Live Projects offer Sheffield students the unique opportunity to experience the hands-on running of a real project for a real client within the curriculum.

The projects are student led, allowing the often-overlooked skills of management, communication, team working, briefing and engagement to be developed, alongside creative design and presentation skills.

The projects run for the first six weeks of each autumn semester. During these six weeks fifth and sixth year architecture students work together in groups of approx. 12 people to develop a real client’s brief, for a real problem, towards a final outcome. The learning objectives place equal emphasis on the process of the project, rather than just focussing on the final product.  Importance is placed not only on design quality, but also on engagement practice, creative participation and how the design is developed.

Teaching and Assessment

The primary relationship in each Live Project is between the student groups and their clients. The project’s scope, aims and outcomes are, in the main, determined by the students in collaboration with their clients, hence the term ‘student-led’. This changes the nature of the teaching that staff offer, shifting from the directive role of ‘tutor’ to the more advisory role of ‘mentor’.

Sheffield offers a high level of support for this student leadership in the form of workshops on communication skills, brief building and participatory techniques. Emphasis is also placed upon the management of a project team, group working and the complexity of dealing with multi-headed client organisations, examined through stakeholder mapping at the beginning of each project.

Live Projects help students to work collaboratively rather than in competition and so are assessed as group projects. Assessment is primarily based upon a public presentation and reflective group reviews but is also affected by mentor and client feedback. The public presentation is a lively event, open to the whole school and to clients and often in a public venue. The focus for these presentations are the outcomes of the project whereas the focus on the reflective reviews are on the processes of the project and the learning experiences of the students involved. In this way all aspects of a Live Project is valued and assessed and despite the large range of outcomes across projects a parity of marks can be achieved.

For fifth years, a 10-credit management module is associated with their Live Project, where each student is asked to reflect critically upon their experience, the management of their project and upon the relevance of their learning for future practice.

Why are the Live Projects useful and relevant?

A Live Project is neither a replication of practice nor is it purely an academic project but something in-between. Students learn skills to deliver high quality design projects to the brief, on time and on budget. They learn a huge amount through this experience directly, while also reflecting upon the wider relevance of these experiences on architectural practice and education.

The feedback from our students demonstrates how valuable they have found their Live Project experience to be for the following reasons:

– The Live Project creates a useful space for reflection between practice and academia. Live Projects are located at the start of the year and help new students to reflect upon the relationship between education, practice, design and research. This introduces students to the complexity of the MArch course where the expanded role of the architect and opportunities in future practice are explored critically.

– Live Projects are a great introduction for new students to Sheffield and its region, to their peers and to Sheffield School of Architecture. The group working experience is intensely productive and many lasting friendships begin with a Live Project.

– Students are empowered by the positive feedback from the clients. Clients often tell us that they had no idea how useful and skilled students of architecture can be and their design ideas have really made a difference.

– Students tell us that in job interviews prospective employers are very impressed by the outcomes and skills gained through Live Projects. Live Projects are also highly regarded by our external examiners, and the RIBA/ARB visiting panels.