Architect in Academia : Academic in Architecture

Across my architectural academic career, my teaching and research have been closely intertwined. Mostly because, as the German saying acknowledges, it’s difficult to dance on two separate weddings at the same time, so I’ve tried where possible to bring them close together. But also because I enjoy learning – and research is of course, learning. It means I read around and observe my own teaching and research with a critical eye, and I write about it to make sense of it and in the hope that others might glean something useful from the writing- either specifically as researchers or, more generally as learners

My research falls into three areas:

  1. Design-led Material Development: This is manifest in research projects that bring design thinking and ethos into the heart of material development. Textiles, Concrete, Waste Plastics, Composites and more recently Biotech-materials. This form of material development speaks to new forms of architectural and design practice; practice-based research; and technological cultures and ethics. In this work I have lead highly innovative material development that has led to patents, commissions, commercialisation and global sales. But it’s also radically altered how I view architectural practice and the materials that underpin it- so as a result I altered how I teach architectural design.
  2. Spaces of Rehearsal: This practice-based research stems from early work around disability, inclusive design and street-level pedagogy, to work within communities in critical contexts. It is manifest in my role as curatorial advisor to a Belfast-based arts organisation PS2 on long term projects with communities, in NI’s post-conflict context and in university-based live projects, working with local communities to consider new potentials and ways forward. The work is framed by Pedagogical and Improvisational theory.
  3. Inclusive Architecture Pedagogy – My pedagogy is informed by an inclusive feminist stance. It was formed by my involvement in two very early research projects- one on inclusive design and the other on gender in the work environment. But I also got involved in thinking and doing some early writing around assessment. During a relatively short but intense period at Sheffield University, School of Architecture, I led the development of an award-winning first year curriculum called Building Clouds Drifting Walls and I ran a Special Initiative Group of the Centre for Education in the Built Environment leading to the publication: ‘Building and Sustaining a Learning Environment for Inclusive Design’. The influence of both of these pedagogical ‘positions’ runs throughout the subsequent years of my career. Questions that those positions raised- around the wider purpose of live projects and the teaching of technology – were resolved later in Street Society and the Materials Studio ‘Without Precedent‘. And they will continue to be central to the work I do in the Hub of Biotechnology in the Built Environment.
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