Bartlett School of Architecture

Report exposes "toxic learning and teaching culture" at Bartlett

An independent investigation into the Bartlett School of Architecture has revealed "unforgivable" bullying, harassment, racism and sexual misconduct by staff at the London institution.

The report released today by legal consultancy Howlett Brown uncovered a "toxic learning and teaching culture" spanning decades at the school, which is part of University College London (UCL).

The London university has issued a statement saying that it is now taking immediate action, which includes suspending staff from student-facing and administrative duties.

Staff "mocked and demeaned students" 

UCL appointed Howlett Brown to investigate allegations of discrimination at the Bartlett in October 2021 after concerns raised by current and former students and staff.

The 120-page report was published by Howlett Brown after it carried out interviews, focus group discussions and surveys with more than 300 students and staff.

Key findings in the report include a toxic culture being caused by the school's set-up and a small group of staff.

Bartlett in London
Top and above: The Bartlett campus at 22 Gordon Street

Twenty-four different testimonies addressed the misconduct of one senior staff member who "mocked and demeaned students" and "verbally attacked female students".

A senior leader was flagged by 27 interviewees for their misogynistic and anti-semitic behaviour and for creating a "boys club" to normalise fellow staff's inappropriate behaviour.

The investigation team were also informed of Bartlett staff physically and verbally abusing students and victim-blaming complainants, as well as employees who had dated students or invited them to parties involving drug-taking.

"Something has gone terribly wrong"

The Bartlett is regarded as one of the best architecture schools in the world and ranked first in the UK for architecture and the built environment, according to the QS World Rankings.

Reflecting on the investigation, UCL president Michael Spence admitted "something has gone terribly wrong" at the school but stated that the university is "committed to taking action".

"Their testimonies expose an inexcusable and pernicious underbelly of bullying and other unacceptable behaviour that is completely at odds with the values on which UCL was founded," he explained.

"While the report acknowledges that not everyone at the BSA [Bartlett School of Architecture] has been a part of this culture, that these behaviours have been able to persist over a timespan of years means that something has gone terribly wrong," Spence added.

"We must and absolutely will address that swiftly and robustly."

UCL has said it is unable to share the names of the removed staff pending further investigations.

Report recommends further investigation

Howlett Brown's report encourages further investigations into certain serious allegations and outlines recommendations to create a safer working environment.

This includes reviewing the tutor-hiring structure, the unit-selection procedure and the crit process, which have all been "identified as significant sources of upset and fear for students".

UCL is now forming a working group to take forward these recommendations.

"I want to apologise to everyone who has suffered because of the culture of bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct within the BSA," concluded UCL president Spence.

"What you have been through is wrong and should not have been allowed to happen," he continued. "We know we have a long way to go to rebuild trust, but we are committed to taking action."

Investigation is "a moment of change"

Bartlett professor and faculty dean Christoph Lindner added that the report will be "a moment of change" for the school and the wider architecture industry.

"This report contains shocking testimonies and highlights a number of unforgivable incidents," Lindner said.

"We know this is a moment of change for the BSA, as well as for the architecture sector as a whole, which has also been struggling to address workplace cultures and behaviour."

The issues addressed in the report were first brought to light by former student Eleni Kyriacou in 2021. Kyriacou compiled statements from 21 people who alleged staff made derogatory comments about race and sexually harassed students.

The school recently appointed professor Amy Kulper as its new director, following its search for a "transformative leader".

According to the school, Kulper was selected for her "passion for the transformative power of equality, diversity, and inclusion in higher education".

The Bartlett is not the only architecture school to face allegations of racism. In 2020, the former dean of the Spitzer School of Architecture at City College in New York, Scottish-Ghanaian architect Lesley Lokko, resigned over "the lack of respect and empathy for Black people" at the institution.

Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) recently introduced a series of initiatives to address the racism that it said had "pervaded systems and structures" at the school "for decades".

The photography is by Jack Hobhouse.