Humanities in year 3 presents a series of electives. These allow students to develop advanced skills in architectural research, following their own interests, and engaging directly with current research from our world-leading team of lecturers at MSA.

BA3 Electives

Architectures of Authority

This course is interested in the ways in which architecture and the built environment are embedded in power relations but also contribute to the production and distribution of power. Monumental buildings such as cathedrals, parliament buildings, and skyscrapers offer clear examples of the ways in which cities can be configured by powerful actors, institutions, or corporations. Yet architecture is not only reflective of power but constitutive of it. This is perhaps demonstrated most famously through the work of Michel Foucault. Foucault’s (1979) Discipline and Punish, charts the emergence of the panoptical prison as an architectural technology of discipline and its influence on tactics of surveillance witnessed throughout a wide variety of institutions across modern society.

Throughout the course we explored authority and architecture through a number of examples of historical and contemporary building typologies including the prison, the fortress, the asylum, the school, the workshop and the architectural icon. Through a range of readings from a variety of research fields, the course developed understandings of various types of power, working through different scales, and different mechanisms and the differing ways through which architecture and design facilitate and produce these different power mechanisms.


Architectures of Inequality

Cities are often marked by the impact of rapid socio-spatial transformation. Socioeconomic, environmental and cultural transitions frequently result in socio-spatial fragmentation. Urban planning, architecture and design are often implicated. In this course, we are concerned with the production and maintenance of urban borderlands as the spaces of spatio-temporal in-betweenness signifying difference and inequality: the physical spaces in-between differently characterized fragments of the city that may exist only for a short time as the city ‘develops’ and transforms, or the physical spaces in-between such fragments that remain permanently to remind us of the differences that produced them. We are particularly interested in the role that architectural, planning or design practices play in the (re)production of such spaces across time and space.

We embrace definitions of inequality along the lines of, for instance, spatial, social, economic, educational or infrastructural. We explore difference in the city and its material manifestations in different geographical contexts, including explorations of London, Sofia, Shanghai and – of course - Manchester. The aim is to develop an understanding of the politics of difference and inequality across a number of scales, ranging from that of the individual to that of the nation-state.


Slow Time in Creative Processes

This course invites students to deepen the concept of slow time, and its relationship with creative processes. In current architectural debates, the concept of acceleration is becoming more and more present. Topics like transformation, speed, connectivity and [fast] production seem to invade our architectural practice, in addition to our lives, framing the ways we build, but also the methods we use to judge and create architecture. We cannot (and we probably do not want) to escape from contemporary means of production. However, there is evidence of the importance of finding “another time”, a time of different quality, that appears to be essential in the design process.

Time is a slippery concept that eludes a clear definition. We try to wander around the topic, in a spiral approach that looks into the centre from different perspectives, using a few concepts: travel, walking, contemplation and desire. These methods are tackled in a very broad way, but the methodology proves to be rich and quite consistent, as we explore these methods, the plot thickens, and many cultural references arise. Using an interdisciplinary approach, linked to literature, music, philosophy, and fine arts, we also explore in depth associated concepts with an architectural case-study.


User-centred Design

In our modern, capitalist society, architects rarely have the opportunity to engage with those who will occupy their buildings. Architects’ clients are often building contractors, speculative developers or public bodies, rather than individuals who will inhabit the completed buildings. This can make it difficult for architects to understand building users’ needs and aspirations. This elective lecture course explored strategies for understanding the spatial requirements of unknown users, who might differ from the architect in terms of age, gender, class and ethnicity. These strategies were set in historical context, and the strengths and weaknesses of each approach examined.


Social Architectures in South America

The means of manifesting urban dissent and the repertoire of tactics used to circumvent the physical and social traits of pervasive forms of urban inequality are rapidly changing. As urban processes enforce greater influence on the articulation of global commercial and financial flows (Brenner, 2017), a growing number of urban collectives are relying on spatial interventions to defy expulsive and fragmentary market-driven territorial dynamics. Architecture and the moment of construction have acquired a distinct political dimension.

This course focused on the emergence of a new wave of social and political architecture in South America. Looking at different actors, from social movements to official planning agencies, NGOs, and architectural collectives, we examine what is distinct about these material manifestations: how they are organised, financed, and what spatial programs they seek to instantiate. We address the impact of auto-construction, social urbanism, and the struggles surrounding the right to the city and the production of popular infrastructures in South American architecture. The sessions put an emphasis on examining and isolating devices, infrastructures, and visual platforms deployed by architecture groups to instantiate — in the present and on the margins of institutional representative structures — material interventions governed by solidarity and collaboration. From autonomous schools and community kitchens on the outskirts of Rosario to cultural centres in conflictive neighbourhoods in Caracas; from women-led self-build initiatives in Belo Horizonte to alternative conservation policies in the historic quarter of Quito and public libraries in Medellín: the moment of construction is allowing architectural collectives to prefigure other ways of producing the city.


Architecture in the Age of Acceleration

This course considers the systemic challenges posed by the continued climate crisis, rapid urbanisation and globalisation, as well as the threat of collapsing eco-systems as the starting point for theoretical reflection on architectural design today. Instead of searching for answers outside the discipline, it stays as close as possible to architecture itself. In other words, an underlying point of this course is the conviction that the discipline already offers a rich field of knowledge on which to build possible answers to the current crises.

The course investigates six strategies - Territoriality, Regionalism, Participation, Transformation, Commonality, and The permanence of form - looking at their historical roots in the postmodern period and projecting their applicability all the way into our contemporary era, encouraging students to uncover both historical continuities and new possible directions. Each strategy is anchored in a key text of the period (1961-1992) and will testify to the political and social contexts in which architects have started to challenge their role under the conditions of modernity. The changed perspective on fundamental aspects of technology and culture which is the result of a growing acknowledgment of the finite nature of global resources is also reflected in the rediscovery and rereading of authors. These texts are analysed, situated and most importantly debated with the students, in relation to current architectural practices. Therefore, going beyond mere critical re-readings of the recent past, this course proposes to open up a discussion on the relevance of these strategies for today’s practice vis-à-vis conditions of acceleration.


Ocean as Archive

This elective focuses on architectural and urban relationships to oceans, seas, rivers and various other bodies of water. Drawing on the wider framework of oceanic humanities, in this course we ask how centring seas, oceans, estuaries and rivers, among other bodies of water, might open up new approaches, questions and perspectives on how we study, understand and ultimately design. Oceanic viewpoints ask us to look beyond points of origin, drawing on Edouard Glissant, to archipelagic and entangled relationships across time and space, surface and depth. Movement across water has been key to trade and commerce, resulting in risky, fruitful and dangerous encounters: from the oceanic catastrophes of the Atlantic slave trade to early global empires in the Swahili seas. Urban waterways have been tools of extraction and sites of leisure. Managing floodplains, land reclamation initiatives, and the construction of dams, ports and canals have been central to modernisation and development projects globally. In our current context, thinking with water raises urgent questions around devastating floods, creeping sea-level rise, and the increasing vulnerability of coastal communities.

This elective looks at a range of urban and architectural sites globally including the port cities of Cape Town, Mumbai, Zanzibar, Buenaventura, Dakar, Liverpool, Hong Kong, and New Orleans and associated archival imaginaries, which centre watery perspectives. We ask how design builds, adapts and responds to watery bodies. We question ways and means of representing and writing histories of and with water, and engage with the work of designers, writers, activists and filmmakers who strive to tell deep and near oceanic and watery futures of the built environment.



This course uses the typology of the factory to explore architecture in the long nineteenth century (1789–1914). Focusing on the history of Greater Manchester, this spatial setting allows us to examine broader themes across wider geographies including capitalism and technology, energy, gender, slavery and global trade. The aim of this course is to understand the major changes to technology and society that took place over the course of the nineteenth century.

Focus on a particular building type (the factory) and locality (Greater Manchester) enables students to connect wider socio-economic changes to a specific place and moment. A combination of historical methods relevant for architectural practice supports different types of learning and develops different skills relevant for contemporary architectural practice.


Myths: Rethinking Design Practice

Architecture discipline heavily relies on classic modernist parables, and on the modern oppositions between subject and object, passive nature and active culture, fact and value, society and architecture, among others. This BA course challenges these traditional modernist understandings in a highly accessible interactive format. It advocates the importance to critically address the modernist heritage of the discipline (translated also in practice). We examine closely, rethink and carefully deflate some powerful myths in architecture, including the myth of the genius, the scale of practice, the user, the digital turns, the archive, power, and nature.

The course combines presentations, video materials, visual interactive exercises, and reading-based critical discussions as well as individual students’ projects based on specific case studies to support participants in enhancing their knowledge. It equips the students with analytical tools to reflect critically on the current challenges for architectural practitioners and to consider the potentials that arise from questioning some established preconceptions in the field.