Crisis and Pandemonium in Architecture Education?

Educators are increasingly warning about a “crisis” in architecture education today, especially related to a misuse of modeling software and simple form-generating paradigms as a substitute for teaching and learning fundamentals.  They warn of architecture’s loss of authority and autonomy, of education’s increasing irrelevance with respect to the profession and the future.  But the voices are far from unified in how to approach the problem.

Silvetti Muses not Amused-2In 2004, Jorge Silvetti’s article “The Muses are Not Amused” (in Harvard Design Magazine, no. 19, special issue on Architecture as Conceptual Art?) railed against a “pandemonium in the house of architecture.”  Silvetti was disturbed by a “progressive dissipation of the centrality of our mission as educators to teach and learn rigorously and vigorously about form-making and its consequences.”  He considers the “neglect” of form-making to be “nothing less than suicidal for a profession whose creativity and standing depends ultimately on its absolute command of this unique and difficult task.”  He writes of a “deceptive euphoria” about a proliferation of design approaches that purport to create significant form, but don’t.  His “victims” or targets of attack are “programatism,” “thematization,” “blobs,” and “literalism.”  These problematic but increasingly popular approaches to design “are turning the architect into a dazed observer of seductive wonders.”

Instead of using sources outside of architecture to drive the creation of facile forms, Silvetti calls for architecture to return to itself: “architecture as the sole course of architecture could look at anything as formal inspiration, but from its inside out, keeping footings in its building core, anchoring its imagination in programmatic research beyond literal formal translations, and continuing in the flow of its own cultural trajectory, both responsive to and critical of its conventions, which does not imply the literal figurative use of referents.”  He calls for more disciplinary “autonomy,” a return to the specific muse of architecture, without denying the “intertextuality” and cultural “contamination” that we so much appreciate now in architecture.

1_Mayne.inddIn 2005, Thom Mayne’s address to the AIA urged all architects to embrace the computer, integrated practice, building information modeling (BIM), and the new possibilities these bring to the profession.  He writes of how the profession has changed since he graduated from school  in 1969: “Since then architecture has been eviscerated. We’re cake decorators, we’re stylists. If you’re not dealing in the direct performance of a work and if you’re not building it and taking responsibility for it, and standing behind your product, you will not exist as a profession.”

For Mayne, the solution is the 3D design thinking enabled by the computer, especially 3D modeling, both in the screen, and the new fabrication methods, for models, and construction.  “The tools we now utilize simplify potentialities and make them logical, allowing us to produce spaces that even ten years ago would have been difficult to conceive, much less build.  Anything that is possible is realizable… There exists a new medium, a continuity, a flow of thinking, a design methodology which is more cohesive from the first generative ideas, through construction, coordinating millions of bits of discrete data.”  His mandate is to “change or perish”: “You need to prepare yourself for a profession that you’re not going to recognize a decade from now, that the next generation is going to occupy.”  He seeks “less emphasis on designing in the traditional sense–styling, let’s say–and more emphasis on making.” With respect to education, he writes: “I haven’t drawn a plan for five years. I go to schools now that are still drawing plans and sections, and I have no idea what to talk about. Because once you start getting used to these tools, it’s like flying a jet plane and then going back and flying a prop… Once you get used to working three-dimensionally, there’s no going back. It represents a new totality.”

Between Mission Statement a...This month, Tim Love’s article “Between Mission Statement and Parametric Model” (Places blog), wrote provocatively: “A crisis in architectural education is brewing. I refer to the increasingly contentious divide between that cadre of junior faculty who espouse the gee-whiz form-making made possible by speculative parametric modeling and an Inconvenient Truth-influenced student body demanding design studios that prioritize social relevance and environmental stewardship.  The inherent tension between these cultural positions has not yet been fully registered by design faculties nor acted upon with specific curricular reform — yet it’s hard to miss.”

Love continues: “On the one hand, the situation is generating strange, hybridized manifestations in design studios — notably the ubiquitous son-of-the-Yokohama Port Terminal proposal: an undulating green roofscape blanketing habitable space below.  On the other hand, many schools and departments are busy reforming their programs to better integrate sustainability criteria into studio exercises, often at the expense of other aspects of design thinking. But in this swing from decontextualized digital experimentation to heightened social responsibility, design education is being compromised. A generation of young architects is graduating into professional practice with scant ability to construe and elaborate an architectural agenda that begins with a set of a priori social and cultural intentions and ends with a constructed environment. Only by examining both the causes of this situation and current pedagogical tendencies can a better approach to design education emerge.”  In the end, he calls for educators to look at practice for ways to solve the dilemma.

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One response to “Crisis and Pandemonium in Architecture Education?

  1. Interesting thoughts. Change is inevitable, and schools must change too. This is as true for architecture as it was for accounting.

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