Stemming from a very personal need and desire to contextualise our architectural education, my final year thesis is dedicated into designing an alternative architecture school at the heart of the Ouseburn Valley, Newcastle, UK.
Over a year ago in a debate held at the SSoA I voted and argued for the need to keep schools of architecture running. Being in my final year and having participated in the second Live Project (a six week project with real brief,client(s) and budget), I became more critical of the role schools play in (trans)forming individuals. Even though I don’t support the dissolution of architecture schools, I firmly believe there is a need for restructuring.
Inspired by the work of leading researchers/educators from around the world, I have wondered why isn’t our education exploring the profession at its edge? Why is architecture, especially at a postgraduate level, studied as the intersection of more than one fields?
Why aren’t architects businesspeople, artists, performers, builders, politicians, economists too? Or rather why aren’t there practices set up that way? If architecture is too important to be left to architects (*can’t quite remember where this quote came from, sorry), then why is it?
In a recent talk by Carolyn Buttersworth, named ‘Live’, we have discussed the importance and the benefits of live education. Of course in Sheffield that is done during the Live Projects in semester one. The question that followed quite naturally was, if live projects are live, are the studios dead? Not dead yet, but surely dying is where I stand. Of course there is a need for the individual to undergo a process of self-reflection and self assessment, but why do we have to lose touch with real actors and mentors along the way?
Using the Winter School as a precedent (http://www.winterschoolmiddleeast.org) a localised education hub, spatial and creative practices are used as a platform for exchange and intense criticism on the realities of the Gulf region.
The Local School (http://www.winterschoolmiddleeast.org) in Berlin is another example, of many, that stresses the need for site-specific education. In both cases, a small number of students are teamed up with local protagonists in the course of a semester or year and through intense dialogue. It brings down the teaching -student ratio at times to 1:1.
What is quite unique about such informal schools is that there is a clear stance to their teaching philosophy, to how they occupy space and how they define terms such as technology, sustainability and context. Those three words are intertwined and you can’t really apply sustainability without context, and you can’t use technology in an efficient and sustainable way without context either. During my dissertation, which is not related to education, I have had a mini epiphany, by talking to other professionals from different disciplines, they had used multiple terms and variables to describe context and space. However we, architects space shapers, still insist on defining space by x,y and z. If we started overlaying space with these new variables, there will be a more deep and critical understanding of context.
I personally feel that schools of architecture lack the impetus to reform themselves in a way that will keep the profession relevant and accessible to all. I see that students, including myself, have been recycling ideas without really adding anything new to them. We are designing from a back catalogue just so we can tick a box and move onto the next stage of our professional life.
Shouldn’t schools of architecture be like a greenhouse of ideas? Nurturing creativity, leading innovation, and connected to the networks of the place they operate in? Why are we still enchanted by beauty more so than utility?
If school of architecture became a more public forum where conflict occurred, then the outcome of that learning process would be completely different.
Current architectural education is dubbed as real. Should spatial practices be institutionalised, and if so, what is the public face/role of the institution? While in studios students are the experts, with a clear authority over their projects. All the strings are in their hands, and they are outside of the context looking in. In a real situation, the architect/artist would simply need to change tactics and be grounded. One will still possess the same tools, but apply them in a different way because of the context. The architect will then be an invited guest into resolving a conflict.
With the fees rising and the admission rates falling there is a pressing need to redefine the role of the future architect and the role educators and institutions play in preparing individuals.