This CTP describes how the organization was headhunted by its current institution, and the subsequent strategic decisions made around housing and developing it. As described in ‘CTP1 – Naming Strategies’, the Institute had existed as personal project for the co-founders, M and S, over the course of their doctoral programs. In the aftermath of finishing their PhDs in 2008-2009, they began to consider how to develop the ‘ideal’ version of the organization, and the space required to do so. At the time, the organization was affiliated to, and located within, the engineering department at the university where the co-founders had been conducting their doctorates.
When the department closed (fully closing in July 2013) the co-founders began investigating where the next home for the organization might be. In the time period that the pair briefly explored possibilities of relocating Somerset House, M was offered an academic position in the engineering school at UCL. The university was aware of the Institute and keen to explore how to instantiate one within themselves – as a result, M made a condition of his job offer that he also be able to set up the Institute within UCL itself and bring S with him.
This process happened concurrently with UCL itself exploring a ‘growing problem’ within its engineering education program, around the use of and learning within its workshop spaces. The Institute appeared to offer a solution to this problem, creating a new workshop space with a dedicated pedagogical focus on learning through making and materials.
This CTP was co-produced with a number of different and interrelated events. The original Institute, as the materials library, was housed in, and affiliated with, the engineering department at KCL – as the co-founders described “though what we were doing [with the materials library] was more formal that just engineering, that was the base that we operated from. Though we came at [maker culture] from any discipline, the engineering school was the base that we sat at in the university”.
Following the closure of the engineering school, KCL intimated to the co-founders that they would like to keep the organisation, but would not be able to provide a department for them to live in.
The second event came as the co-founders explored alternative spaces. Somerset House is a large Neoclassical building in The Strand, central London. Formerly home to the Inland Revenue, the building houses now houses many creative and educational organisations, including part of KCL itself, and since 2013, the community of maker businesses, Makerversity. Prior to Makerversity’s arrival, M and S explored the possibility of relocating the Institute into Somerset House – handily proximate to KCL – but found that at that time, as a listed space, they would not have been able to build a workshop there. In the UK, listed buildings are those which have been placed on the Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest; and may not be demolished, extended, or altered without special permission from the local planning authorities.
The third event which shaped this CTP was UCL’s evaluation of the pedagogy around their workshop space in their own engineering school.
“UCL had identified a growing problem in engineering, around the culture which was staffed by technicians. You come along with a piece of paper that you’ve planned [your project] our on, and they say, come back in two weeks to collect it. That’s not learning – that’s commissioning. You wouldn’t even be told if your plan was wrong as the technician might have fixed things and not told you, just given it back working”. Against this context, UCL staff had seen the Institute and (as per CTP1) and wanted to bring something similar into their own space to address this growing issue in engineering education.
Finally, the key event was that M was offered a job in the engineering school at UCL. After debating how the shared management of the Institute might operate if he accepted the job, the co-founders decided to ‘take a punt’ and see if they could bring the Institute into UCL as a condition of M’s employment. The combination of these events shaped the CTP and, specifically, the location of the Institute at UCL and the forms of its operations.
End of co-founders PhD programs. Closure of KCL engineering department. Unsuitability of Somerset House as a new space. M offered job with UCL. UCL exploring own engineering culture.
Whilst a variety of different actors were at play throughout this process, there was no particular contestation or tension around this CTP. The negotiations which took place – between KCL exploring whether the Institute could stay on; the co-founders examining whether Somerset House would be a suitable home for the Institute; and between UCL and M – were done amiably, as different parties explores what would be the most suitable approach moving forward.
The period following the completion of the co-founder’s PhDs was always anticipated as a time of uncertainty, as the pair explored a range of options about how the Institute might transform from the original materials library into a different form of organization.
However, the opportunity to combine M’s job offer with the enthusiasm expressed by UCL about new forms of engineering pedagogy was unexpected, but recognized as critical at the time. In the absence of the job offer, it is unclear what would have happened to the Institute and where – or even if – it would have been able to find a suitable tenacy elsewhere. Equally however, the unexpected alignment of UCL and the Institute’s goals (and the support of the Dean) permitted the latter to have far greater scope and resources at their disposal that might otherwise have been possible.
As described in CTP3, this permitted the Institute to have incredibly freedoms in how they set up the organization, including hires, architecture, business model, and strategy. Even the constitution of UCL itself was unexpected, particularly around its disciplinary specialities, in contrast to the more limited range at the Institute’s original “home” at KCL. As S explained, this permitted the Institute to diffuse its pedagogical aims across an interdisciplinary domain:
“The context of UCL was really exciting for us – it’s a university with a really broad range of subjects, which is increasingly rare. It has medicine, seven types of engineering, fine art, architecture, education archeology, history, all the subjects you can think of. You look at the Bartlett and you think, that’s a great art college, but it’s at UCL. But for all that, there isn’t one called design, but design happens everywhere – and that’s what we tapped into”.
The capacity and transformative aims of the Institute to develop its scope and aims around research and education were facilitated by this CTP, and by the collective co-production events described above. The lessons that can be drawn from this include that, without a home in a higher education institute – and particularly one which understood and championed the transformative aims of the Institute – it is unlikely that the organization would ever have been able to self-actualise its goals. Indeed, the alignment of UCL and the Institute’s transformative aims around engineering permitted the co-founders to successfully negotiate their aims to extend beyond the engineering school itself:
“We were able to say, if you give us a space we’ll run a workshop which all engineering students will have access to, but we want everybody to have access to it. If we open a workshop for you, it has to be for everybody and anyone can be a member. The membership model is, you have to be at UCL.”
Additionally, the Institute’s purpose was also championed by senior staff at UCL, which gave the co-founders extra leverage, and a powerful gatekeeper into the university: “The drive to bring us in came very much from the dean of the faculty of engineering, who understood it in the context of being a new face of engineering, and something that his students needed. It aligned very strongly with that”.
Stay informed. Subscribe for project updates by e-mail.