The Unit
System

The Unit System is built on the premise that student learning is best enabled by working in small, highly focused peer groups around one or more teachers (Unit Leader/Unit Tutor) for the duration of the academic year. Teaching is delivered in a ‘studio’ format, whereby students direct their own path through a diversity of possible learning routes; and assume a great part of the responsibility for defining their own course of studies through their selection of a specific Unit at the start of the academic year. Learning is project- and portfolio-driven with a strong emphasis on exploration, critical awareness and the firm belief that architecture is, above all, a discipline in which the ability to synthesise often disparate forms of information, input and knowledge, is paramount.

The system encourages a healthy form of competition whilst maintaining a collegial, community-focused ethos. Collaboration between Units in the form of shared reviews, and the twice-yearly peer reviews – the Mid-Year Portfolio Review (MYPR) and the Final Portfolio Review (FPR) –  of all the work across the entire School encourages dialogue and debate around the themes. Units are run by two (sometimes three) staff members – a Unit Leader supported by a Unit Tutor and previously supported by a Unit Assistant. Some Units share leadership of the Unit – in these cases, they are referred to as Co-Leads. Since inception the Units have grown in size, currently comprising up to 18 students per Unit. In 2023, the number of Units increased from six to nine and the total number of students has increased by approximately 10% with typically 12-14 students per Unit.

At the commencement of each academic year, the Units present the students with their proposed research themes. To provide instrumentality for the proposed research trajectory, students are exposed to a diverse range of research methods and approaches to reading, analysing, processing, documenting and representing the sites they are working with and the design projects that evolve from that research. Students are encouraged to, and supported in, the discovery of ways of working that do not necessarily conform to conventional architectural methods but are driven by creatively analytical responses to the themes and the varied interpretations of the themes but with the intention of propositional resolution.

Whilst driven by and through a specifically and particularly architectural focus, the teaching and learning is directed to the development of clarity, intention and precision in the questions asked and the development of a rigour through which the research is conducted and resolved. The contemporary African context is centered, with South Africa, Africa and the African Diaspora being the guiding focus. Diversity in the range and breadth of the research propositions is highly valued by the School, with recognition that questions can, and are encouraged to, emerge from marginalised areas of architectural, spatial, cultural, scientific or artistic knowledge, often situated in a personal and emotive place of origin.

BArch (Hons) 

The GSA’s Bachelor of Architecture Honours (BArch Hons) is a full-time programme comprising three modules: Architecture Design Project (ADP), Architectural History and Theory (AHT) and Architectural Professional Practice (APP). The aim is to facilitate the production of an Architectural Design Portfolio integrating research, theory, writing, design, Making and Professional Practice to prepare the student for undertaking the MArch year, or as an exit degree at SACAP Level 8.

The programme is designed to provide students with the theoretical, design, technical and practical skills required for entry into the MArch programme and for entry into the architectural profession at the SACAP <Candidate Senior Architectural Technologist> level. Professional training experience requirements after completion of the degree are determined by SACAP.

MArch 

The Master of Architecture (MArch) is a full-time programme comprised of one module, Architectural Design Portfolio (ADP), involving the production of an advanced design project within an investigated research proposal. The purpose of the qualification is to offer a programme at the SACAP (Part 2) level thereby preparing students for entry into the architectural profession at the Candidate Architect level of registration. Training experience after completion of the degree is controlled by the conditions of SACAP.

BArch (Hons) and MArch

The modules of the BArch (Hons) are concerned with the consolidation and deepening of architectural knowledge and the integration of professional practice and its laws, based on the research and theoretical knowledge that are the primary measure of preparedness to enter the architectural profession as a Candidate Senior Architectural Technologist. The MArch programme, accomplished through the formulation of carefully constructed and rigorously conceived research-driven coursework provides the basis for entry to the level of Professional Candidate Architect.

Both the BArch (Hons) ADP (Architecture Design Portfolio) and at the Master’s level, the MArch ADP (Architecture Design Project) are taught through the structure of the Unit system, a year-long design research-driven programme in which students can choose which of the (currently) nine Units on offer best matches their research interests. The Units facilitate a teaching and learning platform that supports independent research geared towards building the agency and confidence of the student in pursuit of their own research and eventually practice interests.

Architectural History and Theory 

In 2023 the Architectural History and Theory course focused on an extensive range of broader topics that relate to Architecture. The course intended to expose students to a multitude of ways in which to view, interpret, and understand their environment through both an introduction to traditional histories and theories of architecture and an exposure to contemporary reading and voices. Supported by a seminar-based teaching method, a collaborative, and participatory approach of conversing and reflecting on the subject matter was prioritised over the traditional method of imparting knowledge.

Through the approach and use of multiple lenses, the year explored AHT through various disciplines, topics and their relationships to the way architectural discourse can be critically and contemporarily read. This was achieved through a series of guest lectures around the follwing themes :

  • Power, Humanism and Gender | Ruth Lipschitz
  • Nationalism, Culture, and Identity | Ruth Sacks
  • Colonial constructs, Architectural Education Systems and Non-Binary Ecologies | Harriet Harriss
  • The City and Urbanity | António Tomás
  • Soundscapes | Thelma Ndebele
  • Race and Class | Victoria Collis-Buthelezi
  • Infrastructure and Race | Zandi Sherman
  • Film & Public Space | Homo Urbanus

Practice

The Practice programme aims to expose students to a wide range of ideas around architectural and creative practice and to assist students in preparing for further study or registration and employment as Candidate Architects (SACAP Part 2) after completing the MArch. Studies in Practice focus on the Context for Architectural Practice, the Management of Design, the Management of Construction and Practice Management. In Critical Practice students are introduced to the facilitation of community based projects and the application of Participatory Action Research as a qualitative research methodology. Following a successful series of lectures in 2022, this year we will be exploring contemporary practices through lectures by a number of local and international practicing architects and creative practitioners describing how they operate their diverse, established and emergent practices. 

Making 

Making at the GSA seeks to expand the use of acts of doing, of making, as a tool of critical inquiry and of the architectural imagination. Architecture is propositional and actual – we deal with the physical, the material, the body in space and society. Equally, our research is qualitatively different from a purely academic approach – it requires a “thinking with the hands” to become fully formed. The Making Programme, led by GSA Unit 7 Leader Ngillan Faal, will present a range of critical enquiry tools that offer opportunities for experimentation and exploration through acts of making that engage materiality and proposition. This will be carried out through various modes, for example, making exercises, technical workshops, drawing masterclasses and digital fabrication; supported by access to FADA workshops, the FabLab and the Maker Space at the new GSA space. The aim is to build a culture of experimental research through continual acts of creation and reflection that support and deepen the projects carried out by the students. Making is integrated into the work of the Units and aligned with work in both Architectural History and Theory and Practice prompting a closer relationship between theory and the architectural artefact.