Architects attack research chiefs

August 21, 1998

HEADS of schools of architecture fear the new Arts and Humanities Research Board is placing the discipline "out on a limb" because of the way it has chosen to categorise the subject, writes Kam Patel.

In a letter to the AHRB, David Dunster, chairman of the Standing Conference of Heads of Schools of Architecture, says the board has decided to adopt categories, established by the most recent research assessment exercise, which do not account for interdisciplinary work in the field.

Professor Dunster says that in the last RAE, which resulted in about a dozen schools being rated as either 4 or 5, architecture was put into two "simplistic" categories. One, the "built environment", covered architecture, surveying, building, building engineering and building science. "This seemed anomalous because the assessment panel tended to be more impressed with research funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and less with research in either history of architecture, theory of architecture or architecture itself," says the letter.

The other RAE category, called the history of art, architecture and design, also fails to take sufficient account of interdisciplinary research, says Professor Dunster. Topics covered by this kind of research include the interplay between cities, buildings, history and economic forces; problems of gender and ethnicity in architecture; the legal and political relationship between buildings and municipal services; and architecture and the environment.

Professor Dunster says the 36 schools of architecture represented by SCHOSA welcome the formation of the AHRB but are concerned that the board has opted to take over a categorisation of architecture "that does not do justice to the rich variety of blue-skies research in the field".

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