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Rising Star: Hannah Durham

A caring and committed architecture lecturer at Oxford Brookes University with an interest in recorded sound.

RIBAJ Rising Star: Hannah Durham
RIBAJ Rising Star: Hannah Durham

For years, Hannah Durham has been attuned to architecture’s noise. From her Architectural Association student work, Sonic Wilderness, to the Studio in the Woods project she co-led for students, which replicated a forest soundscape, Durham’s preoccupation has been to ‘unearth the buried voices’ – hearing, recording, replaying and amplifying them.

One such achievement (which judges Bushra Mohamed and Steve Webb described as ‘really important, original and amazing’) was an oral history project for the Architectural Association’s XX 100 programme, which celebrated 100 years of women in the AA). Durham recorded 13 female architects’ life stories – including Su Rogers, Eldred Evans, Patty Hopkins and Inette Austin-Smith – for the AA archive. ‘These female architects’ stories weren’t heard, or if they were, it was through their husbands or ex partners,’ Durham explains. ‘But they should be embedded into our collective history.’ Now they are.

For the past six years, Durham has taught at her alma mater Oxford Brookes University. Before recently becoming a full-time educator, some of this was concurrent with working at Cullinan Studio, allowing her to link her teaching to practice. Durham’s students have consistently exceeded their academic expectations – including during the exceptionally trying pandemic year, 2020-21, when over a third of her studio received a distinction or high distinction mark despite the inevitable struggles. For the past three years, her students have also been nominated for RIBA prizes.

Durham is sparky, animated and bright, so it comes as no surprise that she should find herself the recipient of the students’ union’s Most Inspirational Lecturer and Unsung Hero awards – recognition given to staff who enliven the student experience. 

Durham’s teaching style is inclusive. ‘I love nurturing individuals and supporting people from different backgrounds,’ she says. ‘What motivates me is being able to give the next generation the chance to flourish. The future is unknown; we need architects who are creative, inventive and confident to develop their ideas.’ RIBA Journal acting editor Eleanor Young said: ‘Hannah teaches and cares for students, she has brightly come up with lots of ideas and is very engaging.’ 

Durham’s referee, the university’s postgraduate programme lead Scott Sworts, concurs. ‘Hannah’s teaching results in uniformly good student outcomes,’ he says, ‘and her collaborative approach to both pedagogy and research is a significant asset to the school.’ 

With her ability to nurture students, deliver high academic outcomes from them, marry deep theoretical understanding with work in practice, and to give quiet voices a chance to be heard, Durham is worth listening to.

  • The pavilion Durham worked on for Studio in the Woods.
    The pavilion Durham worked on for Studio in the Woods.
  • Su Rogers, one of the women Durham interviewed for the AA’s XX 100 programme.
    Su Rogers, one of the women Durham interviewed for the AA’s XX 100 programme.
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What existing building, place and problem would you most like to tackle?
I aim to improve inclusivity in our architectural field to create a profession that reflects and supports diversity in all its forms, and creates an inclusive built environment. The disparities between the cultures and identities of the architecture profession, as opposed to the broader population, are significant and manifest themselves in important ways, both obvious and insidious. Who becomes an architect, and progresses on into positions of power within the profession, determines not only who writes our architectural history but who feels accepted in the profession, who designs our built environments and how inclusive they are.

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