The Salon on Standards
Last week I had the pleasure of participating in a NSW Registration Board a panel discussion called the Salon on Standards. For those reading this blog from outside of Australia, the national accreditation board, or the AACA, administers the standards of practice. In other words, the knowledge and skill set that architects are required to learn at architetcure schools:
“The Standard describes what is reasonably expected of a person who can demonstrate the standard of skill, care and diligence widely accepted in Australia as a competent professional Architectural practitioner.”
On the panel we all decided that we love the standards and that they are an important element in the setting the territory of what architecture is as a discipline.
Firstly, a few acknowledgments.
Professor Kirsten Orr of UTAS was also on the panel and her history of the AACA has been ably and deftly researched, You can find her paper here. Plus, I also had the pleasure of being on the panel with Melonie Bayl-Smyth a Sydney architect and NSW board member. All of this was ably presided over by registrar Timothy Horton. Byron Kinnaird facilitated the discussion and Professor Gerard Reinmuth of UTS was there and was generous enough to be gracious towards me. As well and as Martin Bryant head of the Architetcure School at UTS
What should we teach ?
So, what do we need to teach in the architectural curriculum? At the panel, I really shot my mouth off and blurted out all the things I think we need to teach architecture students: strategy, finance, research methods, negotiations, innovation and leadership. I may even have said ecology; as compared to that sustainability greenwash policy Kool-Aid we currently make the students drink.
In other words, money, (finance), management, (organisational sciences) and research methods, are mostly what is missing from our standards. These are all the things I think should be taught in architecture school but don’t teach. But then I wondered if we should make greater efforts to teach these things through the design studio rather than via various add-on subjects.
The Primacy of the Design Studio
When I was a wretched student, the people who taught, me were obsessed with design. I think it was partly a reaction to their own training in the dark ages when hard-core pragmatics and necessity ruled the day in the design studios. So, at my Archi-school in those heady post-modern years, it was about being free, it all became about conceptual design and design and design and design and design. It was all about the primacy of the design studio as a place where architectural knowledge is transmitted. As pointed out by Angers Bergstorm, Donald Schon in his seminal work The Reflective Practitioner identified the primacy of the design studio but Schon also argued against a design studio culture cut off and isolated from either practice itself or other knowledge domains.
So maybe Schon is now right and the balance has gone too far the other way. Maybe the Design Studio has so over swamped and taken up space in architectural education for the last 30 million years that it has now become isolationist. Sure, we all love our design studios. We all like to talk about them and use them to reach out to other disciplines and be trans-disciplinary. But are we as trans-disciplinary as we make out? Should other knowledge be inscribed into the competencies we need to learn? Maybe what architects and architectural educators, are really doing too often, is importing knowledge into the studio for quick and easy adaptation. Maybe, this process is too often too token.
I think in the past building types and programmatic typology was seen as the stable point of architectural education. It was thus easy to design an architecture course around types. Architecture schools kinda went like this. In first year, they messed with your mind, in second year you designed a house, then in third housing and then, maybe a school, and then in final year a grand institutional building. I guess in many places this is still how it is done.
But with new technologies alongside the fragmentation of cities into smaller and smaller bits, that can be plugged in to other bits to make money, the typological understanding of buildings and the city no longer seems relevant.
As architects, we are confronted with a never-ending flow of fragmented, variable, disjointed and seemingly disconnected data. In saying all of this, I am not tryng to argue, the old chestnut of, what we teach at Archi-school is too theoretical, or not pragmatic enough, or is not making the instantly graduates “employment ready.”
What I am saying is this, we really need to have this debate as a profession: What is that we should be teaching in the architecture schools? What should we be teaching in our offices as young architects leave universities. I guess if you never learn about money, managing stuff or organisations at Archi-school you don’t often think about the need for career pathways for young architects.
The problem of specialisation
Fragmentation and specialisation within our discipline is a problem when we have to teach design. The problem is everyone in architecture thinks their own specialisation or field is the design studio: The architects with construction knowledge, think their subject is what a design studio should be all about; the architectural historians think their subject what the design studio; the sustainability architects think their subject are what the design studio should be all about; The workshop digital fabricator types think subject are what the design studio should be all about.
But actually, the design studio is a place where all these things are supposed to come together. Not as add-ons, not as a few guests, but a place where different knowledge territories are debated, analysed and then synthesised into the design process. That’s what design studios are about. About getting the balance right. Design is design and should never be beholden to one specialisation.
The Salon on Standards was great. They even took me out for dinner afterwards and I thought that they had developed a great sense of community between the profession the NSW registration board and the school at UTS. We need more of that and now that the Australian Institute of Architects and the Registration boards appear to have parted ways its great to see what the NSW board is doing. It even runs the Sydney Architetcure Festival.
But next time I run a studio, I might just get the students to design something using an Excel Spreadsheet. Maybe some Discounted Cash Flows or some funky Population Ecology Dynamics. Yip, as well as ecology we might even discuss money in the studio. Think what might happen if we actually had architectural graduates who knew how to use Excel as well as the all consuming Revit?