A New School for a New Century: Part 1 – The Founder’s Story, November 2010–October 2015


England’s first new independent architecture school in over 150¹ years, the London School of Architecture opened in 2015 with a single academic programme: a Part 2 diploma. Today the school has 57 staff, 103 students, 77 students-in-waiting, 127 alumni and 180 practice partners. Departing as chief executive in June 2021, LSA founder Will Hunter reflects on the decade-long story of why and how the school came into being

Citizen Mag — A New School for a New Century: Part 1 – The Founder’s Story, November 2010–October 2015

Genesis: November 2010–October 2012

The idea for a new school of architecture came in late 2010. That November, the coalition government announced it would triple university tuition fees. Teaching at the Royal College of Art² at the time, I felt deeply that increased costs for five years of architectural study would be an overwhelming obstacle to candidates with limited means and – consequently – would be hugely damaging to the architectural profession. How could we make a new, fairer, more accessible model?

That winter I stayed with friends³ in Los Angeles and dreamed about what this new enterprise could be. The first drawing I made was of people in conversation sitting around a table (fig. 1). The nascent plan was to set up a think tank, to start a conversation, to form the coalition, to form the school. Trying out names, I tested acronyms that could be spoken as words. Rejecting runner-up ALFA for its whiff of testosterone, I settled on ARFA – Alternative Routes for Architecture. A trip to LA’s supposedly finest fortune-teller offered a triumphant prophecy; thus emboldened, the new school became my new year’s resolution. (One of the very few I’ve kept.)

The arrival of 2011 brought a year of transition at the RCA. Professor Nigel Coates⁴ stepped down in May, concluding a 16-year reign as head of school; in September, Alex de Rijke⁵ was announced as the replacement. Even the smoothest of successions (and this wasn’t) are a time for reflection, and the shifting of tectonic plates stimulated thoughts about what an architecture school could be.

Through patronage, then happenstance, I had risen quickly at the college. In 2009, Nigel had pushed me as a potential co-tutor to Clive Sall,⁶ who led architectural design studio 2 (ADS2). In the space of three years, I moved upwards – filling new gaps – from collaborator to unit co-leader, to Clive’s de facto deputy in the delivery of the programme.⁷ Clive’s critical focus on strategic endgames and fast-paced derring-do was a huge encouragement to be big, bold and fearless about a new enterprise.

Gaining precocious insight into the mechanics of a school, I started to evaluate what to emulate and what to amend. The RCA’s selling point was as an architecture school in an art school. As I began to be more engaged with issues such as climate change, I was beginning to see the limitations of viewing architecture as a form of art practice, where visual expression is overly valued. As Malcolm Gladwell succinctly put it, the 20th century was about lone geniuses, where the 21st century is about smart people working together. I was interested in alternatives to the long-established prevailing unit system – which can fragment design education into excessively esoteric positions – and how to offer a more collaborative experience.

One of the earliest meetings for the project was an ‘organisation alignment’⁸ with energy practitioner Diana Rice.⁹ I could see the school would need to involve many people, and I sought her help in conceptualising how the organism could thrive. In August 2011, I described to her my vision of an ‘anti-institutional guerrilla start-up’ with a mission to ‘create game-changing architecture that responds to the political, social and environmental challenges of the century’. At the time I imagined something so ludicrously small scale – only a dozen students and a dozen practices – that it would never have matched the ambitions for impact.

In the summer of 2012, it was clear I needed more bandwidth. Using some seed capital from early supporters Crispin Kelly,¹⁰ Niall Hobhouse¹¹ and Sir Peter Mason,¹² I employed Joseph ‘JD’ Deane,¹³ a recent RCA graduate, to help a couple of days a week. Our first diagrams looked at moving from school as a hierarchy to school as a network, embedding the programme in the site, being porous, and leveraging London’s resources (fig. 2). To replace the art-school or university context, I wanted to construct a professional network model of education embedded in the capital city.

After months of thinking, research and development, it was time to go public.

To coincide with tuition fees rising to £9,000 for undergraduate architecture courses, in the October 2012 edition of The Architectural Review, where I was deputy editor,¹⁴ I organised a special issue on education, in which I authored an article called ‘Alternative Routes for Architecture’ (fig. 3).¹⁵ Launching the ARFA think tank, the piece unveiled ideas that have been foundational to the LSA – a strong relationship between academia and practice; integrated work placements; using the city as the campus; and collaborating as think tanks.

The ending was an invitation: please get in touch if you’re interested.

Collaborators – 2001–12

It has been mythologised, not least by me, that the AR’s clarion call prompted a wave of untapped collaborators to emerge from the ether like a popular uprising. The article for the most part, however, served to galvanise those with whom I’d already built relationships – some very strong – along my route through academia, practice and journalism.

This close trust helped shape the early foundational years.

My longest-known collaborator is James Soane,¹⁶ my third-year design tutor at The Bartlett, where I studied as an undergraduate.¹⁷ Having done the bulk of my Part 1 practice placement¹⁸ with Will Alsop,¹⁹ I completed my year-out at a three-month internship at Wallpaper*,²⁰ where I worked with architecture editor Suzanne Trocmé²¹ and the communications director Davina Mallinckrodt.²² I undertook my Part 2 at the RCA,²³ where Nigel was my professor and Clive a tutor (figs. 4–5).

Then my career took an unexpected turn. I had always planned to practise, but a back condition grew increasingly severe during my master’s, which was completed on a cocktail of painkillers. By the end, I had a sitting tolerance of a few minutes. A career in an architecture office felt totally out of reach.

In June 2005 I’d been sent the relaunched Architects’ Journal,²⁴ which impressed with its clarity and bravery (fig. 6). This first issue included a photograph of Sarah Douglas (fig. 7),²⁵ its outstanding art editor, poring over proofs. Serendipitously, several months later I ran into Wallpaper*’s creative director Tony Chambers²⁶ while he was with Sarah in the pub. Fortified by gin, I proposed I should work for her.²⁷

Sarah connected me with the AJ’s editor, Isabel Allen,²⁸ who promptly took me on as an editorial assistant.²⁹ Soon I was offered the deputy editorship of the monthly magazine AJ Specification; owing to some internal reshuffling, I quickly landed up being its editor.³⁰ I loved the camaraderie. Isabel – a serious person who doesn’t feel the need to take herself too seriously – always made the enterprise terrific fun; for me the publications were produced under a veil of more-or-less suppressed laughter.

Suddenly, it seemed, Isabel left to form Hab Housing with television’s Kevin McCloud. A new AJ editor arrived with a change of tone and mood, which was to some tastes, but not to mine. I went to work simultaneously for Isabel (at Hab) and her rival doyenne in architectural journalism, Amanda Baillieu³¹ at Building Design.³² The two architecture print weeklies were then in fierce competition and switching to the other side felt both treacherous and exhilarating. BD had much more of a newspaper vibe, and Amanda, a ruthless editor, taught me to excise all extraneous words. Caro’s Carolyn Larkin³³ became a close connection around this time.

While working at BD, Nigel opened up the RCA teaching berth and I met more future LSA collaborators during an intense three years at the college: Lewis Kinneir,³⁴ who with Carmody Groarke replaced Clive and me in running ADS2; the fantastic and fun Charlotte Skene Catling,³⁵ who was co-leading ADS3; and the inspirational Farshid Moussavi,³⁶ who was external examiner. While chair of the public talks programme, I met Elsie Owusu,³⁷ who was an aleatory guest at a giddy post-lecture dinner.

Following the financial crash in 2008, the publishing house Emap had thought it a good idea to elide the AJ/AR editorships, but by 2010 this combination became untenable. As the two magazines were disentangled, I had pitched, probably prematurely, to Natasha Christie-Miller³⁸ for the AJ editorship (on a proposal to take it fortnightly), was beaten by Christine Murray,³⁹ and was instead offered the deputy editorship of The Architectural Review.⁴⁰

The AR’s more elevated intellectual plane and broader international reach yielded many valuable collaborators. I commissioned lapsed contributor Peter Buchanan⁴¹ to write a year-long campaign called ‘The Big Rethink’ (fig. 8) – a dozen essays that became instructive and foundational to our new school – and Anthony Vidler⁴² to write ‘Troubles in Theory’ (fig. 9), a series that informed my thinking about the interconnections of academia and practice.

(It was Peter who – having speculatively diagnosed the source of my back pain as a classic case of suppressed rage against one’s father – introduced me to energy healer Diana Rice.)

The AR took me into the orbit of late stars Michael Sorkin⁴³ and Charles Jencks,⁴⁴ who became encouraging friends to the project. Niall Hobhouse and I formed an instant bond at a press junket. Alan Powers⁴⁵ was a regular writer of reviews. I invited Farshid to be a columnist. Some of my articles ignited connections: a positive appraisal of Crispin Kelly’s new country house; a study of Rohan Silva’s⁴⁶ first co-working space Second Home, (which became the LSA’s second home (fig. 10).)

Meeting lots of architects as a journalist was a huge advantage to starting a school so closely connected with practice. Two of the most supportive were Simon Allford,⁴⁷ a regular lunch companion, and Niall McLaughlin,⁴⁸ with whom I had one of the most inspiring early conversations about what a new school could be while sharing a late-night train back from a jolly dinner at Oxford’s Somerville College.

From the dozens who emailed in response to the ARFA launch, the two who became most active in the project were Hannah Vowles,⁴⁹ who went on to help with drafting the academic programme, and Deborah Saunt,⁵⁰ who emailed to say: ‘I do hope this thing gets off the ground. I’d love to teach there’.⁵¹

From this network of people emerged the outline of the school’s core foundational team. Clive Sall, Deborah Saunt and James Soane became founding directors; Peter Buchanan, Lewis Kinneir and Alan Powers, founding faculty. Isabel Allen and Charlotte Skene Catling have been continual participants; Isabel and I co-founded Citizen. Will Alsop was one of the earliest members of the Practice Network, and an avuncular mentor to me.

Niall Hobhouse, Crispin Kelly, Davina Mallinckrodt, Elsie Owusu, Diana Rice and Suzanne Trocmé became founding trustees (Simon Allford joined later); Nigel Coates and Farshid Moussavi took on governance duties in the Academic Court. Carolyn Larkin became chair of the ambassadors. Amanda Baillieu gave me my first public talk⁵² on the school (fig. 11).

If I had taken my expected route into practice, it is highly unlikely I would ever have founded the LSA. On a practical level, journalism taught me how to coordinate a range of contributors and pull rabbits out of hats to very tight deadlines. I am now grateful that my inability to sit – a seeming impediment at the time – forced me into roles with lots of running around, building the connections, confidence and credibility to be able to start this new venture.

Informed optimism – October 2012–July 2013

Part of the attraction of launching ARFA publicly was the pressure it would put on me to deliver.

I was 31 years old, looked half that, and was not unaware I’d been promoted quickly through the ranks of academia and journalism. Setting up a school was a huge leap. A few nights I awoke panicking What have I done? On others, I’d be tormented by the dream of wrenching chewing gum from my teeth – revealed by internet interpreters to mean You’ve bitten off more than you can chew.

While in hindsight everything came together seamlessly, green lights all the way, I must remind myself it didn’t feel like that at the time. I never knew when we’d hit a red light – or even a motorway pile-up. I kept meeting with various bodies or interested parties and waiting for the hammer blow of a terminating, indisputable ‘No!’

But it never came.

IDEO’s Tom Hulme showed a chart about the founder’s journey (fig. 12): progressing from ‘ignorant optimist’ (how hard can setting up a new school be?) through ‘informed pessimist’ (why, why, why is there so much regulation?) and culminating in ‘informed optimist’. Following the publication of ARFA, I began to see the scale of the mountain that needed climbing, and a tentative route to doing so.

Working three days a week at the AR, teaching at the RCA and doing ARFA in the remaining time, I was working closely with JD to try to get things off the ground. We began a pattern of preparing work to be discussed at set-piece meetings with an emerging band of collaborators.

On 1 February 2013, ARFA held its first meeting, hosted by the Soane Museum, and attended by Isabel Allen, Barbara Campbell-Lange,⁵³ Niall Hobhouse, Crispin Kelly, Lewis Kinneir, Clive Sall, Deborah Saunt and Matthew Springett.⁵⁴ The circulated papers declared:

Alternative Routes for Architecture (ARFA) is a new architecture school for London that has two primary goals: to offer a different type of architectural education; and to make architectural education more affordable and better value for its students.

ARFA wants to create a stronger connection between academe and practice, not so that study mimics practice, but so that study better prepares students for life in practice in the 21st century.

Our stated aims included to: ‘offer an alternative route to achieve Part 2’; be both validated by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and accredited by the Architects Registration Board (ARB); operate as a metropolitan model; reduce costs by using ‘a network of resources within the city’; and ‘split the two years into a year of study and a year in practice’.

A summary of key activity to date included meetings with the Architecture Students Network, RIBA,⁵⁵ ARB⁵⁶ and London Metropolitan University.⁵⁷ The proposed timescale was to launch the school in the October 2013 issue of the AR, interview applicants in January 2014, and produce our graduates in 2016. We admitted some not insignificant ‘known unknowns’, including the financial and business models.

There were early diagrams and an outline course structure (fig. 13). The practice placement was at this time in second year, but Clive suggested putting it in first year. Extensive discussion focused on the crucial relationship between the student and the practices, with Clive proposing we should ‘place the student and practitioner in the same position of responsibility, to infiltrate office life, not exist as an add-on’; while Isabel advocated making ‘this proposal a no-brainer to the practices, mutually beneficial, to ensure continual engaged involvement’. Lewis saw it as ‘an advancement of the apprenticeship model; an investment for both practice and student’.

At the time the proposal was for a ‘pop-up school’ to run for only four years, then disappear, but Niall (H) challenged this, asking ‘if it became successful could you continue it?’ Isabel argued if we were to do this we need ‘to sell it like a movement. You have to pitch a zeitgeist’. Crispin thought: ‘It’s not enough that this is a four-year project; it should not be referred to as an educational institute, but should be run as a publishing house and research think-tank’.

ARFA’s second meeting took place five months later, on 9 July 2013, attended by Peter Buchanan, Nigel Coates, Tom Holbrook,⁵⁸ Niall McLaughlin, Deborah Saunt and James Soane, hosted at the latter’s Project Orange office – an appropriate venue as James, who was chair of the RIBA new courses committee at the time, had been the most involved in helping to develop the structure and content of the programme.

Under the all-enveloping strapline of Designing Life for the 21st Century, the papers proposed an early-draft vision ‘To be the professional institution at the centre of a leading community of architectural practitioners engaged in innovative design and critical research’. The proposed scale at this time was ‘25 practices based in and around London to host 25 students’. (It had doubled in my imagination already.)

We circulated six values – Metropolitan, Entrepreneurial, Propositional, Relevant, Innovative and Directional – all of which, aside from the last, remain to this day; subsequently, Isabel arranged the remaining five to spell PRIME (which I thought was pretty nifty). Our principles were: to focus tuition fees on tuition; to create an orchestrated network not a fixed hierarchy; and to reinvent architectural apprenticeship as a reciprocal and rewarding relationship for both parties.

I shared our research on ARB accreditation and proposed a networked strategy for physical resources including a library (‘use the practices’?’), IT (‘students must provide their own personal computers’), workshop (‘provide no fixed workshops, but negotiate these in consultation with the student cohort’) and studios (‘be opportunistic!’). The idea was to move the geographical focus of study, and perhaps even the school itself, to a different London borough each academic year.

The draft programme was shared for the first time, with the practice-based first year defined as ‘Critical Practice’. I wrote:

This component of the course would be the primary interface with the practices. I think there should be four deliverables. First, a journal personal to each student reflecting on their time in practice; this would be marked individually [this became the Critical Practice Manual].

Second: White Papers, written and published as a group, where students and practices collaborate with each other. This would create a shared research culture … . These should be published online and create impact. The third element is design … [These combined to form the Design Think Tanks].

Finally, the fourth element is for students to arrive in second year with a clear thesis that outlines their interests; this could be short (a side of A4) and open to change, but it is an important threshold [this became the Design Direction module].

I shared outlines for the urban, history, design and tectonic modules. ‘Architecture & Urbanism’ was described as ‘introducing the students to the borough where all the projects are to be sited. Part of this project would be group work researching the area in different ways … and that this work could be shared [and] an intense [individual] test of design skills before the thesis project’.

The ‘History of Design Methods’ was to ‘relate the teaching of history more to the studio, [by] exploring how we could teach the design methodologies of different periods [to] provide students with strategies for how they might design their own work, and how they want to position their architecture critically and historically’.
The second-year thesis project set out that: ‘When the students arrive in second year they should have an outline of their thesis and their critical interests’. The intention at the time was that ‘all the tutorials could take place in the practice’s own office’. ‘Detailed Design and Testing’ would ‘take the thesis project further into a technically resolved, complex piece of architecture’.

Matt Springett saw that:

This should be anchored in a strict geographic context and propose a realisable building/masterplan proposition. The project can, however, be as pragmatic or polemic as the student chooses. The project should similarly be anchored in a contemporary timeframe.

By this stage the proposal was becoming much clearer, and the resulting two-hour meeting produced an incredibly rich conversation. Displaying his enviable ability to speak in lyrical, fully formed paragraphs, Niall (McL) set the scene:

Architecture as a ‘practice’ is currently caught between the twin rocks of academic and professional institutions and their respective agendas. Effectively architectural education has a quid pro quo relationship whereby it is pre-decided by the statutory requirements, which protect the Architect’s title. In reality, the universities consider themselves liberal, but they are in fact tied to the prescribed structures of each institution.

A school such as the one proposed needs to liberate itself from being part-education, part-commercial. It needs to be more of an experiment. Contracts between student and practices need to be different from a regular employment contract insofar as practices need to submit themselves to the manifesto of the experiment. A school without space can be a liberating starting point, and can set itself as a cornerstone of the experiment.

Both academia and practice see the other as ‘not really architecture’. We need to rethink this current polarisation so that they are mutually engaged. We can start this with the terminology we use; by saying we are going to ‘bring students into practice’ we are only reinforcing the polarisation. Furthermore, we would be better served anyway to bring practice into education.

James Soane ran with the theme:

Very few schools teach about ‘practice’ and/or critique what practice presently is. Students emerge from university and think that they can apply what they have learnt to their new job and they can’t. Thus they are instantly disempowered at the moment when they have (supposedly) become most provocative.

If you foster a sense of ‘agency’ in students, they will emerge with an implicit value and worth beyond the traditional skills (CAD, visualisation, etc.), which at present reduces their role to something superficial and ineffective.

Fresh from his ‘Big Rethink’ campaign, Peter Buchanan argued:

Design is our way of participating in human evolution. The world is changing, and we have to understand these changes implicitly, from a cultural as opposed to formal (superficial) standpoint. Culture is paramount, both as the school’s academic focus and its formal structure.

Following postmodernity, education became esoteric. We need to centralise what it is to be a human on Earth. What constitutes the good life? We must address the overarching cultural issues, which necessarily look at urbanism, landscape and architecture together.

We have reduced buildings to objects which are subservient to you, ie, they only have value so long as you inhabit them. Whereas buildings should really be understood as cultural artefacts – instruments which mediate between you and the larger ecology (of which human culture is just a part).

Students are pushed in education for a ‘concept’ – this goes back to the renaissance privileging of the intellect – but we really have to address the mastering of ‘craft’.

Towards the end of the meeting, Nigel – on an admitted tangent – declared ‘I don’t like the name ARFA. It reminds me of a John Lennon poem about a dog’. He also reasonably took against ‘alternative’ in the school’s name as this defines it by what it isn’t. James said ARFA was fine for the research arm, but the school could have another name. Niall said it should perhaps not be an acronym, but more descriptive of a simple thing, plain English or ordinary nouns.

‘The London School of Architecture?’ ventured Deborah. ‘It worked for another institution: LSE – London School of Economics – just says what it is.’ (Though, of course, in its multi-disciplinary form, it now says what it was.)

Nigel, sated, purred ‘I like that’.

The chutzpah of it pleased everyone. The meeting concluded with peals of laughter, and a wondering if we could get away with it.

A school is born

We ran with the name.

Amazed it wasn’t claimed already, I raced to register the London School of Architecture as a private limited company,⁵⁹ then bought the web domain.

The London School of Architecture had, however, been in circulation before. The earliest use I found speaks of ‘the London school of architecture, patronised by the court’ during Edward III’s reign, but this no doubt refers to an informal grouping rather than an institution.⁶⁰ Then in the 19th and 20th centuries, the denomination seems to refer at different times to both the Architectural Association (founded 1847) and UCL (which introduced architecture in 1841).

Oscar Wilde was chummy with ‘a student at the London School of Architecture’⁶¹ indicating the AA.⁶² Yet in 1903 Building News⁶³ talks of ‘the London School of Architecture, University College’ (fig. 14) referring to what became known from 1920 as The Bartlett School of Architecture.⁶⁴ In 1918 the Journal of the Royal Institute of British Architects,⁶⁵ no less, used the London School of Architecture to mean the AA; then in the next decade, LSA seems to mean The Bartlett again.⁶⁶ At the close of the Second World War, Vera Brittain talks in her memoirs⁶⁷ of her son John (Brittain-Catlin) ‘mak[ing] an experimental beginning at the London School of Architecture’, which John’s son confirms was the AA.⁶⁸

Finally, in its most proximate usage, there is a more striking precedent: a group launching a school in a magazine and seeking people to get in touch. In the 10 January 1986 issue of Building Design appeared an enigmatic short story ‘New School Set to Open’ (fig. 15), which ran (in full):

The independent London School of Architecture begins operations this year with a series of events leading to a summer school in July and its first intake in September. John Andrews, Robin Evans,⁶⁹ Susan Lewis, Rodney Place and Paul Shepheard will form a partnership to initiate projects. Details: the London School of Architecture, 7 Denmark Street, London WC2H 8LS or tel: 01-485 4964.

In a recent conversation with Shepheard,⁷⁰ I was struck by the unknown similarities between their mission and ours. Teaching at the AA, these five collaborators were discontent with the unit system’s annual ‘beauty parade’, where tutors competed for students with ‘sloganeering’. They proposed to AA director Alvin Boyarsky⁷¹ that they run a more thoughtful mega-unit where they could together teach 60 students. Unimpressed, Alvin dismissed them – you’re the wrong group, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

They resigned. Then pressed ahead independently. The idea was that students would pay them directly, and they’d use spaces around London, such as the Royal Festival Hall (amazingly, three decades later, our students have on occasions been taught there). Shepheard admits their vision was in places naïve, particularly around institutional infrastructure. Sadly, the group dispersed.

Humbly acknowledging the debt, in 2015 Deborah’s practice tweeted ‘Robin Evans had a dream to create an institution with the same name – hopefully we can do his hopes justice’.⁷² Alighting on a name that had been in currency for well over a century, we aspired to give it a new life and make it our own – with optimism that we may be the right group, the right place and the right time.

Start-up – August 2013–April 2014

One year after the ARFA launch, it was time for the great reveal. Unveiling the new school in an article in the AR called simply ‘The London School of Architecture’ (fig. 16), I wrote:

Rather than get trapped in the false dichotomy between ‘academia’ and ‘practice’ … we thought instead about ‘design’ and ‘research’ as activities that both students and practitioners would engage in throughout their careers. The question was how can you make a bridge to unite these two groups around those twin pursuits?

Fundamentally, we want the school to be a platform within the industry, a place to generate and transfer knowledge between study and practice. And we also want it to create a nimble network not a rigid hierarchy. To this end, we will have no fixed physical infrastructure, but use the city as a resource and create an itinerant institution afresh each year. And while the educational structures will be robust enough to give a clear shape, they will be designed to leave the school open to a wider ecology of ideas.

We are only looking at postgraduate level, and the model we came up with is a simple one: a two-year Part 2 course, with first year students in a practice placement and second year in more self-directed learning. The LSA should provide the space and resources for practitioners to develop their own creative and critical interests. And we’d like them to self-organise into research clusters for their first years to work together to produce relevant and provocative research, to be shared with the profession.

The article announced key faculty and launched the LSA website, designed by Esterson Associates (who were then creative director of the AR, and are now of Citizen). We published the first drawing of the school (fig. 17) – a section through a brain haloed by blobs (I am ever the Alsop graduate), which depicted the full terrain, expanding outwards from the two academic years to architecture and beyond, and underpinned with the geography of London. Later, someone pointed out the incidental echoes from Gropius’s concentric conception of the Bauhaus (fig. 18).

Like the previous year, this article ended with an invitation: for practices to join the network. To promote this effort, in November 2013, the director of the Architecture Foundation, Sarah Ichioka,⁷³ hosted the LSA launch party at the AF (fig. 19). Promoted by Carolyn, the event was a great success, with 80 guests crowding into the small gallery on Tooley Street. In March 2014, the LSA sought formal expressions of interest to join the Practice Network.

By this time, we were generating lots of hype and attention.

But we needed to funnel the fizz. The critical path included many critical issues. We had to establish the institution as a charity, raise sufficient start-up capital, develop the academic programme, be validated by an academic partner, secure accreditation from the Architects Registration Board, promote the school publicly, recruit staff to teach the programme, attract pioneering students to enrol with us, and then – hopefully! – open.

On 1 April 2014, we held another meeting, this time at the Groucho Club, attended by Alan Powers, Clive Sall, Deborah Saunt, James Soane, Nigel Coates, Peter Buchanan and Leon van Schaik.⁷⁴ We shared an outline timetable (fig. 20), and the great triumph of the day was the nascent faculty agreeing to contribute drafts of certain aspects of the programme development. The meeting was leavened by Courtney Love tottering through it.

In a written response to the proposals, Leon wrote:

I’d resist having an academic leading the thesis year … you don’t need a theory person imposing esoteric templates onto practice. If we have an onboard theory person, they should be documenting the school and drawing out theory from what it accomplishes. I like the critical thinking/critical history approach. The closer to practice observed and critiqued, the better.

Then a parenthetical postscript: (PS: If I join the Academic [Court] … this school will have a gay director – you – and three gay members of the [court]… good idea?). At this stage, the court was pencilled to be Nigel, Leon and James.

Leon was compelling that the ‘onboard theory person’ should be drawn from and embedded in practice, and the importance of selecting an exceptional candidate. His light little question also conjured some immutable truth about the successful ratios of queens and courts. Ultimately, I asked Farshid to complete the trio, and invited James to be much more instrumental on the ground as the onboard theory person, which turned out to be a brilliant appointment.

Constitution – December 2013–January 2015

At this point, it is worth making a little comment on pronouns. For some time, ‘I’ had been trialling out ‘we’ for the school and trying to get it to catch on. For the first few years it was a fairly lonely experience; I wanted the idea to ignite people’s imaginations, for them to feel a sense of ownership. On occasions, I felt the slight rebuff of people talking to me about ‘your new school’. It was a true threshold moment when collaborators started using ‘our new school’. And the wonderful ‘we’. The ‘we’ bound us together in collective action.

But ‘we’ also needed to become a singular ‘it’.

To formally incorporate the organisation, Crispin, Niall and I decided early on that it was best to be a charity rather than a company, as we saw little prospect it would ever be a profit-making enterprise (and we didn’t want to ‘profit’ from education). We judged we were far more likely to raise money as donations towards a worthy cause than as investment into a break-even business. I was also assured that the point of the LSA wasn’t to retain personal control, but to cede power to collective ownership and – hopefully – successive generations.

Our accountants⁷⁵ advised us to become a Charitable Incorporated Organisation,⁷⁶ and we used a model constitution. To sit alongside the six previously mentioned trustees, we needed more specialist input, such as finance and legal, and the search to find this expertise was no less effective for its flukiness.

In the winter break 2013, I was staying with Niall (H) in Somerset, and messaged a Wiltshire neighbour⁷⁷ who invited us both to a fancy dress dinner for his goddaughter on New Year’s Eve, a magical evening which proved doubly serendipitous. His goddaughter turned out to be the actress Daisy Lewis, whose face turned out to be instantly recognisable from only the previous week, when we happened to bond in the queue for the loo at Soho’s Academy Club.

The other good fortune was meeting Daisy’s boyfriend’s charming friend, Mazdak Sanii,⁷⁸ a then Rothschild banker, who went on to headhunt our first treasurer, his boss Roland Oakshett,⁷⁹ whose late father was an architect. I soon met Roland and instantly found him brilliant. Daisy emerged as one of my closest friends, who has supported and entertained me throughout the setting-up of the school, while Roland has been a fantastically generous mentor.

Though the first drawing of the school was of people talking around a table, we were at the stage when I was trying to galvanise words into actions. I had it in mind that what we needed was more discipline. My oldest friend Eleni Renton introduced me to James Bullock-Webster,⁸⁰ a young, Sandhurst-educated, former British army major who’d toured Iraq and Afghanistan, and whose CV boasted of being ‘well-practised at making decisions in highly pressured environments’. What better qualities could one want for a secretary to the board? JBW joined with energy and enthusiasm.

To find our legal trustee, Roland wrote to some magic circle law firms to see if any of their senior staff were interested in our new school. Nick Bliss,⁸¹ a partner at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, stepped forward. Like Roland, Nick also had a connection with architecture: his house had been designed by Toh Shimazaki, and by coincidence Isabel and Sarah had run it as an AJ cover story.

Like most new ventures, to begin with we relied on persuading people who were friends, or friends of friends, to get involved. It was heartening that Nick was one of the first serious people outside architecture to respond to an ad (of sorts). As we formed into a charity we have recruited much more formally for positions, but I will never forget the foraging fun of finding those early talents to support the school.

In January 2015, the LSA succeeded in registering with the Charity Commission.⁸² We proclaimed: ‘The objects of the LSA are to promote for the public benefit learning and research in architecture, design, urbanism and its related disciplines and industries; to make available to the public the results of such research; and to provide education and training to the architectural profession’.

Following its fleeting, fugitive quality in the footnotes of history, the London School of Architecture had finally cohered and coalesced into an independent legal entity, getting ready to welcome its first intake of students.

Final stretch – January 2015–October 2015

The nine months preceding the first day of term on Monday 5 October 2015 were an extremely intense period. It was clear what needed to happen, but there was much left to do.

Everything had to go right.

No scope for error.

By this time, we had moved into 13 Great James Street, Nigel’s Bloomsbury design studio (fig. 21). The townhouse’s prime-ministerial front door gave the impression of an august institution; but beyond the chequered doorstep we were squatting like truants at his funky-legged dining table or reclining on his sinuous sofas, trying to cram all our papers into our allotted sideboard shelf. To help with the additional workload, JD (fig. 22) had been joined by Aman Saundh, my sweet-natured editorial assistant from the AR; later Rhys Williams and Abbie Whitehead – two further RCA grads – pitched in.

The programme itself was making good progress. There were 10 modules, five in each year. We were receiving individual contributions – Clive on Design, Tom (H) on cities, Alan on history, Peter on theory, Lewis on technical, and James on critical practice. We were turning these into the module specifications, with input from Deborah in first year, and Hannah and Isabel working across all of them.

Tom (H) conceptualised the emerging urban studies module:

The LSA programme begins and ends in the city: it is the first task and the ultimate setting for the thesis project. Urban Studies seeks to foster an appreciation of the architect’s role in relation to the other players: both the shapers and the shaped. We look at the unique insights and synthetic imagination the spatial practitioner can bring to the city, and consider the parameters for the architect to intervene, exploring our roles as impresario or instigator.

Peter set out his ambitions for a more integrated framework for theory teaching:

Some fine architecture is currently being built, and even more of it is now the product of great technical expertise. But in these pluralist times confusion also reigns: much negligible work is not only being erected but also applauded as significant. Sustainability is recognised as a pressing issue, leading to ever-more sophisticated individual ‘green’ buildings; yet these are insufficient in number and the approach too narrow to deliver true sustainability.

Perhaps worse, sustainability remains an add-on rather than at the core of nearly all architectural education. Also, although most architects are increasingly sensitive to urban issues, much architecture still fails to aggregate into satisfactory urban fabric, creating streets as social places with a distinct sense of place, let alone encouraging the vibrant community life known to be important to psycho-social development.

These problems precisely mirror weaknesses in architectural education, which has too often fragmented into studios and lecture courses in which tutors explore personal interests; even if individually excellent, they collectively fail to provide the overview that helps students digest many different areas of concern. This is compounded by architectural theory courses that neglect many issues that should be central to architecture today.

On bringing the teaching of history into the design studio, Alan wrote:

In 1959, John Summerson referred to ‘the old plod plod from Brunelleschi to Bernini, from Wren to Soane’ of history as taught in schools of architecture. Today, students are engaged in history by their institutions in many ways that have banished such rigidity, while history has been embraced by theory and sometimes smothered in an unequal alliance as pure ideas float free of anchorage in evidence towards self-reference and scholasticism.
In this fragmented state of historical study in architecture schools, the activity of the architect is often lost to view.

The History of Design Methodologies module was suggested by the idea that we have lost all sense of how architects through time have gone about the most crucial part of their work, the conceptualisation of space, construction, ornament, meaning and urban situation. The evidence ranges from the study of buildings for which no documentation exists, but from which a process of design and execution can be extrapolated, through the stages of architectural pedagogy which formalised the language of design still used in part today, to the more recent past when, in the wake of Modernism’s overthrow of the languages of centuries past, different forms of improvisation have taken the place of the old certainties.

While the structural techniques, ideologies and iconographies of past buildings may seem remote and irrelevant, the essential principles and strategies for bringing form out of chaos on which the designs were developed are entirely contemporary in their relevance offering a potentially de-historicised toolkit and a deeper level of connection with architecture as a creative and critical activity and an opportunity to engage with past elements of cities from a position of knowledge and understanding.

In autumn 2014, we held an academic review, chaired by Katharine Heron (University of Westminster), and including Barbara Campbell-Lange (Architectural Association), Susannah Hagan (Royal College of Art), Matt Gaskin (Oxford Brookes) and Roz Barr (RIBA Education). They found our proposals ‘brave’ – that wonderful Sir Humphrey word – and spurred us on with a forensically granular set of suggestions.

In October 2014, in lieu of any of our own, I concocted a ‘student’ review from a handful of neighbouring schools. This was chaired by Tom Leahy,⁸³ and attended by Eleanor Hill, Nadine Coatzee, Ben Hayes and Theo Games Petrohilos. Tom and Elsie were RCA students I’d hit it off with some months earlier at a slightly unpromising event on architectural education at Wales’s Centre for Alternative Technology; Nadine was their flatmate. RIBA Silver Medal-winning Ben I’d met at Niall McLaughlin’s Bartlett unit crits. Theo was working at Studio Egret West. They found the course ‘exciting and relevant’ and offered many useful ideas.

As a small independent school without degree-awarding powers, we needed an academic partner to validate the programme who would ultimately provide the final award to students. We had conversations with University of Liverpool, University of Cardiff and London Metropolitan University. Despite much synergy with Liverpool, we were perhaps too much of an unknown quantity in our fledgling years (though we are now delighted that, as of 2021, they have become our second validating partner).

I had been teaching for a couple of years at London Met, where Robert Mull⁸⁴ was dean of the Cass School of Art and Architecture. There were many existing relationships between Robert and the emerging faculty, not least that he had been a fresh-faced student in Nigel’s experimental NATO unit at the AA. Robert – who with Peter Carl ran the Free Unit – was a big supporter of shaking up architectural education. He promoted the partnership to his school and brokered the deal with the university.

My connections in journalism had really helped to generate an invaluable public profile, amplified by Davina’s communications expertise. Not only had the school appeared in my articles in the AR, but my two former parishes, AJ and BD, had been hugely supportive. Paul Finch⁸⁵ and Ellis Woodman⁸⁶ were particularly vocal advocates. Elsie O introduced me to her daughter, who edited the opinions section of the Financial Times, and I wrote a piece for them expounding the need for a new school.⁸⁷

By March 2015 we were ready to open for applications, and we gave the exclusive to the Evening Standard, who took some key members of the school to the top of the Oxo Tower and photographed us like we were launching CSI Southwark (fig. 23). The accompanying article⁸⁸by Rob Bevan communicated our excitement and made us feel relevant to London. To reach the international audience, I quickly followed up by giving interviews to Anna Winston at Dezeen⁸⁹and James Taylor-Foster at ArchDaily.⁹⁰

The financial model was simple: we wanted a ‘cost-neutral’ programme, where tuition fees of £6,000/year were balanced by a minimum practice placement salary of £12,000 for three days per week – which equates to the then standard of £20,000 full-time. This was our attempt to undercut the establishment, and we held on to this ratio for as many cohorts as we could.

In April 2015, we succeeded in passing London Met’s institutional approval event, the first major stage in the partnership prior to programme approval. For a charity that had only been in existence a matter of months, this was a major milestone. It gave me the confidence to quit being executive editor at the AR and focus full-time on the LSA.

Now we were trying to gather students and practices. For many months I had been touting the A3 circular blobby drawing around to practices and had a pretty-polished spiel about what the school was about and why they should be involved. We were only seeking practices in London, so that there could be a shared conversation in one place. We had had lots contact us through the AR launch, and between that and our connections, I had agreed 30 founder firms in the Practice Network by the time we opened.⁹¹

From these practices emerged close collaborators who helped shape the design think tanks and who work at the LSA to this day – Angie Jim Osman (Allies + Morrison), Javier Quintana de Uña (IDOM), Paolo Vimercati (Grimshaw), Petra Marko (Marko&Placemakers), Andrew McEwan (Orms) and Rafael Marks (Penoyre & Prasad).

The ignition for the school was the obstacle of higher tuition fees. The introduction of a market in higher education demanded that someone, like us, came along to be a challenger of the status quo. But as the school evolved, I became just as motivated to establish a design agenda to address the forthcoming century’s challenges, and particularly in relation to climate change.

Peter’s ‘Big Rethink’ was co-opted by me, and many in the school, as an integral framework to speculate about an inspirational vision of architecture that doesn’t see sustainability as merely a technical pursuit, but as an opportunity to rethink how we occupy the planet, and what it means to be human.

Another influence was the entrepreneur Arthur Kay⁹² who in 2014 invited me for coffee to introduce a new initiative he was starting with Professor Dame Henrietta Moore at UCL’s Institute for Global Prosperity. He outlined his idea for a group of pioneers to work together towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. I joined the founding board of what became Fast Forward 2030, a network of entrepreneurs to champion innovations that tackle environmental degradation, economic inequality and social injustice.

Arthur has become one of my closest friends and collaborating on this project together influenced me to introduce the UN SDGs as a framework within the school’s design projects, to help students articulate their project objectives in relation to higher goals that the world needs to work towards.

Start-up capital

JD and I developed the financial model with Roland. We had been building this from the bottom up, working out what was needed to deliver each module. We tried to keep overheads as low as possible; it helped that students were primarily based in practice for first year, and we didn’t need a studio until second year.

We made regular pilgrimages to OMA’s sleekly ambassadorial Rothschild building in the City, where the combination of Mad Men modernism and gilt-framed old masters flatters you into thinking your business is of almost global import. We swallowed the feeling of being scruffy interlopers along with greedy handfuls of complimentary biscuits.

Roland’s total surety⁹³ with handling the figures gave us great confidence in the model’s robustness. He set a fundraising target of £250,000 to provide the required start-up capital for operations, contingency and a reserve equivalent to three-months’ operating costs. From the outset we knew we wanted our students to be able to access tuition-fee loans from the state; to do that we needed our reserve levels to demonstrate financial soundness.

A quarter of a million was a lot of money to raise. It feels an unbearable amount when you don’t have any of it.

There had been great support from the profession, and we asked leading firms to become founding practices, making a two-year financial commitment. Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, Allies and Morrison, Foster + Partners, Grimshaw, IDOM, Orms, PDP London, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners and Scott Brownrigg signed up.

We also sought support from private philanthropy. Three trustees – Crispin, Davina and Niall – became founding patrons, and we secured two further supporters from close connections: my good friend Tom Leahy, who had chaired the student panel, introduced his father Sir Terry;⁹⁴ and trustee Suzanne introduced Nadja Swarovski,⁹⁵ with whom she had collaborated extensively.

We attracted three founding benefactors: perhaps the easiest was my stepfather, Sir Peter Mason, who was first in; Niall introduced the ebullient property developer Richard Collins and private equity giant Martin Halusa⁹⁶ (who incidentally at the time owned The Architectural Review, a fact that perhaps surprised him as much as me). Davina connected us with the Schroder Foundation,⁹⁷ which has become the school’s single largest supporter.

We had been clear in our messaging that achieving the £250,000 target was imperative to being able to open.

At one meeting at Great James Street, Roland adopted his most grave newsreader tones to impart that we were not on track, and therefore may not be able to open. Cue long faces. Puncturing these sad tidings, Nigel pressed Roland on the matter of a ‘spontaneous fun budget’, as if the suit from Rothschild was being merely tight-fisted, and when it emerged there wasn’t one, went on to make an impassioned case for spontaneous fun being supported even in the most straitened of circumstances. Cue laughter.

Everything was set in motion, and we had to keep pushing it all along in the anticipation – and hope – that we would secure what we needed. In the event, we ultimately hit the target with Richard Collins confirming his donation on the night of the opening party at the end of the first week of the first term. We had reached the summit with a photo finish, and me scribbling his name onto my notes of people to thank in my speech.

It is almost impossible for me to convey the enormous gratitude that I have for all our supporters. The LSA would truly not have been possible without them. It was a leap of faith to back a new school, and I hope they now feel proud of what we have achieved together in such a short space of time.

Pioneering students – March 2015–October 2015

To open, the fundamental thing we needed was students. They were, in their irreducible way, even more important than the essential donors. Coordinated by Cultural Agenda, the press strategy widely publicised how to apply and the deadlines. We held a couple of open evenings, one at Great James Street, the other at the Design Museum, who – following a flirtation with the Building Centre – we had ultimately signed up to be our host for the first year.

It was a terrifying moment towards the deadline for applications. I knew from competitions at the magazines I’d worked for that nobody applied with time to spare, and you get a great torrent in the final few hours. But having no applications the day before hardly augurs a deluge, and you could equally end up with a dribbling pittance.

Thankfully, we had 126 applications. We interviewed 81 candidates and made 40 offers (a cohort size London Met had capped us at). Naturally, we really wanted students to show up on the first day, so we started to try to build the sense of community from the beginning. With an eye for a photo op, we shot some students-to-be on the banks of the River Thames, forming a confident, cool tableau against the capital’s skyline, which was already becoming something of an LSA trope (fig. 24).

Enacting our city-as-campus ethos, we had often used private members’ clubs for meetings. In juxtaposition to dispersed digital networks, this typology, which emerged from coffee houses,⁹⁸ was one of the ideas to inform the conception of the school. We wanted to be inclusive, to integrate a diverse range of talents; but we also liked the idea of bringing everyone together so they felt part of something special, almost secret – a ‘scene’ (as Alvin Boyarsky would put it). Clubs in a sense unify their members, and we wanted the first cohort to feel like a family, or a ‘set’.

We had decided to set Soho as the first geographic area of research. Thus in May, for the first student social event before we opened, I invited everyone to my club, the Academy, on Lexington Street, a hidden pair of rooms above the restaurant Andrew Edmunds – and where the man himself could often be found holding court with the cultured matriarch Mandana. Entered by a squawky staircase, sagging in its asymmetric battle with gravity, the club suffered the further structural strain of 30-something bounding recruits (figs. 25-6). It was a wonderful night getting to know their complement of personalities. I grew excited about spending the next year with them.

Shortly thereafter we shuttled 20 students to Somerset to visit Niall Hobhouse’s Drawing Matter archive, a day cast in the memory as full of laughter and honeyed summer light (figs. 27-8).

The response from the students we offered places to was overwhelmingly enthusiastic; but some had to decline because they couldn’t access a tuition fee loan for their living costs. This served to redouble our resolve to register with the government as fast as we could (you needed three years of audited accounts at that time). To press our case, in July 2015, Charlotte Skene Catling and I spoke with home secretary Theresa May about our new school, and sought her advice (fig. 29).

In September 2015, following a validation event – convened in RIBA’s leather-lined boardroom to imbue us with borrowed gravitas (fig. 30) – London Met signed off our Professional Diploma in Designing Architecture; we then quickly submitted our full application for recognition to the Architects Registration Board on the precipice of opening.

There was some trepidation that students would get cold feet, but by the time it rolled round to 5 October, our strategy of getting to know them had paid off, and all those we expected turned up. We opened with 31⁹⁹ fresh faces, well above the target of 25. We had a two-day event at New Zealand House on Haymarket where all the faculty and Practice Network made their pitches (figs. 31-34). The first day concluded with a guided walk through Soho, terminating with happy, heady drinks in The French House (fig. 35).

On Thursday of the first week, Crispin hosted a welcome party at his majestic Queensway flat, which was attended by staff, students, trustees and luminaries such as Nadja Swarovski, who made a speech (fig. 36). I recall the fantastic sense of energy – pride that we had pulled this off, and purpose in the students that they had chosen to do something new. As the party petered out, a select group yielded to the centripetal pull of Soho, to ‘the Grouch’, where we stayed to the small hours celebrating.

I had taken no time off all summer, and by Friday I disappeared to a Brighton B&B for the inevitable collapse. I slept soundly, safe in the knowledge we had done it.

Little did I know the hard work was only just beginning.

Coda – July 2021


In the run-up to opening, I had thought my stepfather truly mad when he’d asked me what my exit plans were. At the time I was immersed in efforts to get the school open; I couldn’t see that far ahead. As some wit retorted to a parent boasting their daughter had won a place at the AA, ‘getting in is the easy bit; it’s getting out that’s hard’.

On reflection, the LSA followed that pattern. All the work pre-opening was hugely challenging, but it was also hugely fun; there was a real sense of shared purpose, with everyone enthused and working together.

Once you’re open, you’re on the treadmill.

I couldn’t believe it when we had to start recruiting for the second cohort: it was only a few months into the first term! Holding everything together presented its challenges, especially after the adrenaline of the founding faculty had worn off, and we had to transition from start-up to stand-up and – now – scale-up.

The most urgent and ongoing pressures were keeping the reserves at or above the three-months’ running costs (a figure that inevitably scaled upwards as we grew) and securing government recognition so that we are on a level playing field with universities. The latter has required more internal bureaucracy, and a larger team to manage it, which has added costs to the school. It is with some personal sadness that our fees are now the same as universities, but at least our Part 2 students have their integrated practice placement salaries, which makes a huge difference to their balance sheets; and the higher fee income enables the school to ring fence a significant budget to invest annually in essential access and participation activity.

There were certain goals I wanted to achieve before stepping down: sound coffers; a growing and diverse intake; an engaged Practice Network; all professional body and government recognition achieved; and a Part 1 on the blocks. For 2021/22, we have recruited the largest ever cohort, which will support more investment in teaching. We started in 2015/16 with some 30 students; for 2021/22, 77 students have accepted their places – 55 per cent female and 40 per cent black, Asian and minority ethnic – making positive steps towards meeting the target of 50 per cent people of colour by 2030.

I think ultimately there has been some synergy between the setting up of the school, and its relation to how we have taught architecture. As a start-up you must constantly articulate what you are doing as clearly as possible, to persuade people to come on board and inspire with your message. When I was drafting applications to trusts and foundations, I was introduced to the idea of theory of change, a roadmap that communicates the process as a series of causal links towards your intended goal.

This notion of impact has been central to the school. We haven’t wanted students to design a project to please their tutor, or the school, but to design a project that could potentially generate an impact in the world. On every first day of term, I commenced my welcome lecture by telling students that they start their LSA journey with three questions that should run through their next two years:

What change do you want to see in the world?
How does your architecture contribute to that change?
Who do you want to be as a designer?

(To this Peter has added a fourth question: Who does the world need you to be as a designer?)

As we wrote when we introduced our assessment strategy: ‘We want you – as LSA graduates – to be the change-makers of the future. The way we assess your work therefore makes a judgement on your potential to effect and deliver change in your subsequent activities after graduation’.

There are three criteria: intentionality (how relevant and ambitious is the issue you are addressing? How clearly articulated and worthwhile are the goals?); synthesis (How well have the issues and goals been realised as a spatial proposal? To what degree has complexity been resolved into an integrated whole?); and impact (What potential level of change would your realised proposal make? To what extent does your proposal break new ground in architectural culture?)

I think one of the key successes of the school is the integration of sustainable thinking into the LSA curriculum. As James Soane wrote in the RIBA publication A Decade of Action:

The LSA was the first UK school to formally adopt the UN SDGs as a formal reference, and as a result was invited to participate in the RIBA’s Ethics and Sustainable Development Commission during 2018. A year later, the school joined the Climate Emergency declaration, framing our teaching and learning across all modules with this powerful driver. As architects we see the UN Sustainable Development Goals as an opportunity to reimagine the way we live and bring to life the design elements of a new, sustainable world.

I think the clarity with which we have approached the conception of the institution and its pedagogy has created a school where there has been a high degree of alignment and motivation. A shared culture was quickly established. In 2018/19, when we were reflecting on whether we had the right stated values, we asked one cohort: how would you describe the LSA in three words?

Challenging and fun, said one; Pushing the limits, wrote another.

Some were effusive: I LOVE IT!  

Others failed: I just can’t. 

One was so busy they could only manage one word: Hectic. The programme’s pace came up a few times, most alliteratively: Relevant. Restless. Rushed.

For the most part – aside from an occasional jarring adjective – our students were experiencing what we hoped they would:

Cosmopolitan, revolutionary, pioneering
Engaging, current, exciting
Pioneering, exciting, frustrating
Ambitious, well-connected, open
Family, evolving, progressive
Supportive, ambitious, pioneering
Intense, connected, visionary
Different, liberal, practical
Vocational, relevant, exhausting
Brilliant, entangled, visionary

Our fabulously talented and engaged students have made this whole project worthwhile. I will deeply miss my interactions with them, as well as with the hugely dedicated teaching staff. But I felt it was time for me to practise what I preach. In March 2021 I turned 40, and – having done what I set out to do – felt I should now explore where I could make further impact in the decade ahead. At the time of writing, I am very excited to be packing up and moving to Cambridge MA for a Loeb Fellowship at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.

This has been one hell of a journey, and I have truly bottomless gratitude to the hundreds of staff, students, practices, trustees and supporters who have made the school possible. I must reserve the highest recognition, however, for Clive, James, Isabel, Peter and Stephanie Rice¹⁰⁰ who have worked so incredibly hard to deliver the school, and who have been the most loyal of comrades. Stephanie, who joined in 2017, has put in so much work that she must be an honorary member of the founding faculty.

Fellow RCA alumnus Finn Williams joked that the success of an institution is how well it survives the departure of its founder. Finn made the leap from Public Practice in February this year, and handed over the chief executive role to his co-founder Pooja Agrawal. Sadly, I have no co-founder to hand over to.

Penning this in my final week as leader of the school, I write with optimism about the second generation of LSA leaders selected by our board. I wish newcomers Neal Shasore and Samantha Hardingham and the incumbent Clive Sall every success in delivering its next chapter (fig. 37). I will be watching fondly from across the Atlantic, with every hope in my heart for the school’s continued evolution and good fortune.

Reflecting on what has been achieved by staff and students, at 6.30pm, Tuesday 3 August, Will Hunter will be delivering as a lecture ‘Part 2 – Start-up to Scale-up, October 2015–June 2021’, followed by a conversation with Samantha Hardingham. Watch it live on YouTube here



1. The Architectural Association opened in 1847, 168 years before the LSA
2. Established in 1837, the Royal College of Art is the world’s oldest art and design university in continuous operation and the only entirely postgraduate art and design university in the United Kingdom. In 2019, QS World University Subject Rankings placed the RCA as the number one Art and Design university in the world, for the fifth consecutive year.
3. Eleni Renton, my best friend from school, and our very good friend Natalie Kwatinetz (neé Loren).
4. Nigel Coates is founding chair of the LSA’s Academic Court, 2015–21. In 1984 he founded NATO (Narrative Architecture TOday) as both architecture group and magazine; and in 1985, Branson Coates Architecture, with Doug Branson. Nigel was head of the Department of Architecture at the Royal College of Art 1995–2011, where he is currently professor emeritus. In 2012 he won the Annie Spink Award recognising his outstanding contribution to architectural education. In 2006 he established his London studio in Bloomsbury, where the LSA was first based prior to opening in October 2015.
5. Alex de Rijke co-founded dRMM with Philip Marsh and Sadie Morgan in 1995. He was dean of architecture at the Royal College of Art and professor of the master’s programme 2011–2015.
6. Clive Sall is a founding director of the LSA, and was director of proto-practice then design director from 2015 to present. A co-founder of FAT (Fashion, Architecture & Taste), Clive is currently director of the London-based Clive Sall Architecture and principal of construction company Built. From 1996 he taught at the Royal College of Art, where from 2012 to 2014 he was the head of the final year of the MA Architecture programme.
7. Department of Architecture, Royal College of Art: design tutor, 2009–10; unit master, 2010–11; cross-ADS support 2011–12; chair of public lecture programme, 2012–14. Nigel had promoted Clive to his deputy shortly before he resigned, and after Nigel departed Clive deputised me to help him.
8. Life alignment is a contemporary energy balancing practice invented by Jeff Levin, which can work on individuals, groups or homes. An ‘organisation alignment’ works: ‘on the organogram or corporate structure. The process identifies where energy is blocked and through whom; it balances those energies which is now reflected in the business itself. It acts as a catalyst to help to identify and to solve subtle imbalances that may prevent an organisation or project from flourishing. Organisation Alignment is an immediate and tangible process that brings new life to any type of organisation that wants to improve and evolve’.
9. Diana Rice is an LSA founding trustee, serving four-and-a-half years on the board. She stepped down to a take on the role of wellbeing coach, working more closely with the student body. She is a Life Alignment practitioner and teacher and an executive coach.
10. Crispin Kelly is an LSA founding patron and the founding chair of the board, a role he still holds. He is chief executive of Baylight, a commercial and mixed-use development company. Crispin is a former president of the Architectural Association, where he studied architecture. He is the founder of the Baylight Foundation and the chair of Open City.
11. Niall Hobhouse is an LSA founding patron and founding trustee, serving two-and-a-half years on the board. He is an art collector and writer on architectural and curatorial issues. He is currently a trustee of Drawing Matter and has served as trustee of: the Holburne Museum in Bath (and as chairman of their executive committee); the development trust of the National Museums Liverpool; the Canadian Centre for Architecture; the Campaign for Museums; and Sir John Soane’s Museum. He was formerly governor of the London School of Economics and chair of the advisory board for the LSE’s Cities Programme.
12. My stepfather. Sir Peter has held numerous roles in industry including: chairman of Thames Water; CEO of AMEC; chairman and CEO of Balfour Beatty; senior non-executive director of BAE Systems; and a board member of the 2012 Olympic Delivery Authority. He is currently a non-executive member of the Board of Spie SA. Sir Peter was made a Knight Commander of the British Empire (KBE) for services to international trade in 2002.
13. Joseph (Joe) Deane is LSA founding associate. He was nominated for the RIBA President’s Medals for his design theses and dissertations at both undergraduate and master’s levels, having completed the latter at the Royal College of Art.
14. The Architectural Review: deputy editor, March 2010–December 2013; executive editor, January 2014–February 2015.
15. ‘Alternative Routes for Architecture’, Will Hunter, 28 September 2012, The Architectural Review.
16. James Soane was my tutor at The Bartlett School of Architecture in 2001–02. He is a founding director of the LSA and was director of critical practice then research director 2015–21. James set up his architectural practice, Project Orange, with his partner Christopher Ash in 1997. James worked at the RIBA Education Department, 2000–15, as a chair of Validation Visiting Boards, the chair of the RIBA New Courses Committee and vice chair of the Education Committee.
17. The Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London, BSc (hons) Architecture, Planning and the Built Environment, September 1999 to June 2002.
18. Alsop Architects: architectural assistant, September 2002 to June 2003.
19. The studio of late Professor Will Alsop OBE RA was a founder practice at the LSA and an active supporter. He offered numerous practice placements to students, and his studio became an incubator space for LSA graduates. He established aLL Design in 2011. He was awarded the RIBA Stirling Prize for Peckham Library, London, and the first RIBA Worldwide Award for The Sharp Centre for Design (OCADU). He was professor at TU Vienna and professor of architecture at Canterbury School of Architecture, UCA.
20. Wallpaper* magazine: architectural assistant, June–September 2003.
21. Suzanne Trocmé is a founding trustee, serving two-and-a-half years on the board. An author and curator, she is editor-at-large for Wallpaper* magazine and has written for publications including Architectural Digest, the New York Times Magazine and the Telegraph Magazine.
22. Davina Mallinckrodt (née Weir-Willats) is an LSA founding patron, a founding trustee, and vice-chair of the board. Davina is an entrepreneur and communications specialist in the design and interiors sector. She now sits on a number of third sector boards, with a focus on education and social mobility. She has served on the advisory board of InTo University for 10 years, is a trustee of the Design Museum, is chair of the creative business incubator Cockpit Arts and a member of the advisory board of the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford.
23. Royal College of Art, MA (RCA), Architecture, 2003–05.
24. Architects’ Journal, national architecture magazine published in London, established in 1895.
25. Sarah Douglas was art editor of the Architects’ Journal. She joined Wallpaper* as art editor in 2007, before being made creative director in 2012; in 2017 she replaced Tony Chambers as editor-in-chief.
26. Tony Chambers is founder and creative director of design and lifestyle consultancy TC & Friends. During 2003–18 he was brand and content director, editor-in-chief and creative director of Wallpaper* magazine. He was previously art director of British GQ and art editor of The Sunday Times Magazine.
27. Sealing a long-held view that if you have a choice between going for a drink or finishing some work, better to go for the drink, as you’re more likely to create opportunities.
28. Isabel Allen was a course advisor during the LSA’s set-up, and a regular contributor after opening. She co-founded Citizen magazine with Will Hunter in 2019. She was editor of Architects’ Journal 1999–2007, and was a member of the jury for the Stirling Prize for four consecutive years. She left the AJ to launch HAB Housing with the broadcaster Kevin McCloud. From 2007 to 2010 she was head of communications for Design for London, Ken Livingstone’s design and architecture unit.
29. Volunteering appealed to begin with as it had greater freedom to move around. Journalism suited my sitting tolerance better than architecture practice. I was provided with an early sit-stand desk (mockers used to mime Jean-Michel Jarre behind me when I raised it), and I acquired some layers of bubble wrap, perhaps from some parcel delivery, which I fashioned as a bed to lie down.
30. Architects’ Journal: editorial assistant, January–May 2006; assistant editor, AJ Specification, June 2006–January 2007; editor, AJ Specification, February–November 2007.
31. Amanda Ballieu was editor of Building Design from 2006 to 2013. In 2014, she founded Archiboo, which began as a talk series on a range of subjects from technology to entrepreneurship. Will Hunter was asked to talk on the LSA in early 2015. She was named BSME Editor of the Year for both RIBA Journal and Building Design.
32. Building Design: contributing editor, December 2007–November 2008; editor, BD magazine, November 2008–March 2010.
33. Carolyn Larkin has two roles at the LSA, as chair of the ambassadors and a member of the Finance and Fundraising Committee. She set-up Caro Communications in 1991. In 1997, she launched Architecture Week, now the London Festival of Architecture, was instrumental in setting up London’s centre for the built environment, New London Architecture, and played a pivotal role in launching and evolving key international events, including Clerkenwell Design Week and World Architecture Festival.
34. Lewis Kinneir is a member of the LSA’s founding faculty and presently its tectonic leader. He is chief operating officer of Skyroom. Previously he was an associate of Carmody Groarke and taught at the Royal College of Art, alongside Kevin Carmody and Andrew Groarke.
35. Charlotte Skene Catling is an LSA ambassador. She is director of the architectural practice Skene Catling de la Peña, which won numerous awards including the RIBA House of the Year 2015. She was included in ‘: Architecture and Design’ in 2016 and was shortlisted for the 2016 Architectural Review award. She ran a postgraduate architecture unit at the Royal College of Art for five years.
36. Farshid Moussavi OBE RA is a founder member of the LSA’s Academic Court. She leads Farshid Moussavi Architecture, and was previously co-founder of the London-based Foreign Office Architects (FOA). Since 2006, she has been professor in practice of architecture at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.
37. Elsie Owusu OBE is the founding vice-chair of the board, a role she held from January 2015 to July 2018. She is the principal of Elsie Owusu Architects and is a director of JustGhana. She was the first chair of the Society of Black Architects and has been a board member of Arts Council England and the National Trust of England.
38. Natasha Christie-Miller was CEO of Emap from September 2010 to January 2017. She is CEO / president of Ascential Intelligence and non-executive director of ProVen Growth and Income VCT plc.
39. Christine Murray was editor of Architects’ Journal from March 2010 to March 2015; editor of AR from March 2015 to February 2016; and editor-in-chief of AR and AJ February 2016–August 2018.
40. The Architectural Review is a monthly international architectural magazine published in London, established in 1896, former berth of Reyner Banham, John Betjeman and Nikolaus Pevsner, to name but three notable contributors.
41. Peter Buchanan is a member of the LSA founding faculty, and presently the reader in architecture and urbanism and editor of Citizen magazine. Peter was born in Malawi and graduated BArch from the University of Cape Town in 1968. He worked as architect and urban designer/planner in parts of Africa, Europe and the Middle East before joining The Architectural Review in 1979, where he was deputy editor from 1982 to 1992.
42. Anthony Vidler is professor, Irwin S Chanin School of Architecture, The Cooper Union, New York (2001–present), where he was dean of the School of Architecture from 2002 to 2013. He was the Vincent Scully visiting professor of architectural history at Yale University School of Architecture, 2014–18.
43. Michael Sorkin (1948–2020) was principal and founder of Michael Sorkin Studio and president of the Terreform, a non-profit urban research and advocacy centre. He was the professor of architecture and director of the graduate programme in urban design at the City College of New York.
44. Charles Jencks (1939–2019) was a prolific architectural historian, co-founder of the Maggie’s Centres and landscape designer. He wrote an early endorsement of the LSA to be included in our first business plan, to help the school during its set-up period.
45. Alan Powers is a member of the LSA founding faculty, and currently its history leader. Following a degree in history of art from Cambridge, Alan received his doctorate on ‘Architectural Education in Britain 1880–1914’. He is a prolific writer for magazines and author of numerous books. He is joint editor of the journal Twentieth Century Architecture and joint editor of the monograph series, Twentieth Century Architects. He was professor of architecture and cultural history at the University of Greenwich 1999–2012. He is chairman of Pollock’s Toy Museum Trust in London, and formerly chair of the Twentieth Century Society (2007–12).
46. Rohan Silva co-founded Second Home,a workspace community for entrepreneurs and start-ups. He is a former senior policy advisor to prime minister David Cameron and special advisor to chancellor George Osborne.
47. Simon Allford is currently an LSA trustee. He is a founding director of Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, which is an LSA founding practice. He will be RIBA president for two years from September 2021 and is a previous chairman of the Architecture Foundation.
48. Niall McLaughlin is professor of architectural practice at The Bartlett School of Architecture. He established Niall McLaughlin Architects in London in 1990.
49. Hannah Vowles is deputy head of school and associate professor at Birmingham School of Architecture and Design. She is founding chair of the Association of Architectural Educators.
50. Deborah Saunt is an LSA founding director. She was director of inter-practice in 2015/16, module leader of the Design Think Tanks in 2016–18, and a member of the board of trustees from 2018. She co-founded DSDHA in 1998. She completed her PhD on the RMIT Practice Research Programme.
51. Email from Deborah Saunt, Thursday 20 September 2012.
52. Archiboo talk, ‘Doing More with Less: London’s New Architecture School Explained’, 14 May 2015, at Studio Egret West.
53. My tutor for both years at the RCA in ADS3 with Fenella Collingridge and Domenico Raimondo. She has been deputy academic head and head of teaching at the Architectural Association and is presently deputy director of school at The Bartlett.
54. My tutor from all the way back to first year at The Bartlett in 1999. He is principal of London-based architectural practice MSA and co-leader of Matt + Fiona.
55. With David Gloster, director of education at the RIBA, and James Soane, chair of the RIBA New Courses Group.
56. With Emma Matthews, head of qualifications, and Grant Dyble, qualifications administrator at the ARB.
57. With Robert Mull, dean and director of architecture, The Cass, London Metropolitan University.
58. Tom Holbrook is a member of the LSA founding faculty and was leader of urban studies in 2015/16 and 2016/17. He co-founded his practice 5th Studio in 1997. From March 2015 he has been professor in architecture (urbanism) at RMIT University Europe.
59. Incorporated at Companies House on 6 September 2013. Dissolved on 1 March 2016.
60. George Holmes, The Later Middle Ages: 1272–1485, page 54: ‘The early part of the reign of Edward III saw the invention of the perpendicular style which was to dominate the rest of the Middle Ages. It is uncertain how much this owed to the examples of west-country building at Bristol and elsewhere, how much to the London school of architecture, patronised by the court, whose work was to be seen in two important buildings destroyed by fire in modern times, old St Paul’s and St Stephen’s Chapel, Westminster.’
61. An 1897 postcard from Oscar Wilde mentions ‘the architect of the moon’, John Fothergill (1876–1957). Letters of Oscar Wilde, edited by Rupert Hart-Davis, Monday 19 July 1897, page 623.
62. ‘“Equivocal Positions”: The Influence of William Rothenstein c1890–1910’, Samuel Shaw, August 2010, page 95: ‘John Fothergill was born in the Lake District in 1876. After studying at Bath College he went on to St John’s College Oxford, where he lasted a term, moving on to study under Sir Arthur Blomfield at the London School of Architecture; ostensibly killing time before receiving his 21st birthday inheritance’. Sir Arthur William Blomfield (1829–1899) became president of the AA in 1861.
63. Building News, 16 October 1903, Advice to Students, page 504. The article commends ‘the inaugural address on “Architectural Evolution”, given at the opening of the London School of Architecture, University College, by Professor FM Simpson’ – who was professor 1903–19. This article also refers elsewhere to the ‘President of the Architectural Association’.
64. Following a donation from Sir Herbert Henry Bartlett, 1st Baronet (1842–1921), a civil engineer and contractor.
65. 28 March 1918. The correspondent reminisces: ‘Only the other day I came upon a report of a speech by Mr Maule, late headmaster of the London School of Architecture’ – referring to Hugh Maule (1873–1940), confusingly called ‘Headmaster of the London Architectural Association School of Architecture’ 1903–13 (Obituary, Major HPG Maule, The Times, 16 May 1940).
66. Various biographies of one William Leonard Thornton-White place him as a postgraduate student between 1927 and 1928 at The Bartlett School of Architecture (Artefacts website: https://www.artefacts.co.za/main/Buildings/archframes.php?archid=1881) and at the London School of Architecture (Dictionary of South African Biography, 1968).
67. Vera Brittain, Testament of Experience, page 375.
68. Email correspondence (30 June 2021) with John’s son Dr Timothy Brittain-Catlin at the University of Cambridge.
69. Robin Evans (1944–1993) was an architect, teacher and historian. His essays and reviews were published in journals including Lotus, Casa Bella, Architectural Review and AA Files. He lectured at the Polytechnic of Central London, the Department of Architecture at Cambridge, the AA, The Bartlett School, Harvard, Columbia, Pennsylvania, Princeton, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Cornell. He wrote The Projective Cast: Architecture and Its Three Geometries (the MIT Press, 1995), a history of architecture from early Renaissance to post-modernity.
70. Telephone conversation, 27 June 2021.
71. Alvin Boyarsky (1928–1990). Started teaching at the AA in 1963, became associate dean of architecture, University of Illinois in 1965, then director of the AA, 1971–90. He is widely credited with popularising the unit system – the ‘well-laid table’ as an experiment in architectural pedagogy. ‘We create a very rich compost for students to develop and grow from and we fight the battle with the drawings on the wall. We’re in pursuit of architecture, we discuss it boldly, we draw it as well as we can and we exhibit it. We are one of the few institutions in the world that keeps its spirit alive.’ I commissioned Sir Peter Cook to write a reflection on Alvin Boyarsky for the Reputations feature in the AR (October 2012), in which he wrote: ‘Perhaps … he unwittingly mastered a secret, academy-within-an-academy that begat many aspects of Tschumi’s Columbia, Leon Van Schaik’s RMIT, Coates’ RCA and my own at The Bartlett. We four were his students in the art of schoolmaking’. Three of these four had a direct influence on me – Peter as leader of The Bartlett, when I was an undergraduate; Nigel as my professor at RCA, then as chair of the Academic Court; and Leon as a member of the Academic Court.
72. @DSDHA, 9 September 2015, 5.18pm.
73. Sarah Ichioka was set to join the governing board, but sadly she emigrated before we managed to open.
74. Leon van Schaik innovation professor of architecture at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT).
75. MHA MacIntyre Hudson.
76. CIOs were a relatively new form of charity that had the benefits of a limited company, but only reporting to the Charity Commission.
77. The designer Jasper Conran.
78. Mazdak Sanii is founder & CEO of Avant Arte. After five years at Rothschild, Mazdak joined the board of Boiler Room in 2013, where from 2014 he was chief operating officer. He is a trustee of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain and the London Contemporary Orchestra.
79. Roland Oakshett is a director of Silva International. Previously, he was as a director in M&A at Rothschild for 13 years.
80. James Bullock-Webster, major in British Army Oct 2003–Feb 2015.
81. Nicholas Bliss was a partner at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer for over 20 years, where he established and led its global infrastructure and transport sector group for six of those years.
82. Charity number: 1159927.
83. Tom Leahy and Eleanor Hill are LSA ambassadors. They went on to found Parti Architecture. Both studied together at the University of Cambridge, the Royal College of Art, and the Architectural Association.
84. Professor Robert Mull is managing director at Publica. An architect, educator and urbanist, he was educated at The Bartlett and the Architectural Association, and was until 2016, director of architecture and dean of the Cass School of Art, Architecture and Design in London. In 2013 he co-founded a new school of architecture in Moscow. He was a founder member of the architecture collective NATO, and is professor of architecture and design at the University of Brighton and visiting professor at Umeå University where he is developing the Global Free Unit with a number of international partners.
85. Paul Finch is programme director at World Architecture Festival. He is former editor of Building Design, Architects’ Journal, The Architectural Review, and co-editor of Planning in London. Former chair, Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE); former deputy chair, Design Council.
86. Ellis Woodman is director of the Architecture Foundation, former editor of Building Design (2010–14) and critic-at-large for AJ and AR since 2014.
87. Will Hunter (2 February 2014). ‘We “Cling-Ons” See our Profession as a Calling’, Financial Times.
88. Robert Bevan (17 March 2015). ‘Architects, Assemble! How the London School of Architecture Hopes to Transform Training in the Capital’, The Evening Standard.
89. Anna Winston (14 April 2015). ‘New Architecture School Aims to Change “Undervalued and Marginalised” Profession’, Dezeen.
90. James Taylor-Foster (16 April 2015). ‘In Conversation with Will Hunter, Director of the new London School Of Architecture’, ArchDaily.
91. 5th Studio, aLL Design, Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, Allies and Morrison, Alma-nac, CF Møller, Carmody Groarke, Citizens Design Bureau, Cullinan Studio, DSDHA, Duggan Morris, Farrells, Grimshaw, Haworth Tompkins, Hût Architecture, IDOM, IF_DO, Jestico + Whiles, Liddicoat & Goldhill, Mikhail Riches, Orms, PDP London, Prewett Bizley, Red Deer, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, Scott Brownrigg, SODA, Studio Egret West, Tate Harmer, Waugh Thistleton.
92. Arthur Kay is founder of Skyroom, bio-bean and Fast Forward 2030, and entrepreneur in residence at UCL.
93. Although he did occasionally read single digits in the spreadsheet not as our puny thousands but as millions, as that was what he was used to.
94. Sir Terry Leahy is former CEO of Tesco.
95. Nadja Swarovski is chair of the Swarovski Foundation. In 1995 she was the first female member of the executive board of Swarovski, which was founded in Austria by her great-great-grandfather Daniel Swarovski in 1895.
96. Martin Halusa co-founded Apax Partners. He was CEO of the global investment group 2003–13 and chairman 2014–16. He joined Apax in 1990 and served as a managing director at Apax Germany until 2003.
97. The Schroder Foundation is Davina and Philip Mallinckrodt’s family foundation. Formed in 2004, it is an independent grant making charity (Reg No 1107479), which supports a broad range of activities within the areas of the environment, education, arts, culture and heritage, social welfare, the community, medical relief and research, and international relief and development.
98. As Richard Sennett explains in The Fall of Public Man, coffee houses were places where news was exchanged, prior to the invention of the printing press introducing newspapers. They were liminal spaces where, in a relaxation of external social structures, it was acceptable for all classes to sit side by side to facilitate the expedient exchange of information.
99. Alaric Campbell-Garratt, Aleksandar Stojakovic, Alexander Frehse, Andrea Nolan, Chiara Barrett, Daniel Lee, Dawa Pratten, Duncan McNaughton, Emiliano Zavala, Emily Fribbance, Fabio Maiolin, Fearghal Moran, Fiona Stewart, Frazer Haviz, Ian Campbell, Jack Idle, Maeve Dolan, Milly Salisbury, Nathaniel Amissah, Nick Keen, Oscar Hårleman, Phelan Heinsohn, Phoebe Nickols, Raphael Arthur, Stuart Goldsworthy-Trapp, Timm-Laurens Lindstedt, Timothy Ng, Vanessa Jobb.
100. Stephanie Rice was LSA operations director 2017–21. Our most cheerful and energetic colleague, she has been unbelievably brilliant. At the Royal College of Art she was head of administration and led all operations for the school of communication.


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