Meet our Head of School
Professor Kevin Singh 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 studied Architecture here at the Birmingham School of Architecture when the institution was Birmingham Polytechnic before it was awarded University status and some of the people who taught me are still at the School! I also studied at The Bartlett at University College London where I was lucky enough to be taught by Peter Cook, one of the founders of the revolutionary Archigram group and a legendary Architecture tutor.
I actually found first year really tough as I’d worked a bit in practice beforehand and struggled to understand what was required at Architecture school and in fact I almost failed my first year so I know what it’s like for students who find it hard at times as it “clicks” for different students at different times but hopefully I’m proof that things can turn around!
How did you become the Head of Birmingham School of Architecture and Design?
I was the M.Arch Programme Director for about 8 years having previously run the BA Interior Design course so had a lot of senior academic experience. Alongside this I had business experience from founding and running my practice, the space* studio, a combination of skills which are really important to run a School.
The process including an extensive application form, three psychometric tests, a presentation to the staff, and an interview which included lots of questions about managing people and budgets. For a few months I was both Head of School and M.Arch Programme Director just to ensure stability for my students.
What does your job involve?
It’s an incredibly diverse job with so much variety and that’s one of the things I love about it. There are lots and lots of committees and meetings and generally dealing with issues as they crop up, usually unexpectedly! You need to take care of the day-to-day operational side but at the same time always have a vision, strategy, and a Plan B for the future! I also spend a lot of time trying to look after my staff, including mentoring some of our future leaders. I also like to walk around the School every day to say hello to students and see what they are working on.
The job also requires a balance between looking after your team and also dealing with the Faculty and University above so there is a lot of discussing, debating, and negotiating!
I make sure that I still do some teaching, things like dissertation tutorials, lectures, a co-lab called Knowledge Exchange, personal tutorials, and of course design reviews and moderation. There are other things like representing the School at events and I travel a lot to visit and teach on our courses overseas – I have a lot of air miles! I also try and make sure I do all of the Open Day and Applicant Taster Day introductory talks to our prospective students as I think it’s important for them to see who is running the School.
As an Architect, I also help the Faculty with our Estate, being responsible for everything from new signage, new furniture, and strategic plans for the future.
What’s your favourite thing about working for the School?
I like leading and making decisions so it’s the perfect job for that. I have some incredibly talented staff in the School, many of them in the early stages of their academic careers so I pride myself on creating an environment in which they, and of course our students can thrive in. I’m also very proud to be the Head of the School I studied in because I know how much this School means to so many alumni and people in practice locally and around the country.
What have been your career highlights so far?
Becoming Head of School in 2011 was an amazing honour and I’m still very proud of that. In 2013 I was conferred as a Professor, something that I still have to pinch myself about, and in 2015 I was awarded a very prestigious National Teaching Fellowship (there are only 3 others in the field of architecture and design in the country). The National Teaching Fellowship comes with a bursary which I used this summer to fund a Visiting Professorship at Pratt, a world-famous School of Architecture in Brooklyn, New York which was an amazing experience.
Recently, myself and a colleague Alessandro Columbano worked on an urban design project called Knowledge Hub which won a National Urban Design Award which was pretty cool!
What are your specialist areas?
I’m really interested in the relationship between academia and practice and that has been the cornerstone of my strategy for the School, bringing in things like the two-week work placement our Architecture, Interior, and Landscape students undertake in second year. The co-lab live project option I run works with our Part Time students on a Research and Development issue in their practices. I also have expertise in the refurbishment of buildings from my time teaching Interior Design and also from my practice work.
What are your hobbies and interests?
My job keeps me very busy as does my practice work but I always have time to socialise with my friends and I’m an absolutely massive Manchester City fan. I have a season ticket so am always travelling to games and working on the train (in fact I’m writing this on the way back from a 5-1 win). After 40 years of supporting them times are very good at the moment! I’ve also just bought a record player so I’m enjoying the nostalgia of vinyl and building up a record collection!
Could you tell us about your work outside the School?
As I said earlier, I’m also in practice at the space* studio, founded in 2000 with an ex student Tony Kerby. We work across Architecture and Interiors and have a great range of work including quite a few projects for Birmingham City University. We have recently designed the interior for the new English National Ballet building in London which has been fascinating getting to understand something I knew nothing about before. Going back a few years I was lucky enough to be involved with Manchester City working on a number of projects providing conceptual ideas, many of which have actually come to fruition – this has also meant that getting tickets for big games isn’t a problem!
I’m also heavily involved with the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). I currently sit on the national Education Committee and Chair RIBA validation panels to other Schools of Architecture around the country and internationally. I also act as an external adviser to quite a few other Schools of Architecture when they are writing or revalidating courses.
I’m also a Board Member at DanceXChange, a regional centre for dance.
How would you describe Birmingham School of Architecture and Design?
The School is the centre of the Architecture and Design scene in the region. It’s an amazingly friendly and vibrant place and the sense of camaraderie is amazing which make it a community in it’s own right. It’s obviously a really creative place but I think the atmosphere is the most thrilling thing.
How would you describe your staff?
Amazing! We have a really diverse team of different backgrounds, skills, personalities, and specialisms but they all come together to make a great team. The team ethic instilled in the School is the thing I am most proud of.
What can new students most look forward to?
First and foremost going from knowing very little about their subject to being a professional who is employable, but being taught by great staff who are very supportive and make it fun along the way. University should change your life and is an opportunity to make friends for life.
How can they prepare for university now?
The difficulty we face in our School is that most of our subjects do not feature on the secondary school curriculum and so it’s hard to prepare subject wise. I think the best preparation is based on developing the right attitude to come and study. Working hard, attending all sessions, engaging with staff and other students, and making sure you have no regrets at the end so you are the best you can be.
Do you have any advice for working in the industry?
We prepare our students for industry by ensuring they understand the profession they are heading towards. We have live projects where students will work in a multi-disciplinary team, work with real clients, budgets, and timescales. We also have the work placement for most of our students, and generally prepare our students for life beyond graduation.
We encourage our students to understand their own worth and value and to make pro-active steps to develop their career path rather than simply trying to get a job, any job, at the end.
Other than that it’s a case of being professional, working hard, and trying to keep learning, and, as I said before, being the best Architects or Designers they can be.