School of Speculation


Traditional universities push an increasing financially pressurised service, backed by a private sector hungry for work-ready graduates. A cash-strapped state, eager to promote its world-leading economy pushes a neo-liberal economic agenda slowly reducing its commitment to ‘self-developing’ higher education courses.

In certain BAME cases the percentage of participation is behind HE general attendance by up to 14% – AccessHE report, Dr Nienke Alberts & Dr Graeme Atherton 2016.

Often perceived as having poorer career prospects, the well-rounded advantages an Art education can offer is failing to reach BAME, working-class students and their families. In the past decade this has seen universities push a vocational style education, reinforcing STEM subjects and ties to industry – narrowing the intellectual scope of education. The UK is entering a crisis in the creative arts resulting in limiting the pool of talent for creative disciplines at a time when the UK brands itself as a creative industry world-leader.

Yearly state funding in the arts has decreased £100million since 2011 – Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government 2018.

SOS is a nomadic school founded on two beliefs; architecture should challenge societal status quo; architectural education is far too expensive. For over a decade architecture has failed to critique the socio-economic systems it operates within and for too long the Arts has remained a preserve of the elite.

Since 2011 the percentage of students taking a subject in the Arts at A-level has never exceeded 14% – Ofqual 2016.

Set up to counter a trend in providing highly specialised technical graduates, our mission is a belief in the benefit of a rounded education in the arts that promotes self-evaluation and leadership. Bringing together cutting-edge practitioners in leading cultural institutions, SOS aims to bring the most contemporary debate to students with real ambition to shape the future.

SOS brings together educators and experts on the edge of their fields who are pushing the remit of traditional design thought. For the 2019 summer school SOS has invited a mix of recent graduates, accomplished practitioners, teachers and academics to deliver a course that balances experience, multiple perspectives, youthful dynamism and radical thought.

Guest Speakers: ASSEMBLEJack SelfDaisy GinsbergJohn WalterExtrapolation Factory 

Workshop Coordinators: (Ab)Normal StoryThe Rodina

Partners: Design MuseumSouth London Gallery, & Anise Gallery

*Applications for The School of Speculation close on Friday 24th May

Ollie Hammick Clore Studio. Photo Andy Stagg
Ollie Hammick Clore Studio. Photo Andy Stagg
Fox Garden. Photo Andy Stagg.
Fox Garden. Photo Andy Stagg.


What prompted the idea of SOS? How did this transform from an idea into a reality?

SOS is a response to the worsening crises in UK Arts education. The UK Government has removed Art and Design from its ‘Core’ subjects at secondary school level and university tuition fees continue to rise prohibitively. The UK has portrayed itself to be an international home for the creative industries whilst creating an elitist and hostile educational environment, we see this as a major problem.

SOS has 3 key missions:
1. Design and Architecture should interrogate, confront and challenge the status quo.
2. Design and Architectural education must be free to achieve accessibility.
3. An alternative to the higher educational model must be found.

Where do you see the project developing?

We want SOS to become something between an artists’ residency and a fully fledged school of design, allowing students the freedom of space whilst retaining a core of lectures and tutorage from cutting edge practitioners across disciplines. This will expand into longer and multiple courses.

Beyond the space of the school, SOS is also about bringing together students, practitioners, teachers and artists who want to try and do things a little differently. We stand by critical design as a methodology that allows students to test their social, economic and political design principles. We are running a number of workshops at UK universities and internationally that aim to democratise a critical design approach as well as form a network of like-minded artists and designers.

How have your experiences within the realms of architecture and design helped shape the project?

We have both worked for some incredible architectural practices and have learnt so much from our experiences as architectural assistants to talented designers. The university system supports those looking for a traditional workplace experience like ours but we see so little support for those looking to test their discipline through research, related spatial practice, artworks or interdisciplinary design.

We want to buck the trend in providing vocational based education for designers and architects, we don’t want to provide an educational platform that reinforces the tried and tested, we want students to think about how to do things differently.

The Oxbridge Fibre-Orbital - A View From the Skies by Pierre Shaw.
The Oxbridge Fibre-Orbital - A View From the Skies by Pierre Shaw.

How and to what extent is the realm of academia key for research and innovation within the architectural realm?

Academia is as vital for the architectural realm as practical application. They must exist in unison. This is what drives our mission to provide an educational space that compliments the rising tide of vocational and technical education in higher education; SOS is an alternative remedy.

What informed the choice of brief for this first edition? is this a theme you want to continue developing through other mediums and formats?

SOS_19 is our inaugural summer school hosted by the Design Museum, the South London Gallery and Anise Gallery this July/August. This year we’ve chosen to explore the underrepresented effects of digital platforms on our cities. Hidden networks of information that carry the threads of social and financial contracts reveal a new kind of high-speed international or ‘extra’-national politics that are now beginning to reshape our cities.

We are really interested in using SOS_19 as a springboard into a continued and further developed line of research.

Decontextualising Recontextualising Dagenham III - Oh A3 by Ryan Cook.
Decontextualising Recontextualising Dagenham III - Oh A3 by Ryan Cook.

What is your relationship to digital platforms as the ones you will chose to investigate?

We are particularly interested in exploring how the city or new city has emerged since the advent of the digital platform. How far do platforms reach into the private and domestic realm? And, what is the future of our relationships to one another personally and spatially? We come at this at an extremely positive angle and are incredibly excited by the potential of these platforms to change how we live but remain critical of their application. How might the individual safely navigate a future built environment shaped by the efficiencies of the home delivery sector for example?

Building Without Bias - An Architectural Language for the Post-Binary by Hannah Rozenberg.
Building Without Bias - An Architectural Language for the Post-Binary by Hannah Rozenberg.

What do you define as digital platforms?

We are fascinated by the speed in which digital platforms have taken over economic and social realm. The past few years have revealed new international power structures that evade and manipulate national sovereign jurisdiction. The difference between these and say, transnational companies is that they can are not physical assets and operate in the immediate, able to quickly adapt by their constant use of personal and public information.

The digital platform has heralded what Benjamin Bratton calls an age of ‘globalised computational politics’.

How would you say physical architecture has changed and will continue to change in relationship to the realm of the digital?

One example we like to describe as ‘extruded urbanism’, demonstrates how the digital is having real affects on how our cities are changing. Many post-industrial cities looked to the ‘industrial estate’ to help support local industry after changes in the national economy to more service oriented markets. These enclaved areas of urbanism focused energy into small and medium sized businesses and light industry, including distribution.

These areas are now rapidly in decline as companies relying on digital sales opt for centralising distribution and manufacture to large clusters of enormous warehouses that form a necklace in-between our cities. From here, business can make production more efficient whilst creating a non-stop service optimised by the internet, all along transport links and motorways.

What is the importance of the drawing in developing an architectural discourse and as testament to this?

Drawing has always been fundamental to design. It is essential communication between the designer and the world and with it we can tell stories about how we see the world. They are supposed to be evocative and induce emotion, this is where they are the most powerful. But, it is also a research tool and we believe that drawing can help tease out a line of enquiry. We also believe that a our new contemporary condition requires new modes of representation. For example, can we create a illustrative methodology (akin to the plan) which can spaitalise the digital?

The Oxbridge Fibre-Orbital by Pierre Shaw
The Oxbridge Fibre-Orbital by Pierre Shaw

How critical is narrative in the unfolding of an architectural discourse?

With SOS_19 we are asking students to partake in a world-building exercise involving the performance and inhabitation of a narrative fiction of the future. These won’t be fanciful and will challenge today’s preconceived norms, remaining critically engaged with their subject. We will inhabit our worlds with design and architecture that guides an audience to a question how we live. We will speculate on futures that extrapolate today’s reliance on apps to socialise, predict and make choices.

Decontextualising Recontextualising Dagenham I - Oh A3 by Ryan Cook.
Decontextualising Recontextualising Dagenham I - Oh A3 by Ryan Cook.
Decontextualising Recontextualising Dagenham II - Oh A3 by Ryan Cook.
Decontextualising Recontextualising Dagenham II - Oh A3 by Ryan Cook.

What is your take on the format of the exhibition as means through which the project will be presented to a greater audience?

SOS_19 students will exhibit their work at the South London Gallery for a one week show from Saturday 10th August. This will be a window into the worlds created by 2 weeks of research and critical debate and is so important as this is where ideas are tested. It’s in the gallery space that the research confronts reality.

What is for you the architects most important tool?

Architects must negotiate between themselves and the other at every turn, equipping them with a unique sensitivity to perspective and argument. Our most powerful tool is our ability to think and synthesise; to act at the edge between politics, economics, technology, space and society and enact change.