Dis-integrating arch education (long-ish)

***** WARNING ***** Sociological diatribe ahead!!!!

Linda Smith wrote:
>[Newcastle Uni's] architecture program is
>unique in the world, in that it teaches problem based learning. Instead of
>students taking several different courses within the faculty, the mode of
>teaching I believe happens at other architecture schools, each year of the
>five year course is 'one unit' and learning takes the form of several phases
>throughout the year. Each phase is a design project (for instance, my year is
>presently doing a highrise project in Singapore; fourth year deals with the
>'problems of the city) that is based on an existing site, and often an
>existing client. All supporting study areas (structures, construction,
>environmental studies, etc) are based on the current phase

I can't comment on how unique this is and will leave it to other list
members to comment on its rarity or otherwise. On this account it seems to
approach that most revered of architectural nirvanas, the holy state of
complete 'integration' of the curriculum.

I oppose integration strongly. Yep, that's right I oppose it. I also oppose
its scholarly twin, 'multi-disciplinarity', or the Renaissance scholar.
Leaving the second perversity aside for the time being, my reasons,
pungently stated, are:

* Architectural education has only a little to do with providing a
technical training, practical skills or practical knowledge. As with all
professions, that is really provided by working in offices. [Evidence: I
can provide references to several studies drawn from different professions,
if anyone actually wants them]

* Linda says that the Newcastle Uni system "gives the student a taste of
what 'real-world' architecture is all about". I doubt that very much. If a
school of architecture REALLY wanted to do that, it would close itself down
and send its students out to become apprentices, like we used to do forty
years ago. What is the point of trying to simulate real-world architecture
in a university? The student can get the real thing by getting a job.

* The main function of professional education, and in this case arch
education, in a university is to socialise the student into the
professional ethos and moral order. Any student can determine this for
themselves: Ask yourself the question, What is the harshest form of
criticism I ever receive? The answer you will find is not for technical
errors, for failing to acquire sufficient practical skills-- poor linework,
that sort of thing. The most damning and vehemently expressed criticisms
made of arch students always relate to the students' moral failings: lack
of dedication, lack of respect for teachers' wisdom/experience/genius, lack
of respect for the social order of architecture (reverencing the Great
Architects), showing an unwillingness to play the game.

* The purpose of 'integration' is to strengthen the mechanisms of
inculcating the moral principles (which are also and necessarily social
ones) of architecture. Studio is the main place this happens, so naturally
one trys to get rid of lectures and such like, and to bring everything into
a moral/social hierarchy completely dominated by the studio. In most
schools the same hierarchy exists, of course, but the fact that separate
courses are controlled and graded by people other than those running the
studios ensures the hierarchy is less absolute.

* Studio and juries judge not only the work but the worker; specifically,
their adherence to the ethos. 'Integration' enhances the process:
- By allowing failure in a part (design) to be taken as failure of the
whole, thereby obliging those students vulgar and uncouth enough to be good
at construction or services or those other tedious elements to be regarded
as failures nonetheless.
- By allowing success in the most sacred part (design) to be construed as
success in the whole, permitting those cultivated and dedicated to design
to regard their failures in the tedious areas as not failures at all.
- By forcing those with failures in a single part of the curriculum to
re-take entire years, thus rooting out those without sufficient dedication
to the moral order.

Is all this really happening at Newcastle Uni? I have no idea. I suggest
these two experiments:

* 1. Is arch education really about enforcing a moral order?
The scenario is final design presentation/crit (final jury in USA).
Students present before different juries. One student presents twice, to
different juries. To jury one he/she presents as usual. To the other he/she
emphasises how little time they spent on it, how easy it was to do, how
they lost no sleep at all on it, how they want out partying every night the
whole damn month, in fact. My prediction: Regardless of the quality of the
project, he/she will get a much lesser mark (grade) in the latter case--
fail, maybe. They have breached the moral order of architectural education.
[Yeah, I realise all the problems with this, which just demonstrates how
hard it is to conduct sociological experiments]

* 2. Does studio really judge the student as much as it does his/her work?
Easily tested and easily remedied. Ask your studio-master to have final
presentation/crit (final jury) conducted maybe something like this:

-- All drawings must be anonymous.
-- Judging will be by people unacquainted with any of the students,
complete outsiders preferably. That means no participation AT ALL by the
students' teachers or anyone known to the students.
-- Teachers can suggest a grade distribution, or they can ask the jurors to
just rank the projects. Teachers cannot alter the grades or ranks given to
favour or disfavour students (would defeat the whole point of it).
-- There will be NO participation by the students (because the presentation
of self is one of the most important ways of showing dedication and
adherence to the moral/social order).

The point of this regime, of course, is to ensure that ONLY the work is
judged, and that no consideration of the person of the student comes into
Garry Stevens
Dept of Architectural and Design Science
University of Sydney
NSW 2006
Partial thread listing: