School of Architecture, Planning & Landscape

Staff Profile

Professor Graham Farmer

Professor of Architecture / Director of Architecture



Graham Farmer is Professor of Architecture and Director of the Architecture Programmes. Graham's research and teaching interests are diverse and encompass sustainable design, materials and tectonics and architectural pedagogy. A key theme in his work is the social production of the built environment with an emphasis on understanding how the built environment is socially sustained. He has published widely on the social dimensions of sustainability and has developed an approach which connects a concern for design, environmental innovation and building performance with an understanding of development processes, occupation and inhabitation. Graham is interested in the ethics of sustainability and in particular how environmental values relate to the specifics of place and the pragmatics of design practice.

Graham's approach seeks innovative synergies between architectural research, pedagogy, practice and engagement and he has received external recognition across all of these activities through the various national and international awards he has received for design practice, research publications, teaching, and indirectly through the supervision of student work.

In 2001 Graham was awarded the American Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) annual award for research,  for a paper he published in the Journal of Architectural Education (with Professor Simon Guy).


Graham is a qualified architect with a background in architectural practice where he worked on a wide variety of projects. These ranged from large-scale urban design and masterplanning commissions in cities such as Bristol, Leeds, Cambridge and Barcelona to modest individual buildings. During his time in practice he contributed to several award-winning buildings and he has received Civic Trust and RIBA Regional awards. The buildings he has designed have been published in architecture periodicals including The Architects Journal, Building Magazine and Building Design.

He joined Newcastle University as a full-time academic in 1998 following a period as a part-time studio design tutor. Between 2004 and 2010 he was school Director of Teaching and Director of the Part 2 programme at The University of Nottingham before returning to Newcastle University in 2010 to take up the role as Director of Architecture . During his time at Newcastle he has been the Programme Director for the BA (Part 1) and BArch (Part 2) and also for the Certificate in Architectural Practice (CAP).



At the core of my current research is an exploration of the relationships between sustainability and the built environment and the various ways in which this interpreted, expressed and understood. I seek to develop an integrated approach to research that explores the potential synergies between research, practice, pedagogy and social engagement. My outlook is strongly interdisciplinary and I have developed teaching and research collaborations with academics from the social sciences, engineering, humanities and the arts in addition to working directly with external partners, commercial practices and communities. 

I contribute to numerous academic journals as a reviewer I have have been guest editor of Building Research and Information (BRI).

I am a currently an editor of the peer-reviewed journal arq (Architectural Research Quarterley)


My current research interests and activities can be organised into four interconnected themes; the theory and practice of sustainable architecture, constructive design research, material innovation and material meanings.

The theories and practices of sustainable architecture

Architectural discourse has traditionally represented buildings as either art objects or technical objects. Yet buildings are also social objects in that they are invested with social meaning and they shape social relations. In recognising these assumptions my research aims to bring together recent debates in the humanities to the practice of sustainable architecture and urbanism. My research also reflects upon the growing recognition of professional responsibilities to confront environmental issues and the recent shifts in the economic and social contexts of building and construction. It aims to contribute towards the establishment of an agenda for the development of a coherent sub-discipline of ethics within architecture and the built environment. In 2009 I organised and co-chaired a major interdisciplinary International conference; Ethics and the Built Environment held at The University of Nottingham, UK. The conference brought together philosophers, ethicists, architects, engineers and urban designers to debate on the ethical dimensions of the built environment in all its forms. Key outputs from the conference included a guest edited edition of Building Research and Information (2010).

Material innovation and meaning

I am interested in how small-scale material innovation can contribute to the global ‘grand challenges’ of resource scarcity, environmental degradation and climate change. These approaches rely on engaging and mobilising individuals and communities in the search for solutions and with this in mind I am interested in how concepts such as social innovation and frugal innovation can facilitate modest, low-tech material innovations that are scalable.

I also have a longstanding interest in concrete as a construction material and I have recently become involved in a number of projects that investigate the post-war architectural and urban legacy of the North East region.  I am particularly interested in the contested meanings of the material.

Constructive Design Research

During the past 10 years I have initiated and been involved in a number of design-build projects that have provided the opportunity to connect design, pedagogy, research and engagement. I am particularly interested in the way that the processes of design and construction provide unique opportunities for both practical and speculative research.

Testing Ground - I am currently running an ongoing programme of constructive design research situated in the contrasting landscapes of the The Northumberland National Park and the Kielder Forest Park. This work engages with multiple external partners and actively explores the synergies between design practice, pedagogy, public engagement and academic research. Testing Ground deploys design-build practice as research method and has so far produced six permanent architectural projects that explore environmental and social sustainability by working directly with rural communities.

To date the built projects are;

Stonehaugh Stargazing Pavilion (2014)

Kielder Warm Room (2015)

Rochester Roundhouse (2016)

Bakethin Wildlife Hide (2017)

Bakethin Welcome Point (2017)

Calvert Shelter (2018)

Blakehope Nick (expected 2018)

Testing Ground projects have received funding from numerous sources including The Heritage Lottery Fund and the completed projects have been published in the professional press and have received several awards.

PhD Supervision

I am very interested in supervising PhD students particularly in the areas described above:

My current PhD students are:

Ivan Marquez Munoz - Contested Conceptions of Concrete Architecture

Thomas Kern - Monolithic Construction

Recent PhD completions:

Artem Holstovs - Wood-based Hygromorphic Materials for Sustainable Responsive Architecture

Yasser Megahead - Practiceopolis: Journeys in the Architecture Profession

Pippa Marsh - House and Home: A social reinterpretation of sustainable housing, looking beyond technically efficient buildings

Guopeng Li - An Integrated Prefabricated Housing System for affordability, customisation and flexibility 



I am a Fellow of Higher Education Academy and have wide ranging experience of architectural education spanning 20 years. I began teaching into the architecture programmes at Newcastle in 1994 as a part-time tutor from practice and became a full-time academic in 1998. Since then I have taught and managed at all levels of the professional programmes in Architecture and I have extensive experience of all teaching formats. I have been a Head of Year at all stages of the architecture programmes and a module leader for courses in architectural design, architectural theory, professional practice, environmental design and architectural technology. I have also been a programme director at all parts of the Professional programmes in Architecture and for various PGT courses.

Between 2004 and 2010 I was Director of Teaching and Director of the Part 2 programme at The University of Nottingham. In addition to running various studio programmes I have also taught lecture programmes in Architectural theory, Environmental Design, and Construction. I have been a guest lecturer and visiting critic at numerous universities in the UK, Europe and the USA.

I have supervised numerous student design projects that have achieved regional, national and international recognition and awards.

I am particularly interested in design and material practice as a mode of research and I am actively involved in constructive design research projects where the aim is to explore and generate new knowledge from the active and direct processes of making an artefact. I have published several peer-reviewed articles related to my teaching practices.