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Meet our Head of School

Dr Matthew Jones is Head of Birmingham School of Architecture and Design. Learn more about his background, his hobbies and interests and what he enjoys about working for the School and the University.

What did you study at University?

I was born and raised in Birmingham and moved away to study Architecture at the Welsh School of Architecture in Cardiff. I didn’t really know what to expect as I’d not had any work experience in practice but I thoroughly enjoyed my degrees. I found the combination of design, history and theory and technology inspiring and enjoyed all aspects of life as a student. 

How did you become the Head of Birmingham School of Architecture and Design?

I joined the Birmingham School of Architecture and Design in 2019 as Director of Technical Studies. It was a ‘homecoming’ of sorts - I returned to the city I grew up in almost 20 years after leaving to go to university. I arrived with a mix of practice, research and teaching experience; I previously led the BSc Architecture degree at the University of the West of England and, before that, worked in practice while teaching in various capacities.  

I enjoyed my new leadership role developing the technical studies curriculum across the School and particularly focused my efforts on engaging students with learning through making, addressing the climate challenge and collaborative live projects. I was also asked to lead the development our interdisciplinary BA (Hons) Design for Future Living course, a collaboration with TV architect George Clarke’s educational charity MOBIE. The course sets out to develop new design thinking exploring how we live now and into the future.  

Since arriving at the School I have been part of the Senior Management Team and became Interim Deputy Head in 2020. Alongside this I had experience of running my own business, working with collaborative teams at leading architectural practices and practice-led research through my PhD. These different experiences gave me a variety of skills which I think are very valuable for a Head of School. I found the combination of strategy, leadership and management exciting and when the Head of School position was advertised, I applied. I feel very privileged that the university and the staff put their faith in me to lead the School.  

What does your job involve?

The job involves such a variety of tasks, that’s one of the things that makes it so appealing! At one level it is about leading the School and developing a vision for its future, but it is also about looking after our team, dealing with the day-to-day management and responding to issues. I attend a lot of meetings: individual staff and course meetings, faculty committees and meetings with our professional and practice partners in the city and beyond. Despite this, I like to maintain a connection to teaching through student reviews and our Co.LAB live projects and continue to carry out practice-led research. 

What’s your favourite thing about working for the School?

Every day I am inspired by our collaborative and collegiate staff team and our inquisitive, diverse student body. The School has a long and proud history and is very engaged with the city, its creative industries and communities. It is always fantastic to celebrate the achievements of our students at our end of year grad show which is attended by a huge number of practitioners and friends of the School and to see the excellent work of our students and alumni recognised through the awards they win nationally and internationally. 

What have been your career highlights so far?

I’ve been very fortunate in my career so far. Some particular highlights include being a finalist (twice) in Building Design’s Young Architect of the Year Award while at Design Research Unit Wales and my own practice being selected in the Architecture Foundation’s New Architects 3, the definitive survey of the best architects to have set up practice in the ten years since 2005. Being awarded my PhD came with an amazing sense of achievement, not only for finishing the research itself but for completing it while working and with a young family which was a challenge! I recently published this research alongside a number of exemplar case studies in a book for RIBA Publishing called Transforming Towns: Designing for Smaller Communities. It was amazing to hold a copy of a book I’ve written and to see it being well received. Of course, becoming Head of School tops all of this and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next!  

What are your specialist areas?

I’ve always thought of myself as having a broad skill set which I think is a particular strength for a Head of School. Having said this, my practice-led research and teaching focuses on the value of design in transforming towns, high streets and smaller communities. I really enjoy working with councils, community groups and organisations to understand the specifics of a place and to explore its long term future.  

I have carried out a range of projects exploring these ideas including artist residencies, engagement workshops, architectural and urban design, university-community collaborations, community-led planning and academic research. I co-founded the Centre for Towns Research and was recently appointed a Design Council Expert for my knowledge in this area. Alongside this I have expertise in housing design, sustainable design and modern methods of construction, developed through practice and research experience.  

What are your hobbies and interests?

Being new in the role is keeping me very busy, especially combined with hectic family life. Beyond that I have a much-neglected passion for music and, in particular, DJ’ing. I’ve never really done it seriously but have dabbled on and off since my student days and have quite a large collection of records (some a lot better than others) scattered around the house.  

Could you tell us about your work outside the School?

I’m a Design Council Expert, part of a network of specialists committed to making life better by design. I am a peer reviewer for the Association of Architectural Educators’ journal Charette, have previously been a judge for the RIBA President’s Medal for Research and am an external examiner. I also work with Addo, a creative arts company for whom I act as a ‘critical friend’, and I’ve collaborated over a number of years with the Design Commission for Wales. 

How would you describe Birmingham School of Architecture and Design?

The School is a diverse, vibrant and inspiring design community. You only need to walk through the studio on a busy day to sense the excitement in the air! We’re strongly embedded in our region and are the centre of the Architecture and Design scene in the city. We have a dynamic and growing reputation in practice-led research, consultancy and knowledge exchange. We are very proud of our history and forward-thinking attitude, currently represented by our transdisciplinary collaborative Co.LAB live projects, Parity Platform and Experimental Sustainability Studio initiatives.  

How would you describe your staff?

Talented, collaborative and welcoming. It is an absolute pleasure to work with a group of people with such diverse backgrounds, skills and personalities who are all so passionate about design, the School and our students.  

What can new students most look forward to?

University is a life changing experience, not only in learning a new subject and expanding your skills and knowledge but also in meeting new people and perhaps learning more about yourself. You’ll be guided through your journey by our staff teams who will be there to guide you and help you achieve your ambitions. Make the most of it as time will fly!

How can they prepare for university now?

Read, draw and explore… from Dudley to Dubai you can always find inspiration around you. Look up, draw what you see, ask questions about the world around you. 

Do you have any advice for working in the industry?

My main piece of advice is to make the most of the opportunities in front of you. In the School we prepare our students for life in industry. All our undergraduate students have the option of a placement in their second year and our Co.LAB module emulates industry by placing students in interdisciplinary teams to engage with real life clients and projects. These are great experiences to understand what your chosen profession is actually like and to prepare you for life beyond graduation.  

We encourage you to develop your own career aspirations and trajectory, and we are there to support you in achieving your ambitions. There are also lots of opportunities beyond your course to learn new skills and prepare for industry, for example through the BCU Careers+ team and BCU Graduate+. Take part in as much as you can!