Protest Academia

Jeremy Priest

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The contemporary public university operating within the neo-liberal economy, by nature, does not prioritise the creative arts. Instead, these institutions have become increasingly responsive to priorities prescribed by the market and the government. Thus, the most financially efficient academic pathways receive generous architectural investments, while less profitable, less quantifiable faculties have their physical presence within the campus eroded. 

Protest Academia is a speculative body of work, focused on architectural pedagogy within this neo-liberal condition, exploring how occupational protest may be used to antagonise and exploit it. 

Contextualising the research within the University of Auckland’s city campus has facilitated a localised, esoteric argument, though one able to be projected elsewhere. This is, after all, not a localised condition. 

The research does not seek a conclusion nor a formal architectural proposition. Instead, it employs ambiguity, metaphor and exaggeratory satire in its appraisal. From this position, while remaining grounded in its context, Protest Academia can critique contemporary creative practice and speculate on how that practice might exist in forthcoming academic environments. 

The thesis proposes an occupation of one of these generous architectural investments, by the School of Architecture, as a mechanism for both pedagogical self-defence and invaluable cross-disciplinary collaboration. 


Born from the closure and planned demolition of The University of Auckland’s Architecture & Planning Library, Protest Academia explores how the materialisation of occupational protest may be used to defend and facilitate creative practice within future academic climates. 

This research has allowed for a body of work which discusses the importance of an architectural education’s physical environment and autonomy over that environment. The scope and scale of the document broaden and narrow methodically across three sections. Dilating to engage with a lineage of correlative conditions and contracting to project those conditions onto The University of Auckland and its School of Architecture, has, in turn, facilitated the existence of this document. 

Situating the inquiry and architectural outcome within this specific urban context has cultivated a personal practice which is both innately self-referential and intimately connected to place. As much as the document scrutinises the contemporary university, of which the School of Architecture is a component, the work intends to celebrate the school and argue its relevance within the corporate institution. At times that celebration takes the form of a eulogy. In this sense, Protest Academia is not an exercise in pessimism, but rather one based on optimism, derived from frustration. 

Concept 1
The Occupied Bar, Corporate Camouflage


Development 4
Totalitarian impression of Symonds Street
Development 5
The Construction Site

Section One, The Contemporary Condition, summarises
 the project’s context. Beginning by detailing the library’s dissolution from the school and identifying the neo-liberal educational landscape as the severing agent, a question of values and priorities is posed. Next, two sets of typological precedents; alternative education and occupational protest, are scrutinised in relation to the university. The section closes with a conversation between the author and the university’s Vice Chancellor, concluding an appraisal of the contemporary institution, outlining the parameters within which the project will reside.

Section Two, Forming a Position, introduces eight architectural precedents - some built, some unbuilt, some bulldozed - which informed Protest Academia’s ideological, narrative and material position. From here, the author’s creative practice, focused on scaleless ambiguity, symbolism, abstraction and fragmentation is interrogated, giving way to a linear inventory of made objects, collages and drawings.

When combined, these explorations form The Occupied Bar, detailed within Section Three. Here, with all its embedded awareness, the project narrows to its most specific point, illustrating the moment when tensions erupt and the homogenous university is divided. The Occupied Bar’s five segments, discussing: segregation, transparency, amalgamation, collaboration and autonomy, exercise the ability students have to alter their academic environment through aggressive spatial occupation.


Finished Product

Completed 1
1:100 model of The Occupied Bar, facing south
Completed 2
1:100 model of The Occupied Bar, facing west

The Occupied Bar is fundamentally a vehicle which interrogates how an architectural education may exist within a speculative, yet perhaps increasingly likely narrative, trapped within the contemporary managerial university. 

The thesis, which was produced in partial fulfilment of a Master of Architecture degree from The University of Auckland, was used as a platform from which the author could self-referentially question, and at points criticise the management of that institution. The author argues that students within the corporate university can alter their academic environment, should they collectively decide to do so. Furthermore, students within architectural disciplines possess a spatial competency which can increase the potency and effectiveness of occupational protest. 

It became apparent over the year that the project did not pursue a formalised architectural conclusion, existing most comfortably as an open-ended moment in time within a fictional world, though one based in reality. Therefore, while the third act answers the research question, it is not a conclusion. By the same logic that a novel’s characters go on living past its final page, The Occupied Bar continues to exist past the end of this document. 

Myriad studies gave way to Act One, which gave way to Act Two, which in turn gave way to Corporate Camouflage, The Sawtooth, The STEM Cell, The Mountain and The Construction Site. If the three acts read as small, medium and large - perhaps the destruction of The Occupied Bar’s border wall gives way to a fourth, extra-large condition at a university or societal scale. 


Critic's Text

Jeremy felt the loss of the Architecture Library at his core. He saw it as the thin end of the wedge that threatens the kind of architectural education he had come to hold dear, and he protested. 

His concern for the future of our discipline propelled his research. On another level, it is very close to home and his work also reflects his care for his School, those who have taught him, his colleagues, and those who will come after him.

Fuelled with these feelings, his approach to design research was exemplary. All forms of creative output flowed and fed each other as semi-independent streams of thought, from the innumerable (enjoyable) sketches in his notebooks to the testing and making of models to the writing that both positioned (extremely effectively) and reflected upon the work. The research embodies that energy, the lack of resolution we all feel, and the sense of humour we all have to hold on to.

While Jeremy’s research is an examination and extrapolation of the state of architectural education within the neoliberal university environment, ultimately, it also presents an argument for the architect as public advocate. With that, he joins a lineage within the School that includes current staff such as Bill McKay and Julie Stout.

— Mike Davies - supervisor