New professor with a passion for architecture in areas of political change and social deprivation
[2016-09-20] Professor Robert Mull, with a background as an architect, teacher, activist, and former Dean of the Cass Faculty of Art, Architecture and Design in London, is the newest addition to the Umeå School of Architecture. He brings new ideas about the social dimensions of architectural practice to the table.
“The weather is lovely as usual and I'm here to plan the lessons that I will give in the autumn and the joint projects that I will participate in and run together with the Umeå School of Architecture,” says Robert Mull, adjunct professor at the Umeå School of Architecture at Umeå University since 1 July this year.
Lately, he has worked extensively on the refugee crisis with projects in Turkey, Greece and the Calias Jungle in France. Here, he is struggling with the role of the architect and the responsibility of architecture and design in the face of migration and the refugee crisis.
“I’m interested in the social dimension of practice and the responsibility we have as architects and designers, I’m interested in ideas of care - care in relation to society, care in relation to making, and care in relation to the environment and future generations,” says he.
Why do you want to work at Umeå School of Architecture?
“It was when I met the Rector at the Umeå School of Architecture, Ana Betancour, at a meeting in London that I realised that we think alike about how architects should have social and cultural awareness and that architecture can be involved and contribute to positive development in places in the world that are subject to social deprivation and political change. The fact that so many of my colleagues here in Umeå think in the same way is not so common among architects and within architectural schools,” says Robert Mull.
His vision is to encourage students and professional architects to develop a socially committed design practice that goes hand in hand with their civic roles as architects of society.
“I have for a long time been interested in the capacity of architects and urban designers to generate social structures and become involved in areas of social deprivation and political change. My commitment has given me opportunities to participate in projects in places as diverse as India and Nepal, but also the former Soviet Union, China after the massacre in Tiananmen Square, and the Mexican border.”
How do you get around the colonial past – Western power perspectives about how things should be done?
“You don’t. There is always a form of ghost that haunts any project in any situation. It has a tendency to make the actors in the situation freeze and become self-conscious. What I’ve learnt is that the seriousness of the situation is still more important than the thought of it. Just get on with it. Stop worrying about it – and act! Be useful, be engaged, and act as caring citizens as well as professional architects.”
However, the movement of knowledge works both ways, Robert Mull points out. There is also a reverse process of learning going on:
“Very recently, I worked with the refugee crisis. One interesting thing I saw, regarding teaching methods, is how different the culture of volunteering is as opposed to formal education in schools of architecture. I am, together with some colleagues, interested in building a network and launch live “project classrooms’ in various places in, for example, Greece, Latin America and South Africa. There, the students would be exercising their duty of care practice on the spot in exposed environments.”
Professor Robert Mull will stay in Umeå during the periods when he teaches and works with various joint projects, involving architectural schools not only in Umeå, but also in the United Kingdom and in other parts of the world.
“I'm a very big fan of Swedish design. I currently run a project together with the Southbank Gallery in London this autumn. They have asked us at the Umeå School of Architecture to contribute with Swedish Sami architectural elements to a Nordic festival that will take place next summer on the South Bank. Some representatives from England will come to Umeå in a few weeks, which will certainly lead to exciting discussions,” says Robert Mull.
Robert Mull was born in Cambridge in 1960. He was educated at the Bartlett and the Architectural Association. An architect, educator and activist, Prof Robert Mull was until 2015 Director of Architecture and Dean of the Cass Faculty of Art, Architecture and Design (affectionately dubbed the Aldgate Bauhaus) in London. He has taught widely in the UK and internationally and held visiting professorships in Vienna and Innsbruck. In 2013 he co-founded a new school of architecture in Moscow. He was a founder member of the architecture collective NATO.
Today, he is a Professor of Architecture and Design at the University of Brighton, an adjunct professor at Umeå University and is developing the Global Free Unit with colleagues in Umeå.
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Robert Mull, adjunct professor at the Umeå School of Architecture at Umeå University
Two portrait photos for download. Photo: Per Melander
Editor: Ingrid Söderbergh