Why we set up a new school
We live in an increasingly urban age. Today half of humanity lives in cities. As the UN reports: ‘Cities occupy just three per cent of the Earth’s land, but account for 60-80 per cent of energy consumption and 75 per cent of carbon emissions.’
A city’s built environment profoundly affects the experience of living there, from public transport and recreation, to economic activity and housing. Design is absolutely essential to organising cities spatially, to ensure they look beautiful and work effectively.
Architects are the only profession with spatial intelligence: they are the only discipline educated to solve problems spatially, in four dimensions. They therefore have a hugely important role to play in designing how we occupy cities, and thus how humanity increasingly occupies the planet.
Yet as the architectural profession needs to recruit the greatest talents, it is becoming unattainable for all but the most privileged.
In architecture the tuition fee rise is felt particularly acutely: a typical graduate can accrue £100,000 in debt from five years of study, start with a salary of £25,000, and never pay off their student debt over their working life.
Furthermore, the type of provision on offer in the UK is limited, with 90 per cent of architecture schools housed within a university. Schools tend to fall into one of two models – the Beaux Arts tradition, which favours aesthetic qualities, or the polytechnic tradition, which favours functional performance.
The London School of Architecture launched with a programme that offers a new financial model based on fairer and lower fees, and a new educational model that unites academia and practice, and the subjective and objective aspects of design.
Our intention is to widen access to the profession of architecture, recruiting talented students from across the whole of society, and preparing them to design the innovations in architecture and cities that the 21st century requires.
What we do
The London School of Architecture is an independent higher education provider registered through the Charity Commission as a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO).
We currently offer a single academic programme: a two-year postgraduate Diploma in Designing Architecture. The programme is validated by London Metropolitan University, supported by a Practice Network of 100 London-based architecture firms, and is fully recognised by the professional bodies – the Architects Registrations Board and the Royal Institute of British Architects.
Our fees are among the cheapest in the country: £6,000/year for our first three cohorts, and £7,500/year from 2018/19. Additionally, students undertake an integrated 12-month part-time work placement within our Practice Network, which pays a minimum salary of £12,000, but often more.
The programme asks the students a number of fundamental questions: What change do you want to see in the world? How does your architecture contribute to that change? And who do you want to be as a designer?
The programme supports students to address these questions over the two years. Many modules use the UN Sustainable Development Goals to provide a planetary framework for change, and to explore where architecture and design can intervene.
In the First Year, students are based in practice three days per week. In their other time, they are introduced to the issues of the city, collaborate on a design/research project with the Practice Network, and write a manual and a manifesto about their current and future professional life.
In Second Year, students are based at the LSA studio at 141A Mare Street and work on individual design projects. Alongside these components, the history module applies the lessons of the past to our current and future challenges, and the technical module resolves a building proposal to a buildable level of detail.
Graduates emerge with the knowledge, skills and behaviours that are increasingly required in the profession: adaptable, entrepreneurial and able to synthesise complex demands into visionary propositions that can have a positive impact on the world.
The city as campus
The LSA uses the city as its campus, in order both to provide real-world learning and to reduce overheads – savings that are passed on to students in the form of lower fees. In the First Year, students are primarily based with their practices, while in the Second Year students are based at the LSA studio.
Most of our taught programme is hosted by Spatial Partners in our Practice Network and the LSA’s spatial provision now includes a permanent hub at 141A Mare Street, where the core faculty and Second Years are based. Second Years are also provided with a workshop budget which can be spent on model materials, printing, etc, through external vendors for the academic programme or the summer show.
Each cohort tackles a different London borough for its two years on the programme. Engaging with the locality allows greater opportunities for shared urban analysis, deeper engagement with the architectural and urban issues, and the opportunity to test design experiments against real constraints and user groups.
The first cohort (2015-17) looked at Soho, the second cohort (2016-18) at a strip of land running between the Tate Modern and King’s Cross, the third cohort (2017-19) based its research in the borough of Southwark, the fourth cohort (2018-20) focused on Newham and the fifth cohort is looking at Hackney.
Small yet connected
We are a small school: we currently have 67 students split across the two cohorts, and the 2018/19 intake is capped at 40. As a social as well as a creative enterprise, the LSA is a family – not a factory – and we’d like all our students to know each other personally.
However, many times larger than the small student intake, we benefit from a wealth of professional collaborators: our Practice Network contains some 100 London-based firms, who also bring in their associated networks, from consultants and clients to engineers and artists.
Academia and practice
We bring academia and practice closer together to enrich both. Work-based learning is designed to engender in students a greater understanding of their own power as practitioners, while the school provides practices with the space to explore ideas in a rigorous and speculative way.
We place an emphasis on collaborative working among practices and students, with both encouraged to establish links between architecture and adjacent disciplines and industries, and to explore the spatial consequences of the rapid expansion of knowledge in other fields.
Establishing a personal practice
We view the Second Year as the first year of a career: that’s why we call it the Proto-Practice Year. We don’t operate a unit system: tutors are drawn from the Practice Network and teach more in the model of thesis supervision with an emphasis on students establishing their own community of practice and design methodologies. The school asks you who you want to be as a designer, and seeks to support you to test this position and to establish a clear trajectory for your subsequent design agenda and identity.