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.

Thursday 31 May 2012

Designing the Future

Designing the Future

A symposium hosted by Manchester School of Architecture reflects upon urbanism and industry, writes Steve Parnell in The Architects' Journal 31 May 2012

The fact that the students from Manchester School of Architecture’s MA in Architecture and Urbanism hosted their ‘Consumed’ symposium at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, a converted mill that was once one of the largest producers in Manchester, remained unmentioned, although as Irena Bauman rightly noted, such a seminar would not have happened even five years ago. The shift from a production to consumption economy has long been acknowledged, but it’s only really during economic crises that we seriously consider how society is configured and the position of architects within it, lamenting the fact that we are tossed and turned on the waves of other people’s plans and profits.

Throughout the day, several themes emerged concerning a rethink of society’s configuration and, by implication, the architect’s role in it. As anticipated, sustainability underwrote much rhetoric, but a more surprising discursive trajectory was the idea of the city as the new sovereign entity, initially put forward by Joseph Grima, editor-in-chief of Domus. Rapid urbanisation, fuelled by addictions to oil and technological frisson, results in undesirable and invisible long-term side effects. Cities now exist far beyond their municipal boundaries. Besides the obvious environmental impact, the amount of land upon which they depend for food and energy around the world is enormous and unsustainable. Countries, cities and hedge funds are in the process of annexing previously undesirable tracts of land in far-off places for food security and even as a tradable commodity. As usual, Africa bears the brunt of this exploitation and is being rediscovered as the breadbasket of the world, debunking the age-old myth that it is unable to support its starving population. This land-grabbing formed the main thrust of Grima’s talk, but he also introduced economist William Jevons, who wrote in The Coal Question, ‘It is wholly a confusion of ideas to suppose that the economical use of fuel is equivalent to a diminished consumption. The very contrary is the truth.’ Written when Britain’s global dominance was predicated by the supply of coal, this truism seems as apt now, in the age of peak oil, as it did in the mid 19th century, and Grima supplied convincing evidence.

Berndt Jespersen and Mette Skovbjerg of Kalundborg Symbiosis in Denmark described their public/private initiative that started in the 1960s primarily out of an economic motivation. Using the outputs of one industrial process as the inputs of another is so blindingly obvious and joined-up that it could only happen in Scandinavia. The city of Kalundborg now has 14 companies recycling water, 12 recycling industrial by-products (aka ‘waste’) and seven recycling energy in one large symbiotic system that makes the city more competitive as a whole. This competitiveness of cities also formed the basis of Irena Bauman’s talk, in which she claimed that cities were now more powerful than nations. She echoed James Kunstler’s view that the 21st century should be about ‘staying in a place worth staying in’, as opposed to last century’s desire to move, and advocates architects (and developers) working in the area where they live. This is not only because of the reduced carbon footprint, but because they know the area and, fundamentally, can be held accountable for their work. Cities, in other words, should be long-term communities rather than short-term commodities.

On the other hand, Michael Pawlyn of Exploration Architecture still believes in that old-fashioned Buckminster-Fullerian notion that architects can solve the world’s problems technically and materially, if only someone would listen to them. The bio-mimicry he peddles is a 21st century High-Tech movement that applies natural systems to artificial problems. The loop may be cyclic, rather than linear and the energy solar, rather than carbon based, but the ambition is the same: ‘decide on the future we want, and then set about creating it.’ How exactly we do the hard bit – deciding on the future we want – was not elaborated upon.

Where Jespersen and Skovbjerg asked ‘Why should a tomato fly?’, and Grima questioned the sanity of constructing cities like Dubai, Pawlyn would jump at the challenge like an imitation grasshopper. Whereas Bauman was glad to see the back of the marriage between the egotistical client and egotistical architect, and Grima called for a ‘recalibration of expectations’, Pawlyn would ‘start with an ideal and compromise as little as possible.’ All would agree that architects have to regain the territory that an organisation like CIAM once owned, tailored for a post-consumed society. Whether this can be designed before the next boom arrives remains to be seen. One thing is certain: the design solution has to be part of a wider political solution and an architectural culture that only focuses on the former will remain at the behest of the latter.

Monday 28 May 2012

Oxford Road Exposed

Corridor Manchester Public Realm Design Competition Exhibition continues at the Manchester Technology Centre until June 8

Saturday 26 May 2012

The Phoenix Effect

2011 MA A+U graduate Jack O'Reilly has been awarded the Andy Robson Award in the Manchester Society of Architects Design Awards 2012 for his Belfast-based thesis project 'The Pheonix Effect'.

Tuesday 22 May 2012

Peabody Prizes

MA A+U students had two successes in the recent Plaistow housing competition held to celebrate the Peabody sesquicentennial (that's 150 years) of providing affordable housing in London, both in the conceptual design category.

Part- time (and Madrid-based) student Simon James (with Atelier TL) was awarded joint Third Prize,

and Mark Turner, who is exploring housing for his MA thesis, was shortlisted in the competition.

The exhibition of all the winning entries in both design and conceptual categories continues at New London Architecture until June 9

Sunday 20 May 2012


You are invited to come along and view new schemes for:
Mancunian Way / Oxford Road crossover
Whitworth Gateway

These new designs for the public realm have been developed by professional practices collaborating with student teams from MMU and the MA A+U students at Manchester School of Architecture.

The Exhibition will be taking place in the Foyer of the Manchester Technology Centre (Oxford House), Oxford Road, Manchester, M1 7ED, at the junction of Brancaster Road and Oxford Road, opposite MMU’s John Dalton Building.

CORRIDOR MANCHESTER will be gathering your feedback at the exhibition, during the following times;
Monday 28th May (12noon – 5pm)
Tuesday 29th May (10am – 6pm)
Wednesday 30th May (10am – 3pm)
Thursday 31st May (10am – 3pm)
Friday 1st June (10am – 3pm)

(The exhibition is closed during the Jubilee bank holiday weekend)
Wednesday 6th June (10am – 3pm)
Thursday 7th June (10am – 3pm)
Friday 8th June (10am – 3pm)

The student teams have worked alongside professional practices to formulate designs for these two areas. The practices are:

AEW Architects
Denton Corker Marshall
Fielden Clegg Bradley Studios
Formroom Architects
Camlin Lonsdale Landscape Architects
Landscape Projects

The student and professional teams were asked to consider what approaches might be possible for the transformation of these two key gateways to Oxford Road. The Cross City Bus scheme, has now been funded and will be taking place in this area. Decisions on the public realm scheme to be implemented will rest with Transport for Greater Manchester and the various landowners, who will be reflecting on designs from this competition and other sources, with potential funding being a significant factor to be considered.

For further information, please contact Corridor Manchester:

Saturday 12 May 2012

CONSUMED: report

The Third Annual MA A+U Symposium Consumed: was held at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester on 3 May 2012 with a diverse gathering of speakers and participants engaged in a discussion of the theme set by the 2011-12 cohort of MA A+U students.

Gavin Elliott, the chair of the day"s proceedings, initiated the debate by placing the current discussions in some recent historical context. He also briefly showed, by way of illustration of contemporary urban thinking local to Manchester, his own company BDP's recent 'fruit-salad' master plan, and a more detailed proposal for the Irk Valley.

Introducing the first speaker Mario Minale, the 'fruit-salad' theme re-emerged briefly in relation to his company, Minale-Maeda's design method, both globally and in terms of domestic culture. The anti - consumerist qualities of his design work was interrogated by Gavin Elliott in relation to their business model and the subversive qualities of his appropriation and reinterpretation.

As a recent development it was linked by the next speaker Joseph Grima to Enzo Mari's autoprogettazione from 1974. He referred to it as part of a reaction to a similar time of austerity, but placed his own talk in the context of the work of W.S. Jevons and economic efficiency. Grima felt that it is accessible luxury which drives consumption, and demonstrated it through his Landgrab City project. Discussing the rise of the semi-autonomous city and the deterritorialisation of sovereignty, he suggested that the city's footprint needs questioning linked through the issue of scale and the representation and political identy of the city. The rise of open source and kickstarter activities changing business models featured as issues in the debate which closed the morning session.

Following lunch Mette Skovbjerg explained a new economic paradigm of circular economies. Although elements of the Kalundborg Symbiosis project date back to the 1960s the present economic crisis has forced more companies to investigate their waste and recycle it for the common benefit. Her colleague Berndt Jespersen ascribed the project's origins to a network of bottom-up projects rather than a top-down directive fostering a culture of mutual dependency among the city's industries. They both affirmed their belief that 'Systems make it possible, - but people make it happen'.

Irena Bauman then surveyed recent iconic architectural and urban regeneration history and remarked on the doughnut effect in cities that disconnection between fringe and centre first analysed by Engels during his time in Manchester. Bauman saw the present situation as leading eventually to the death of high streets and even more exaggerated urban dereliction - a kamikaze economy. Her remedy involved the assertion of the importance of the middle scale and achievable urbanism.

The last speaker, Michael Pawlyn, explored the positive biological lessons for a consuming society and proposed going beyond sustainability to restorative buildings through the use of biomimicry. This perhaps represented a technocratic solution for corporatist societies but the 'cardboard to caviar' project he discussed explored the beginnings of the integration of social issues into an evolutionary system based on recycling. A final project on desert forestation was also shown, responding to recent work on the mapping of resource flows and intended to be tested out in Qatar.

The closing roundtable saw the rival directions of optimism and fatalism as the focus with general agreement reached on the changes of habit required and Mette Skovbjerg suggesting that engagement with communities was the only certain way forward to transform the prevailing culture of consumption.

Reports from the previous two MA A+U Symposia are available here

Hive Minds 2010
Get Over It! 2011

Wednesday 9 May 2012

Architecture + Urbanism recommends 'Voluntary Studio - Social Materialities in Cities of the Global South'

Leandro Minuchin writes
'We are launching the Studio for the Study of Social Materialities in Cities of the Global South with a two-day workshop, on the 16-17 May.
The studio will be linked with the work of social movements and NGOs working in informal settlements and urban peripheries in the Global South. The aim of the studio is to provide design solutions in areas of social housing and informal industrial infrastructures.
The first day of the inaugural workshop will be structured around a series of presentations. Dr. Colin McFarlane will be talking about his book, Learning the City and members from the Social movement GIROS, from Rosario (Argentina) will be presenting their experiences and projects.
The second day will be devoted to design. The members of the studio will identify key areas of intervention and start working on solutions.
The Studio will run through the summer (on a monthly basis) and meet fortnightly until the end of the year.'

The project is being funded by INVESTING IN SUCCESS awards from the University of Manchester

To participate and for further information contact

Thursday 3 May 2012

Architecture + Urbanism recommends "Archaeology's Places & Contemporary Uses"

Continuity in Architecture are holding an important exhibition of twelve projects from the Erasmus Intensive Workshop Archaeology's Places & Contemporary Uses held in Venice in Autumn 2011. The show features the work of post-graduate students from the CiA Unit of Manchester School of Architecture, collaborating with students and professors from Granada and Barcelona (Spain), Venice and Catania (Italy), and Oulo (Finland). The programme is in its third year and was established to explore the adaptation of archaeological sites for modern purposes. This year extraordinary sites of ancient civilisations in south-west Sicily - in Scicli, Syracuse, Paliké and Camarina - were the inspiration for dramatic design interventions in the landscape that redefined and reinterpreted place.The exhibition continues in the RIBA Hub, Cube Gallery on Portland Street, Manchester until 18 May 2012.

Catalogues of projects from 2009 and 2010 are available to download here
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