Is learning the way architecture education remains relevant?
Is learning the way architecture education remains relevant?
This article originally appeared on Common Edge.
In this week’s Common Edge play, Duo Dickinson explores his personal journey from teaching to practice to teaching again, and the differences he has perceived. Stating that “no one today believes that the school can fully prepare students for what architecture will become in 10 years”, the author explains how the teaching of architecture has evolved and wonders what could be the best ways to ensure that education remains relevant.
When I received a letter in 1987 from Raj Saksena, the founding dean of the School of Architecture at Roger Williams College (now University), I was flattered and surprised. I had graduated from Cornell a decade earlier with a bachelor’s degree. Even though I had written two books, won one Architectural file House Award, and was a new partner with Louis Mackall, I didn’t have a masters degree, and I had never taught. But Raj was not shy. He wanted me to teach design more than two hours from my desk. I had just hung up my boots as an assistant high school football coach and hadn’t become a parent yet, so there was a window.
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And this window was not just personal. It is common for practicing architects to become adjunct professors, teaching one course per semester. Auxiliaries offer a professional perspective that no academic can replicate, and this is true of all professional degrees, whether they are doctors, lawyers, engineers or architects.
But in 1987, I had the time and the pride, and I accepted to teach design; then I did a seminar on writing in architecture. Raj asked me if I could stay, but my life was changing. Even though I had installed a “car phone” (remember that?), My wife and I were trying to have a child, I was into my next book, and I was also considering making my own. own office. More than twenty hours per week of teaching and travel were not possible.
And yet teaching has been a deeply enriching experience as it has required me to define a design process and do it through the eyes of students with little or no knowledge or experience, a valuable exchange for all. participants. Yet I was only a dozen years older than them, and at the time, the way architects produced designs were the same in my upbringing as it was in theirs. I enjoyed working with the other professors in the classic studio model of desk reviews, hangouts, presentations. But my passion grew, and the local school, Yale, didn’t hire teachers without a master’s degree. So I taught for three semesters at Roger Williams and returned to practice.
Until Yale called.
After the birth of our first child, Kent Bloomer – who ran the undergraduate, non-professional architecture program there and had seen me on a review – asked if I could fill in for an absent professor. It was 20 minutes from my office. Of course I would. The students were extremely articulate and thoughtful, and the TAs at the graduate school were also intelligent and engaged students who also benefited from my experience.
The next 30 years saw five more books, two sons, 1,000 design commissions, an office of half a dozen and many conferences, design juries – professional and academic – but no real teaching thought. . Until I got a call from Maggie Moore Alexander, wife of Christopher Alexander. Seattle architect Susan Ingham had seen an article I wrote on Common Edge, and Maggie asked if I wanted to lecture at the new architectural education program, Building Beauty, in Italy. “Why not more? ” I suggest. So we created the HOME Contest.
Given the enthusiasm for this effort, I contacted the Architecture Program at the University of Hartford to see if the school would be interested in participating. The new dean, Jim Fuller, agreed to meet, and he loved the idea. After a year, he offered to teach me at UHart, an hour from home, for a seminar, one day a week. It’s been two semesters of another great experience, now enhanced in the Zoom era, where guest lectures are easy and engaging for everyone involved, perhaps the only positive reality to come out of sequestration.
It’s clear to me that my 30-year absence from teaching (beyond being a guest reviewer) has revealed many changes. There are more teachers who teach as auxiliaries but do not earn a building to live on. There are now more ways to reach more students and faculty around the world. The extreme cost of an architectural education remains, but that means scholarships are needed, which translates into less money for the school. And yet the demand for degrees has remained constant. According to the NCARB, the number of architectural registrations in 2019 was the highest in six years.
The last 30 years of explosion in rendering, engineering and construction technologies have erased the confident status quo of 1987. No one today believes that the school can fully prepare students for what architecture will become in the world. 10 years. Looking to the future over ten years ago, David Celanto wrote in Harvard Design Magazine that the coming change “involves nothing more than the abandonment of thousands of years of precedent.” Indeed, I think the differences I observed between 1987 Roger Williams College and 2021 Building Beauty will look strange in just a few years. Architects are on the brink of an AI revolution that will transform everything. Teaching in four different places over the past 35 years, I know that the students have not fundamentally changed, and neither has the passion of those dedicated to academic architecture. What has changed, and will completely explode, is the way buildings will be constructed. If this is true, then education must change.
Perhaps architects will use AI to take on the role of Master Builder again, rather than serving as an uneasy hub of a quilt of consultants who may one day be replaced by technology. This development could well put an end to the pedagogy of education in architecture of fine arts of the last century. If this is the case, then our education must reflect these fluid changes. While understanding history, design, and theory remains crucial, the design studio may become less important to a student’s education. Instead, the Direct Apprentice Insertion Model may be the best way for education to remain relevant in a world where change is happening too quickly to be taught.