Two tribes: Why design teachers are second class citizens.

As universities have become global marketing machines in search of students the architecture schools within them, have I think, suffered. Architecture schools are now embedded in corporate entities with slick brands, advertising campaigns, and strategic statements and so-called KPIs. As a result, our architecture schools are now stratified by two classes, or tribes, of knowledge workers.

Tribe 1: Travelling in First Class

University rankings and brands are these days built on reputation usually linked to research outputs and some notion of reputation. There are various ranking regimes and national processes and metrics differ from country to country. The problem is those research outputs, in my country at least,  are linked to traditional academic activities. Creative works or anything outside of this doesn’t get a look in. If these works do count they are certainly harder to count. Of course, writing a blog like this accounts for zilch or as we used to say in the bogan suburb: Jack Schitt. Moreover, I always suspect that anything cross-disciplinary, or from the sociological (especially ethnography), or the organisational sciences is viewed with suspicion by athe first tribe.

Brownie Points 

In many architecture schools the research brownie points mostly go to the historical or technical research (especially around sustainability)  and  sometimes, but less so, architectural theory gets a look in. There are lots of architectural historians (myself included I guess) and technologists in architecture schools. In regards to the brownie points anything related to design is often put into the too hard basket.

As a result the people who do well in these university systems are not the architects or designers or even the design studio teachers, teaching in the sludge of the undergraduate studios , it is very often the tribe of “traditional” academics. These academics find things to study, they ask research questions which more often than not they answer; they produce papers and they arguably, and demonstrably, contribute to knowledge. Their outputs unlike the design outputs are highly valued and easily counted in university systems.

Don’t get me wrong, I love this tribe and many of the people in it.

A few people might read their papers including other architects. Sometimes members of this tribe will produce books about architects and these are very often great. We all read the books and revere the authors. But in my experience few of these people, because of the enormous effort needed to develop an academic career, can design or even teach in the design studios. Some don’t even want to teach in the studios even though they have devoted their lives to the discourse canons and traditions of architecture. Sadly, a few have been so consumed by this struggle that they have forgotten about architecture; for these, the pedantic practices of textual research is all that matters.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

In the current university systems these are the people who have solid and enduring career paths. They are in many respects the model citizens who benefit from the institutions status and prestige. The good ones go up the food chain. Many of them made into first class when the earlier layers and regimes of metrics and KPIs were easier and softer; less brutal than they are now. It is probably too harsh for me to say that the Dunning Kruger Effect is at play here.

How to identify members of this tribe

So what do these people look like? There is no need to dehumanize them in the above paragraphs. So, what is this tribal first class actually like? I once made contribution to a short film on Boyd. I was a little overweight, stuttering and hardly able to make eye contact with the camera. Uncomfortably, spitting out the words about Boyd and his relationship to Japan with difficulty. The other academics, the first class tribal travellers, casually dressed, smooth talkers, patrician and relaxed as if they had just stepped out of the country club. Turtlenecks and Zegna jackets. It’s hilarious to see the comparison between myself and the others.

New Directions from Jacques Sheard on Vimeo.

Tribe 2: The Underclass 

There is however, in the graduate architecture schools and universities across the world, another tribe. These are the people who actually teach in the undergrad and post-grad design studios,  are a different class entirely . Mostly, they are sessional staff working on the run, part-timers, emerging practitioners or the handful of academics who can teach design and research.  Even these academics are on the run as they juggle design teaching with the traditional research outputs. In many universities these academics are thrashed because they are usually pretty good at teaching and they are constantly faced with working against diminishing resources, pointless organisational makeovers, increasing class sizes and all too lax entry requirements. Some of these people academics are, or were, practitioners, large and small, and many continue to practice and design and build.

Incentives and the Research Quantum

But what this tribe designs and builds or gets published is not often counted in the research quantum. It doesn’t necessarily really help your academic career, or as a sessional practitioner, to produce creative or design research outputs. Firstly, no one in the upper class tribe really knows how to measure creative and design outputs. Worse still I fear that the upper class tribe don’t have an incentive to help the underclass get the Research Quantum points based on design or creative outputs. Why should they? That would undervalue their position. Much easier to cast aspersions on the value of design knowledge because it is hard to quantify and is not technical or textual based research (Even I have been guilty of doing this).

One contradiction 

But as with the existence of all underclasses, in organisational contexts, there are contradictions.

One contradiction is that the first class tribe loves the second class tribe when when it comes to the impact metrics and surveys. In my country we have ERA, but this is an incredibly opaque process, which tries to capture impact. I have never been able to figure out the ERA process and how it works. I assume ERA is not that transparent. Conservative governments are always trying to put in place KPI measures of impact but they never quite get there.

These types of impact assessment exercises always help the university or school, but not the design orientated researcher on the ground.

Two tribes 

The under class are too busy trying to juggle everything, families, practices, projects and research that doesn’t fit into the neat categories of the upper class tribe.

Every design teacher whether they be in architecture, graphic design, industrial design, landscape or urban design has the dilemma of how to make their research count. How do we convince the first tribe that running a studio, doing competitions, or doing speculative projects designs or making a building contributes to knowledge? Broader research is harder to sell. Even research around industry structure of the profession, architectural innovation, or sociological studies of architectural practice. If its applied research then it’s somehow flakey.

But the first tribe love it when the citizens of the second tribe win awards and accolades. In fact when that happens the first tribe goes nuts and use these to bolster whatever institutional brand they need to bolster.

Consider the architecture school you know best and ask yourself how these two tribes relate. In some schools these two tribes are at war and in others they tolerate each other in a dysfunctional fashion. In some schools one tribe dominates over the other and this leads to all sorts of problems and research imbalances. Some schools are single tribes.

Guess who is making the money?

Oh and I forgot to mention another contradiction: The crazy thing is that it is the design studio teachers who are making the money for the universities and this money subsidises the research of the first tribal class. So at the end of the day it’s not about the knowledge or the discipline of architecture it’s all about the money. Unless resolved by the universities, and profession itself, notions of civility will be abandoned as these two tribes battle it out for resources.

In great architecture schools, it is not just about the money,  these two tribes collaborate, debate and have enough respect for each other by seeking to understand the other.

Q: Why do Architects need to be better communicators? A: Because everyone is ripping us Architects off.

A few years back I got together with another architect who had also been to business school. We had the idea of looking at how we might develop a course about that would help corporate strategists and line managers understand the nuances, ambiguities and worth of design thinking, innovation ecosystems, prototyping, creative destruction, design methodologies, iterative generation, developing idea portfolios and managing creative teams. We had even gone some way to developing a syllabus.

We trucked it around to the architecture schools. No one really cared. The local business schools were more interested but wanted to see architecture schools buy-in. The architecture schools did not really get it. Oddly enough the only people who seemed half interested were the Edward De Bono types.

Of course, these sorts of courses have now sprung up in quite a few places. But certainly not in architecture schools. Nor, have they emanated from anywhere near the domain of architecture. There are now design thinking courses and more  courses, and consultancies all over. In fact everywhere. Except in architecture. Maybe because of these developments architects are slowly coming to the realisation that they have a unique way of viewing the world and this is valuable and can be of value to others. But coming to this realisation now could be too late.

Now all of this is not to say, or exalt our own egos, by saying that we were ahead of our time. But I did start to think about this failed project when I came across a recent article by Barbara Bryson at Design Intelligence entitled, the Future of Architects: Extinction or Irrelevance. This article appears to have gone viral across the usual social media platforms and it is worth quoting and analysis an excerpt:

Firstly, I strongly agree with her argument that:

Design thinking, the empathetic problem-solving methodology, grew, in part, out of our architectural problem-solving design methodologies. Education innovators are also taking lessons from architecture schools. Active learning, making spaces, and student engagement all have roots in the studio process.

But it’s probably not just in the education that our design expertise is being ripped off by others. Everyone is grabbing our best stuff. Maybe this is why, the next sentence struck a chord with me:

The rest of the world is learning from our processes, grabbing our best material, and moving on to success and relevance.

She then concludes that:

Architects, on the other hand, are impossibly stagnant in process and perspective, incredibly vulnerable to irrelevance and even extinction. I believe we have been on this road for decades, and we need to make some profound changes if we as architects are to have an impact on the built environment in the future and if we wish to be relevant.

Her argument is that architects have become too narrow in defending the territory of design. It’s still a hard task to convince architects that we need to expand our territory and domain of knowledge. Trying to convince other architects that a couple of architects with MBAs could teach the strategic line managers something was mostly greeted with blank looks and polite silence. Yet, Architects are better at design and know more about it than engineers, accountants, lawyers, and dare I say it, even software developers.

But, have architects really been that good at communicating why design thinking is important and how it may apply to other fields of knowledge? Have we really been able to develop our own research methodologies and methods in order to stake expanding territories of knowledge rather than shrinking ones? Are we really open to strategic collaboration and using our design intelligence to expand what we can do; and what we need to do in cities and urban settlements?

Unless architects move out of a defensive mode to a more generative and expansive domain in regards to our traditions of design thinking, it is possible that we will become irrelevant. Spitting the dummy, and having apoplexy every time: we perceive our design territories becoming somehow “impure”;  or when we argue that simply designing something  is somehow design research, without understanding what the contribution to architectural knowledge is; or we cling to an alpha-male and pedigreed star system, a star system that rewards the biggest egos; or worse still, the biggest spinmeisters; or we silently support a non-inclusive career path system; or an intern and work culture of chronic underpayment; or an industry association research infrastructure that is non-existent; or our unthinking love of new and emerging technologies. Any wonder we get cut out of so much stuff.

Don’t get me wrong I love architects and wouldn’t be in any other profession. But, we need to grow up as a profession and have a mature discourse. Otherwise, we are heading down the gurgler.

As one of my connections in my social media feed said: Barbara Bryson has “nailed it.” And you can read her full blog here.


The Rise of the Box Building: Bananas in Pajamas and BIM software.

I fear that the latest digital software dictates our design decisions without architects really thinking that much about it. Instead of jumping on the new great new BIM technology bandwagon we need a different debate.  I worry that some of the readers of this blog may be a bit tired of my seemingly old school rants about the hazards of digital technologies and design. But they need to be voiced, or written about, before it is too late. Architects need to resist architectural design and design knowledge becoming a sub-system of a commodified production process. Debating the merits of the prevalent software brands is critical to developing a resistance to anything that diminishes our field of knowledge.

B1 and B2: The predominant global software brands 

Let’s call the two predominant software tools beloved by our profession B1 (Trade name of large white almost extinct animal) and B2 (Weird trade name that conjures up Cousin IT). How did our discourse become beholden to these global brands? In order to protect the guilty, I prefer not to name them by their trademarked and branded names. That would give their developers too much dignity. You can work out who I mean.

Like the Bananas in Pohjamas, also named B1 and B2, both are entities that are the result of the new digital media arena that architects work in. A landscape, dare I mention it, intertwined with the emerging digital-military complex. I wont dwell on this broader point, as today I would like to focus a bit on the hazards of B2.

Firstly, for those readers who need further prompting, B1 is a software brand with animal logo of an almost extinct mammal. In total, there are only about 20,000 of the white species of animal left. B1 allows you to design and create plastic and fluid curves and shapes. Arguably, and supposedly, B1 allows you to generate a design. The emphasis here being on the word generation.

The B2 database

In contrast B2 is different to B1 it is not a modelling tool. It is essentially a database. Yes, an actual database that allows you to do some 3D drawing. You can even do 4D in B2. Wow. Googly Moogly Batman: you can slowly watch the Banana being peeled in order to meet supply chain logistics and OH&S logics. All the information created by the B2 can then be used as the B2 created banana withers and dies. All very sustainable. Or so it is claimed.

B2 does have some add-ons which augment it. But in the rush for technical skills, and post graduation jobs, many students and indeed studios are being hampered by the lack of generative capability. Disturbingly, I am starting to see more and more design studios employing the B2 software tool as a generative and primary tool. No conceptual drawing, no generative diagrams, no annotated sketches, no exploration of options, no physical models. Just jump in and start the model.

CAD and BIM Monkey Magic

Who needs the fluff of design when you need the BIMMY B2 skills to get a job, to become a CAD BIM monkey eating B2 bananas. Who needs that when you can quickly whip up an orthogonal framework and put stuff into it. Yes, using B2 in a design studio you can quickly develop a convincing orthogonal structural frame; and a so-called system; and  lo and behold fill your overall frames with some little boxes; or even slightly bigger boxes; Holey Moley Batman these could be rooms: you can then easily pretend you have designed and actual building. A building that is little more than an overall orthogonal frame filled in with boxes and frames and segments.

Pleasuring the reward centres 

But B2, unlike B1, does not create a NURBS wonderland and it has a limited ability to manipulate individual polygons. The pleasure and experience of using B2 is quite limited. You can easily pull stuff out of the B2 database, as that is what it is made for. Coffee tables, dining tables, office tables, chairs, sofas and trees. Not to mention all sorts of windows and doors. It’s not about generative design: It’s about scrolling, clicking and selecting and then placing. Not so different to Ebay. Each time an architect undertakes this process in building a digital model, a reward pulse goes from your eyes once the database object is placed, to the reward centres of your brain. You then feel good using a database even though you have populated your building model with slop. You feel like you have achieved something. You feel as if the model you are working on is real.

Architectural Design requires thought and effort to conceive, generate, manipulate and then recast. It is an iterative process. Sometimes, two steps forward and one step back. The upshot is that with software tools like B2, limit this process, and encourage the least course of resistance to be followed in the design process. Architectural studios and graduate schools are quickly becoming populated with the results of an over use of B2. Our discipline is getting getting swamped with B2 boxes.

A guide to recognising the B2 designed Box

These projects are B2-like boxes, they are easily recognised, and the following guide should help you to spot them as well.

1. They are boxes: Usually with a few additions and subtractions. Addition, subtraction, orthogonal segmentation and division are about the limits of compositional nuance. Of course, you might find a few abberrant curves, But these will be outliers.

2. They are boxes: The box finishes at the lines of its border. Everything is contained within and there is no effort to either extend or consider how the design might extend into or be a part of a surrounding context. No need to think of architecture’s broader urban responsibilities. The bunny is definitely in the box.

3. They are boxes: and utilise a segmentation that is commensurate with the most advanced, but simplistic, prefabricated building techniques. It’s always a melange of concrete and aluminium panels. No need to think about constructional craft or detailing. Its flat packed world of timber and chipboard.

4. They are boxes: and whilst a section may have been cut through the model for display, it is at worst a section that shows an undifferentiated layer cake of walls and ceilings, at best a few gaps have been dropped out or erased to make some interior spaces. There is no crafting, shaping and contouring of sections.

5. They are boxes: The only light that illuminates these creations is the final oh-so-awful V-Ray renders. B2 software does not allow the architect to think about how light might enter or be manipulated in these toxic creations. I mean who cares. You can’t dial up or select actual light from the database.

6. They are boxes: They are dumb and inchoate boxes that have abandoned architectural theory and history except in the most superficial way. There are no cultural tones or thoughts in these creations. No authentic design research and experiment. They are lacking in irony and there is never any subversive hint or self-awareness in their own making. I hate it when these types of projects win prizes.

Architects decried the modernist box of the 1950s international style. But these new boxes are more insidious. Who needs a critical theory of architecture when you can appease your pleasure centres by using a cool database. Who needs theory when you can be part of the B2 Banana cult future.

A future that is a retrograde technological utopia devoid of architecture.


Trump’s climate abandonment: How architects can fight back.

Now that Trump has abandoned the Paris climate agreement what can architects do? Are architects doing enough? In the face of the prospect of two-degree global warming I would suggest that we architects need to reconfigure and question our current professional certainties. The issue of global warming and its relationship to architecture is one that warrants being written about in a polemical fashion.


I fear that we architects are consumed and distracted by a narrative of enchantment. A discourse that distracts us from developing a more radical narrative and leadership in the face of climate change. As I suggested in a previous blog this is narrative has a focus on utopian poetics; a naïve poetics that should be dammed for its lack of irony and unself-conscious perspectives. As Urban-Think Tank have proclaimed we need to forget utopia and need to focus our perspective on the unfolding, and catastrophic, realities of the Favela cities and informal settlements. These are the cities which will be impacted the most by a warming atmosphere.

The fantastic technologies, futuristic cures and emerging intelligent processes that circulate in popular culture and social media have little immediate impact on the realities of day to day practice; nor do they touch the cities that are driven to highrer densities as a result of volatile capital flows. Why have architects and urbanists so thoroughly embraced the densification of cities and the global urbanisation mantra?

Architects need to avoid the comforting fairy tales and cures of technology.  We also need to avoid the self-comforting warm slosh of green of sustainability. Don’t get me wrong I am all for innovation and Futures thinking.  But I am not for a distracted profession that is naïve when it comes to arguing and debating different alternative futures. Our futures should not be simplified and depicted as picturesque renders of flooded cities; or worse still floating cities that are little more than polluting cruise ships; or the escapism of outer space habitats.

Yep, the robots, and articial intelligence is coming, but that doesn’t mean architects need to unthinkingly embrace emerging technologies as the next best thing to ride. The robots and drones will probably kill us.

More activism 

Architects are uniquely placed to address the above issues and the serious issue of a warming world.  But in order to do so architects need to be more radical in their activism and policy stances. Our discourse is too conditioned by tropes that imply adaptation, integration and accommodation, rather than militancy,  in the face of a looming disaster. Words like sustainability, adaptation and resilience need to be abandoned and recast. This is a salvage operation in the face of mass extinction and should be seen as such. It should not be too strident, too polite or too crazy to discuss things in these terms.

Architectural theory 

Architects also need to recast their theoretical instruments. The apolitical and abstract theories and debates that emerged out of the pedigreed schools of the American East coast in the early 80s no longer have any utility. In practice these theories have too often supported neoliberal capitalism. We need new theories that encompass diversity, difference, ecological realities and contest neoliberal urbanism. As some have suggested we need to abandon the dictatorship of the eye.

Architectural education needs to change and orientate itself towards developing a scepticism about emerging technologies. As argued by myself elsewhere the production architectural knowledge needs to be privileged over the production of the physical object or building. We need to teach young architects how to manage data, information and knowledge.

If design research is to mean anything then we need to argue about how we can measure and qualify its contribution to architectural knowledge. The latest funky or sustainable design requires a theoretical infrastructure and argument that establishes how design contributes new knowledge to the architectural canon. Just saying and making the claim that a particular design is design research is not enough.

Architectural leadership is important in the current age of barbarians and fragmented truths amidst the swirl of, what Debord designated, as the Spectacle. But in order to exercise that leadership architects need to avoid the easy seductions of a naïve and seemingly idealistic poetics. Only then will architects help to shift the narrative in favour of the Polar Bears.

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How Drawing Got a Bad Name: The sketch performance as ritual.

The Alpha male star architects gave drawing a bad name. This is because these Mofos see drawing in all its forms as foremostly a performance. It is never about design. No wonder architects have flocked to the illusory certainties of the computer and and have fled the sketch and the drawing. 

What I contest, is not drawing and sketching itself, but the uneccessary perfomances that sometimes go with it. These perfomances have nothing to do with creating design knowledge and everything to do with the actor. With a few flourishes the actors, or architects, who see drawing as performance end up belittling and demeaning the worth of design drawing and sketching. 

There is nothing worse for any architect or architecture student to have to sit down and watch someone draw in front of you. Usually this performance arises as an effort to tweak, meddle and fiddle. To know best. It is rarely the result of any methodical thought in relation to a design process. Whatever drawing, or image maybe on your screen, the drawing performance involves an intervention that involves a number of ritualised steps. These drawing performers will hover and attempt to solve design problems that don’t exist. In a design studio, they will take your printouts and then intervene with their own pen or pencil. The important thing for these so-called architects is the performance and the pomposity of this performance never ceases to amaze me.

The ritual

Firstly, there is the earnest discussion and then the actor performer steps in. Secondly, they reach for the holy instruments and sacraments of drawing. These are often at hand, the fine liner pen, the pencil of various grades, sometimes coloured pencils, a scale ruler, the tracing paper and of course the holy yellow trace. The drawn gestures are often crude but imbued with meaning and there is normally an associated commentary that has always struck me as being slightly creepy. A constant refrain in this ritual is ” let me try this” or “it needs to be bigger” or “we need more of a shape here” and of course there is the  “yes, thats almost it, hmmm, yes a bit more, yes, thats good.”

The gathered throng of observers, architects, students, sometimes clients are forced to watch this onanistic ritual as they watch each gesture, each line each tweaking of the elevations or plans, each seemingly mind blowing solving of a particular design problem. The more sycophantic of the onlookers will um and ahh. The less intelligent will unquestionably subscribe to the solutions which, despite the trivial nature of these gestures, are after a few minutes set in stone.

The horror of poetic ambiguity

Some architects will do a few conceptual drawings and gestures and then just hand them over to the adults and grown-ups in the studio to implement. I know one architect who has created an entire career out of a few flexible sketches produced in the early to mid 90s. These sketches are now enshrined in an archive that shall remain nameless. In tectonic terms these sketches are barely legible, expressionistic scribbles which may have taken perhaps 30 seconds to a minute to have produced. They are of course poetic with a capital fucking-P (apologies to my more genteel readers). This is poetic ambiguity at its maximum. A creative impulse directly translated from the deeper consciousness of the architect’s brain to the appendage of the hand grasping the holy pencil that squirts its line of graphite or ink onto the yellow trace. Remind you of anything? It is uncomfortable to watch. Give me the safe refuge of the computer screen any day.

The digital outline


But sadly, the computer screen has itself also succumbed to the crude gestures of performance. Of course, what is really disturbing is that these often careless and trivial gestures seem to be linked to and transformed into the norms and forms of parametric culture. The parametric computer generated diagram has now supplanted the hand drawn sketch. But the performance around the screen is little different. It’s like in front of these screens everything is new again and the sketches and biomorphic forms of Frederik Kiesler, Pascal Hausermann, Chanaec and Archigram never existed.


 The sketch has been supplanted by the printout of a generic and outlined parametric diagram usually with a honeycombed or diatomic, geometry. All you have to do is use the computer to fill in the detail between the lines. Its called form-finding optimisation. What would happen, if Scarpa-like, you started designing from the parametric details up rather than from an overall all outline down?


Working in an office or studio and having to watch this performance is excruciating. It really is. I think drawing is both an analytical, investigative and generative tool. The best design architects know this. They know when to employ a hand sketch or drawing, employing different modes. They are interested in the design and not the flourish and the poetic mystery of the performance. They work to produce a design once the sketch is done. The initial sketch generates further sketches. The original sketch is not enshrined as art representative of male genius. Less infantile architects use drawings to observe as well as solve problems and develop a design. Simply put, design drawing and sketching is work. 

Yellowtrace fiddling

Once built you can tell the buildings that have been designed via this type of yellow traced performance. You can see the little tweaks and fiddles that have been added to the Revit or Microstation model. The adjustment and shifts in facades and window elevations. The added bits of architectural figuration. The big ideas, first conceived as sketches, that remain as vestiges in the built form, around which an underling has desperately tacked on the rest of the spaces. The shaping and skewing of plans that are knee jerk reactions to the immediate urban or heritage context. The problem is you have to walk through this slop.

Maybe that’s why I like Rossi’s drawings because they are the same elements and forms repeated and re-presented over and over again. Rossi’s drawings are in obvious contrast to those architects who create poetic art each time the squirt the graphite onto the yellow. Maybe thats why Rossi writes about the process of “forgetting architetcure.” John Hedjuk’s drawings represent a different and more subtle kind of poetry than the crude performances described above. There is a humility in the best architectural drawings and design sketches where it is less about the gesture and the performance in place of an almost animistic presence in the drawing itself. Hedjuk’s sketches contain an Archipelago of ideas not content or seduced by their own gestures of making. I think that there is a kind of frenetic desperation in Hedjuk’s, or even perhaps Alvaro Siza’s, sketches. At least Siza looks like he is trying to work some things out. But, the performers and actors in architecture always make it look oh so easy and individuated to their own personality.


I am not sure if this is true but, I always had the idea that the great, and syphilitic, architect Adolf Loos burnt all his papers and drawings. I think that to forget architecture is probably best and most courageous thing any architect can do. All architects have to do that at some point.