Tag Archives: architectural pedagogy

Not one-size-fits-all

Architecture requires a great many different kinds of intelligence to function. The typical office is divided up into groups of design, technology, and management. And even within these areas, there are many different specialties. Yet typically within education, especially at the undergrad level, we have a one-size-fits-all approach. All students are expected to respond to the same problems, and are assess on the same basis. Students with different kinds of intelligence are often penalized within this system, and we frequently these people are lost to the profession.

I see a lot of different kinds of student. I have started a kind of taxonomy, and right now I have five basic genera within the family of architecture. Of course, each genus can be broken down further into different species. The genera I have identified are the Artist, the Gearhead, the Theorist, the Administrator, the Politician, and the Architect. The Artist excels at making form and concept. The Gearhead excels at technology. The Theorist excels at history and philosophy. The Administrator excels at organization. The Politician excels at engaging people. The Architect is the rare intelligence that can combine the qualities of most of the other genera.

We have a magically diverse world filled with amazing creative potential, and as a professional training ground, we have to figure out how to engage them all. This is one of the reasons I love group projects.Many of my colleagues don’t like collaborative work because they feel that the students individually aren’t displaying their mastery. I understand their point, but when in architecture is anything done by the single lone genius (other than in Ayn Rand fiction)?

Ordinarily 1 + 1 = 2. But in collaborative work I think that there is a kind of exponential condition where the work isn’t twice as good, but 4x. The students seem to complement each other. One of the best teams I had were the dregs leftover when everyone else paired up. These two seemed mismatched, but in reality the strengths augmented each other to arrive at a great result. It was a “hot mess” no doubt, but a thoroughly committed one. When it came time for grading, I was going to give one student a higher grade than the other, because I thought he was driving the bus. But he stood up for his colleague, and said the other more than pulled his weight.

I’m as guilty as everyone else in perpetuating the one-size-fits-all. In many a studio I have taught I have privileged the artist and the architect. The hardest are the poor first year students who struggle valiantly, but don’t have the inherent design ability. And we lose these hard working souls to the discipline, simply because we can’t find a way to include them.

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Language

I’ve been struggling with how to get at the teaching of environmental issues in the studio. What I am coming to recognize is that it is not an issue of understanding some technology, but a more fundamental understanding of and appreciation for the way natural systems work, and how buildings can manipulate or be manipulated by those systems.

So, how do we get at this, yet retain the poetry of our formal investigations? After all, this is how we were raised as architects, dedicated to formal and spatial preoccupations.

My answer is language. Change the focus of the investigation. I have questioned language in the studio for many years, in one form or another. Usually I question culturally loaded words, and ask to challenge the received meaning. Words like window and door are dangerous, especially today in the world of Revit, where they are lazy blocks or families, casually inserted. Instead, use a more ambiguous term like aperture, and begin to describe the qualities desired.

So, too, with engaging natural systems. The goals of poetic form are there, but in the service of engaging the natural world. The focus changes, but the development of architectural language proceeds. Issues of spatial sequencing, tectonic language, scale, hierarchy, rhythm, linear, planar, volumetric, all this continues unabated.

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