Scholarly biography and interests

Ben Sweeting is Course Leader for the undergraduate course in architecture. He studied architecture at Magdalene College, University of Cambridge and then at the Bartlett, UCL and his research has been funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Ben has taught at Brighton since 2007, first as a visiting lecturer (2007-2008) and then on a permanent basis (2009-present). He has previously taught at the University of Greenwich (2010-2012), Kingston University (2008), Central St. Martins (2010-2011) and London South Bank University (2008-2009) and held a research assistant position at UCL (2006-2007).

Ben teaches in design studio and architectural humanities. As well as serving as Course Leader (2014-present), Ben coordinates undergraduate design studio (2014-present), has held roles as year leader for the second (2011-2016) and third years (2014-present) of the course, and is a member of the School Academic Scrutiny Commitee (2016-present) and School Research and Enterprise Committee (2017-present).

Ben has led BA Studio 01 since 2011, with Sarah Castle (IF_DO, 2015-2016), Tim Norman (Matavai Bay, 2014-2015) and Alex Arestis (Publica, 2011-2014). The work of the studio explores themes of scale, place and the public realm in both rural (Winchelsea; Alfriston) and urban (Regent Street; Brighton Pavilion, the Brighton Centre) contexts, receiving recognition from the RIBA with Ollie Riviere winning the Serjeant Award for Excellence in Drawing in 2014.

Ben's research is part of the contemporary resurgence of cybernetics and systems thinking amongst designers, and includes theoretical, historical and creative projects. Ben completed his PhD by architectural design in 2014, supervised by Neil Spiller and Ranulph Glanville at the Bartlett, UCL, and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. This explored epistemological and ethical questions in relation to architecture through ideas from second order cybernetics and radical constructivism and his distinctive approach to drawing. Following this, Ben was appointed as Mellon Researcher at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal (2014-2016), as part of the collaborative research project 1945-1975: British Culture for Architecture. In this work, which was recently presented at the Lisbon Architecture Trienale, Ben has conducted archival research on Cedric Price and his collaboration with cybernetician Gordon Pask on the influential Fun Palace project. Ben is a member of the American Society for Cybernetics (ASC) and was awarded the Heinz von Foerster Award by the ASC in 2014. He has guest edited a number of journal special issues and is a frequent peer reviewer for international conferences and journals.

How I like to teach

I understand knowledge as something we make - something we create and construct for ourselves, rather than a commodity we passively receive. This is to see knowledge, not just education, as a process, and so in terms of knowing. This is especially evident in design, which is concerned with creating new possibilities rather than with learning how to replicating existing ones. Because we each experience and construct differently, and understand these experiences in different ways, there is always a difference between my understanding and a student's understanding.

As is reflected on in cybernetics (especially in Gordon Pask’s Conversation Theory), these differences between our understandings do not separate us. Instead they are what make it possible for us to interact and converse with each other. This interaction in turn helps us to learn and to explore. A conversation is always moving on, driven by the difference between my understanding of the student and their understanding of me (and my understanding or their understanding of me, and so on). We cannot know in advance where it will end up.

Conversation is widely regarded as an educational paradigm because of the way it allows students to actively direct their own learning. In design education there is a tradition of using a conversational format, often conversations between tutor and student around a drawing or model (such as those documented by Donald Schön) but also amongst students themselves, whether casually in the studio space or more formally in peer reviews (a format that is a significant part of the course in Brighton).

This is partly because conversation is in itself a powerful way of teaching and learning, but also because the thinking that designers do and the methods they use to support this are themselves conversational. This can be seen in the way that designers explore situations through developing and reflecting on proposals rather than through exhaustive analysis and also in how core activities such as sketching can be understood as a conversation that designers hold with themselves via pencil and paper. It follows that in design education the content of what is being taught and learnt is similar to the format in which we teach and learn. The conversations that I have with students are not in order to explain what they should do (or even to teach them what they should learn). Rather, it is to help sustain the exploratory conversation that they hold through their own work, playing out the sort of conversational thinking which students gradually learn to carry out for themselves.

Learning through listening - ethical challenges in design

The word conversation literally means to “turn about with”. Originally this has the sense of “living with” and suggests a connection to ethical considerations. We live with each other in conversation, continually turning between the roles of speaking and listening. We live with our ideas as we converse, turning them around as we explore them.

Architects design significant parts of other people’s lives, but often cannot meet, let alone consult, those they design for (consider the future user of a building, or the passer-by). Part of the significance of design’s conversational structure is that through it designers put themselves in place of others and so consider those who cannot themselves be present to articulate their needs. This is part of what students learn to do through the conversations they hold with their tutors, each other and invited guests. Tutors play the roles of the other stakeholders that need to be considered (planners, engineers, clients, users, future users, passers-by). In peer reviews students learn to help others with their projects, as they will in practice.

An important, but sometimes neglected, part of conversation is that of listening. Without listening there’s no conversation to turn around, it’s just two monologues hitting each other. Listening is the creative part of a conversation, both one that is face-to-face and also the sort we hold with ourselves in drawing. When we take our turn to speak in a conversation we usually know what we are going to say. But when we take our turn to listen, what we hear is new to us and we create our own understanding of it. Similarly, when we draw a line we usually know what we are doing in advance. When we take time to look at a drawing, especially when we return to it after a break, we see possibilities in it that we did not intend.

Similarly, in teaching it is important to listen to everything the student wants to say. You can get in the way as a tutor, saying too much in the effort to help and this can get in the way of the student constructing their own explorations and of learning how to do this. This is also an important enactment of what students need to learn to do – to listen to themselves and their own work.

Featured works and projects

Composing Conferences, a special issue of Constructivist Foundations edited by Michael Hohl and Ben Sweeting

Cybernetics of practice

Research in cybernetics, epistemology and ethics exploring how our theories of theory-and-practice are consequential in practice.

The implicit ethics of designing. Sketch note by Linda Blaasver during presentation at RSD4, Banff, 2015.

The implicit ethics of designing

Research in how the ways in which designers work can inform how we approach ethics.

Disalignment study, detail. Rotring pen and pencil on tracing paper.

Epistemolgical theatre

Practice based research into epistemology and place

Research activity

Repository holdings

Number of items: 21.

Sweeting, Ben (2016) Design Research as a Variety of Second Order Cybernetic Practice Constructivist Foundations, 11 (3). ISSN 1782-348X

Sweeting, Ben (2016) Design research as a variety of second-order cybernetic practice Constructivist Foundations, 11 (3). pp. 572-579. ISSN 1782-348X

Sweeting, Ben (2016) A theatre for exploring the cybernetic Constructivist Foundations, 11 (3). pp. 619-620. ISSN 1782-348X

Sweeting, Ben (2016) The ethics of ethics and the ethics of architecture In: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design (RSD5) 2016 Symposium, OCAD, Toronto, ON, 13-15 October 2016.

Hohl, Michael and Sweeting, Ben (2015) Composing conferences [Edited Collections]

Sweeting, Ben and Hohl, Michael (2015) Exploring alternatives to the traditional conference format: introduction to the special issue on composing conferences Constructivist Foundations, 11 (1). pp. 1-7. ISSN 1782-348X

Sweeting, Ben (2015) Cybernetics of practice Kybernetes, 44 (8-9). pp. 1397-1405. ISSN 0368-492X

Baron, Philip, Glanville, Ranulph, Griffiths, David and Sweeting, Ben (2015) Living in Cybernetics: papers from the 50th Anniversary Conference of the American Society for Cybernetics [Edited Collections]

Sweeting, Ben (2015) Conversation, Design and Ethics: The Cybernetics of Ranulph Glanville Cybernetics & Human Knowing, 22 (2-3). pp. 99-105. ISSN 0907-0877

Sweeting, Ben (2015) Architecture and second order science In: Proceedings of the 59th Annual Meeting of the International Society for the Systems Sciences, Berlin, Germany, 2015.

Sweeting, Ben (2015) The implicit ethics of designing In: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design (RSD4) 2015 symposium, The Banff Centre, Banff, AB, Canada 1-3 September 2015.

Sweeting, Ben (2014) Not all conversations are conversational: a reflection on the constructivist aspects of design studio education Constructivist Foundations, 9 (3). pp. 405-406. ISSN 1782-348X

Kenniff, Thomas-Bernard and Sweeting, Ben (2014) There Is No Alibi in Designing: Responsibility and Dialogue in the Design Process Opticon1826, 16 (1). pp. 1-8. ISSN 2049-8128

Sweeting, Ben (2011) Thinking thinking thinking P.E.A.R. (Paper for Emerging Architectural Research) (4). pp. 44-46. ISSN 2041-2878

Sweeting, Ben (2011) Conversing with drawings and buildings: from abstract to actual in architecture Kybernetes, 40 (7-8). pp. 1159-1165. ISSN 0368-492X

Glanville, Ranulph and Sweeting, Ben (2011) Cybernetics: art, design, mathematics - a meta-disciplinary conversation: papers from the 2010 conference of the American Society for Cybernetics [Edited Collections]

Aling, Michael, Foulsham, Tom, Ioannidou, Irsi, Longden-Thurgood, Glenn, Norman, Tim, Raleigh, Charlotte, Sweeting, Ben and Wihart, Michael (2010) Invisible Machines [Exhibition]

Sweeting, Ben (2010) Architecture and Undecidability - Cafe Bohemia In: PhD Research Projects 2010, Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, 2010.

Sweeting, Ben (2009) Communication in design, communication in architecture: a project for an allotment calendar In: Proceedings of the colloquim 'Communicating (by) Design', Saint-Lucas School of Architecture, Brussels, 15-17 April, 2009.

Andersson, Lenastina, Norman, Tim, Sweeting, Ben and Wihart, Michael (2008) AVATAR – SYZYGY: Andersson, Norman, Sweeting, Wihart [Exhibition]

Sweeting, Ben (2007) Deciding an Undecidable Architecture Haecceity Papers, 2 (2). ISSN 1832-8229

This list was generated on Sun May 14 19:15:48 2017 BST.

 

PhD Thesis

  • PhD Thesis: Sweeting, B. (2014). Architecture and undecidability: Explorations in there being no right answer—Some intersections between epistemology, ethics and designing architecture, understood in terms of second-order cybernetics and radical constructivism. PhD Thesis, UCL (University College London), London. Supported by an AHRC Doctoral Scholarship. Supervised by Neil Spiller and Ranulph Glanville. Examined by Ted Krueger and Peg Rawes. Available at https://iris.ucl.ac.uk/iris/publication/972511/1

Panel discussions

  • Panel discussion (invited): Isabelle Doucet (University of Manchester, UK), Samantha Hardingham (Architectural Association, London, UK), Tanja Herdt (TU Munich, Germany), Jim Njoo (École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Paris-La Villette, France), Ben Sweeting (University of Brighton, UK). An Afternoon with Cedric Price no. 1, CCA c/o Lisboa. Moderated by Kim Förster, CCA Associate Director, Research. Organised by the Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal and Artéria, Lisbon. Held at Barbas Lopes Arquitectos. Part of the Lisbon Architecture Triennale 2016. 22 October 2016.
  • Panel discussion (invited): Nick Beech (Queen Mary, University of London), Timothy Ivison (independent scholar), Simon Sadler (University of California Davis) and Ben Sweeting (University of Brighton). British Architecture and the Contestation of Postwar Cultural Consensus. Chaired by Maristella Casciato (Canadian Centre for Architecture) and Lee Stickells (University of Sydney). Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal, QC, Canada. 10 September 2015.

Other conference participation, working papers and exhibitions

  • Conference participation: The Nature of Experience, Institute for the Study of Coherence and Emergence (ISCE), Salem, MA, 10 - 15 August 2015. Participation funded by ISCE.
  • Conference paper (invited): Sweeting, B. (2015, June). Listening to drawings. Paper presented at The Visual and The Verbal, University of Brighton, Brighton, UK. Abstract available at https://thevisualandtheverbal.files.wordpress.com/2015/05/booklet-final.pdf
  • Conference paper (peer reviewed): Sweeting, B. (2014, July). Contingency and autonomy in designing architecture. Paper presented at Autonomy Revisited, conference of the International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, TU Delft, Delft, The Netherlands. Abstract available at http://isparchitecture.com/contingency-and-autonomy-in-designing-architecture
  • Working paper: Sweeting, B. (2014, May). Cybernetic conversations in designing and experiencing architecture: The enduring significance of Cedric Price’s Generator and Nicholas Negroponte’s Architecture Machine. Working paper presented at 1945-1975: British Culture for Architecture, International Working Seminar at the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA), Montreal, Canada. Selected as one of 12 participants following international open call. Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
  • Conference participation: Participant in Acting-Learning-Understanding, conversational conference of the American Society for Cybernetics at the Institute for Educational Cybernetics, University of Bolton, Bolton, UK, 28 July - 3 August 2013.
  • Conference paper (peer reviewed): Kenniff, T-B. & Sweeting, B. (2012, July). There is no alibi in [designing]: Responsibility and dialogue in the design process. Paper presented at Ethics and Aesthetics of Architecture and the Environment, conference of the International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, University of Newcastle, Newcastle, UK. Abstract available at http://isparchitecture.com/there-is-no-alibi-in-designing-responsibility-and-dialogue-in-the-design-process-by-ben-sweeting-thomas-bernard-kenniff (Revised version published in Opticon1826, see above).
  • Conference paper and participant in group exhibition: Sweeting, B. (2012, March). Design as its own paradigm. Paper presented at Research Projects 2012 conference, The Bartlett, UCL, London, UK. Part of PhD by Architectural Design program at the Bartlett School of Architecture.
  • Conference participation: Participant in Cybernetics: Art, Design, Mathematics, conversational conference of the American Society for Cybernetics at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY, USA, 29 July - 5 August, 2010. Co-guest editor of and contributor to proceedings, published in Kybernetes, see above.
  • Conference paper (peer reviewed): Sweeting, B. (2009, November). A disappointed rationalism. Paper and poster presented at 1st Joint GRC-EUR conference, RMIT and Sint Lucas, Ghent, Belgium.
  • Conference paper (invited): Sweeting, B. (2009, March). Contingent drawings. Paper presented at Procedures and Enquiries 2 - Symposium on Drawing, Chelsea College of Art and Design, London, UK.
  • Group exhibition (participant): Session_2_FLAGS. Am Nuden Da, London, 2009. Curated by Lewis Ronald.
  • Conference paper and participant in group exhibition: Sweeting, B. (2008, March). Architecture and undecidability: Towards a tragic object. Paper presented at Research Projects 08 at the Bartlett, UCL, London, UK. Part of PhD by Architectural Design program at the Bartlett School of Architecture.
  • Group exhibition (participant): Telling Places: Narrative and Identity in Art and Architecture. The Bartlett and the Slade, UCL, London, 2007.
  • Group exhibition (participant): Research Projects. The Bartlett, UCL, London, 2007. Part of PhD by Architectural Design program at the Bartlett School of Architecture.

Grants and awards

  • 2014 - Selected for Andrew W. Mellon Foundation funded 1945-1975: British Culture for Architecture research project at the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA), Montreal, Canada. Selected as one of 12 participants following international open call for working seminar, 23-24 May 2014. Selected as one of six Mellon Researchers for main stage of project, 2014-2016 (US$12000 honorarium).
  • 2014 - Awarded the Heinz von Foerster Award by the American Society for Cybernetics for contribution to Living in Cybernetics, 50th Anniversary conference of the American Society for Cybernetics, George Washington University, Washington D.C., USA, 3-9 August, 2014 (membership fees and US$500 for conference attendance).
  • 2010 - Invisible Machines exhibition funded by: UCL Graduate School Research Projects Fund, Bartlett Architectural Research Fund and University of Brighton Architecture Program (£775).
  • 2007 - Awarded Birkhäuser prize by Design Research Network for contribution as an invited host of inaugural online debate during launch event.
  • 2006 - AHRC Doctoral Award Scholarship, part time (fees and maintenance grant).

Journal editorial

Membership of scholarly societies

  • Member of the American Society for Cybernetics (2014-present). Chairman of the Nominating Committee (2015-present).

Citations and Reviews

Peer reviews

Journals:
  • Architecture and Culture (Routledge): 2015.
  • FORMakademisk (The Research Council of Norway): 2016.
  • Journal of Architecture (Taylor & Francis): 2009.
  • Kybernetes (Emerald): 2007, 2011, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017.
Conferences:
  • Arab Society for Computer Aided Architectural Design (ASCAAD): 2016.
  • Design Research Society (DRS): 2016.
  • International Association of Societies of Design Research (IASDR): 2017.
  • Relating Systems Thinking and Design (RSD): 2016

Research student supervision and examination

Examiner:
  • External examiner: Philip Baron, Music, sex and religiosity: A cybernetic study on South African university students’ use and interpretation of music media. PhD Thesis. University of South Africa. 2017.
  • External panel member for PhD thesis qualification exam: Mateus van Stralen, Dynamic Architectural Systems. Federal University of Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, Brazil, 2017.
         
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