Architectural antagonists: School SOS

There’s certainly no reason traditional architectural practices can’t get involved with the school and the issues that are explored at SOS – in fact, we would encourage it. One successful example of this is situ.nyc, which has conducted investigations into police brutality alongside its commercial, residential and cultural architectural work.

Transgender Health in the UK: A Primer by OS Warren at SOS21



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Is School SOS volunteer-led?
Unpaid labour is a pressing issue within architectural education and practice. Everyone who works for the school is paid. Our larger network of contributors are paid on a freelance basis, as we operate annually and ad hoc, but we are working to build a financially sustainable model to enable more secure staff contracts.

Kishan is a senior researcher at Forensic Architecture and is responsible for investigations conducted with bereaved family members and survivors of state/corporate violence in the UK. Currently he is working with Grenfell survivors and the family of Chris Kaba.

Who does your team consist of?
School SOS is made up of a growing network of participants, reviewers, co-ordinators, and hosts, supported by an advisory board of members from art, design and academia. But our co-founders are Kishan San and Pierre Shaw. 

School SOS is a not-for-profit critical spatial design school, founded in 2019 to challenge modes of higher education delivery in the UK.

Participants develop projects that serve the communities tat they are part of. Previous projects include mobilising against the eviction of warehouse communities; constructing participatory modes of queer space-making; and an anti-gaslighting platform for workplace sexual violence.

We offer free courses (between one and three months) delivered by academics, practitioners and activists, to help budding designers develop socially focused and politically active spatial design to serve their communities.

Pierre is a PhD graduate researcher in architecture and pedagogy for critical spatial practice at UCA, Canterbury. He is a practising architect and an associate lecturer for Interior Design at the Royal College of Art in London.

Why did you start School SOS?
School SOS is a free school in critical spatial practices that seeks to challenge modes of delivering higher education in the UK. 

What advice would you give to someone who wants to do what you’re doing?
Our approach has been to grow slowly and steadily year on year, to try to build a durable financial and operational foundation.

The most common barriers to developing a critical spatial practice are the lack of space and funding. With no existing framework to follow, we’ve found it useful to learn from and share tools for financial resilience with like-minded individuals and organisations.

What is the single biggest change you would like to see in traditional architecture practices?
There is a latent power in an architectural and spatial skill set to make much-needed changes on a social level. 

What has been your ‘landmark’ achievement?
Every time a participant deploys a politically active project is an achievement! 

School SOS projects

Contemporary architecture can be unapologetically anti-racist, anti-capitalist, feminist and anti-transphobic because we do have the skills to design and deploy forms of political architectural practice that defend and better serve our communities.

One such project was produced by Ohkee (pseudonym to protect their identity), who was investigating gender discrimination and sexual abuse in South Korea. Open source investigation, qualitative surveys and one-to-one interviews conducted by Ohkee found feminist censorship, gender discrimination, sexual abuse and violence were rife within the workplace and other public spaces. It resulted in survivors deploying an anti-gaslighting platform highlighting moments of discrimination, abuse and violence towards Korean women.

Source:School SOS

What role are you filling that traditional architecture practices aren’t or can’t?
The ambition of the school is to help build a formula to deliver free, inclusive and accessible education, and encourage participants to rethink what community engagement, solidarity and political practice mean for designers today. 

Source:Fred Haworth

In the last few years in the UK, we’ve seen the rise of the BLM and Me Too movements, intensified transphobia, increased migrant channel deaths and structural racism leading to a horrifically disproportionate number of people of diverse ethnic heritage losing their lives during the pandemic.

What is the single biggest change you would like to see from the government?
Universities fully funded and student fees and debt abolished. Underfunded universities currently seek to ‘optimise’ their offering for the marketplace by laying off staff and restructuring courses. In the UK, the average student loan debt is £45,000, turning away many from lower socio-economic backgrounds and marginalised groups from a critical and political form of education.