Alongside my own writing practice ‘site-writing’ has developed as part of my pedagogic practice from 2001, when I set up a history and theory module, called ‘Site-Specific Writing’, for architectural design students in their 4th year of study at the Bartlett School of Architecture. The module invited architectural design students to consider their dissertations as site-specific forms of writing practice, and to allow their spatial design expertise to create new kinds of writing skills. The ambition was to explore how writing could respond to, and be inserted back into a site, to see how the production of writing could make a site for meeting the reader, and to examine how the structure and processes of writing might relate to the structure and processes of a site. Most importantly the challenge was to experiment in how the material qualities of a site – as well as its history, culture, and the relations of power embedded in a site – could get transposed into writing – in short how one might write site, rather than write about site.

This site-writing work continued in various modes, from ‘Travel Stories’ through to ‘The Reading Room’, until 2004, when it became formalized as an option module, ‘Theorising Practices/Practicing Theory: Art, Architecture and Urbanism’ on MA Architectural History at the Bartlett School of Architecture. In this module we specifically addressed new forms of writing for architectural historians which acknowledged the relations and positions between the writing subject and their objects, subjects and spaces of enquiry. The transdisciplinary potential of the process was triggered by the fact that the module could also be taken by students on the MSc Urban Studies and MRes Urban Design, as well as by students on the Architectural History and Theory and Design PhD programmes at the Bartlett.

From 2017 onwards the work has been repositioned as a core module on the MA Situated Practice, and has been retitled ‘Critical Spatial Practice: Site-Writing’, and so for the first time the majority of students who take the module, engage with writing as one aspect of their situated practice.

Site-writing has also been a key aspect of my PhD supervision, and many of these doctoral projects have engaged with and developed modes of site-writing practice. For example:

Dr Lilian Chee is an architectural designer, historian and theorist, whose PhD An Architecture of Intimate Encounters: Plotting the Raffles Hotel through Flora and Fauna (1887-1925; 1987-2005) (2006), funded by a 3-Year UCL Graduate School Scholarship, explored the potential of site-writing for investigating writing practices through a feminist, post-colonial but most important tropical lens, interacting with forms of design and other spatial practices. A book based on her PhD, Architecture and Affect: Precarious Spaces, is forthcoming with Routledge. Lilian is currently Associate Professor of Architecture, National University of Singapore.

Dr Kristen Kreider is an artist, poet and writer, whose PhD, Towards a Toward a Material Poetics: Sign, Subject, Site, (2008), funded by a 3 Year UCL Graduate School Scholarship and a 1 Year UCL Graduate School Cross-Disciplinary Scholarship, explored – theoretically and through site-specific text-based installations – the ways in which signifiers are materialized and spatialized and how this process of communication creates a place of encounter with others. Kristen’s research involved selecting key art and poetic works to critique through the making of new projects of her own, and in so doing, she deepened the performative potential of site-writing as a mode of art criticism from a poetic and semiotic perspective. A book based on her PhD, Poetics & Place: The Architecture of Sign, Subject and Site, was published by IB Tauris is 2014. Kristen is currently Professor of Fine Art, and Director of the PhD Programme, Goldsmiths College of Art and practices with James O’Leary.

Dr Willem de Bruijn is an architectural history, theorist, and artist book-maker, whose PhD, Book-Building: A Historical and Theoretical Investigation into Architecture and Alchemy, funded by a Dutch Cultural Award, and nominated for the RIBA President’s Award for Research, explored spatial issues in the production of alchemical books. An intrinsic aspect of his critical approach, was to re-make historical texts, so developed site-writing as a form of performative critique. Following the completion of his PhD in 2010, Willem has published many papers and chapters from his thesis. He is currently Lecturer at the Arts University Bournemouth.

Dr Nick Beech is an architectural historian and theorist whose PhD, Constructing Everyday Life: An architectural history of the South Bank in Production, 1948-1951 (2011), was funded by an AHRC 3 Year Doctoral Award, and has been the topic of many recent articles. Nick’s research examined the potential for writing and archival photographs to engage with the early stages of construction and site work bringing to this often more technically analysed history a more human perspective, so developing site-writing’s potential for exploring different subject positions in historical research. Nick has held full-time posts as Senior Lecturer at the School of Architecture, Oxford Brookes University and as Lecturer in the Department of History, Queen Mary University in London.  

Dr Joanne Bristol is an artist, whose PhD, Interspecies Spaces: écriture feline (2016), was funded by a Canadian Arts and Humanities scholarship. Joanne’s research took place through performative writing practice, and included a novella written as a form of écriture feline, so exploring the potential of site-writing as a mode of interspecies textual interaction. She is currently Artist-in-Residence on the Michele Sereda Residency in Socially Engaged Practice at the University of Regina.

Dr Polly Gould is an artist, whose PhD, No More Elsewhere: Antarctica through the Archive of the Edward Wilson (1872-1912) Watercolours (2016), funded by an AHRC 3 Year Doctoral Award, is the basis of her new book to be published with Bloomsbury, Antarctica through Art and the Archive: Refractions of the Life of Edward Wilson. Polly’s research combined art practice, theoretical, historical and prose writing, operating through a chiastic and ekphrastic structure, which took the form of a journey out to a point X and its return. In adopting through writing the mode of movement carried out by explorer she was researching, her research developed site-writing’s potential to perform through mimesis key characteristics of the sites under investigation. Polly is currently a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Newcastle, a Teaching Fellow at the Bartlett School of Architecture and is represented by Danielle Arnaud in London.

Dr David Roberts is an urban practitioner, theorist and pedagogue, whose PhD, Make Public! Performing Public Housing in Regenerating East London (2016) was funded by a 3 Year UCL Graduate School Scholarship. Through highly innovative performative and participatory projects in two London housing estates, including his role in scripting the film Estate, a Reverie, 83 min, (2015) produced by Fugitive Images and directed by Andrea Luka Zimmerman, and co-curating the ground-breaking Real Estates at PEER, 97 & 99 Hoxton Street, London N1 6QL, David’s research developed the potential for site-writing to be a way of co-writing with others. David is currently a Visiting Professor, MA Architecture, Aarhus School of Architecture, Teaching Fellow at the Bartlett School of Architecture, and Bartlett Ethics Fellow, and the author of many articles related to housing, as well as his roles in the collaborative art practice, Fugitive Images, and as co-founder of architecture collective, Involve.

Dr Sophie Read is an artist and architectural historian and theorist, whose PhD, In, out and again: reading and drawing John Soane’s lectures at the Royal Institution (RI) in 1817 and 1820, (2018), was funded by an AHRC 3 Year Doctoral Award. Sophie’s research explores the relation of writing and reading to drawing, at the cross-over of verbal and visual practices, and in so doing she examines the relation of performative practice to the practice of architectural historical writing. Sophie is currently a Teaching Fellow at the Bartlett School of Architecture, and the author of articles related to performance and architecture. In 2019, she curated the exhibition associated with the Bartlett School of Architecture’s PhD programme’s annual conference.

Dr Anna Andersen is an architectural historian and film-maker whose PhD, Ten Windows Following Christian Norberg-Schulz: framing, mobility and self-reflection explored through the fenestral essay film (2019) combines architectural history and her film-making practice. Anna’s work took up the potential of site-writing to explore the relation between the sites occupied by the researching and researched subject, by considering the role of following in autobiographical writing and its potential for the development of Penelope Haralambidou’s notion of the architectural essay film through a fenestral thematic. Her films have been shown at the Royal Academy of Arts London, the 2017 Essay film Festival, the Arctic Moving Image and Film Festival and Trondheim Academy of Fine Arts/NTNU. She is the founder of the Bartlett Film+Place+Architecture Doctoral Network, and in 2017 she was awarded an artist residency from the Utzon Foundation and the Danish Cultural Fund to work and live in Jørn Utzon’s villa Can Lis, Majorca.

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