Architecture Students Protest University with (what else) Architecture

  • 16 Apr 2013
  • by
  • Architecture News
© Daniel Boesen Nolan, Wenray Wang, Peter Nguyen, Michael Baker

Across the globe, architecture programs are cutting resources and raising fees in an effort to stay afloat. Meanwhile, architecture students feel powerless to demand more – to demand quality, to protest fees, to suggest how curricula could better serve them for the future (a poignant concern in this troubled economy, where even a competitive degree doesn’t guarantee post-grad employment any more). 

In this Catch-22 of a situation, what can students do? Well, as any good architect-in-training, they can use their craft to form a solution. 

Which is exactly what, on the 9th of April, 20 architecture undergrads from the University of Sydney did.

More on the University of Sydney students’ architectural protest, after the break…

© Daniel Boesen Nolan, Wenray Wang, Peter Nguyen, Michael Baker

For months, architecture students from the University of Sydney have been angered by the Department of Architecture’s decision to reduce contact hours for design teaching by 38% – a cut which took place despite the administration’s specific promise that it would not. 

And so, on April 9th and after five weeks of preparation, the architecture students took architectural action. They unveiled BDES0000: design+construct+protest, an “unauthorized guerilla design and construct project” of six architectural installations. An estimated three hundred current and former students, staff members, architects and architecture critics attended the show. 

© Daniel Boesen Nolan, Wenray Wang, Peter Nguyen, Michael Baker

Each installation was completed by a different group of students, each focused on the role of architecture in political protest. The installation “writesomething” – for example – in which users approach a hanging wall of glass bottles and place a message inside one, comments on both “transparency,” as the bottles represent a range of solidities, as well as democracy, as each user can communicate his/her message.

© Daniel Boesen Nolan, Wenray Wang, Peter Nguyen, Michael Baker

Moreover, the project (which each student group designed and built themselves) was also a commentary on “the lack of practical learning opportunities provided in their course.” As Michael Baker, one of the students involved, told me: “we wanted as a group to provoke thoughtful discussion about the nature of architectural education. Does it focus too much on pretty pictures and graphics? Is there a black hole of knowledge where construction is concerned? Why are Australian students having to be retrained for five years when they get into the workforce? What better way to discuss architectural education than through an architectural intervention.”

The administration, on the other hand, claim that the cuts have been made in the name of “equity and fairness.” According to the Dean, Professor John Redmond: “We are reducing students’ expected workload to enable those with professional, carer and other responsibilities to complete their architectural education in an equitable way that does not disadvantage their academic performance or put strain on their other duties.”

© Daniel Boesen Nolan, Wenray Wang, Peter Nguyen, Michael Baker

And while the students report that the administration has “failed to acknowledge” the protest, the Dean responded with this statement: 

“Our students’ protest exemplifies the qualities we are looking for in young architects: they are passionate, committed and using their skills and future profession to express their voice. We look forward to continuing this discussion with their student representatives, with whom we have been in consultation throughout this process.”

More info at Design. Construct. Protest. 

Cite: Quirk, Vanessa. "Architecture Students Protest University with (what else) Architecture" 16 Apr 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed 24 May 2015. <>
  • common

    As i have always maintained,architecture needs a new model that re-positions it in contemporary society.The field (from practice to academia) is playing catch up with society,two steps behind the times. This re-positioning will have to do with how architecture is taught in schools,it’s role in contemporary society, and how it deals with issues today and tomorrow. I willing to bet the core of architectural education has not changed in decades, while other courses are rapidly being remodelled to meet the challenges of today.

    • Liz M

      oh my goodness!!!arrgggh! It’s such a relief to hear people who feel the same way about the lazy way that architecture is being taught in the 21st century. And i’m so gatvol (tired) of the senior lecturers who don’t care 2 cents about changing the system because “they all went through it” . I think there’s a fundamental issue if you’re 65 telling me, aged 21, that you “went through the same experience”. Especially in Post Apartheid South Africa!!Come on now…Anyway, I just think it’s funny. I’m a student at the University of Cape Town and I can sense that, globally, there is a grotesquely massive gap between what is taught in Archi school and what you actually need to know or would benefit from knowing for industry or your future as an actual thinking, practicing and useful architect. I mean seriously, what are we paying for?? Anyway, I could write a dissertation on this topic, especially with what’s currently happening in my country alone and continent at large. HAHA!!..and if you guys feel you had something worth complaining about well then ahahahahahaha :’D :’D I really can’t even begin to comment on our cheaply-structured course. I have a friend who did her undergrad in Sydney and her course sounded magical to me :/ :/ And they just keep feeding us this line ” The University of Cape Town is fundamentally a research university, so students are encouraged to engage with and strengthen their studies in an independent manner”. It’s all a bunch of steamy manure!! Anyway, kudos for the guerilla effort. Just wish there was a way we could use social media and our tools as budding architects to create a global discussion about this and through that attempt to revolutionize the system to suit our day and age. Even if it’s for students who come after us. It could be something that would bring tears to the eyes of Le Corb, Moholy-Nagy and the likes…”Towards ANOTHER New Architecture SCHOOL”
      I feel as though Antonio Sant’Elia is probably turning in his grave when he sees the halfhearted attempts to integrate today’s Architecture with today’s materials and concerns. Ok back to work now!


      I think that’s also why the schools succeeded in not having to change curriculum much over the past few decades. They keep us really busy and feeling as though our cries or concerns would be ineffective in the face of the big university system or architectural industry at large. So again, kudos for taking the time to do this!

  • sean

    What i have learned is that architecture students need their protests to have stylish names, otherwise how will the critics know to attend

  • Penny

    Many of these student architects perhaps weren’t born when the Chinese people tried to use cheap bottles in a protest:

    Best wishes to you and your action.

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  • Cameron Crawford

    Thank Goodness. I thought it was just here at One of the main Universities on the Gold coast that we are not taught the skills of how to complete a design drawing, and all the skills that you need to teach yourself ,that come with this sometimes very complex task, working with software like Photoshop, Illustrator and Indesign.

    It is also an increasing worry as a 2nd year Architecture student to know that once I get into the workforce i will have a satisfactory knowledge of what professionals are discussing and at points include my self in the discussion, but as a junior not have the basic skills to complete simple practice tasks in order to earn a living.

    I have realised that if i really want to increase my prospects in getting a job after leaving university I am going to have to enrol in seperate courses like Learning Archi- CAD to a point where I am useful in a practice environment.

    Is this a World Wide Problem ? As I have discussed these same problems with graduates from Architectural Degree’s in Universties in Germany, UK and Italy.

    It would be nice to get some clarification from the people that design how Architects are educated as to exactly what skills they think a student who has just completed a full degree should have…

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