The Radical Historian Has Plans to Change Architectural Education

Who had actually heard of Neil Chasseur before he became president of the London School of Architecture (LSA) last summer? The 33-year-old was a lecturer in art history at Oxford University and had never practiced architecture. He admits that the job “took a degree of naivety and stupidity to get into” and that his first year “was intense”. However, while dealing with LSA management, he still found time to work on the next two books.

Remarkably, he also outlined plans to expand the institution by creating ‘Part 0’ and ‘Part 4’ courses – learning opportunities before and after the traditional architecture career path. Chasseur says the courses will address the need for types of teaching that go beyond the status quo of “guiding people into the professional forms of the nineteenth century”.

Expanding the course appears to renew LSA’s reputation for turbulence just as the school appears to be heading into the mainstream. When it was launched in 2015 with a “earn while you learn” model for Part Two students, it was hailed as a radical experiment in diversifying architectural education. But times have since caught up: Several universities now offer courses, while the ARB said in June it had “overwhelming support” to scrap Parts 1, 2 and 3 altogether.

With LSA welcoming 51 new students this month — and Chasseur starting his second year after that — AJ met with the principal to talk about his first year on the job, his plans for expansion and his contrast toward a traditional qualification.

Chasseur grew up in southwest London and was close to his uncle, an architectural designer who worked at Whitbread, the FTSE100 hospitality group. His uncle, who, like his mother, was of Gujarati-Uganda descent, was expelled from the country by dictator Idi Amin in the 1970s, encouraged him to paint and nurture his interest in design.

But Chasseur says that when he was a teenager he lost faith in him [his] Being able to draw at the worst possible moment, adding that “Architecture [therefore] It never seemed like something I could do.’ Chaseur studied art history at the university: he made a trip to 66 Portland Place as a student, as well as Chris Ofili and David Adjaye’s 2002 exhibition The Upper Room, to spark interest in architecture.

Chasseur later worked at 66 Portland Place “as the second most junior member” of RIBA’s Practice Division, where he coordinated advisory groups and professional programs. He is now writing a book on the relationship between RIBA and its headquarters in the British Empire, due to be published next year.

His other book, which is Posted this month, on a “too unfashionable subject” of architectural culture in interwar Britain – the focus of his PhD. He admits that he thinks buildings from that period are ‘dirty, in the broad sense – a lot of new Georgian mill’, but he finds the period interesting due to the creation of the Architects’ Registration Act and the modern architecture sector.

I had a vision of where I thought architecture education could go and about the principles it could and should support

Chasseur had imagined he would continue researching and lecturing at Oxford “hopefully forever” but applied to run the LSA after founder Will Hunter’s sudden resignation last spring. “I had a vision of where I thought architecture education could go and about the principles it could and should support,” he says.

He has experience managing organizations as a trustee of the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain, the Twentieth Century Society, and the Architectural Heritage Trust. However, he had to get used to running a school with 11 full-time employees, 40 teachers and about 110 students.

“The biggest challenge is to continue to preach for our mission and get more students to come and study with us,” he says. This year’s group is smaller than last year’s intake of 67. The problem, Chasseur sees it, is that “the potential for increasing market share is relatively limited.” Each year 2,400 students enroll in a Part 2 course at one of 42 architecture schools—meaning there is an average group of 57. Even that number could drop, Chasseur notes, if post-part one students choose to stay in Working and delaying further study during the cost of living crisis.

And securing funding, he adds, is also “a big part of what I and the board of directors have to do.” In 2020/21 the school spent £874,000 but raised only £821,000 through fees. However, she was able to raise another £118,000 through fundraising, according to the Charities Committee.

Chassur is also an assistant teacher in one of the school’s core units and says “It’s important that we get exposed to it [students] The things they enjoy and the things that annoy them. Inside and Outside Class is calling for decolonization, saying he wants the LSA to be a “pluralism” that challenges “universalism” and “targets the epistemological underpinnings of Western hegemony”. He points to the election of Moiwa Aoki as the head of usury on a platform representing architecture workers as important in this regard.

“All of our students are architects, so we would like to open conversations about this,” he says, adding: “Black youths aren’t supposed to do certain things, and they certainly don’t run things, so I feel familiar with Moiwa and hope he is properly supported.

While Chasseur has a detailed knowledge of architectural traditions, he is careful to stay away from them, at least from an educational point of view. His most extreme concept is a two-year diploma in the built environment (see below) – a “sub-degree” – which he says “will not focus narrowly on architecture as a descendant of the 19th century but instead on our dying planet, impending environmental collapse and climate change”.

The course may be taken in place of Part 1 if the ARB – as stated – makes qualification based on “learning outcomes” rather than strict completion of Parts 1-3. Chasseur says: “This qualification can be a great starting point for architecture in [Part 2] And get on the record—or become a good plumber, engineer, planner, or customer.

If we have 20 million homes to retrofit, we need to devise cycles that respond to this need

‘If we have 20 million homes to modify, we need to devise cycles that respond to this need, rather than trying to engage – I’m a provocateur – but to push people who have been trained to think a certain way to try to solve this problem.

Chasseur says that while he respects the standards for validating the training of architects, he is “neutral” about the importance of having a registry of architects and having more people in it. asserts that LSA is about architecture, not architects – just like RIBA, in the eyes of some people, vice versa.

We have a very significant existential crisis to face, and I’m more interested in helping make that happen with the fastest and most effective path. It is debatable whether a 10-year learning program and industry placement to join a legal registry is the only way to bring about change quickly. Other elements of the proposed Part 0 will involve adolescents in the built environment, while Part 4 will focus on upgrading the skills of current professionals. The proposals are part of the LSA’s business strategy through the 2024-25 school year but are likely to evolve, Chasseur says.

We need to see where the dust settles from this emerging landscape. But we want to be on the cutting edge of new possibilities. There are things we’ll be pulling forward and backward when we know what the bottom line of the ARB will be.

However, Chasseur says he sees architecture education becoming more flexible, modular and digital. He vows not to start the Part One cycle, saying, “It is not right to launch a program within the system that even the ARB says is hostile to greater diversity, accessibility, and affordability.”

Looking to the future, he wants to move the school again – despite it being on its fourth campus seven years ago. ‘I love our current home,’ he says of 6 Orsman Road, the recently completed Waugh Thistleton building in Hoxton, in which LSA shares residence with a consortium of companies. “But it is a commercial office building.”

Chaseur yearns to stay in Hackney and says his dream is to have an old building that can undergo a community modification as a “collective learning experience”. Although, he adds, “This may end up being impractical for all kinds of reasons.”

Wherever LSA ends, it may be the direction of its educational offering that raises the most eyebrows—and pushes the boundaries of what an architecture education looks like beyond Parts 1-3. Chasseur, before reproaching himself for colonial jargon, declared, “We will occupy an unfettered territory.” “It’s going to be Radical Earth, anyway.”

Part 0 and Part 4

LSA investigates firing cycles outside the usual 1-3 segments. Part 0 will be a “Series of Sub-Degree Interventions” providing qualifications from Level 2 (equivalent to GCSE) up to Level 5 (equivalent to a Diploma). Starting in January, LSA will be piloting a course on the built environment for children ages 13-16, but it also has plans to earn an architectural qualification at half the value of an A-level.

LSA’s largest Part 0 plan, however, is a two-year course equivalent to a diploma, with an emphasis on green skills, especially retrofitting. Part 4, in the meantime, will be six to eight week courses for architects and others in the industry.

The first pilot is a health and safety training course that responds to recent regulatory reform, and the courses can provide just-in-time training for lead designers – now a specialized regulatory role. However, they will also cover business development and heritage businesses and will work with charities and other social causes.

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