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Building a Culture: Reflections on three decades of design practice research at RMIT

Building a Culture: Reflections on three decades of design practice research at RMIT


Publisher: Uro Publications 2020, Author: Leon van Schaik, Designer: Stuart Geddes ISBN: 9780648435587, Format: Softcover with dust jacket, 240mm x 170mm, 144pp

“Every successful enterprise should have a historian at work on its anecdotes…Building a culture is like building a memory, and you need to be sure that the anecdotes you entertain are good ones, ethical ones.”
– Leon van Schaik

What makes a good school great? A good community of practice great? For close to half-a-century, architect and educator Leon van Schaik has prosecuted an answer to these questions. It is a venture that would lead him from the Architectural Association in London, to the townships of apartheid South Africa, and finally to Australia and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), where he initiated its now globally-renowned practice-based architecture research program.

In Building a Culture, van Schaik traces the origin and development of design practice research at RMIT and his own journey into architecture and its teaching. From his early university studies under artist Richard Hamilton, to his experiences with Alvin Boyarsky at the Architectural Association, and his work alongside Cyril Ramaphosa at the Urban Foundation in South Africa, van Schaik imparts learnings garnered from a lifetime spent studying and cultivating successful creative ecologies.

Through anecdotes and a consideration of archival material, the author draws a ‘loose-fit’ roadmap to implementing cultural change in educational organisations, detailing most especially the challenges he encountered developing RMIT’s unique pedagogical culture and its innovative practice-based research program.

Based on a 2018 lecture van Schaik gave at RMIT on the occasion of his appointment to Emeritus Professor, Building a Culture is an insider’s account of how organisational transformation was effected within this renowned architectural school. It is also a lively and at times humorous personal reflection on the people, ideas and experiences that have shaped the thinking of one of Australia’s most influential educators.

About the author

Leon van Schaik is a Professor of Architecture at RMIT and Innovation Professor and Innovation Chair of Design Practice Research. He studied at the Architectural Association in London before commencing his position at RMIT in 1987.

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