encourages the inflation of degree classifications, runs counter to quality as expressed through the strength of a design portfolio. Without thinking about Kingston, one only has to look at where a fantastic school like the CASS is placed in UK league tables to see the problem. I am always disappointed that magazines like the AJ, who have subject expertise, validate such rankings. This does little to contribute to a genuinely useful debate about how education might usefully critique our profession or how schools might radically improve the contribution that we as architects make to culture, society and the contemporary city. Fortunately, particularly at postgraduate level, enlightened students can see past such things.

Is the architectural education system too long?
Not in my view. What we do is too complex and too important to be rushed. I think the current debate is useful in opening up questions and opportunities about how education might be more flexible or usefully related to practice and with regard to the ways in which students can make the educational opportunities to be found in the workplace count. However we should collectively be careful to focus on the ambition of the outcome and not just the process.

How important is the integration of practice with education?
I have spent the last seven years as one of the very few heads of school who was also engaged in international practice and within my own experience, this establishment of a critical relationship between practice and the academy has been of fundamental concern. The goal is not to create an instant workforce for the status quo of what seems to me a rather diminished profession, but to educate students to be thinking, reflective practitioners who have the capability to make a developing and lifelong contribution to society, through the buildings and spaces they create. It is important that schools establish relationships through which practice can make a meaningful contribution to the education of architects but equally important that students understand themselves as the future of practice. Within the two schools where I have had a role in shaping their direction, practitioners have been fundamental to the educational model, at all levels.

Were the recent proposals for changes to architectural education voted on by RIBA council recently were radical enough?
They were probably a useful starting point in general terms. The question now is how they are interpreted within the structures and value systems established by schools. Across the spectrum of schools, architectural education is under significant threat in terms of funding and the pressure to conform to ever more centralised systems and educational models, which are more often than not at odds with its processes and aims. As a discipline we need to find ways to address these matters creatively and collectively, but again we need to keep our eye on the goal of educating architects beyond the priorities and processes of universities and regulatory infrastructures.

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