Our MArch programmes are based around a series of thematic studios which develop out of the studio leaders’ own research interests.

Live Works

Our studios aim to consider design within the context of rigorous and innovative research. This implies that the product of the studio courses will extend beyond the comprehensive design of a building and into other areas such as consultation, historical analysis, technical innovation or cultural investigation.

See the studios in 2020-21

MArch Studios 2021-2022

Civic Delight

Studio lead:Kate Nicklin

We are interested in the interconnection between how buildings are made and how this could influence the architectural expression and tectonic character of design. We are interested in an architecture that is inseparably connected to place through its materiality and history. We will be looking closely at the relationship between structure, materiality and architectural language. We’re interested in architecture that reacts to the specifics of its context both physical and cultural, and which aims to provide social value by offering beauty and delight.

This year our focus will be on Sheffield city centre and exploring the idea of ‘the civic’, we will be looking at interventional repair of the city centre of Sheffield. We are interested in challenging established ideas of what a civic building is but also the architectural language that expresses its civic nature. At the core of the studio is an exploration of the connection between society held values and architectural expression.

The studio will explore broad ideas about ‘city-life’ and begin with Sheffield ‘City Centre’ as a study area. We will then shift the extent of our focus so that we can explore ideas at 1:1 and 1:20 thinking through making. The intention is that students will make proposals of a relatively small scale but thoroughly explored and developed. By this we imagine proposals will become focused on one or two city-scale buildings; this could be a new build or a re-use project or a combination of the two. Design work will begin in small groups where students will propose a focused collective masterplan looking at ‘civic repair’ and later, students will develop proposals that establish a renewed civic life.

Collaborative Production

Studio lead: Dan Jary

The prevailing economic model of speculation and market-driven growth is unable to address the urgent global challenges of climate change and social inequality. The industrial exploitation of resources, followed by disuse and abandonment, is no longer acceptable or feasible. The damaging consequences of this are nowhere more apparent than in the east of Sheffield, where the studio is located. How might an alternative economic model be realised, and what kind of built environment might it generate?  

The focus of our investigation will be Attercliffe, which forms part of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District (AMID). This links new forms of advanced manufacturing to existing centres of production, housing and education. The Studio will learn from and develop the work of the ‘Connecting AMID’ Live Project group and the mapping exercise carried out by Liveworks. This identifies Attercliffe as a potential Mobility Hub, connecting across the region via zero-carbon transport links and a network of active green corridors.  

Students will work collectively during the early stages of the project, sharing resources, ideas and approaches to develop a shared spatial and environmental strategy.  The opportunity exists for the reimagination of Attercliffe as an environmentally and socially sustainable urban  neighbourhood, bringing mixed tenure housing back to the area alongside new civic, social and cultural amenities.  

The climate emergency demands that we drastically reduce the consumption of energy and water in building construction and use.  The studio will look to maximise the use of existing buildings and infrastructure, drawing on the area’s historic character and industrial heritage.  The introduction of new green spaces and improved access to existing waterways will create spaces for social interaction whilst increasing biodiversity. 

Housing the Public

Studio lead: Jo Sharples

2020 was the hottest year on record. The UK signed the The Paris Agreement in 2015 to limit global warming to 1.5 °C compared to pre-industrial levels. Any increase beyond 1.5°C of global warming will cause natural tipping points to be set into motion and for the climate to change irreversibly. On current trends the world is likely to reach 1.5 °C in the next ten years and is heading for 3°C at best.

In order to stop further global warming we need to reach net carbon zero in the next decade. Our buildings have a huge role to play in this, 49% of UK’s carbon footprint is attributed to the built environment, our homes making up almost 20% of this total. To put this into context, we have the poorest performing housing stock in Europe, with the average home consuming the same amount of CO2 per year as eating two steaks everyday. With 80% of our existing buildings estimated to remain by 2050 and the retrofit of these buildings over the next 10 years is considered ‘the most significant issue in achieving carbon neutrality’ by UK Committee on Climate Change.

The studio focuses on the environmental upgrade and re-use of existing buildings for zero carbon living. The figures are startling and disturbing. The studio looks at the absurdity of where we are, how we got here, whether people realise the severity of this situation and what we can do about it. Perhaps most importantly how we propose inspiring alternatives for living collectively.

Manchester will be our city of study, the council has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2038, even faster than the UK target of 2050 yet is still building towering monoliths of concrete, steel and glass. Buildings constructed last year will need to be retrofitted in the next decade - why is this allowed to happen and do people realise? This year we’ll be working with film and modelling tools to disseminate our work and messages to the wider public whilst speculating on bold alternatives. The scale of retrofit required will have a dramatic impact what our towns and cities look like. How this might be done is an exciting design opportunity that we will continue to explore from a position of local distinctiveness and material frugality. We must propose better ways of living together that are more lucrative for people and planet.

Intergenerational Architecture

Studio lead: Satwinder Samra

We will investigate how we can design and evolve an appropriate architectural response for our current and future intergenerational demographic. This will include exploring environments for play, education, living and healthcare.

As healthcare and well -being has improved so as the ability to live longer. We shall explore the inevitable environments that exist for the young and the old and explore if these can be improved.

 As we move towards depleting energy supplies and decreasing capital we will endeavour to be resourceful in both our processes and outputs. We will aim to ensure that we develop a mutual and collective approach in all our work. This will encourage you to be mindful and reflective towards achieving a healthy and productive work/life balance.

We will build upon ideas developed in the Pleasure and Austerity studio, Ageing and Architecture studio and Intergenerational Architecture studio. Locations for your work will relate to one of the following: 1. Sites in Rotherham and/or Southwark London. 2. Sites within a 5-mile radius of where you are physically living. 3. Sites from the Historic England buildings at risk register. All of these will allow us to be contingent and responsive, capitalizing on existing knowledge (either your own or that of others).

  • We will realize that architectural speculation and production can co-exist.
  • We aim to develop multiple working methods that can expand the true spatial potential of your endeavours.
  • We shall be canny and agile in deciding how we work and what we focus on
  • We shall openly discuss why being original isn’t helpful.
  • We will realize that good ideas can only exist if they are shared and communicated.
  • We will view the technical through material and poetic engagement.
  • We will aim to enjoy the process of producing architecture of merit.

Invisible Cities

Cultures of Care 

Studio lead: Cith Skelcher

Studio Invisible Cities will this year be undertaking a critical exploration of ‘Culture’ in the context of the UK’s City of Culture 2021 - Coventry. 

From the latin cultura or colere ‘growing, tending’, Culture’s etymology suggests a nurturing, situated practice that can connect us to both our community and our natural environment.  Enlightenment thinking cast nature as an object of study and a force to be controlled and culture, through the mediums of art, custom, and language, became a powerful instrument of civilisation.

In his manifesto ‘Design after Design’, Jeremy Till describes the modernist project as a direct descendant of the enlightenment, ‘with its addiction to progress, growth and extraction, (being) the primary cause of the climate emergency’  and indeed the damaging and exploitative practices of colonisation. Against a backdrop of climate and cultural crises, Studio Invisible Cities will explore the restorative and redemptive possibilities of new, situated ‘Cultures of Care’ within Coventry.

Amongst the most devastated cities, post war Coventry adopted the modernist project in a relatively humane way; the recasting of its cathedral and its pattern of precincts with public art intermingled suggested a level of understanding of the negotiation between past and present; people and place. The ‘City of Culture’ status has provided Coventry with an opportunity to celebrate its identity but also to sell an image of itself to court investment. Whilst trading off the gritty glory of its brutalist fabric and vibrant and diverse community in its dazzling promos, the city is planning to use the huge sums of investment raised to flatten huge swathes of the post war city centre, replacing it with a deadening monoculture of generic retail and private residential apartments. 

So once the show has left town, what of its cultural legacy? 

Inspired by stories from the city, Studio IC will reveal hidden inequalities, cultural practices and latent ecologies within the city. Working within the complexity of the ‘real’ city and within a feminist ethics of care we will propose careful/ radical/ fantastical/ alternative ‘cultures of care’ for Coventry. 

Just Transitions

Studio lead: Howard Evans

The world is embarking on an unprecedented transition. To deliver on the global commitments enshrined in the Paris Agreement, the UK must achieve zero carbon emissions by the mid-2030s. Such a change will require the radical adaptation of both our energy system and the way we engage with energy as a society. Energy transitions have always been shaped by social, political and economic structures, and the transition ahead of us is as much a cultural transition as a physical one. 

As a studio will explore how the move from an extractive to a regenerative economy can be delivered in a way that ensures the benefits of climate action are shared widely and the costs do not unfairly burden those least able to pay, or whose livelihoods such as those working in the polluting industries that are at risk as the economy shifts and changes.

Following the discovery of oil reserves in the North Sea during the mid 20th Century Aberdeen developed rapidly into the centre of Europe’s petroleum industry bringing with it significant wealth and investment. Today the region is facing up to life after oil.  Its location, infrastructure and legacy of knowledge and skills in the energy sector mean the area is well placed to reposition itself as the Energy Capital of Europe.

Taking Aberdeen and the stretch of coastline up to Peterhead as our territory of focus the studio will explore and develop projects that place social and ecological justice at the heart of a just transition to a decarbonised future. 

Landscape + Urbanism

Studio lead: Howard Evans

25.8 Million Hectares of tree cover were lost in 2020 through a combination of deforestation and forest fires.  There has been a 10% decrease in tree cover since 2000, equivalent to 165GT of CO2 emissions. Deforestation has now returned to pre-pandemic levels, making it the highest rate of loss of tree coverage since records began. The UK, at 13%, has one of the lowest percentages of national tree coverage in Europe .  

Set alongside this landscape context is the urgent need to reduce the carbon footprint of the construction industry.  The use of timber in construction is seen as a key strategy to reaching carbon zero.  Mass adoption of timber construction in the UK faces a myriad of challenges, from the sourcing of most UK construction timber from global sources to the fear of fire, driven by changes in culture following high profile disasters such as Grenfell.

The studio will explore the cultural and historical legacy of our relationship with timber construction.  We will be exploring the woodland network of the National Forest, an area of open woodland in the centre of the UK, stretching from Burton on Trent to Nottingham and Leicester.  We will explore the impact of climate change and the challenge of planting sufficient trees.  We will challenge the orthodoxy that timber construction is the only way to reach zero carbon.

The resultant projects will create briefs that will be wide ranging but may have a focus on the development of operative communities and how they in turn develop support networks for health and wellbeing, learning, working and living.

(re)-Activist Architecture

Divided Cities 

Studio lead: Simon Baker

Britain leaving the European Union is one of the most seismic political events in the last decade. It marked the first time any nation had decided to leave the European alliance. Nationhood and autonomy are issues that transcend the United Kingdom. Many areas of Europe have strong secessionist and Pro-independence movements wanting to redraw political borders of control and autonomy. There are over two hundred and eighty active separatist movements.

This year the studio will be based on the Isle of Man. 

The Isle of Man is one of the British Isles, located in the Irish Sea off the northwest coast of England. The island lies roughly equidistant between England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. It is not part of the United Kingdom however it is a crown possession under the supervision of the British Home Office, where The United Kingdom Government is responsible for the defence and international relations of the Island. 

The studio will adopt the scenario that the Isle of Man, revokes British crown dependency and successfully secures national independence as a sovereign state, based on a republican form of government with the aim to further and safeguard the interests of Man and to protect the individual and collective rights of its people.
Students will explore this new speculative future, to actively and aggressively tackle real issues of population decline, migration, reduced birth rates, as well education, trade, employment and energy security.
We will investigate and project possibilities that could emerge from the islands unique position on Brexit’s new customs boarder defining new global relationships by returning to a historic position of free trade and “smuggling”. 

Our position will be informed by key texts; 

Keller Easterling; extrastatecraft…..the free zone phenomena - incentivised urbanism; headquartering and sheltering for global power players as well as; Alastair Bonnett; off the map – ferrel places and what they tell us about the world.

The studio; adopts the spatial participatory practices of the situationist international; the derive and Constructed situation to explore specific places and identify different and diverse user groups.  With the “voices” of Manx islanders, the students will define active architectural structures of separatism to identify new speculative futures.  We will explore different possibilities of what it could mean to be independent.


Resilient Futures

Sarajevo 1992-2050; A Laboratory for Resilience against Global Crises

Studio lead: Lucy Dinnen

It is 29 years since the start of the Siege of Sarajevo, and 29 years until 2050, a notional idea of ‘future’ and the EU’s climate neutral deadline.
Sarajevo is our starting point again this year; learning from the extraordinary civilian lead resistance in The Siege (1992-1996).  We will investigate how ordinary civilians and architects overcame scarcity by inventing and up-cycling resourceful, transient, covert and often surreal tools, architectural interventions and urban infrastructures for survival. 
We will create and imagine new architectures of resilience against the local and global crises facing the City today, as well as predicting future crises and trends: political division, global warming, water shortage, waste mountains, air pollution, flooding, unregulated development, social injustice, erasure of public space and Covid-19. 
We will draw Sarajevo in relation to its current and future environmental and social crises.  Developing individual and collaborative propositions through collage, drawing, and modelling, to create an ‘Exquisite Corpse’ of diverse propositions, allowing space for multiple visions of resilient futures to co-exist.

 Throughout the year we will work at various scales; from the ‘Device’ to Buildings and the City, in both past and future. Each student will explore their own personal interests, and techniques of drawing and modelling. Inventing ad-hoc visionary devices, either drawn or made, as manifestos for resilience. Using speculative drawing games and narratives; imagining futures in which to site our projects. Real, fictional or semi-fictional. 
As agents we will have a Residency in the City.  We will engage in a hyper-state of being both in Sarajevo, and in Sheffield. Developing and using the Studios growing digital archive and website for our collective and individual explorations. We will use our energy and opportunity in the pandemic as architect activists to be a presence in the City. 

Sacred Landscapes

Studio lead: Jacquie Milham

This studio will be set in Northumberland. The site is an area of 15 miles by 5 miles that links the Island of Lindisfarne to the Cheviot Hills.

There is a steep sandstone ridge that crosses the site. When you stand on top of this ridge you can look east to see flat lands, sand dunes, sea, and the causeway that leads through the National Nature Reserve to Lindisfarne. If you look west it is across a wide and fertile agricultural valley that is enclosed by the Cheviot Hills and Northumberland National Park.

We will begin by working with an ecologist, a sculptor and a quilt maker to learn how each measure and observe biodiversity within this landscape, to see how they are inspired by it and what effect this has on their work. We will each make a tool to frame and record our own observations and question how this might inspire us in our work.

In this time of climate emergency, we need to re-establish our respect for the natural world, re-evaluate how we live within it and change practices which are viewed as ‘normal’ to become those which are ‘optimal.’

The aim of this studio is to find means to optimise our relationship with the rich resources of this particular landscape. You will propose strategies for change that will have a positive impact upon this environment and the people who live within it. You will then develop the design of a pivotal building which embodies and enables aspects of your strategy for change.

The expectation is that your design thesis will manifest an innovative approach to sustainable, ecological design within the development of its brief, the materials from which you propose it should be constructed and the way in which it relates to its surrounding landscape.

Studio In Process

Studio lead: Lettice Drake

Studio In Process focuses on how we produce our built environment. Can that process be a culture-producing, community-generating exercise in itself? Can we, as architects, have a great time? In focusing on the how, this studio invites you to imagine and advocate for your dream way of practicing creatively as an architect, as an agent in the world. 

You will be asked to take the lead on outlining and determining the themes of your research, programme and site – the who, what where and why. What we will focus on and explore together as a studio, across a range of independent projects, is the how - how your designs could be developed and realised in greater detail, be that driven by an interest in collaborative design methods, in community activism, in material sourcing, in generating projects, in project-management, in self-build processes or in construction methods more broadly. 

The richness of final designs will come from a solid and vivid understanding of how the architecture will come to be, and outlining those processes will form a key part of your final proposal. 

As a studio we will explore and reflect on methods of working supportively and collaboratively across the different tangents of our projects.  

Alongside speculative projects, the structure of the studio aims to support any students who have live projects they would like to develop through their masters thesis.  
We will explore precedents of designers and artists acting as community-project- generators – as collaborators, as builders. 

We will explore low-embodied energy materials and construction methods, talking to builders, hearing their experiences of working with these materials. We will consider well-being along the production line, reflecting on the working cultures of construction workers and architectural workers, and how those worlds relate to each other. Beyond "decent working conditions", can our processes creatively, experimentally, demonstrate and advocate for the type of the world we want to live in?

Studio Waste

Studio lead: Mark Parsons

We are realising that we are gradually being poisoned and overwhelmed by the environmental effects of our discarded objects, whilst at the same running out of the raw materials required to create new ones. The extraction of raw materials, and the disposal of waste are often highly exploitative and dangerous processes that disproportionately affect the poor, and in many cases effectively continue colonial practices.

We will explore the concept of waste (and value) through a series of lenses from the idea of buildings as repositories of materials, catalogued for re-use with material passports, to the memories and stories associated with fragments and the transferal of meaning.

We will test what can be calculated and quantified, and where these values are more intangible – for example in the Roman era, the practice of re-using of architectural fragments (known as spolia) was in part driven by a scarcity of resources, but also conferred the meaning and prestige associated with them on new buildings.

Our sites will be in Sheffield in Beighton and Gleadless - both sites with council tips, with the former being disused mining and but a historic landfill site, and the latter having an ancient woodland and a seminal housing estate, now falling into disrepair (and recently the focus of a master planning exercise carried out by URBED and commissioned by Sheffield City Council).

The studio will initially examine waste through mapping resource flows in the Sheffield City Region, exploring this on a range of scales from building demolition and refuse collection to fly tipping and the household.

We will explore barriers to re-use, cycles of growth and decay, principles of circularity and what this means for buildings and space. We will use the studio as place to explore our own practices, and collectively explore the approaches of others, looking at frameworks such as circularity and cradle-to-cradle thinking and working in an interdisciplinary way with artists, engineers and activists.

Urban Ecologies 

Studio lead: Wai Piu Wong

The Rewild movement has been gaining traction in recent years following the rapid decline in flora, fauna and insects, and cities are becoming increasingly attractive territories for animals and plants. Through regenerative design practices we will explore the possibility of human and non-human co-inhabitation in urban environments.

Our area of study will focus on an area along the banks of the River Thames. Founded by Henry VIII, old Deptford Royal Dockyards is a palimpsest of how London has developed to serve its inhabitants. Today, the site includes parts of Evelyn Ward as well as two neighbouring sites important to our research, The Pepys Estate and Convoys Wharf.

Evelyn Ward is named in recognition of resident John Evelyn author of ‘Sylva, A Discourse of Forest Trees,’ at his home and gardens at nearby Sayes Court, and where the word ‘sustainability’ was first coined in 1664.

The Pepys Estate, constructed for ‘the peaceful enjoyment and well-being of Londoners,’ sits on the former Naval victualling yard. Completed in 1973, it combined some of the most advanced and innovative design principles of the day. The GLC believed ‘It would be, from the outset, a community – a cradle to grave exemplar of welfare state ideals.’ We will engage with the residents of the Pepys Estate to see if these early ideals still hold true.

Convoys Wharf is a 16.6ha brownfield which controversially received planning permission in 2014 to create a £1billion high-rise development. Local campaign groups have organised themselves to protest the development, believing the masterplan does not serve the needs of local residents nor adequately address the housing crisis.

Working with communities on the edges of Convoys Wharf we will take a critical look at the developers’ masterplan and make speculative proposals for the site and at the edges to find ways to increase biodiversity and develop tools for creating symbiotic relationships between natural and human-built systems.