Azara Blog: Cambridge University architecture department saved

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Date published: 2005/01/14

The BBC says:

Cambridge University's architecture department is to be saved following a vote by academics. Its future had been placed in doubt because of concerns that the quality of its research was not good enough.
Cambridge's general board voted unanimously to keep the department open, although six of its 17 academic staff must take early retirement.
A closure date of 2008 - when the last of the current students are due to finish their courses - was suggested.
However, the general board voted instead for a "new academic strategy", placing more of the department's focus on "sustainable design".
This change in policy, the university said, was the reason for the planned early retirements.

The problem was that the department was only ranked 4* (the top mark being 5*) in the last research assessment, which meant that central government had slashed the amount of funding. And unfortunately the university is not doing very well financially and so the bean counters wanted to close the department down. The turn around by the university is because of a well organised fight against the closure announcement, including a scathing letter to the Guardian by the top architects in the country (Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, etc.).

The department is spread across several rather ramshackle old buildings, which has probably not helped. It could do with a shiny new building, although that is unlikely to be forthcoming.

The new focus on "sustainable design" (there is supposed to be a new professor and lecturer in this subject area) is the kind of politically correct leaning one expects in this day and age. Hopefully it will mean scientific research (e.g. into passive solar heating, less water usage, etc.) rather than sociological ranting. Currently the department is paired with the Department of History of Art. The new focus might mean that the department will tilt more towards the Department of Engineering (which already has a small "Sustainable Development" group). Of course a large chunk of architecture (structural mechanics, heating, etc.) already overlaps with engineering as a discipline, although most architects seems to view themselves more as artists than as engineers.

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