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Housing and Urbanism MA/MArch Continuity, Variation, and Urban Grain: Approaches to dimension, morphology, and the prospect of urban transformation, Yasmina Aslakhanova, 2018–19


Programme Heads: Jorge Fiori, Lawrence Barth
Staff: Dominic Papa, Elena Pascolo, Irénée Scalbert, Anna Shapiro, Giorgio Talocci, Francesco Zuddas

Housing and Urbanism enables students from architecture and related disciplines to understand and address the complexities of urban transformation to become stronger as professionals, scholars and critics. While design learning and investigation form the core of our programme, a complementary aim of this work is to deepen students’ grasp of the politics and practicalities that are shaping change in cities today.

Our primary interest is in specific projects that are strong enough to initiate or further the positive transformation of urban areas. We work across scales, from detailed plans of contemporary housing to the mobility infrastructures of regional metropolises. The capacity for critical synthesis drives all of our work and enables students to understand their project as the coalescence of a range of urban forces and trends. The curriculum centres on design-led research leading to an individual thesis. A collaborative Design Workshop forms the central element of the coursework and the student experience, with lectures and seminars informing students’ design work and broadening their scholarly understanding of urban trends and histories.

Each year, we focus on a set of specific research themes around which our workshops, study trips and collaborations are organised. We will supervise study in five thematic areas: Complex Living, focused on emerging trends in housing and urban lifestyles; Workspace Urbanity, promoting intensive integration of work environments into the contemporary city; Mobility and Integration, exploring the projects which best unlock the potential of new mobility infrastructure; Urbanity and the Politics of Wellbeing, critically reviewing the ever-expanding opportunities and challenges of the contemporary focus upon health and Augmented Informality, working with the dynamism of informal settlements to find new solutions for enhancing their urban qualities. Taken together, these themes allow us to provide an overview of some of the most important drivers of change today, while also enabling each student to refine an individual and specific area of research.

Housing and Urbanism holds to a comparative and international tradition. While London, as an outstanding global city, forms our primary research laboratory, we also undertake an annual European study trip to investigate leading projects elsewhere, such as Berlin, Paris, Copenhagen or Vienna. In addition, the programme collaborates every year with a host city and a university in a sponsored, intensive workshop addressing a specific live challenge under conditions of complexity and rapid change. Our partner cities have included Bogotá, Recife, Taipei, Hanoi, Shanghai, Rio de Janeiro and Mexico City. All housing and Urbanism students become part of a vibrant network of international urban learning.

DESIGN WORKSHOP, Terms 1,2 and 3
Sitting at the core of the Housing and Urbanism curriculum, this course teaches students to investigate, explore and respond to the urban process through design reasoning. Working in teams and in close collaboration with staff, students are introduced to a specific but complex set of challenges faced in London today through which they learn to understand, envision and initiate urban transformation through a project. We emphasise argument through design and the development of a capacity for comparison and evaluation. The course develops research, drawing and writing skills while encouraging collaboration, discussion and invention.

This course establishes the conceptual and theoretical foundations through which architecture brings a capacity for critical synthesis to the urban process. We learn how architects incorporate lessons from a range of fields – from geography to politics and philosophy – and draw these lessons into a reflection on urban form. Through a series of case examples, we will explore how the project comes to drive forward a critical response to the existing city and encourage evaluation and reflection.

Projects contain histories. Urban change is shaped by judgements and reactions to previous solutions. In this course, we explore a series of ongoing debates through which to gain an understating of the evolving nature of our cities. The material is organised around the specific themes and challenges with which the Design Workshop engages, enabling students to explore the broader disciplinary history of their particular areas of research.

There is a social and economic context to housing and urban change and, in this course, we introduce students to the key themes and debates that the social sciences bring to our understanding of this context. Placing an emphasis on policy, planning and urban governance, we enable students to understand how developments are shaped by transnational economic forces and their corresponding political debates.

Urbanism arose as a specific field of problems within the governments of Western, liberal societies and in this course we introduce students to this deeper political history that continues to play out in arguments about urban change. Lectures and readings are structured to enable architects to gain a fundamental understanding of politics and governance, resulting in a richer grasp of the complexity of contemporary urban problems.

Recent decades have seen a renewed interest in architect-designed housing. While the exterior has become more visible, the interior of dwellings has, by and large, been neglected. Housing does not consist merely of an envelope to which typical house plans are applied. Form and experience cannot be conveniently dissociated. To the contrary, the most committed architects conceive of housing form (outside as much as inside) as the source and guarantor of that experience. This course will review in detail some of the best housing projects built in the last one hundred years and ask what constitutes excellence in the field.

Informal and irregular processes are involved in the making of cities the world over and in some cities come to dominate much of their fabric. In this course, we will explore the way housing offers a strategic tool for intervention in these processes. By comparing a range of contemporary cases, we will assess design approaches and policy instruments associated with the transformation of informal urban areas.

The inner life of the dwelling is a scene of constant tension, speculation and evolution, and while the ideal of the family continues to stand at the core of this turbulence, a broad and increasing range of alternative living modes now demands attention. New patterns of shared living, assisted care, serviced residences and more all demand design evaluation and development. In this course, we explore both the history and the contemporary challenges of housing design and its transformation.

By the end of the second term, students will have decided upon their area of design research for the thesis. During Term 3, students present their initial research within seminars grouped around shared thematic interests. These seminars enable peer-based learning and collective discussion to complement directed and intensive individual research and design development.


LAWRENCE BARTH is a Programme Head of Housing and Urbanism and an urbanist. He has consulted internationally on urban strategy for cities, architects and landscape architects, and has led planning and design projects for contemporary knowledge environments. He has lectured and published in urbanism, politics, and sociology, has served on juries for international design competitions and acts as an advisor to schools of architecture and urbanism on curriculum development.

JORGE FIORI is a Programme Head of Housing and Urbanism, a sociologist and an urban planner. He has worked in institutions in Chile, Brazil and England. He is a visiting lecturer at several Latin American and European universities, and a consultant to a number of urban development agencies.

DOMINIC PAPA is a founding Director of S333 Architecture and Urbanism. He has completed projects worldwide, including in Europe, China, Singapore and New Zealand, covering a range of briefs from masterplanning, multi-residential housing and office projects to next-generation knowledge environments. He has lectured internationally, contributed to the latest edition of the ‘Housing Design Handbook’ and sits on a number of design review panels in London.

ELENA PASCOLO trained and worked in London and South Africa on large-scale housing and urban regeneration projects. She has participated as a design tutor in numerous international workshops on urbanism.

IRÉNÉE SCALBERT is an architectural critic. He has held academic posts in schools of architecture in Europe, North America and Asia, and has published widely on housing and architectural theory. Irénée is the author of several books including A Real Living Contact with the Things Themselves, a recent collection of essays published by Park Books.

ANNA SHAPIRO is an Associate Partner at Sheppard Robson. She is co-directing the masterplanning and urbanism group and is responsible for a range of strategic urban projects covering themes from housing, regeneration, bio-medical and educational clusters to changing approaches to retail-led integrated environments. She has lectured and served on juries internationally and has published on current issues in housing.

GIORGIO TALOCCI is an urbanist and community architect. He is a Lecturer in Design Research at the Welsh School of Architecture and a Teaching Fellow at The Bartlett Development Planning Unit (UCL).

FRANCESCO ZUDDAS holds a PhD in architectural history and co-directs the practice, urbanaarchitettura, engaged in projects across a range of scales from the domestic to the urban. He has been a visiting research scholar at the Columbia University GSAPP. His writings have appeared in AA Files, Domus, Oase, San Rocco, Territorio, and Trans.

Architectural Association is approved by The Open University as an appropriate organisation to offer higher education programmes leading to Open University validated awards.

The Architectural Association (AA) has been granted the power to award its own degrees. Taught Degree Awarding Powers (TDAP) give UK higher education institutions the right to award bachelor’s and master’s degrees. As of 1 October 2019, the AA has the right to establish new academic programmes and degree awards. Therefore, from September 2020 students admitted to the taught postgraduate programmes at the AA will be awarded AA degrees.

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The Architectural Association receives Taught Degree Awarding Powers by the Lords of Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council.

The Architectural Association (AA), the oldest independent school of architecture in the United Kingdom, is pleased to announce that it has been granted the power to award its own degrees. As of 1 October 2019, the AA has the right to establish new academic programmes and degree awards and is working to create some of the world’s most pioneering courses in architecture to shape and build the future.

Taught Degree Awarding Powers (TDAP) give UK higher education institutions the right to award bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Prospective students worldwide can apply to the AA Foundation Course (Foundation Diploma), Experimental Programme BA(Hons), Diploma Programme (MArch), and nine taught postgraduate programmes encompassing History and Critical Thinking in Architecture (MA), Projective Cities (Taught MPhil) and Sustainable Environmental Design (MSc/MArch), amongst others.

AA Director, Eva Franch said, ‘since our founding in 1847 we have never ceased to create new horizons, institutionally and academically. This is a significant milestone for the AA and demonstrates how we have grown and progressed as an institution that has always valued independence. Receiving TDAP marks a new era for our institution; these are exciting times for the AA. The process has required considerable work from all members of staff and students. I would like to take this opportunity to credit them for this major achievement’.

President of the AA Council, Victoria Thornton added, ‘the TDAP process has recognised our strong governance, academic standards, scholarship and teaching as well as the environment supporting the delivery of taught higher education programmes’.

The School’s application for Taught Degree Awarding Powers was supported by the Architects Registration Board, the Royal Institute of British Architects and The Open University.