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Spotlight on FREE Seminar: a student-led initiative

The FREE Seminar began in 2015 as an ad-hoc space for student-led symposia, discussions and workshops. We met weekly with the idea of creating an environment, outside of the timetabled curriculum, to talk freely and to self-organise.  

Amongst other things, we ran a cryptography workshop; learnt live-coding for music; discussed neutrinos with artist Jol Thomson; hosted a performative meal with Esther Kokmeijer and met with our counterparts at the Royal College of Art. 

Irit Rogoff, a Visual Cultures Professor at Goldsmiths, gave us a class on her notion of ‘free knowledge’ (you can read her e-flux article here)

FREE Seminar is a community of sorts – one that is always shifting in numbers and people. Essentially it gives us reason to spend time together and learn from each other. Participants have joined us from various programmes at Goldsmiths, including MAs from the Centre for Research Architecture and students from across the Visual Cultures and Cultural Studies BA, MA/MRes and PhD programmes.  

As the meetings were at the end of the day, we arranged that each one would be a Potluck – where everyone would bring food to share with the rest of the group.

The sessions would change in format and focus, but the basic idea is: each one, teach one. We had a mixture of reading groups, film screenings and FREE Seminars, where different members of the group would arrange to invite speakers, hold workshops and have discussions that overflow and augment.

In other words, we all contribute something in whatever way we want.  

The FREE Seminars were organised and run by the students from the 2015 and 2016 MA intakes, but as we’re all graduating this year, the group as it currently exists will cease to be. We didn’t create this idea; it exists in ever-changing forms all around the world. We’d love to see the FREE Seminar continue, in whatever format makes sense for the new students, so please take the idea and turn it into something that makes sense for you.

 

Nick Axel

My name is Nick Axel and I'm an architect, writer, critic and editor based in Rotterdam. I studied my MA at the Centre for Research Architecture, graduating in 2015. My research and dissertation investigated the deregulation of hydraulic fracturing in the United States through the media of federal history, property rights and land law.

I am currently Deputy Editor of e-flux architecture, which focuses on generating new audiences and experimenting with the temporal logics of the architectural project. Previously, I was the Managing Editor of Volume Magazine (#44–49), where I explored the implications of neoliberal subjectivity, planetary computation and anthropocenic thought on the discipline of architecture. I was also a Researcher at Forensic Architecture, where I coordinated investigations and developed techniques for the inquiry into human rights violations in Palestine and Syria, and I was resident at DAAR (Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency), where I designed the National Spatial Plan for stone extraction in Palestine.

I have taught architecture, design and theory at Strelka, Design Academy Eindhoven, KABK, Bauhaus-Universität Weimar and The Bartlett.

Jacob Burns

 

My name is Jacob Burns, and I completed the MA in Research Architecture in 2013-14. I had my eye on the course even when I was choosing my undergraduate degree, which was History of Art at Goldsmiths. I knew that I wanted a study path that combined politics with exciting and new theoretical approaches to some of the most important topics and environments of our time. I actually studied a year of Philosophy at Glasgow University after leaving school, and I remember being so turned off when in the first week we were told: "the most important thing to remember is that you will do nothing new here." Goldsmiths, and particularly MARA, was the opposite of that. The teaching staff always supported students in their efforts to push boundaries and think about things in original ways; celebrating unforeseen intersections between the students' work, the academy and the world outside. 

What Research Architecture exactly is was always a bit of a tricky one to explain at family parties, but the way I like to think about it is this. The course teaches you about the architecture of research itself: what does it mean to build a question? What structural elements of the world do you need to be aware of to investigate pressing issues in late capitalism? That means the course throws its focus far and wide, and that can be daunting. At the end of the day, however, what I think MARA taught me was invaluable in my work after I left, allowing me to approach problems of research with an awareness of the detail and scope that is really necessary to do good work.

The course opened many doors for me. I was research assistant to Professor Eyal Weizman, the principal investigator for Forensic Architecture (FA), for two years, working with him on cases, books, essays and talks. I wrote my own essay as part of the Forensic Architecture edited volume on Sternberg. I also was a resident for three months at Decolonizing Art Architecture Residency (DAAR) in Palestine, and wrote a collaborative text with Nicola Perugini and DAAR from the research I did there.

I then worked for Amnesty International for two years, researching human rights violations in Israel-Palestine. We worked together with FA on a number of groundbreaking digital projects, like the Black Friday interactive report and the Gaza Platform cartography of the 2014 Gaza War.  

Since the beginning of 2017 I decided to pursue writing full time, and have been working as a freelance journalist, reporting on politics and human rights issues from Jordan, Egypt and Israel-Palestine. 

The path I've taken has perhaps not been a straight line, but I think my time at Goldsmiths was incredibly important. It gave me intellectual resources that I continue to draw on, it cultivated my curiosity in the world, and inculcated in me the confidence to get out there and get to the bottom of what I was interested in.

Hania Halabi

My name is Hania Halabi, a graduate of the Research Architecture MA 2014-2015. I completed my BSc in Architectural Engineering at Birzeit University in the West Bank. In my third year, I attended an experimental design studio that looks into architecture beyond its conventional definition as the process of planning, designing and constructing buildings; transforming it into a medium for political criticism and change. The assigned project on “re-imagining the Palestinian Parliament” was inspired by the work of Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency (DAAR), and exposed me for the first time to different aspects of the intersection between architecture, conflict and power. My interest in the field continued to grow from there.

After graduating from Birzeit University I started working at Senan Abdelqader Architects while looking for relevant Masters degrees abroad. Senan invited Eyal Weizman to join the jury of a competition I was working on for the company, and it was this that led me to apply for the Research Architecture MA. I should also say that I couldn’t have considered the programme if it weren’t for Goldsmiths’ humanitarian scholarship, which I was awarded in 2014. As part of the scholarship scheme, I also finished a leadership course where I was assigned to be a student ambassador.

My year at the CRA was one of pure exploration, which has advanced my understanding of the world I engage with on so many levels; it was a journey into my own interests (which I lost and found several times throughout the year). The program is flexible rather than specific in many ways, but it teaches you how to plan a methodology, design a narrative, and construct an argument that responds to the most urgent and critical topics of our time. Architecture becomes a conceptual medium to approach, navigate and investigate the topic at hand. For my own thesis, I looked into the conflict of the Palestinian village Susya located in Area C, and unpacked the secrecy and agency of its architecture by analyzing the politics of its materiality.

During my time at CRA I had many opportunities to engage outside of the course itself, all of which have fed into my experience and understanding of the research process. Firstly, I helped with the Forensic Archiecture Black Friday on Gaza, which also led to further collaboration after my graduation. Secondly, I joined a research group called “Open Gaza” based at Westminster University to pursue individual research that inquires into the relationship between architecture, time and emotions - I later presented this research in a conference at Max Planck institute in Berlin. Finally, my enthusiasm towards exploring fabrication experiments and algorithmic design drove me to complete the Architectural Association’s MakeLab programme in April 2015.

After my graduation from Goldsmiths I decided to apply for research jobs in London, and against all odds I was offered a research position at Balmond Studio, leading the personal research of Cecil Balmond OBE on ‘form making in abstract environments’ towards publication. Though the topic was so different from anything I did at Goldsmiths, I learned that it is the process and lens through which I approach the research that matters. At Balmond Studio I led a think tank called “CrossOver” for eight months, and most recently started new research on emergence theory in urbanism and finding new ways of re-imagining the slums worldwide: research I would like to pursue in the future individually, in the context of Palestinian refugee camps.

Despite the degree being research-based and having theoretical focus, it didn’t limit my chances to take lead roles in other areas. The CRA helped me to cultivate a mindset that I didn’t know I had until I began to face various challenges at work, and I realised that the key to solving them was critical thinking. I am now working in architectural design, which I love, and I feel so privileged to be able to consider my work differently, and more critically. I still feel I am navigating my way along my career path, but I surely wouldn’t have been where I am today without my time in CRA.