Histories of Architecture

We begin in Humanities 1 with the discussion of architectural history. The histories of architecture are plural and, rather than presenting a singular narrative, we show the diversity of approaches to this topic drawing on expertise from staff from across the school. No history of architecture can be completely comprehensive, so we aim to equip students with the skills and questions to conduct their own research. Each lecture consisted of a survey of architectural history in its own right, dedicated to the following topics: the vernacular; architectural history; metaphor; the (human) body; materials; class; health; spirituality; schools; trade; labour; authority; and towers.


Thinking Through Drawing

Humanities 2 continues with a study of architectural drawing. The lectures were each framed by a certain convention and considering how they allow us to think: thinking orthographically; thinking in parallel; thinking in perspective; thinking in gesture. The lecture series is partly a history of drawing, but is also a theory of why we continue to draw according to the organising principles of orthographic projection and other conventions. Students produced portfolios of drawings exploring the qualities of copying and tracing, sequences and layers, translations and analyses of drawing, all accompanied by reflective text on the processes involved.

Writing the City

In BA2, Humanities expands its focus to more contemporary concerns, looking at the wider responsibilities of architecture. We do this by considering the place of architecture in the city: the complexity introduced by an urban context. We looked at a wide range of global cities in this lecture series as a way of discussing the appropriate architectural and other theories. Humanities 2 addresses the professions of architecture and urban design and how it can have an impact beyond the bounds of its own sites; architecture in the city can have unexpected political and social implications, questioning the ethics of architectural practice. Lecture topics included: Revisiting the Retroactive Manifesto; Redrawing the City; Cities and Nature; Cities and Technology; Taking a Line for a Walk; How Sanja Matsuri Makes Asakusa; Spontaneous Urbanism; Cities and Culture; Prefigurative Urbanism and African Urbanism. The lectures approached cities including Seoul, Jakarta, Tokyo, Guayaquil and Accra.

Architecture, Climate and Society

The BA2 unit on Architecture, Climate, and Society takes a key contemporary thematic that is at the forefront of academic and professional activities in architecture: critically understanding the climate emergency. Architects are well positioned to creatively engage with the demands that climate change places on the profession, but it can be too easy to concentrate on materials and technology without reference to the social, political and ethical issues posed by the climate crisis. This unit helps students to understand the importance of developing a theoretically informed position when addressing the climate emergency.


BA3 Humanities is a taught programme offering the third-year bachelor students a range of electives of in-depth specification on topics in architecture humanities. The subjects of the different electives reflect architectural history and theory as they inform design practice. The BA3 Humanities electives thus allow for a thematic study within individual specialisms to be placed within a robust understanding of architecture as a discipline and profession. Conceived as research-led teaching, the electives are developed through a series of weekly meetings and tutorial sessions on essay writing. Humanities is here understood as a broad umbrella within the discipline of architecture and is approached through a set of readings, presentations, and other tasks, introducing fundamental tools and apparatuses for inquiry. Each BA3 Humanities elective is assessed by the submission of a portfolio of both an essay and an appendix, that can take different forms and include both group and individual work.

BA3 Electives

Landscapes of Post-War Infrastructure

This elective is associated with a research project directed by Dr Brook and Dr Csepely-Knorr, funded by the AHRC and focused on the value and significance of architecture and landscape of post-war British infrastructure. Students learned about the historic and contemporary settings for design professionals working alongside engineers in the delivery of infrastructural schemes, between 1945 and 1980. At this time huge public investment in new motorways, power stations, reservoirs and telecoms signalled the modernisation of Britain. Landscape architecture was transformed immeasurably by such change. Landscape architects moved from designing enclosed spaces to being in control of entire fields of view. Designers worked collaboratively, often with the landscape architect as lead consultant. Students explored the post-war period, the nationalisation of industry, the planning and legislative contexts and how design was advanced and informed by these conditions.


Environmental Histories of Architecture

This elective in a transdisciplinary humanities perspective frames architectural thought and practice through notions of environment, i.e. nature used, abused or impacted upon. Revisiting transformation in modern history up to the present, the course looks into aspects of environment, as fossil-fueled, polluted, climatized, controlled, toxic and posthuman, providing students with a historical and environmental consciousness. Each topic, connected to different locales—starting from Manchester, via Europe and North America to the Global South, African and the Middle East, South-East Asia, and Latin America — presents specific political and social contexts, in which new strategies of architecture and the environment could emerge.


User-centred Design

In our modern, capitalist society, architects rarely have the opportunity to engage with those who will occupy their buildings. Architects’ clients are often building contractors, speculative developers or public bodies, rather than individuals who will inhabit the completed buildings. This can make it difficult for architects to understand building users’ needs and aspirations. This elective lecture course explored strategies for understanding the spatial requirements of unknown users, who might differ from the architect in terms of age, gender, class and ethnicity. These strategies were set in historical context, and the strengths and weaknesses of each approach examined.


Social and Political Architecture in South America

The disputes over the access to basic urban infrastructural services have turned the issue of construction into a central political concern. In South America, spatial and material inequalities prompted the emergence of a new wave of political and social architecture. From the recuperation of factories and the federations of women-builders in slums, to the construction of autonomous schools and the institutionalisation of forms of social urbanism: architectural practices in South America are problematizing the scope and meaning of political architecture, questioning the commodification of construction practices and blurring the lines between professional knowledge and activism.


Global South’s Global: Mobility of Architecture in the 20th Century

This course traces the world-wide mobility of architecture in the 20th century from the perspective of the Global South. We will study the emergence of architecture as disciplinary and professional practices in West and North Africa, and the Middle East in the course of decolonization, the Cold War, and globalization. We will discuss world-wide trajectories of architects, designs, concepts, and technologies that intersected in Accra, Lagos, Rabat, Algiers, Tripoli, Damascus, Aleppo, Baghdad, Abu Dhabi and Kuwait City, and study how, in the course of this circulation, the principles of modernist architecture and functionalist urbanism were modified, questioned, revised, and challenged.


Architecture in the Age of Acceleration

This course considers the systemic challenges posed by the continued climate crisis, rapid urbanization and globalization, and the threat of collapsing eco-systems as the starting point for theoretical reflection on architectural design today. The course proposes to investigate six strategies—Territoriality, Regionalism, Participation, Transformation, Commoning, and Autonomy—looking at their historical roots in the postmodern period and projecting their applicability into our contemporary era, allowing students to uncover both historical continuities and new possible directions. Each strategy will also testify to the political and social contexts in which architects have challenged their role under the conditions of modernity.


Exploring Tropical Educational Space: Climate, Construction and User Cultures

This elective option involved students reading and exploring texts related to environmental design strategies in the tropics, with a specific focus on educational design history in tropical Africa. The elective was further supported by lectures by the architects Anupama Kundoo, Jacopo Galli, (IUAV) the engineer Neil Thomas (Atelier One) and Professor Iain Jackson (Liverpool University) both of whom have first-hand experience with designing in tropical climates. All students had to produce essays with reflective reports as a conclusion to the elective. A small group of students from the project worked further with Ola Uduku to develop exhibition materials focusing on the physical 3–modelling of two different tropical school buildings in Tema, Ghana and Ibadan, Nigeria and their environmental analysis. The Education Shock Exhibition is taking place, post-German lockdown in Berlin this summer.


Architecture and Crisis: Covid19 and the Changing Formats of Design Practice

The elective explored how the global pandemic has affected the day-to-day reality of architectural practices around the world and generated new reflexivity on the profession. Reflecting on the implications of this crisis, the students investigated the new material, spatial and technological settings of practice (creative routines, formats of teamwork, ways of ‘meeting’ the clients or anticipating the users). They conducted an ethnographic study with a practice based on zoom interviews. This allowed them to reflect on how the move to online working and social distancing affected the process and outcome of architectural practice and modified the culture of designing architects.


Anthropology of Home

This elective takes the everyday seriously and frames our engagements with domesticity through anthropological and architectural theories. Students worked through a series of ‘field note’ tasks in order to explore this most familiar of spaces, questioning what constitutes ‘home’ at all. Sessions explored anthropological ideas of dwelling and identity, maintenance and cleanliness; the roles of the senses were considered in detail including ways of recording and representing the non-visual aspects of a home. Material culture forms a backbone to the elective, bringing an important body of theory into contact with architecture through a guest lecture from Dr Lesley McFadyen (Birkbeck). Key anthropological theories such as gift-giving and food cultures further rounded out the theme by discussing what happens in the home. Responses included discussions of multiple locations as home, the feeling of un-homeliness, and of making and re-making homes on a regular basis. These observations were then developed into a thick description in the essay assignment, bringing in theories from the likes of Mary Douglas, Sarah Pink and Tim Ingold.