- Words by Peter Buchanan
Just as the LSA is in crucial ways a new kind of architectural school, so it has a new kind of journal, Citizen
Both the LSA and Citizen recognise the profound and continuing changes of recent decades, much of it driven by an explosion of knowledge and expertise affecting architecture along with everything else. Yet the typical architectural course is no longer than before, so ever more architectural competence is left to be acquired later in practice. To partially compensate, Citizen will be a cumulative educational resource building issue by issue to cover what the LSA and other schools cannot otherwise deliver within the constraints of time and money. No vanity project, then, Citizen is designed for a pedagogic role furthering the LSA’s aims while school and journal co-evolve as works in constant progress driven by bigger and more timely dreams than can yet be delivered.
No other discipline is as all-encompassing as architecture, the setting for most of our lives, and the design of which synthesises so many disciplines. The range of knowledge and expertise architects and their teams might draw upon is vast and ever growing. And beyond the realms of skills and knowledge, architectural studies also keep cultivating novel ways of engaging with and interpreting the built environment. Inevitably, then, aspects of architectural education are often deemed inadequate and outdated. Frequent criticisms include: not keeping abreast of change – many schools slow to embrace the full complexities of sustainability or spatial justice, for instance; or about the ungrounded, narrow and esoteric self-indulgences of the unit system and some theory lectures. The LSA was set up in response to such criticisms and other factors to be better attuned to current conditions and challenges and so better serve architecture, society and the planet.
Also, in recent decades a host of environmental issues, and the multifaceted ones of equality and diversity, are increasingly drawing deserved attention. Another founding LSA goal is to ease access to, and increase the diversity of, a profession largely drawn from relatively privileged backgrounds. This compliments its larger goal of grounding architectural education in a clear-eyed view of all aspects of the contemporary condition, good and bad, and specifically as manifested in London where its design and research projects are based. Like architects, the LSA is also focused on the emergent future for and in which architects must build. It is thus open to and critically explores new thinking – whether environmental, economic, technical, socio-political, theoretical or whatever – relevant to architecture and urbanism. Pursuing all the above is demanding and stimulating enough without the distractions of fanciful concepts, spurious scenarios and irresponsible risk-taking encouraged by schools and tutors in a time warp.
Fulfilling such intentions requires delicate balancing of the relative benefits of independence and regulation, and those of alliances with academia and practice. Relatively new and independent, the LSA is nimble, minimally encumbered and free to innovate. Yet it must conform to stipulations of bureaucratic regulatory bodies, especially so students qualify for state financial aid. Such conformity facilitates forming an alliance with an established architectural school to issue university qualifications. Any university also brings access to an immense range of knowledge. But fragmented into specialist silos, it is difficult to explore and exploit even by generalist-synthesisers like architects.
More useful to them is knowledge tested and integrated by practitioners and consultants, who can still draw on academics if necessary. Yet this is only one reason for the LSA aligning with practice from which come a greater proportion of its tutors than is typical. Further benefit is a more grounded and rounded education, unashamedly realist and as comprehensive as feasible. Besides tutors and mentors, and a range of experienced consultants, the LSA’s Practice Network of 140 member practices provides part-time student employment to cover all academic fees, so easing an impediment to access. As is practice, the LSA is committed to pragmatically oriented, rather than purely theoretical, research and to melding diverse talents in group work. These feature, for instance, in the Design Cities and Design Think Tank modules, its initial studio projects, both tutored by practitioners.
Citizen will serve as a hub connecting different intellectual disciplines, particularly but not only environmental, as well as the diverse members of the LSA community
Being practice-oriented, as well as teaching all the conventional subjects (design, construction, history and so on) the LSA fosters an entrepreneurial attitude and the critical perspectives that will facilitate and guide future careers. Blurring the transition between education and practice in this and other ways furthers the LSA’s integrative vision. Students enter full-time practice better prepared and more familiar with it, already pondering what sort of practice they aspire to lead or join. So, the ideal the school is working towards is as a complex community of students, tutors, alumni, practice network and consultants, all familiar with and in collaborative engagement with each other. For all these, Citizen will serve as a hub connecting different intellectual disciplines, particularly but not only environmental, as well as the diverse members of the LSA community.
Citizen has other vital functions. Not only the journal is educative, so too is the whole process of its production. Communication skills – writing and editing, drawing and illustration, photography and layout – contribute ever more to success today. Mastering these under guidance of the editorial team is an incentive to help produce Citizen as well as a key optional extra to the LSA curriculum. And as with other such journals it is also a showcase drawing attention to works by and achievements of members of the community whether by students, tutors or practice network. These will be accompanied by appreciatively critical appraisals to enliven readers understanding, engagement with and assessment of the works.
As a free journal from a small school, Citizen must match timely ideals with limited resources. Interviews circumvent the author’s fees and time pressures of established figures considered essential to include. For many readers, their most precious resource is time, even for the most essential reading. For these, most everybody surely, each issue includes digests of books, old and new, that community members have found especially relevant and inspiring. Confirming the breadth of matters pertinent to architecture, most of these readings are not narrowly architectural. Together they will accumulate into a library introducing strands of contemporary thought and expertise, rather than replacing primary texts of which serious scholarship might require deeper knowledge.
Outlined above are a few of the generative impulses and goals shaping Citizen; these will keep developing and changing in line with suggestions and contributions volunteered. In time its growing archive may become an essential supplement to the curriculum, and even cover a much wider range of educative material than can any curriculum. Although impossible to achieve, it will try in various ways to fill the many holes that will always remain in an overstretched curriculum. For instance, there seems a current trend to emphasise ideas – ‘being propositional’ – at the expense of both skills (and the honing of them through iterative crafting) and sensibility (the capacity for nuanced perception and interpretation). When last did a student project show an accomplished façade that could hold the eye and so also anchor the space it fronts?
Issues will be loosely focused on an important or overlooked theme, or on a familiar one seen from fresh angles, to bring memorable identity and coherence to each of them. Not only the focus of each issue and the range of topics covered between them will mark Citizen as distinct, so too will be the spirit it projects. It will be:
- PURPOSIVE, conveying a strong raison d’etre; a journal to be widely used and discussed as well as enjoyed; one that researches and generates knowledge as well as disseminates it;
- PLATFORM for new writers, illustrators, photographers, architects and so on as well as for the reappraisal of familiar ones
- PARTCIPATIVE, with all parts of the LSA community identifying with and contributing to it; perhaps as if in an ongoing editorial workshop of free-flowing discussion and ideas – educative, creative and integrative;
- PLURALIST, wide ranging in viewpoints and voices, but shunning the doctrinaire and self-righteous that shuts down discussion and rigidifies opinions;
- PLAYFUL, in places, to help better digest serious content.
But whatever aspirations pursued, these and/or others, Citizen will only take off and fulfil them if adopted, and contributed to, by the LSA community. This may merely be in the form of suggestions for topics, articles and authors, or crafting creative works of your own, written or otherwise, to contribute. This is an invitation, our door is open, and not only to the LSA community. Citizen is to be a contribution to other schools everywhere and architecture generally.