Director of the MA Architecture and Urbanism
Manchester Metropolitan University. School of Architecture. Manchester, UK
Eamonn Canniffe studied Architecture at Cambridge and Harvard Universities and held a Rome Scholarship in the Fine Arts at the British School at Rome. He is the author of ‘Urban Ethic: Design in the Contemporary City’ (Routledge 2006) and ‘The Politics of the Piazza: the history and meaning of the Italian square’ (Ashgate 2008). He has taught at the University of Manchester (1986-1998), University of Sheffield (1998-2006) and currently is a Principal Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University where he directs the MA Architecture and Urbanism.
The Master’s program led by Professor Canniffe at Manchester School of Architecture was rated 12th in our BAM Ranking 2019 of postgraduate programs of architecture around the world.
We hope you enjoy the interview that Prof. Canniffe kindly completed specially for the BAM platform.
Interview with Eamonn Canniffe for BAM.
1.- In your opinion, why is architecture education so important?
The best architecture schools encourage creativity in their students and this is a commodity of which the world needs more. Architectural education teaches the value of questioning the prescribed formula and using aesthetic and technical exploration to create innovative possibilities. In particular working in the urban context provides architects the broader understanding of issues such as climate change, social inequality and the protection of heritage which affect city dwellers worldwide. Architecture is the route into making those situations better.
2.- How do you see Architecture Academy in the future? What would you like to be different?
In my experience the Academy is too vulnerable to the winds of fashion, a product of successive generations defining their own career path in reaction to their predecessors. I would like to see more recognition of the importance of continuity in architectural education. The human need for habitat is an enduring basic issue which exposes the ephemeral quality of theoretical discourse. Positively addressing the serious threats to urban life through sustainable research and design, as we try to achieve in our course, would help ensure a relevant future for the academy.
“Architectural education teaches the value of questioning the prescribed formula and using aesthetic and technical exploration to create innovative possibilities”
3.- What are the main characteristics that a good architecture professor should have? Could you highlight the most relevant?
A good educator, in my view, is one who is eager to learn as much from the students as to share their own knowledge. He or she needs to be sympathetic in helping young professionals and researchers explore the possibilities of architecture to reimagine the built world. In the relationship between teacher and student both parties are helping form the career path of the student, sustaining them for future decades. Recognising this ongoing responsibility through the care with which you teach is, to me, the most relevant quality in a professor.
4.- Please describe the beginning of your professional/academic career within Manchester School of Architecture
Having recently graduated I was lucky to encounter Roger Stonehouse, the new head of the University of Manchester School of Architecture, who gave me my first teaching opportunity in 1986. I was soon working with other young professionals refreshing what the school had to offer to its students in the very difficult context of Thatcher’s Britain. We held on to the idea of the public benefits of architecture and when the Manchester School of Architecture emerged ten years later as a collaborative partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University we were very well placed to offer a large range of alternative visions of possible architectures for students to explore. I’m very proud to have helped facilitate that new school against many doubters, and gratified by its success. It was a thrilling experience of which I have fond memories.
“A good educator, in my view, is one who is eager to learn as much from the students as to share their own knowledge”
5.- What’s your academic vision at the MA Architecture and Urbanism at MSA?
Our academic vision in Manchester is to use the MA A+U as a laboratory for urban research exploring how issues around heritage, sustainability and social inequality might be remedied through design. Global inclusivity is key determinant of this vision, since national and even continental boundaries count for little against the urban challenges we all face. Learning as a group that specific issues in one location are part of a larger pattern worldwide is a fundamental experience of the course. In fulfilling this vision the students and I are fortunate to work with a diverse and talented group of tutors, researchers and professionals, who share this ambition.
6.- What do you value the most in architecture students?
During my career I have taught thousands of students so it is hard to summarise the value I discern. Instead, I experience a multitude of individual moments which build up like a kind of mosaic. I enjoy the energy with which students pursue their research and design. I enjoy the reciprocal learning that comes from the studio environment. I like to be surprised by what they produce or discover. I relish how they react when introduced to a new concept. I am proud to see their pride in what they have achieved in the course. I take pleasure in their success as graduates. I really value having friends all over the world.
7.- What would you like to highlight about the MA Architecture and Urbanism?
The MA A+U is a course where we’re ambitious to help the students achieve their goals in terms of research and design. The propositions the students develop are formed from a combination of their individual experience and knowledge and what they have learned as part of the collective. The structure is simple and flexible enough to accommodate traditional forms of drawn and written research and innovative methods as well. This level of opportunity being offered to the students to describe their own agenda supports their autonomy as creative individuals who can make a difference.
8.- Which advice would you give to someone who has just finished her/his postgraduate studies and wants to become a competitive professional in architecture?
Do not expect success to arrive straight away. Be patient and modest. There is a lot to learn outside the academy. Try and make sure you pursue your own creative potential outside your paid employment because it’ll give you a sense of purpose when times get tough. Architectural competitions are one route to follow. Don’t expect to win. It’s more a form of dialogue with your peers which helps in the evolution of architectural ideas and will eventually feed into the development of the built world. Enjoy what you do.
“Our academic vision in Manchester is to use the MA A+U as a laboratory for urban research exploring how issues around heritage, sustainability and social inequality might be remedied through design”
9.- What do you enjoy most about being the Director of the MA Architecture and Urbanism at MSA?
Every year I look forward to meeting a new cohort of students from very different places and seeing them cohere as a group. The excitement of learning from the students about new urban environments through their research, design and writing, is balanced with helping them see connections to parallel experiences and issues in other parts of the globe. Graduation is always a jolly occasion and I feel very proud about every success they go on to achieve as alumni in research and practice.
10.- Could you suggest another School of Architecture where you would like to teach? Tell us why.
As a native of Manchester I count myself lucky that I teach in my native city. As a student I was fortunate to study at both Cambridge and Harvard Universities which exposed me to very different environments for which I have an enduring affection. If I were to teach anywhere else it would preferably be Venice, challenged as it is by environmental threats but representing a profound legacy of how beautiful architecture and urbanism can be in the face of difficult circumstances.
“If I were to teach anywhere else it would preferably be Venice, challenged as it is by environmental threats but representing a profound legacy of how beautiful architecture and urbanism can be in the face of difficult circumstances”
The BAM Team appreciates the time that Professor Canniffe dedicated to complete our interview and we invite you to learn more about his professional work at the Manchester School of Architecture by visiting the following links.