Ben's work combines creative, theoretical and historical projects, addressing questions regarding ethics, architecture and cybernetics.
His research, which has been funded by the AHRC and the Andrew W. Mellon foundation, is part of the contemporary resurgence of cybernetics and systems thinking amongst designers. He currently serves as Course Leader for BA(Hons) Architecture.
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 The Bartlett, UCL (2006-2007).
Ben teaches in design studio and architectural humanities. As well as serving as Course Leader (2014-present), Ben has held roles as year leader for the second (2011-2016) and third years (2014-2017) of the course, and is a member of the School Academic Scrutiny Commitee (2016-present) and School Research and Enterprise Committee (2017-present).
Since 2011, Ben has led an undergraduate design studio 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, Ollie Riviere winning the Serjeant Award for Excellence in Drawing in 2014, and in Brighton's cross-discipline Nagoya University prize, with honorable mentions for Eve Olsen in 2015 and Katerina Demetriou in 2016.
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 a 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 presented at the 2016 Lisbon Architecture Triennale, Ben has conducted archival research on Cedric Price and his collaboration with cybernetician Gordon Pask on the influential Fun Palace project. Ben is a regular contributor to the Relating Systems Thinking and Design conference series, and a member of the American Society for Cybernetics (ASC). He 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.
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.
Sweeting, Ben (2018) Wicked problems in design and ethics In: Systemic design: theory, methods, and practice. Translational Systems Sciences . Springer, Japan. ISBN 9784431556381
Sweeting, Ben (2017) Cybernetics, virtue ethics and design In: Proceedings of relating systems thinking and design (RSD6) 2017 Symposium, AHO, Oslo, Norway, 18-20 October 2017.
Sweeting, Ben (2017) Author's response: Beyond application In: Riegler, A., Müller, K.H. and Umpleby, S.A., eds. New horizons for second-order cybernetics. Series on knots and everything . World scientific, Singapore, pp. 258-269. ISBN 9789813226258
Sweeting, Ben (2017) Design research as a variety of second-order cybernetic practice In: Riegler, A., Müller, K.H. and Umpleby, S.A., eds. New horizons for second-order cybernetics. Series on knots and everything . World scientific, Singapore, pp. 227-238. ISBN 9789813226258
Sweeting, Ben (2017) Open peer commentary: A theatre for exploring the cybernetic In: Riegler, A., Müller, K.H. and Umpleby, S.A., eds. New horizons for second-order cybernetics. Series on knots and everything . World Scientific, Singapore, pp. 307-309. ISBN 9789813226258
Baron, Philip, Griffiths, David and Sweeting, Ben (2017) Action and Reflection: The Individual and the Collective [Edited Collections]
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) Conversation, design and ethics: the cybernetics of Ranulph Glanville In: Brier, S., Guddemi, P. and Kauffman, L.H., eds. Ranulph Glanville and how to live the cybernetics of unknowing. Imprint Academic, Exeter, UK, pp. 99-105. ISBN 9781845409012
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) 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 (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) Conversation, Design and Ethics: The Cybernetics of Ranulph Glanville Cybernetics & Human Knowing, 22 (2-3). pp. 99-105. ISSN 0907-0877
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
Constructivist Foundations (Vrije Universiteit Brussel):
[Ben's] work is beautifully logically argued and hand drawn with dexterity seldom seen in the computer age.
— Neil Spiller, Introduction: AVATAR - Advanced Virtual and Technological Architectural Research, Haeceeity, 2(2), 2007, p. 3.