module specification

AR7030 - Design Level 4 Subject and Context (2023/24)

Module specification Module approved to run in 2023/24
Module title Design Level 4 Subject and Context
Module level Masters (07)
Credit rating for module 20
School School of Art, Architecture and Design
Total study hours 200
161 hours Guided independent study
39 hours Scheduled learning & teaching activities
Assessment components
Type Weighting Qualifying mark Description
Coursework 100%   Portfolio
Running in 2023/24

(Please note that module timeslots are subject to change)
Period Campus Day Time Module Leader
Year City Monday Afternoon
Year City Thursday Afternoon

Module summary

This module invites the student to engage, from within an individual design unit, with the wider context and to establish a rationale for a design proposition on the basis of topic developed according to the disciplinary subject matter of architecture. The 20-credit module runs throughout the year 4 design unit programme (across semesters 1 and 2) in parallel with AR7021: Design: Process and Proposal which examines how a designed proposition can be realised effectively through spatial, material, formal and organisational adjustments and transformations.

The student will define, test and justify how a design proposal is appropriate and relevant in a particular physical, social, economic and environmental context.
The aim is to become adept at seeking out an appropriate way to act as an architect within a given context or situation – one which is likely to be complex, multi-layered and unpredictable. Emphasis will be placed on achieving a detailed, precise and sophisticated understanding of the constituent parts of the context: its economic, social, ethical, political, environmental and emotional characteristics and infrastructures. The means of achieving this understanding will entail direct engagement with the context involving the development of diverse, ambitious methods of engaging with the situation as found. Visual, physical, organisational, covert, emotional and material forms of engagement will help to generate the raw material for analysis and action: the design brief.

The directness and precision of this understanding will allow the student to generate a range of issues (or ‘places to act’) within that situation, such that there is a genuine value and relevance to the designed scenarios that develop. Students are expected to justify and be self-critical about their various methods of working in order to test the design process that they have developed.

This advanced level design module rehearses the student's ability to construct an ambitious, sophisticated and appropriate brief, programme and conceptual rationale for a design proposition. In this sense the scope, scale and remit of the proposition will be a direct result of the student’s methods of engagement and research, and will therefore be particular to each individual's approach. The aim of the module is to prepare the student for the final year (for full-time students) comprehensive design project by promoting a self-aware and clearly articulated understanding of how ideas and agendas developed within this module may be consolidated the following year.

Prior learning requirements

AR7021 Design Level 4: Process and Proposal (co-requisite)


The student will study this module through one of a choice of design units, each led by one or more Unit Tutors. Each design unit will state an overall agenda/interest/context within the built environment, and provide an outline of a project or related set of projects. These vary from year to year. The outline programme for each design unit is presented in turn at the beginning of the Autumn term (Semester 1) at which time students will have an opportunity to rank their choice of design unit and programme they wish to work with.

The unit programme, within the academic framework of the course and module set by the Unit Tutors, runs throughout Autumn, Spring and Summer terms, and is assessed at the end of Semester 2. LO1,LO2,LO3,LO4,LO5,LO6,LO7

Balance of independent study and scheduled teaching activity

Scheduled teaching ensures that independent study is effective and addresses the learning outcomes and assessment tasks. Students have the opportunity to study outside of scheduled classes – particularly in the working environment of the design studio. A range of learning strategies are deployed and individual learning styles accommodated. The module’s learning outcomes, its contents and delivery, are regularly reviewed to ensure an inclusive pedagogical approach.
The module and course utilise the University’s blended learning platform to support and reinforce learning. Peer-to-peer communication is fostered in group activities and tutorial support provided regularly. Reflective learning is promoted through assessment tasks and formative feedback, particularly in the traditional context of the design critique or ‘crit’. Students are encouraged to reflect on their progress and engage in sequential decision making through staged submissions, and to make recommendations to themselves for future development.
The School’s programme of employability events and embedded work-related learning within the curriculum supports personal development planning. Through these initiatives, students are increasingly able – as they progress – to understand the professional environment of their discipline, the various opportunities available to them, and how to shape their learning according to their ambitions and aspirations.

Learning outcomes

On completing the module the student should be able to:

1. develop and evaluate appropriate and relevant method(s) of engagement and
observation of a given situation;
2. develop systems of analysing, interpreting, using and spatialising researched material in order to speculate on possible designed scenarios that intervene in and adapt that given situation;
3. construct effective processes that can be used to rigorously test ideas in terms of their relevance to the given situation;
4. formulate and communicate clear and well-founded conceptual frameworks that underpin designed scenarios;
5. critically reflect on the implications of intentional and unintentional outcomes embedded in a ‘designed scenario’;
6. communicate effectively the ideas and intentions of the ‘designed scenario’ through an appropriate range of conceptual and representational techniques;
7. develop a personal attitude towards the process of design, and an agenda (independent of the design unit) that can be clearly expressed as a set of aims and ambitions for the final design project year 5.

Assessment strategy

The student will be assessed on presentation of the Portfolio which will demonstrate the learning outcomes above through appropriate forms of documentation and representations. Modes of documentation may include: drawings; photographic material; multi-media material; quantitative data; qualitative data; 3D models or prototypes; web-based material, written commentary.  All 3D and multi-media work should be recorded in graphic form and explained to a standard suitable for assessment purposes.


Each design unit will provide its own bibliography to suit the unit themes and interests for the year in question. The following reading list is designed to address the generic aims of the module at the level appropriate to the course of study.

Beigel, F. and Christou, P. (2015) Translations: Architecture Research Unit (Christoph Merian Verlag)
Curtis, W. (2009 [1982]) Modern Architecture since 1900 (London: Phaidon)
Davies, C. (2017) A New History of Modern Architecture (Laurence King)
Gelernter, M. (1995) Sources of Architectural Form: A Critical History of Western Design Theory (Manchester University Press)
Hatherly, O. (2010) A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain, (Verso)
Till, J. (2009) Architecture Depends (MIT Press)
Weston, R. (2008) Materials, Form and Architecture (Laurence King)
Zumthor, P. (2006) Atmospheres: Architectural Environments - Surrounding Objects (Birkhäuser)

Online resources:
The RIBA website’s ‘Explore Architecture’ pages: