The MA Architecture + Urbanism course is the Manchester School of Architecture's taught postgraduate course which conducts research into how global cultural and economic forces influence contemporary cities. The design, functioning and future of urban situations is explored in written, drawn and modelled work which builds on the legacy of twentieth century urban theory and is directed towards the development of sustainable cities.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Human Relations, Social Interaction and Dialogue with the Landscape

MA A+U are very pleased to announce 'Human Relations, Social Interaction and Dialogue with the Landscape' as the theme of our contribution to the #BiennaleSessions in which Chilean architect Claudio Molina Camacho will be in conversation with James Taylor-Foster of the Nordic Pavilion.

Monday, 6 June 2016


REPORTING FROM THE FRONT Alejandro Aravena's theme as Director of the Venice Architecture Biennale 2016 offers a wide open opportunity for architects, academics and critics to present and debate contemporary architecture and urbanism with a particular emphasis on the borderlines of professional activity and its interactions with different social groups. Aravena's call has been met in many diverse ways in the exhibitions which, if lacking the coherence of the last Biennale directed by Rem Koolhaas, offer a spectrum of approaches which the globalising urban world might require. The displays at the Giardini and the Arsenale both balance national contributions with selected participations which demonstrate specific techniques or projects that push the envelope of the status quo, be that politically, socially or technologically.

Highlights at the Giardini include Germany's 'open door' responding to the refugee crisis, France's elegant 'savoir faire', Belgium's sidelong look at construction and Poland's advocacy regarding construction workers' rights. Closer to the Biennale's home the Venetian Pavilion allows young architects to propose interventions in the post-industrial landscape of Marghera, including the appropriation of the siege strategy of 'poliorceticon' to reconquer an abandoned territory.

However the centrepiece exhibit in the main pavilion at the Giardini, a lattice like catenary brick vault by Solano Benitez / Gabinete de Arquitectura from Paraguay, is a stunningly beautiful demonstration of economy and elegance of means which (if this is not too incongruous to say) richly deserves its Golden Lion for Best Participant. It contrasts with other vaulted structures displayed at the Arsenale. Norman Foster Foundation presents a brick vaulted drone port for Rwanda intended for the delivery of medicines and supplies in remote areas, while ETH Zurich display a digitally fabricated stone vault quarried in Texas and transported to Venice to wow the global architectural audience. This structure is a great spectacle but one wonders, in the specific environmental context of this Biennale, about the carbon footprint of such procedures given the abundant availability of stone in Switzerland and the Veneto. Floating much more lightly on the earth, quite literally, is the replica of the Makoko Floating School from Lagos by NLÉ which appears much more aligned with the spirit of Aravena's theme and is moored in the Arsenale's basin. An engaging lightness of touch is a characteristic shared, despite the geographic distance, between the Chilean and Nordic Pavilions.

At the Arsenale the dramatic nature of the extended sequence of the Corderie is exploited for good and ill, with a beautiful and playful demonstration of the wonders of light which immediately engages visitors, and a slightly terrifying totalitarian model of a project for the Skolkovo Innovation Centre in Moscow which echoes uncomfortably with the more ironic display in the Russian Pavilion at the Giardini of the Stalinist VDNKh pleasure grounds presented in a mesmerising kaleidoscopic projection.

Outside the principal venues at the Giardini and the Arsenale, many countries have their chance to raise their architectural profile. Liechtenstein hosted a very well attended educational symposium, and when turning a corner near Campo Santo Stefano on can encounter a champagne reception hosted by Luxembourg, or a small rave hosted by Montenegro. But in many respects the most touching element in the whole of the Biennale is the Portuguese exhibition on the Giudecca and entitled 'Where Alvaro meets Aldo'. It neatly commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Aldo Rossi's 'The Architecture of the City' in 1966 and Alvaro Siza's longstanding involvement with him and others of the School of Venice, and in the collaborative design of social housing in the Campo di Marte project. The exhibition occupies the unfinished ground floor of a block by Siza and features models and drawings of that project and three of his other housing schemes in Porto, The Hague and Berlin. Films of Siza visiting the residents of each project, discussing their successes and failures are an eloquent commentary on the fact that the engagement of architects with social and political issues treads a very thin line between optimism and disappointment, and neither is it only a recent phenomenon.

The Venice Architecture Biennale continues until 27 November 2016

MA A+U will be hosting their annual symposium entitled FRONTIERS OF RESPONSIVE ARCHITECTURE as part of the Biennale Sessions on 29 June 2016 - information at

Thursday, 26 May 2016


MA A+U are extremely pleased to announce that Chilean architect CLAUDIO MOLINA CAMACHO will be our special guest at the symposium 'Frontiers of Responsive Architecture' to be held as part of the Biennale Sessions at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2016. Claudio will be presenting a series of buildings and projects in response to Biennale Director Alejandro Aravena's theme REPORTING FROM THE FRONT.

Date: 29 June 2016

Venue: Giardini Biennale, Venice

To confirm attendance please contact the @FORA2016 team via email at

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Frontiers of Responsive Architecture

MA A+U are very pleased to announce that our 2016 Symposium 'Frontiers of Responsive Architecture' will be held as Manchester School of Architecture's contribution to the Biennale Sessions during the 15th Venice Architecture Biennale REPORTING FROM THE FRONT

For further information on this event please contact The FORA Team via email or follow them on twitter @FORA2016

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Dr. Ahlam Sharif

Congratulations to 2012 MA A+U alumna Dr. Ahlam Sharif who has recently been awarded a Ph.D from the University of Manchester for a thesis entitled

"Sustainable Architectural Design between Inscription and De-scription: The Case of Masdar City".

Ahlam writes

"The thesis aims to deconstruct the traditional dualities between design and use and blend the boundaries between them. It focuses on the design as a process that is complex, dynamic, and unpredicted on its own, where other processes, such as use, are part of it. It utilises the case of Masdar City, which has been designed by the architectural and urban planning firm Foster + Partners in the UK (F+P) and implemented in the Middle East, more particularly in the United Arab Emirates. It provides a particular focus on its first developed stage represented by Masdar Institute of Science and Technology (MIST). Based on a qualitative and inductive approach, the conducted research utilises interviews and site observations with the designer, users, and other main contributors to target the main research aim. Through such emphasis, it reflects on the concept of sustainability that is itself contested, changeable, and vague."

Dr. Sharif will receive her doctorate at a graduation ceremony in July.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Life on Mars

MA A+U is very excited to announce that Karan Gandhi, a student in the 2015-16 cohort has been shortlisted in the top ten for the Mars City Design Competition . Karan's proposal for the design of the first city on the red planet, entitled Neurosynthesis, which he presented at the Space Innovation conference in London last week, will now go forward for further research and development at a workshop at the University of Southern California in July. Karan's new website contains more information on his work.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Democratising the City through Public Space

The Thematic Meeting on Public Spaces held in Barcelona between 4-5 April co-ordinated a series of academic and activist initiatives to reach a global definition of public space in preparation for the UN Habitat III meeting to be held in Quito in October 2016. Delegates participated in plenary and thematic sessions, and side events which documented research, design and experience from the highly privileged cities of the west and the predominantly under privileged cities of the global south. While the gap between these two situations is often very wide, the significance and necessity of access to open public space was constantly reiterated by different speakers.

Although the threats of gentrification, the privatisation of public space and the ubiquity of the shopping mall are commonplace in the developed world they are far from unknown phenomena in the global south, although existing in much more dramatically unequal situations. For example, in the area of roads (highly negative components from a European perspective) Maria Antonieta Pinto Lopes d'Alba from Guinea-Bissau outlined how important road development was to improve the productivity and sustainability of that country's agricultural economy to get its crops to market in the city. Costly Chanza from Blantyre, Malawi commented on the encroachment and degradation of green space for illegal housing in a country which has many growing informal settlements. Ann Wanjira from Kenya, representing a coalition of groups from just such informal settlements offered a series of bottom-up recommendations for the NGOs defining the New Urban Agenda for the process towards Quito. Alison Brown from Cardiff University, in a highly animated presentation, commented that the public space in developing cities was often a necessary working environment for the urban poor, and that these livelihoods should be celebrated rather than erased through the onset of development and privatisation.

In a side event hosted by Future of Places ( Setha Low outlined specific points to ensure social justice in public space, while in another session Peter Elmlund discussed the economics of plot size and the need for fine grain ownership to maintain human scale in cities and aid diversity of occupancy. With this citing of successful historic precedent, perhaps inevitably the exemplary model of Cerda's 1859 plan for Barcelona was much commented upon in many sessions including the opening remarks of Joan Clos, Executive Director of UN Habitat and former Mayor of Barcelona. Pietro Garau referred to it as a plan for a 'public space driven city'. Salvador Rueda presented the project for the revitalisation of Barcelona itself through the superblock model ( while Joseph Maria Montaner discussed the relationship between new public spaces and the upgrading of the city's housing provision by often simple and modest measures.

Across such a wide ranging set of localities and experiences there occasionally seemed to be a mismatch between the advocacy of Eurocentric models and the very different conditions in informal settlements in some of the worst urban situations imaginable, but in the closing ceremony and the formal adoption of the Barcelona Declaration ( the hope expressed was one leading to 'democratising the city through public space'.

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