Archipreneur Interview: Will Hunter, Architect & University Founder

Published on August 18, 2015 | by Archipreneur
Welcome back to “Archipreneur Insights”, the interview series at with people who do creative and uncommon work and projects within the architectural community. The series highlights people who have an architectural degree but have since followed an entrepreneurial or alternative career path in the field.

This week’s interview is with Will Hunter, Founder and Director of the new London School of Architecture (LSA), which proposes a different type of educational enterprise. The LSA wants to make architectural education more affordable, with emphasis on ‘real world practice’ and preparing talented graduates for tackling the vast changes that the architectural profession is currently undergoing.

Here are Will’s thoughts on architectural education, alternative routes for architectural professionals and the future of the profession.

I hope you enjoy the interview!

What made you decide to found the LSA? Was there a particular moment that sealed the decision for you?

The original idea came in 2012 when the tuition fees cap in England was raised to £9,000 per year. I was worried about the effect this would have on access to architectural education. A group of like-minded collaborators and I started to explore different financial and pedagogic models for educating architects. Ultimately we sought to forge a new relationship between practice and academia to enhance both.

Could you tell us about the LSA’s approach to architectural education? What do you want to do differently, compared to more the traditional architectural education courses out there?

We’re offering a two-year post-graduate programme in partnership with London Metropolitan University and 50 architecture practices based in the capital city.

A lot of courses that have a practice component deliver it as a block – so a year in practice, then a year in the school. In our course, they run continuously, so first-year students spend three-days per week in practice and two days per week with the school. The students earn a minimum of £12,000 for their three days in practice, and this covers both years’ tuition fees, which are £6,000 per annum, so it’s effectively cost-neutral to study with us.

One of the main innovations of the school are the “Design Think Tanks”, where groups of practices and students collaborate for six months on a piece of speculative design/research around a shared agenda. The themes for this year are extremely varied, from “unstable cities” to “new knowledge”, and I’m super excited to see how these evolve.

We don’t have our own building but use the city as our campus. In the first year, the Design Museum in Shad Thames is our main spatial partner, where lectures and crits will be held. And our new HQ is at Second Home, the extremely cool new workplace for entrepreneurs and creative businesses designed by Spanish Practice Selgas Cano.

In the second year, all the students will be with the LSA full time, and we’ll be renting a studio for them. Their thesis projects will all be based in London. Instead of it being taught using a unit system – where students sign up to a particular direction set by the tutors – our students must develop in the first year a clear critical trajectory for their second year that is individual to them.

You also launched the research group “Alternative Routes for Architecture” (ARFA) to explore different models for architectural education. Could you tell us about the research of that think tank?

ARFA emerged out of an article I wrote in The Architectural Review. Perhaps a dozen people were involved, most of whom are faculty today. In a way, it was a slightly defective think tank in that it didn’t produce a single publication. Instead it morphed into the school.

At one of our meetings [Professor] Nigel Coates (Nigel Coates Studio) said he didn’t like the name ARFA and Deborah Saunt (DSDHA) came up with the London School of Architecture. Naming the project really helped – it turned it into something real we could all work towards.

LSA students
Some of the 30 students who will start at the LSA this October © Emma Gibney

One of the LSA’s P.R.I.M.E. values is to be “Entrepreneurial”. What are your thoughts on combining architecture and entrepreneurship?

The barrier to studying architecture is not just the high tuition fees but the subsequent low salary expectations – people pay a hundred grand for an MBA because they know they’ll earn a million back. I think one of the agendas of the school is not only to explore how you design buildings, but how you design a practice too.

We’ve constructed the school’s Practice Network to bring in a wide range of contributors on this. On the one hand, five of our practices – Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, Allies and Morrison, Grimshaw, Scott Brownrigg and Aukett Swanke – are in the top 20 biggest practices in the UK, and bring huge insight into how you grow and maintain a successful enterprise and innovate at scale.

On the other hand, some of our smaller practices are acting in really interesting and entrepreneurial ways – SUSD is operating as a creative development consultancy to connect architecture, communities and development, for example, while Studio Octopi has just financed its design for a floating swimming pool in the River Thames through crowd-funding.

As a school we are definitely interested in articulating the value architects bring to our core competency – the design of space – while also exploring adjacent territories where our creative skills can have an impact.

Do you have any advice for architecture students who want to prepare for the rapidly changing architectural profession?

A good place to start would be to read two new books – The Future of the Professions by Richard Susskind and Daniel Susskind and Open Source Architecture by Carlo Ratti and Matthew Claudel – both of which discuss the challenges and opportunities for the profession, particularly in relationship to technology and society. And I’d strongly recommend reading Peter Buchanan’s series of essay The Big Rethink – unmissable.

How do you see the future of architecture? In which areas (outside of traditional practice) can you see major opportunities for up and coming architects?

“Traditional practice” is too big a terrain to concede and I’d really like to see that as one of the biggest opportunities for up-and-coming architects. It is imperative that we retain – and enhance – our position in the design of the built environment.

Put at its simplest, our discipline is the one most capable of synthesising complex forms of information into beautiful and functional spaces and places.

Architects have a huge contribution to make to the world in the 21st century – particularly in shaping how we can live sustainably and happily within ever-denser cities and within the Earth’s resources. I hope the London School of Architecture produces work at the forefront of these debates.

About Will Hunter

Will trained as an architect at the Bartlett, University College London and at the Royal College of Art. After five years at The Architectural Review, he stepped down as executive editor in February 2015 to focus on setting up the LSA.

Will has contributed to many titles including Wallpaper*, Blueprint and the Financial Times, and has previously been editor of the monthly magazines of The Architects’ Journal and Building Design.

He has taught architecture at both London Metropolitan University and the Royal College of Art, at the latter as a design unit master and chair of the architecture school’s public lecture programme. He has judged numerous competitions, including the Global Architecture Graduate Awards (which he founded) and the RIBA President’s Medals dissertation prize.

Will was the creative director for the RIBA conference Guerilla Tactics 2014 and is currently editing a monograph on Peter Salter’s Walmer Yard housing project in west London (AA Publications).

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