What makes a great architecture school? Why its time to dismantle the pedigrees.

So what makes a good architecture school? Everyone seems to have an opinion about it. It’s a complex area. Some architects wonder why the graduates of architecture schools are not technically skilled or seem totally useless. A largely baseless and crude accusation that contributes nothing tot he debate. Any attempt to either consult or change the curricula with the professional bodies outside of university is fraught with petty politics. Architectural academics (and most have a foot in the real world) are totally constrained by a wider regulatory regime that both hampers their ability to create knowledge and then does not fully account for that knowledge when it is created.

My life as an architecture student. 

There is still no research infrastructure to count, yes actually count for, for architectural designs and projects produced in and alongside the academy. This is scandalous and something that the wider profession needs to address. Every time I collaborate on a project or a competition it is not counted in university research metrics. In contrast it me took me ten years (more by the time I graduated) do my architecture degree. This was a combination part-time work, a year working in a sheet metal factory, self-education through reading, feeling the need to prepare for 6 months before I did the next studio and hanging out with my employer the Master smoking cigarettes. When I wasn’t driving the Mater’s car on errands (or stacking it) we often talked, yes actually talked, about architecture.  Thanks to the Whitlam program I was the first in my family to go the university.

Students are forced to pay exorbitant fees and as a result just want to get in and get out. Now more dawdling. No more leisurely processes of self-education. No more long chats about architecture and life, the universe and everything. , any attempt to educate students more deeply beyond the contents of packaged up, templated and accreditated university courses and subject’s is fraught. It’s really different now and some would argue this new environment has corroded our public life.

The contrasting idea is that architecture itself is a comprehensible system, and architecture schools embody a system of education that both shapes and  supports the canons and norms of the discipline.  It’s the Bauhaus (being a prime example of a systematised education) idea of architectural education.

Venice 

I have always suspected that a few people around my provincial town (secretly I am one of them as well) are enamoured with the IAUV and the so-called Venice School of architecture.  A school that was presided over by the provincial “barbarian” Guiseppe Samona. Think a melange of Rossi’s types and Giorgio Grassi’s realism and Gregotti, a deft nod to the theorist Cacciari & historian Tafuri, and the urban realism of Aymonino. For a Melbourne suburban boy Italian architecture is all pretty intoxicating.

Parametricism 2.0 

Of course, schools can be seen to be evil. As recently as last year Schoomee (Patrik Schumacher) was pretty pissed writing that:

This turn away from Parametricism is most conspicuous within the former hotbeds of the movement such as the Architectural Association (AA) in London and Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP) in New York. Another indication is the general backlash against ‘iconic’ architecture in architectural criticism, and the recent proliferation of a frugal Neo-Rationalism. The anti-icon polemic misunderstands that an architecture that is rigorously developed on the basis of radically new, innovative principles becomes conspicuous by default rather than by intention. Both the anti-icon and NeoRationalist camps fail to recognise that the new societal complexity calls for urban and architectural complexity.

I love reading the stuff Schumaker (spelling?) writes its so kerazy and the above quote pretty much says it all and points to the grip that the “pedigreed” and branded schools have on our disciplines. Schools, whose graduates are them hoovered into the intern machines of the star architects Like his own. Perhaps, Schoomey should start his own Schumaccher school.

There are a few glimmers of hope around the place. On the West Coast. The Free Architecture School is being set up by Peter Zellner and it appears to contest the prevailing and pedigreed paradigms of what architecture schools should be like.”

“Many schools of architecture […] now find themselves mired in various forms of academic cult worship: digital traditionalisms, faux-art fetishisms, silly mannerist dead-ends, philosopher-shaman worship, and other neoconservative returns.”

“Several generations of students were robbed of their voices and their right to grow potent individual practices,”

Zellner argued that a post-studio model of architectural teaching, one which is founded on open conversation, student autonomy and critique, “now seems imperative and necessary” to unshackle students and teachers alike from the master–disciple model of teaching..

Peter Zellner is right. A really great architecture school would be self governing: students would be involved in its processes of decision making and production, it would have no pedigree except for what it night produce at a particular moment in time. It would experiment across the territories that only diversity can engender. It would generate open conversations and ideas that would be debated in civil society.  It would be a system that would produce new ideas for the discipline rather than imposing pedagogical strictures or reinforcing pedigrees.

In some ways all of these elements were present, to an extent, at the architecture school I attended. As well as the one I am now at. But we need more than just elements; we need radically different modes of teaching and learning in architecture. To say the least, the neoliberal turn in higher education policy has not really helped architecture.  A great architecture school is a crucible for all of the wild and crazy ways of architects and architecture.

 

 

 



Categories: architectural education, univeristies policy, Universities

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