Unit system sparks post-graduate interest in architecture

17 August 2015 | Story by Newsroom
Professor Lesley Lokko.
Professor Lesley Lokko.

"I'm tired of Europe's hand-me-downs. If we're going to mimic, let's rather cut and paste. Let's take what works, throw out what doesn't and fashion our own."

This was the view of Professor Lesley Lokko, a speaker at UCT's School of Architecture's Space and Transformation lecture series on the topic of curriculum change.

Lokko is the convenor of the graduate programme in architecture at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) which has seen a jump in enrolments since adopting the famous unit system of architectural education, first initiated at the Architectural Association in London in the 1970s.

"This famous teaching system organises students into units or design studios with the object of working on a year-long project. At the outset, unit leaders pitch their studios and interests to students, who then rank the units in order of preference. The leaders, in turn, interview the students and rank them, before students and units are matched up for the year."

Lokko calls it a "brutal system that works" and says it appears to have attracted an increased number of students applying for postgraduate architectural degrees. UJ currently has three such units for postgraduate students with hopes to expand to five in 2016.

"In 2014, when I joined UJ, we had 12 students in the master's programme. At the start of this year, with the announcement that we're going to the unit system, we jumped from 12 to 52. Next year, we have over 100 applications for 36 places, which will take us to 75 students."

Story by Abigail Calata. Photo supplied.

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