University Professor Assigns Students to Make Fully Operational Torture Devices

Homework is not meant to be comfortable, but one professor's effort to get his students to create fully operational torture devices has even some of his colleagues wincing.

Students at Kent University School of Architecture in southeast England were asked to manufacture the devices as part of an attempt to sensitize them to the principals of ergonomics — the science of reducing fatigue and discomfort — according to this week's issue of The Architect's Journal.

A copy of the assignment — entitled "Torture" — carried on the publication's Web site showed a diagram of a Gestapo electric torture table and invited students to "look at the dark side of ergonomics."

"Proposals have to be realizable in 2008.... No Sci-Fi devices please," the assignment said. "It has to be fit for purpose, robust and effective and well thought out; it has to work."

The assignment suggested using recycled material. It also warned against using mains electricity.

"We don't want you to become a victim of your own device," it said.

The Journal said the assignment was written by Kent University tutor Mike Richards. No one at the university or the Royal Institute of British Architects immediately responded to phone and e-mail messages seeking comment Saturday, but The Guardian newspaper quoted one of the institute's former presidents, Paul Hyatt, as saying he was appalled by the project.