Cass Projects (The Projects Office) provides a supportive, professional environment that allows students and staff to undertake consultancy commissions and research projects, as well as providing project management support to live projects carried out by students as part of their coursework.
Cass Projects was founded in 2004 as ASD Projects and is now a School-based unit directed by Anne Markey. Its success has evolved through the development of an approach, a methodology and range of outputs that together frame a research project in its own right.
Cass Projects has made a significant contribution to the live projects dimension of the School’s research profile. It has established a specific approach to the collaboration between pedagogy and research, and the professional aspect of practice. Its portfolio engages with complex issues relating to health, education, sustainability and culture.
Cass Projects is a RIBA-registered practice. Inspired by the Architecture Research Unit (ARU) led by Professors Florian Beigel and Philip Christou (the first such embedded architecture practice at the University) and some of the working methods of Architecture of Rapid Change and Scarce Resources under Professor Maurice Mitchell, it has a particular remit. In order to foster collaborative and participatory projects, it is positioned between the European professor-led research studio and the American model of Design-Build.
Cass Projects does not run a single design studio or specialist MA programme, nor is it a conventional architecture office: it has developed a way of doing live projects, that is, in real time with actual players producing concrete results in a professional framework whilst fully engaging the creative potential of teaching and research. Cass Projects both initiates live projects and responds to demand, whether from individuals or groups within the School or from external bodies, clients or user groups.
Writing the brief
What brings the three parts of the Cass Projects research method together is the process of brief-writing. Anne Markey formulates collaborative briefs that rework the conventional boundaries between expert and non-expert, insider and outsider, thus encouraging a more inclusive playing field and more empowered players. This has a bearing on the way problems, opportunities and initiatives are identified as well as how they are approached and resolved. This approach has similarities to the interactive brief writing techniques developed by Mark Brearley and the student-involving techniques developed in Architecture of Rapid Change and Scarce Resources' (ARCSR) work by Maurice Mitchell. It might be described as a model of sustained and embedded impact rather than approaching impact as a resultant.
Markey's approach shares a design-as-research orientation with Architecture Research Unit (ARU) but uses the professional structure of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) practice more explicitly and as an integral part of the method. A direct equivalence can be drawn between the discipline of research and the discipline of being professional in the case of live projects. For example, the discipline of professional status can be used to institute a working environment subject to contracts, ethical practice, performance criteria, health and safety and so forth. It creates the potential to build a critical bridge between pedagogy and practice. The disciplinary apparatus can thus work as equivalent to a conventional research environment, but one geared to embedding research within practice. A professionally enacted research project produces a different outcome to an outcome derived from applied research.
With the National Schools Ideas Project, this approach facilitated a collaboration between a number of Schools of Architecture around a common theme in order to develop a diversity of outcomes. This model of a collaborative brief has also been used to deliver a number of other projects described here such as the International Architecture Student Festival where the “players” have been international Schools of Architecture and local authorities and communities the beneficiaries.
Cass Projects portfolio
Projects Coordinator, Cass Projects
Teaching in 3D studio Harvest (Furniture and Product Design) with Peter Marigold and Christopher Emmett.
Zoë has been part of the teaching team for undergraduate-level architecture.
Zoë Berman is an architect who divides her time between practice, teaching and research.
Course leader of MA by Project and senior lecturer in Critical and Contextual Studies
Director of Cass Projects
Anne Markey has over twenty years experience of working as an architect at senior level.
Projects Co-ordinator, Cass Projects
At the Projects Office Jen is working with Architecture, Design and Fine Art studios to curate, instigate and develop community art and architecture projects for the office.
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