• Architecture Live Projects: acquiring and applying missing practice-ready skills

Harriss, Harriet, 2015, Thesis, Architecture Live Projects: acquiring and applying missing practice-ready skills PhD thesis, Oxford Brookes University.

Abstract or Description:

This study concerns itself with examining the degree to which Live Projects can deliver learning experiences that enable architecture students to gain specific professional practice-ready skills and capabilities currently perceived to be lacking within the existing school curriculum - (1) collaborative interaction within and between inter-disciplinary teams, (2) participatory engagement with clients & civic concerns and the (3) capability to manage emergent ambiguities in risk exposure & decision-making – and as a consequence examine (4) how embryonic Live Project assessment rudiments might contribute to this acquisition?
Architects are under increased pressure to demonstrate the value of their contribution within the process of building design and construction. They are tasked with working effectively in teams, collaborating effectively with clients and end users and to cope with growing levels of risk and liability, uncertainty and ambiguity, often requiring greater creative leadership and commercial risk-taking in order to succeed. The need for architects to acquire three skillsets to cope with these conditions imposes changing expectations around the architect's role in practice and places increased pressure upon schools of Architecture to ensure their students are equipped with gaining these skillsets. The question emerges as to whether a less-established teaching model – Live Projects - might be able to deliver skills that will not only respond to, but also endure the ongoing changes within professional practice? And if so, in relation to what skillsets?

In contrast to other research enquiries concerning Live Projects and literature concerning architectural education in general, this thesis gathered evidence from a highly diverse range of sources – including data on emergent economic and industrial trends outside of the construction sector - as a means to define what the most valuable skillsets might be.

For schools of architecture, the specific challenge is to not only to work out how to teach these skillsets but to design and then assess learning activities that facilitate and reward their acquisition. Subsequently, this thesis also examines whether tentative assessment rudiments can play an enabling role in this respect.

Within a broader learning theory context, this enquiry supports a wider body of emergent evidence that Live Projects offer learning experiences consistent with much of the literature regarding effective pedagogy - one that involves authentic and active engagement with real situations being more effective at enabling learning more relevant to the nascent demands of wider industry. Subsequently, the main question being considered – as reflected in the title - is: To what extent do Live Projects enable the acquisition and application of three ‘practice-ready’ skillsets?
This question is then operationalised by examining this efficacy in relation to four sub-questions.
1. To what extent can Live Projects enable students to acquire interdisciplinary teamwork capabilities?
2. To what extent can Live Projects enable students to acquire client collaboration & civic engagement capabilities?
3. To what extent can Live Projects enable students to acquire ambiguity tolerance & risk management capabilities?
4. To what extent might Live Project assessment rudiments assist in the acquisition of the three skillsets?

In order to answer these questions, the enquiry employed qualitative as well as quantitative data collection methods. The qualitative evidence largely utilised grounded theory methods and analysis as a means to examine the perceptions of educators, architects and students. This involved the discovery of theory through the analysis of data and real world research, which focuses upon problem solving with a view to creating meaningful change. The mixed methods approach relied upon triangulation as a means to cross-examine evidence from the different data sets and to strengthen validity. The themes relating to the missing skillsets were then inter-related to highlight any interdependencies and to ensure a rigorous level of analysis and abstraction. Findings in relation to each skillset were isolated within focused chapters.

Mixed method or ‘multi-method’ analysis - involving a series of matrices - was used to compare both quantitative and (selected sections of) qualitative data. In line with practice-based research methodology, an extended and iterative period of data gathering and analysis allowed the researcher to consolidate observations regarding the acquisition of specific skills in both an academic as well as a practice context to consolidate into a concise set of learning concepts. The thesis subsequently used these learning concepts to define tentative assessment rudiments. The samples chosen for this study were situated in two distinctly different contexts; in practice and in education: encompassing architects, trainee architects, students and educators both with and without Live Project experience, to enable a clear set of variables for comparative analysis. The samples were also drawn from both the US and UK – a useful consequence of research funding in terms of providing quantitative data and comparable cohorts. These insights were then used to tentatively explore practical ways the acquisition of these skillsets could be assessed.

The conclusions of this study identify that Live Projects can enable students to acquire the three skillsets due to their ability to offer experiences that more closely align with professional practice. However it also pinpoints specific contingencies such as ensuring Live Project success is measured in terms of processes and not just outcomes - and - that keeping Live Projects as non-compulsory, extra curricula options or adjuncts to more established teaching models allows them to retain their inherently flexible, adaptive and responsive nature. Whilst there is general view that a lack of formal acknowledgement of Live Projects within the curricula-validating infrastructure of RIBA & NAAB has contributed to a collective sense that Live Projects are undervalued, the evidence suggests that the opposite is true – that Live Projects do have the ability to meet the criteria for validation extensively and effectively and can make the validation criterion more accessible and meaningful to students – and - because Live Projects encompass a hugely diverse range of projects by their nature of being holistically responsive to a set of site and community specific circumstances – assessment rudiments (rather than a design brief) might be the only unifying criteria.

Given the current crisis in underemployment and the rise of the unpaid internship, these capabilities are of increasing relevance and value. Furthermore, it is transposable skills – which all three of the skillsets are – as opposed to those that are exclusive and unique to architecture – that are most likely to best serve students in future, whether or not they choose to become professional architects. Traditional subject specific skills are undeniably important, but transposable skills deserve greater emphasis and investment given the economic reality of finite resources and demands for greater user participation. Finally, for architectural educators already engaged in or initiating Live Projects, this thesis provides theoretical as well as an applied-knowledge framework to draw from, encompassing a practical as well as passionate advocacy for their wider implementation.

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Architecture > K900 Others in Architecture
Creative Arts and Design > W200 Design studies
Other > Education > X900 Others in Education > X990 Education not elsewhere classified
School or Centre: School of Architecture
Date Deposited: 02 Dec 2016 14:38
Last Modified: 09 Nov 2018 14:28
URI: https://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/2225
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