Welcome to Zoom-world Part 2: Running a Zoom Design Studio

Welcome to Zoom-world

So now I have spent the whole week in Zoom-world. I have had so many Zoom back to back meetings and classes it’s been overwhelming. I have seen so many white plaster walls and Ikea supply chained backgrounds. No wonder I dislike all that flat-packing CNC lean construction theory which is aligned with the horrors of Ikea products. Anyway, who wants to shop at Ikea now, and who would want to get their frozen tasteless Lingonberries packs home delivered.

Some people have even been sharing pics of their ugly fish-bowled and caged pets, comfy ugg-boots and fleecy bathrobes. FFS, even Tik Tok has Gucci and Prada and Wolford hashtags. Could you ever trust a middle manager architect who thinks it’s funny to flash their acrylic Ugg-boots in your Zoom screen gaze via their laptop or phone camera.

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My Around the house Ugg boots 

As architects in Zoom-world should aspire to higher aesthetic ideals. As architects, we really should not succumb to displaying the gross creature comforts of our domestic lives to others in Zoom. At the very least, we need to maintain our unique fashion sensibility. We cannot let technology destroy the old traditional ways of the architecture cult. We must all still wear black, cool streetwear and luxury brands.

What kind of background scene should I have? What shade of black should I wear? Where should I position my laptop? What books that demonstrate my in-the-know and amazingly erudite knowledge and erudition should I prop my laptop up with.

I vaguely remember I had Zoom drinks last Friday and it was great. I got smashed on three Vermouths. Vermouth being my current drink of choice.

I have been able to do quite a few things I wouldn’t usually be able to do. Weekly meetings with the tutors. Zoom Q&A sessions with the students and also popped into a studio or two. It’s so much more efficient to set up a Zoom meeting than meet in person. It was all great.

I love Zoom-world after a week of it. Nonetheless, I think a few more things need to be said about running the post-graduate Zoom-world architecture design studio.

1. Zoom-world space

Excellent design tutors will understand the Zoom studio operates in a different scale to the physical studio. We are not looking form a different distance when we are looking at the zoom screen. I think this affords several opportunities for better interactive feedback and criticism. A pdf file on a screen is different from a pdf seen projected from 3 meters away. Zoom-world potentially allows for greater scrutiny of conceptual frameworks, diagrams, sketches and aesthetic details. It’s much harder to hide things thing’s or present a superficial view in zoom-world.

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My kind of studio leaders 

2. Be interactive

Zoom-world studios are best interactive any efforts to sue the zoom polls or chat functions or break out rooms are really going to add to the interactive student experience. Arguably, this will help you will engage the “silent” students, who typically say nothing in the physical studio and coax them out of their shells. But you will need to build in breaks and pauses for students to also the questions. You will also need to decide how you handle private messages during the zoom studio meeting studio participants.

If you can record the studio that’s great. This will help you go back and reflect on the ideas and the work presented. Any excellent design tutor will be thinking about each student and where they are at between zoom sessions.

3. Screen view power

But the normal spatiality of the design studio has now been supplanted. In the physical studio, there is usually a spatial hierarchy where critics and students and observers sit in the same space. This has now been transformed to the screen view, which has different view lines and visual trajectories between participants and within individual screens.

While you may be the studio leader, your “authority” and power, if we can call it that, is now translated through the scale of and the gaze of the screens. It is all about communication, and I suspect that hand gestures might work well within this new screen space.

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Zoom background tryout

4. Short rather than long and boring 

Pecha Kucha’s and short videos from the students should be encouraged. You really want to avoid long monologues. Zoom-world studios will work better in shorter segments. This doesn’t mean, as the design tutor, you are prevented from thinking about things reflectively because of shortened time frames.

I am thinking it means your teaching will be more effective if you think about your student’s work and its development as design over a series of shorter time frames. I am not sure about spending 15 to 30 minutes on a student’s work once a week is going to work in the zoom-world studio. Structuring your program a series of many smaller design tasks might be one way to go.

5. Prepping

I would also encourage your students to prepare and submit their work before the studio session. That way, you can look at it quickly beforehand. Asynchronous learning is vital in a design studio. But as a design tutor, you will need to provide materials that engage the student in this process, and you will need to check-in and make sure the students are involved with the material. Building a shared repository of resources is a good idea. As well as creating a forum for sharing online design practices.

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My laptop book supports 

6. Studio tools 

Utilising the page seriality of pdfs may also be a useful and straightforward way to help students to develop good habits of design iteration. The comment function in Adobe is probably something I would use. I am told that Adobe captivate is good.

Short youtube clips will work well to illustrate things if you share your screen.

7. Watch that gaze 

Some people in the Zoom-studio will select a different view on their laptop. As a studio leader, you probably need to be wary of where your own screen view or gaze falls. This consideration is essential, especially if zoom is recording the session of your own laptop screen. (although I need to check and see how it does this).

9. Camera etiquette 

I think as a Design Studio leader I would insist that everyone be on camera and not hide their camera (unless they have really crap bandwidth). Probably okay to have people turn their audio off but maybe you want to encourage engagement with the central focus of the studio at any given time.

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Zoom background and costume test. 

10. Zoom studio as performance space

I can’t stress this enough; the studio needs to be interactive. If you have fallen into the traps of spending your previous studios doing “research” for weeks, focusing on over every tiny abstract gesture, and berating students over issues of functional pragmatism, then a boring studio is going to be even more annoying in Zoom-world.

Finally 

My intro banter above points to the fact that the Zoom studio is just as much a performance space as a traditional design studio, and this engenders a different kind of spatial performance. You can’t wear your fleecy beige bathrobe or Acrylic South Park tie to the studio. Hence, you need to think about the production values of the zoom studio: backgrounds lighting, camera positioning and sound. Do you have stylish headphones, do you even use them?

Online educators often talk about so-called “blended learning” and then wax lyrical about the necessary IT infrastructures and tools to support that learning doesn’t necessarily mean the studio outcomes will be okay. All very well, but don’t be deceived by those wishing to make the architectural learning into a commodified product. Doing a design studio in Zoom-world is not akin to doing a BIM model. Excellent design teachers will have an in-depth understanding of both design and the available range of teaching technologies and tools. Not just one of these things or the other.

So yes, I am thinking shit studios in graduate architecture schools will be more shit in Zoom and dickhead tutors will still be more dickheaddy in Zoom.

Oh and, as you self-isolate, don’t let your standards of architectural fashion and decorum drop.

Making the jump to Zoom hyperspace Part 1: Running a Zoom design studio

Architecture as a Global System

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But to begin with, my book launch has been cancelled due to Covid-19, so here is a blog instead. Thank you all for your heartfelt good wishes. No point having a book launch if you can’t have a banger of an after-party

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It was going to be an awesome architecture book launch, with all of my low-friends scavenger friends mixing with the grandees; I think we will reconvene in November to celebrate the publication of the book’s first anniversary. You can order the book with a discount with via this NBI_EM_Raisbeck_Architecture_as_a_global_system_DNB230120.

A few people have read the book and tell me its an enjoyable read. I guess if it was a canonical ‘theory” book, you would have to suffer as you read it. I still have some colleagues who think I have written a practice management book. Now that I am isolated in my Covid-19 hermitage, from next week I will be running a book-reading discussion about the book on Zoom for those interested. It will be fun.

How the fuck do you run a studio on ZOOM?

So lots of people have been asking, and I guess it is a thing all over the world in the architecture schools: How the fuck do you run a studio on ZOOM?

Firstly, for many design studio teachers, it’s going to be a work in progress. In the global system of architecture, architects who have focused on being design teachers, rather than being pompous wannabe alpha-privileged warlord architects have been undervalued.

Elite architecture schools don’t invite great design teachers to give glittering public lectures. But hey, it is now time for the great design teachers to kick ass.

As any good architectural design teacher will know: being a great designer or getting excellent marks in the final year or getting lots of A-list publicity for your designs doesn’t necessarily mean you can teach design.

Can you imagine sitting in a design studio with some of those male Pritzker types, or even sitting in a ZOOM design studio in a soup of a Murcutt monologue? Apologies, for all you Glen and Bjarke and Remmie lovers, but many architects now live in ambiguous and challenging times, so maybe for our own professional survival it’s time to call out the BS. One way to start is to value unsung great design teachers more than what we previously have. Imagine listening to the rational and poetic spinnage for 6 hours on zoom.

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Zoom as a Disruptive Medium  

Conversely, if you are already a great studio teacher, jumping into a new medium isn’t necessarily going to mean you are going to be great in the Zoom room. I suspect. Zoom is unforgiving for some teaching techniques and tactics. For example, I think I need to stop shouting on Zoom. That is probably the first thing to bear in mind.

Face to Face studio teaching is now, at least for the interim, dead. Not recognising that in the process of digital and disruptive transformation, you cannot simply cut and paste your Face to Face methods across to the Zoom studio makes you the same as the elite Warlords who have done so much to destroy our discipline.

OK, here are some ideas, and it’s still all work in progress, to help you make the shift to Zoom Hyperspace.

1. IT Infrastructure Health Check

All of you IT excusers who mutter the mantra “I am not so good with IT” All I can say is time to clean up your desktop and start figuring out how to use standard IT applications. This is no time to make excuses.

But you need to have good internet access and good bandwidth, or you will be done for. You need a laptop (preferably) or a functional PC workstation that actually works. So you need to do a quick health check on your primary device. Do you have enough storage, etc.?

Do you have RAM (look it up if you don’t know what this is) on your laptop to use visualisation software? How will you transfer large files?

Likewise, is your phone up to date etc. Have you got your passwords and authentification under control? Do you back up? Do you have your security and virus protection act together? Do you have two-step authentification on your phone?

Are you using or running I-cloud?

Does your workplace or uni have a VPN or an Intranet, do you even know what a VPN is?

All of the above questions may seem simple, but you can’t spend your life mucking around cluelessly with poor computing technique in your Zoom studio.

2. IT applications

You need to make sure you are running the latest version of various apps. Outlook and Zoom, for example. Are your Adobe and AutoDesk apps up to date.

You need to know how to use and switch between the basics: DropBox; Google Drive etc. Again, how will transfer large files. Can you get to and see these things via your phone as well?

3. Communication Apps.

Now, this is the real key, you need to be able to communicate with your students by several channels. A lot of them will already be online using these apps.

Therefore, as well as Zoom studio meetings, you probably need a few other channels of communication with your students. I would set up some sort of group and will this be via text apps like WhatsApp or Signal (ER’s app of choice). There are others. You could use Slack or Yammer.

Check out what your workplace or University prefers to use.

Do you have an Insta page for the studio and a Facebook group page as well? Can students post comments to these? Does your University or workplace have policies around good digital citizenship and culture? How will you manage comments and messages?

Does your University use Canvas or Blackboard as a teaching platform? Are there discussion boards or grouping functions you can employ. Can you use, and do you know how to use the video app Kaltura? Or any video app In my subjects at MSD, we use Kaltura, I can record a video on my laptop and get it out to the students via a Canvas announcement within about 35 minutes.

Maybe you will just use email or text as your secondary communication channel or text.

3. Face to Face on Zoom

In the zoom studios, our thinking is that you really need structure. Yes, structure, structure and structure. You can’t just rock up with your big ego and do a little Tik Tok dance for 6 hours.

How do you fill a three hour, four hours or 6 six-hour slots in zoom? Standard face to face crits is not really going to simply translate across to Zoom. You will need to keep things lively and avoid zoom fatigue.

We are thinking batching works, via students in groups or batches of students. You need to encourage the students to ask questions via zoom or via another app like Slido or Poll Everywhere. For example, a simple, word cloud in Poll Everywhere, can help you prompt great discussions. Both tools allow otherwise shy students to ask questions. Or do this via your chosen chat app.

You can’t expect students to come to the meeting and wait around for 3 hours in Zoom. You can’t see each student individually for twenty minutes that will take too long. But maybe you get them to pre-book in individual consultations with different crit panels and people. Given that everyone all over the world is at home working, or with no work, so it’s a great time to book wonderful guests in.

Architects are great at doing and surviving recessions.

Architects are great at doing and surviving recessions. This is the architectural downturn and recession where design knowledge will emerge in the collectively organised virtual world and not in the fucking BIM model or in the gallery.

Students need to be prepared to present on their laptops. You never want people dithering as the pin-up on walls, Same with Zoom. I reckon to give them a minute to be ready. Kick them out of the room if they dither.

As always, the tone is essential, don’t talk down to the students. Don’t subject them to pompous monologues. Don’t harangue them (my natural tendency). If there is a silence as you wait for them to respond then be confident enough to remain. Questions and interaction in this media are so important.

I think keep the studio flowing and have a few different zoom activities. Here is an example structure that you may like to think about. Adapt as you see fit.

4. Zoom Studio Structure 

1. Use the waiting room function.
2. Don’t admit students in super late (haha).
3. Intro (what are you doing, in that meeting where are you in the overall program or design process).
4. A guest lecture or two keep these to 15- twenty minutes plus questions.
5. An exercise for your groups (even if the work is individual get them into study pairs or groups).
6. Groups report back.
7. Crits in batches (3-4 groups and a break) with strict time protocols.
5 minutes of student presentation.
A few questions from you and the other students 5 minutes
Final discussion 3-5 minutes a few primary points.
8. Last Zoom meeting comments and follow up 5-10 minutes

Follow up with individual students later between classes on the other channels, post some images up to Instagram.

Reconfiguring the culture 

More in Part 2, as we all figure out how to do this. This could be a great way to rejuvenate our design culture. Oh, and if your one of those design tutors, who allows the students to put off designing for half the semester I am not sure that’s going to work in Zoom. And if all your have ever done is studios is teach your life is Makery Spacey 3-Deee Printing Lab stuff I think you will need to set all that up in your home self-isolated workshop.

This is an opportunity for a very different architectural culture to emerge.

Some naughty things you just won’t see at any Architecture School

I got a few responses to the blog last week about architecture schools so I thought I would write a bit more about it. After last week’s blog it made me think about the kind’s of subjects I would like to see in architecture schools.

The broken compact 

When we start to think about what should be taught in Archi-Schools is it still worth thinking about or muttering that age-old question that still seems to get exclaimed by a particular class of architects: “Why don’t they teach them anything useful in Architecture School?” As some of you may know, from reading last week’s in the gutter blog—and a few people did pull me up for using the word twerking– my view about the demise of architecture schools is related to a particular managerialism that has broken the compact between the architecture school’s as communities of practice and architectural practitioners. It’s all about the KPIs these days student income, research funding and research metrics.

Someone said to me that in their architecture school, the managers—who used to be architectural academics until their souls were sucked out—send out emails to everyone saying here are your KPIs; and they just the same KPIs that have been thrown down to them from on high.

The Architecture School as a Community of Practice 

When I was at architectural school, 5,000 million years ago, there were no KPIs, and we were told it didn’t matter how long we took to be at architecture school as long as we left the school having learnt something. I took the ten-year option (the original course was 3 years plus 3 years part-time) someone else I know took the 12-year option. Most took the 8-year option. Nowadays it’s just a quick 5 years.

It was all about developing a unique culture of practice unique to the social milieu and place that the school was situated in. It was about creating and developing a school of architecture; a culture with its own norms, rituals, debates, conversations and narratives of practice. Admittedly the culture that was developed around the school I went to (no prizes for guessing which one) had its own petty rivalries, brutalities, misogynies and power asymmetries. But the outcome was a local architectural culture, centred on a school, that made a contribution to Australian architecture. And yes please: it would be great to critique the darker histories associated with that culture, beyond the hero worship or the slavishness to the “concept,” and examine its various histories in terms of the winners and losers (all the winners seem to have done is plaster the city in green chewing gum, weird hexagons and secret masculinist symbols). But at least it was a culture that could, and can be, be critiqued and was not some banal machine for producing mediocre ideas about our cities for the consumption of architects and clients who don’t want to feel guilty~guilt that will only increase as things keep going as they are (hey, hit me up with another ‘urban futures’ exciting smart city conference).

One arena of thought about architectural education is to think about it in terms of higher level policy issues around the regulation and compliance of the profession. That is a question that always leads to a narrative around the role of the ACCA and the competency standards. Fair enough and perhaps we do need different measures and perhaps we should ask how do we police the providers? Another discussion is emerging around what architects can learn in the pathway years between graduation and architectural registration. Perhaps the pathway should be more structured? Then you can also end up thinking about the scarcity of in-house graduate programmes in practices across the profession (more on that next week maybe).

Syllabus Innovation

But the other area is curriculum and syllabus innovation. Academics, as well as sessional practitioners, are really good at this kind of stuff. Now for some schools developing new subjects just burns up resources and the standard line from many university managers is “why would you do that?” I remember once when a university manager said: “why would you do that” when we suggested maybe we could have a bit of cheese and dips at student function to explain a course. Why change or reform anything? Ok, so I thought rather than getting all bitter and twisted about the dips, I thought I would have a bit of fun and think about the sorts of subjects I would like to see at an architecture school.

A few studio ideas you won’t see in your architecture school:

Intersectional Spaces and Urbanism

It’s incredible to me that no one has actually bothered to look at queer spaces and histories in relation to Urban Space in our cities. A city where queer voices are heard and have power through urbanism. That’s an entirely different and inclusive power dynamic.

Abject Algorithms

I know this sounds contrary. All those parametric facades tricked up by architects working with so-called specialist engineers and facadey experts look, how shall we say it,  oh so sanitised. Algorithmic wet wipes on the modular facades to assuage our carbon emissions guilt. I am pretty interested in how we can deconstruct all of that and look at facades and parametric patterns as conduits of waste matter and the execrable. How did the algorithm become he captive of the shiny luxury good designers? Is it possible to fashion a new politics of form out of the arrogance of star-architect facade algorithms?

Studio Extinction.

I am quite fond of the Extinction Rebellion group. Need I say more, and so I guess I am wondering how architecture is going to respond to the degradation of the earth.

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Outsider Housing

Slums, informal settlements, homeless, squatters, temporary structures, migrant housing, nomad housing meets Ferdinand Cheval and Nek Chand. First nations and frontier housing. The new frontiers being where the trees are being slashed. Of course, I have to get a little dig in and say: When I hear the words affordable housing I usually want to vomit. (maybe someone can do a graph charting “affordable” housing research vs. generational mortgage capabilities).

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Some Subjects you won’t see at your nearby Architecture School:

Design Leadership

Negotiations, theories of leadership, teams and teamwork. How gendered stereotypes of leadership operate. There is a humungous amount of research around leadership, teams and organisations in the social sciences. Architects should maybe try: just a little bit, and engage with this.

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Construction Detailing

This could be such a fun subject. I am thinking water, I am thinking flashings, I am thinking gutters, automotive gaskets, fixings and joints of all kinds. a kind of erotica and poetics of co at ruction details. Who actually knows what Construction Detailing is any more? A subject dealing with the dark and almost lost art of construction details would be great. Imagine having a BIM apparatchik in your office who ACTUALLY knew how to detail.

Consulting for architects

I am kind of thinking something like talking strategic design, and design thinking meets Mckinsey, Bain, BCG and the what was DEGW. The subject would introduce students to the smoke and mirrors hype, knowledge instruments and templates of the management consultants. We architects should be able to develop our own regimes; why should all the consultants get all of the fun. And the money.

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Strategic IT and Architecture

Yep, and I am not talking about just learning those dull software programs. Strategic IT management, Innovation theory, Data Analytics. I mean how do you manage software and think critically about it when you are making software decisions. How do you handle data, how do you collect data, how will architects do data analytics (could be a separate subject) in the future. What are the cycles and loops of innovation in the techno-sphere that architects should learn about? Oh fuck, it would be a subject where architects think about technology, you know like strategically, rather than just lapping it up like it’s some kind of addictive drug.

Of course, I am also thinking of a few seemingly kooky history and theory subjects. But I will keep those ideas up my sleeve as I don’t want to give too much away at the moment. Syllabus Innovation isn’t a bad way to think about our Archi-schools schools: from the bottom up rather than from the KPI top down. The problem with the latter approach is that subject delivery always becomes more important than subject content. I can’t wait to be told my online lectures have low production values.

Its all About The Money: What makes a great Architecture School?

So what makes a great architecture school? Or maybe a better question might be how would you design an architecture school for this day and age. I was prompted to think this because in Australia the ERA research excellence rankings have just come out. These rankings indicate that few of our Archi schools in Australia are “well” above world standard.

The rankings measure research outputs in these terms.

  • 5 Well above world standard
  • 4 Above world standard
  • 3 At world standard
  • 2 Below world standard
  • 1 Well below world standard

In this ERA round, 5 Archi schools got 4 (Above world standard), 8 Archi schools got 3 (At world standard) and 1 school got 2 (Below world standard).

But on that basis I think Australian architecture schools are doing pretty well giving the universities have been ripping them off for the past 10 years or so, pumping them full of students, exploiting their full-time and sessional academics and giving next to nothing back for research or research training (sorry to sound so strident this week but its easier when I am writing in a hurry).

Yes, no one school in Australia got 5 (Well above world standard). So we all know how much I love metrics but hey WTF? ERA is kind of saying that of 22 Architecture schools in Australia none are well above world standard? Are we all “above world standard” and no higher and WTF is “world standard” for an architecture school anyway? I think all that ERA does is point to the poverty and the managerial disgrace of these kinds of metrics and ranking systems. Not to mention the time and resources spent, by academics, preparing an ERA application.

I would also argue that our ERA rankings in the discipline would be better if our architecture schools were better managed by university executives (I might even develop my own ranking survey around this). Most don’t have a clue what design studio is. Yes, let’s repeat that: most managerial types—across the different schools I know of–have no idea what a design studio is. Nor, do they really seem to care.

Its all about the research numbers or the money.

I reckon I could even do a Get Krackin style of TV comedy about design studios in architecture schools.

 

So my ideas for a world class plus architecture school would be:

Design Studios

Design studios are the core of any architecture school. They are highly sensitive to changes in the external environment supporting them. Such as class sizes or contact hours. You can’t learn architecture in 3 contact hours. Nor can you teach a studio with 18 students. Or spoil a studio with clueless teaching, cronyism, bias or worse still a paucity of prudent, decent and insightful design criticism, there goes your architecture school down the drain. But most managerial types—across different schools I know have no idea what a design studio is. Nor, do they really seem to care (there is that theme again).

Culture

I have written about this elsewhere. The best way to build a culture and a sense of community around an architecture school might be to have year cohort system (and an active studio system). You can’t create an architecture school culture through managerialism–sorry if this is starting to sound like a bit of theme. You won’t do it with a checklist, or a policy, nor will you do it with school prizes, nor lots of overseas studios and nor those MOFO male twerking celebrity architects coming to visit when the provincials do all the bowing and ring kissing. I have ruined my own career by never being interested in all the fawning over the celebrities. (last week we had a few visiting dignitaries, and it was like watching fawning flies on a meat carcass).

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Safety Zone Debates 

Yup, we need to do more than the above, and that is the mix where practitioners, academics and actual students can mix and in engage in the same milieu. Lots of panels are great, lots of questions, debates and discussions are even better. Debates and discussions about real issues. Debates where every voice is heard, and this is so important for the culture of an architecture school. Debates where it’s not just a macho title bout. We need to make safe spaces to have these conversations.

Of course, if the academics are too busy with their so-called “careers” and gaming their research metrics ( don’t get me started on this subject), then they will never engage in the culture of an architecture school. Even if some academics can’t design teach their way out of a wet paper bag, then it would be nice to see them at the debates, exhibitions and talks.

Diversity

Need I say more than merely using the D word. Or do I have to spell it out? I have written a bit about it here. If you want an excellent Architecture school the more diverse its constituents, the better. Homogeneous and monocultural schools just lead to the most appalling power asymmetries within their confines and then later on in the profession.

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Curricula

I have observed three different approaches across all the Archi schools in Australia.

The diverse curriculum school — as distinct from a school with diversity– the “design” school, and the focused curriculum school (oh so boring). The diverse school can be great as it will allow different lines of design research and approaches to emerge. It might even enable synergies to happen between different domains of design knowledge. Which is all ok provide the school with the diverse curriculum is structured well. But it is not great if it is usually managed in an ad-hoc fashion, all the bits of curricular just kicking around in a rubbish bin. To be great schools, these types of schools need active, attentive and balanced leadership.

Then there are the Archi Schools focused on a single-digit idiocy, of a technical trick, brand attribute or singular focus: sustainability, materials science, fab-labbing, urban design and of course parametrics. I am not actually sure these types of archi schools are actually schools of architecture. I am sorry, but I am too much of a generalist to stomach these types of schools.

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Of course, in some schools, everyone is a designer or aspires to be one. Committed to the concept and the holy idea or “process.” This tendency doesn’t really help dismantle the celebrity cult. And this sensibility always ends up sounding like the contrary argument. It’s a philosophy or approach that might have been current 20 years ago. But increasingly, design as an autonomous field to be protected, is a head-in-the-sand issue. It’s appallingly apolitical because it is a viewpoint that continually fends off anything from outside the discipline: politics, management, technology, and of course any kind of theory. With a little bit of intellectual generosity, rather than the old hokey-pokey designer smoke and mirrors, these schools can be great.

So that’s it, and I am always amazed how different schools fall into some of the various traps mentioned up. But the real point I am trying to make is that: architecture schools are a microcosm of the profession, and if we really want to change Architecture going into the future then we really need to change the schools as well. This is so important.

Bring on the revolution then we can all get fives in the ERA rankings.

Strategic vs. Project Thinking: Sticking your head up the dead bear’s bum of Projects

Here at this low class, sex, drugs and rock and roll, architect focused, in-the-gutter blog it helps the blog stats to write popular tags like “Sticking your head up a dead bear’s bum.” Sticking your head up bear’s bum” is one of those lost, and now inappropriate, Australian sayings that thankfully is no longer in use. It can be used in a derogatory sense as a direct call to action—best not to overthink that—or it can suggest a kind of head in the sand attitude. The original line comes from the Australian film The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, and I have adapted the line here for my own purposes.

In my lovely mannered, patrician and bland-boosterish world of academia, it is not a saying that I am loathe to bandy about that much.

So, enough of the self-indulgence, the point is that for far too long architects have stuck their head up the dead bear’s bum of projects.

What Architects are good at 

Architects are great at spatial thinking, great at design thinking great and great at integrating knowledge across the construction, engineering and most consulting disciplines. Architects are good at looking at details (for those of you who can still actually detail) and then look at the larger urban scale all in the same breath. They are trained to shift their view to focus at different scales. As a result, architects are great at managing ambiguity and tackling the wicked problems.

The is what architects are supposed to do and what architects are good at. However, all of these skills and unique ways of thinking are hampered by the fact that architects are too often are stuck and blinkered by the project mindset. Everything is about the project. In practices large and small it’s all about the projects: big projects, little projects, built projects, or unbuilt projects, school projects, retail projects, domestic projects, commercial projects and urban design projects. Bathroom and toilet projects. Architects compare themselves to other architects through the lens of projects; their awards systems are based around projects, and the internal management systems of firms are founded, not around strategic management, producing design knowledge or the talent but the holy than holy projects. It’s always about the project.

The curse of the Project Centric

This project-centric focus keeps architects chained and enslaved in their own small pond. This pond is becoming increasingly smaller because of this very focus. Broader, market trends, macroeconomic changes, and the impact of future technologies on the profession often go unnoticed. Architects are clueless because of this lack of strategic thought. The profession is still only just grappling with the idea of advocacy; let alone producing any industry research about the impact of future technologies on it. Many strategic decision makers in practices medium, small and large are so project focused that they cannot see the forest for the trees.

As a result of this overbearing project centricity, the competitive advantage and value of architects is slowly being eroded. We have already lost construction administration, and Design Development is hard to argue the value of, design thinking has been taken, and repackaged by the graphic and industrial designers. A raft of new technologies, such as Big Data and AI, is slowly eating away at our design thinking skills. Some architects still think a digital strategy is about getting onto Instagram.

Architects are going to lose 

So if my argument is correct, that architects can’t think strategically outside of the project mentality, it follows that this lack of strategy, will in time, diminish the domain and agency of architects. We have already lost project management, and the banks are screwing us over our contracts. So where might the next pinch points be?

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Maybe it’s time we stopped letting the special technical nerdy types from running the IT department in practices. Maybe uni administrators should stop thinking that just teaching software skills or techniques is all we need to do in Architecture schools. Alternatively, we should stop thinking that being “strategic” when it comes to new technologies, is about curating the images in an Instagram profile. Wooo Hooo. Half the Instagram profiles of practices in my city say the words: Award Winning Architects. So what? However, it’s all about those projects, isn’t it? The elusive award-winning project. The one we would all die for.

Drinking the kool-aid 

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Architects have really drunk the Parametric and BIM kool-aid but at the cutting edge of practice as well as in the teensy weensy practices, and in the so-called professional associations. However, did anyone ever stop to think how architects might manage these new technologies in a strategic sense? All too often, architects have a kind of buy it and plug it in and play mentality when it comes to new technology. The new technologies are the kinds of things that make the project go faster, or cheaper or maybe sometimes better.

Architects have not been able to manage IT within their practices strategically. Yes, they have jumped onto BIM and the people I hate it when the students say: “why don’t we learn BIM at architecture school.” For the universities administrators BIM, and all other such widget technologies, is precisely the kind of curricula that they would love the architecture students to learn: easy to teach, the students think they are learning a skill (even if they are not learning to think) and a great way to make money. I mean WTF?

Architects might still have an opportunity to shape digital strategy. However, if they are not careful the digital strategies in the property and construction arena will be taken up either by new specialists, marketing, and asset managers who can run the data analytics. In workplace design, Big Data and associated analytics and AI are going to sweep the floor. Architects need to figure out how the Internet-of-Things is going to change things. Moreover, How will BIM data be connected to other broader IT data systems and analytics?

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Big Data, BIM and AI and will get together with the property and construction types, and before you know it, we will lose Feasibility Studies as a source of income. God help us when the nerdy nerds start thinking about data analytics in construction. As BIM and AI conjoin, the result may be a new take on generative designing, and then as AI begins to develop options to make design decisions where we will end up then? Just following the pack I guess.

General and strategic management skills

One more thought I would be rich, if I got a buck for every time, someone said we don’t teach business skills in architecture, or when people say architects lack in business skills. Teaching ourselves a few numerate business skills is not going to help and I am beginning to weary of this mantra. It’s the general, and strategic management skills architects don’t have I tried to find those in the Australian AACA competencies, but hey who wrote these new competencies? These are skills are critical to understanding all the activities that architectural practice encompasses. They are critical to understanding the universe outside of the architect’s bubble. Sticking your head up the dead bear’s bum of Projects is not doing us any favours.

Yep, maybe I have been hanging out with the copywriters too much. However, seriously, for those who know me well, I guess I am wondering how much truth-to-power stuff I can actually get away with these days now that I have some kind of immunity in my own version of Survivor. So stay tuned and we can see how outrageous I can be in the face of mediocrity.

Surviving the Design Studio: This is the end; the last things before the design crit.

Last week I had the opportunity to see some student crits in my Archi-schools undergraduate program. I wasn’t sure how I would react to seeing projects from undergrad students and in my dotage there seems to be nothing more appealing than the prospect of prancing around a crit with the tantalising possibility of letting loose with a few well-chosen design criticism barbs. Thankfully, for all concerned including myself, the projects I saw were pretty good all things considered. It was indeed a pity because I still yearn to employ the darker arts of studio criticism and you can read about a few of them here. But it did remind me that in the last weeks of a studio—or even a design competition–there are lots of things architecture students should be doing.

1. Don’t turn back on your concept. Avoid concept-diarrhea

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Developing a concept beyond the pragmatic is an excellent idea. One of the problems many students have in studio is that by the time they do the research, understand the site, procrastinate, do a few half-hearted sketches, have a look at what Remksy, Herzog and de Neuron, MVRDV or Bjarke spark-a-larkles are doing on Insta, then do some more reading, fool around on the internet, procrastinate some more and its like 3 weeks to go and then the panic sets in. Perhaps it might have been better to do some design sketches in week one?

If at that point you don’t have a concept get one. If you do have a concept, don’t lose faith with it. Don’t replace it with another different concept. Concept replacement is usually seen as being desperate, and a reasonable jury will always sniff out projects based on the last-minute rush to finish. You have to run with it and make it connect to all the different aspects of your building that you need to design.

If you have burnt up all your time, the first thing you need to do is remember the concept and try to fashion and explain it in a way that is not merely about a knee-jerk functional reaction to the clients, the brief the studio outline or the site.

At the end of the day critics, everyone will want to see how you have used your concept or conceptual apparatus to fashion your design. Maybe, summarise your concept in one diagram or image and put this on your final print out.

2. Work on your plan. Avoid DLD (dimension-loss-disease)

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As everyone knows I hate plans, and they sued to bore me senseless when I fancied myself as an archi-school student designer. I was more interested in the developing dynamic volumes and three-dimensional architectural language.

And FFS get your scales and your spatial dimensions correct. There is nothing worse than looking at a plan that is full of empty space or the kitchen benches or door openings that are too big or too small. Another aspect of DLD is that some areas are either much bigger or much smaller than what they are supposed to be.

Print, yes actually print out your plans, and get a friend to check them. I am sorry to tell some people this, but plans are about measurement. One old trick is to actually design into your plans cool bathrooms, laundries, kitchens or storage areas. Yes, get those toilets right. If you can do that the whole plan will have more detail and look more convincing to a jury. Get some level of detail into your plan even if it is only visual.

3. Work on and present your sections. Avoid alt-right-angle-sectioning.

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I cannot stress this enough. Yes, I am a section guy. I love those Siza sections which communicate so much about volumes, light, spatial sequences, and the relationship between spaces. After all, a section is in some ways a plan that has been turned on its side. Good sections are of lines that are articulated, a section is a line that has a profile: steps, nibs, thickenings and thinnings, bumps, protrusions and the whole affair is a contoured and shaped image.

There is not building on the planet that has a right-angle where the exterior walls meet the roof. Just spitting out from a digital model, plans, sections and renders without thinking what they are like in reality is not architecture.

4. How is it to walk around your building and what will you see? Avoid unreal-viewpointing.

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Avoid the impossible angles, screwy scaled views, hot air balloon basket views that no user of your design will actually see. Avoid viewpoint unreality.

The worse thing you can do is front up to the crit and have no idea yourself what your building might be like to walk around. Looking at things in the computer is not the same thing. So, you need to walk through it in your mind and not in your computer. What will you see and what will you encounter? If you can produce and present a series of vignettes and views of what it might be like for someone, perhaps as an actual user of your building,

5. Show the context. Avoid render-plopping

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Please, I beg you, I ask you with all my heart, to show the context. Nothing shows archi-school and computer ignorance more than just plopping on a sheet—and I mean plopping in a scatological sense— render as if it is completely isolated from any surrounding urban, material or physical context.

6. Show the design process. Avoid process-voidance

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Bring along all your sketches, preliminary models, have them ready to show the critics. Stick them into some kind of consistent format. I mean how long does to take to do this?

Physical models are excellent. Even if you are running out of time, it’s still good to do a small, simple scaled physical model even if it is tiny. It’s probably worth at least 5 more marks if not more.

7. Get your project timing right. Avoid timing-desperation.

Of course, all the above things might seem like they are going to slow you down or take up too much time. Better to just stay in the model and keep on doing stuff as that will be quicker. But in fact attending to the above issues either partially and or fully will, in the long run, make for a better design and a set of images at the jury end of the process; it will communicate more about your design to a jury.

If you get too desperate about timing, you will screw everything up and end up at a broken printer. Timing is everything, and you need to plan ahead as to how long things will take to do.

I suppose the above is a kind of plea for the importance of design thinking and its associated crafts. Working on a computer model and then just spitting it out into a presentation—extruded plans, oversaturated renders, no sections, Insta-people collaged into all the views, a completely missing context, isn’t really architecture. It is just crap.

Previous blogs along these lines include the following:

Surviving the Design Studio: How to start making architecture with an actual drawing.

Surviving the Design Studio: How to avoid plan reading blindness

Surviving the Design Studio: 7 things to do to hit the ground running.

Surviving the Design Studio: 6 hacks to develop your crap design quickly.

Surviving the Design Studio: Symptoms and cures of design jury anxiety.

Surviving the Design Studio: Getting through the last days before the submission deadline.

 

 

 

Surviving the Design Studio: Things to do at Architecture School to make sure you get a job when you finish

Lately, I have had the pleasure of hanging out with actual architects in a number of different forums. Inevitably the conversation comes around to the state of architectural education and architectural graduates. This situation may be more the case now because the employment market in my small city is currently buoyant.

To my surprise, a few common themes seemed to emerge in the conversations about graduates. The first is the sense among most architectural employers that recent graduates are less engaged with architectural culture and that there is an expectation amongst them that they will land a job in an office as a “young” and “emerging” designer leading a project team. Amazingly, for whatever reason, young architects think that they will design. Interesting to think some recent graduates think they will be leading project teams. Especially, given the widespread and prevailing dislike of group work by students. But hey, maybe that’s only in the practice class.

Others are under the illusion that they will be working the fablab machines and robots when they make the transition to practice.

I haven’t looked lately, but I am not sure how many offices have robots or are part of prefabricated supply chains. But shit hey; there is nothing wrong with learning how to code for that brave new future that the technology nutters are telling us will happen. With any luck, we might even get a few future Architects who will understand how to interrogate AI algorithms. But as argued below it is all about balance; and if architects can’t learn to manage new technologies, as compared to merely executing the technologies, then we architects will end up being next too useless.

I think making the transition from postgraduate architecture school to a working life in architecture is a pretty hard thing to do. Its not a great sapce to be in even when the employment market is bouyant. So, if you are a graduate student, here a few things you can do now to make the transition easier.

The first rule is balance

Don’t sacrifice all of your subjects for the design trophy. Keep things in balance. Being fixated on design marks actually means nothing once you graduate. Your final year marks are only one thing that architectural employers will take into consideration. What is more important is where you are positioned in your career two years out after graduation. Are you a BIM monkey drone at that point or are you beginning to assume responsibility and leadership in various practices? Do you have a strategy for your career?

You need to focus on the other things if you are to survive in a competitive marketplace: Architectural Practice (of course), History and Theory and Construction (and that doesn’t mean hanging out with the 3D printers). If you don’t know any of those things or pay little attention to them, you may not necessarily learn them in practice. Moreover, it will take an employer longer to teach you those things. As one practitioner said to me “the recent graduates are loss makers” because even though they are enthusiastic about design, they are too slow doing the other things” You need to balance your time and efforts across everything. Don’t get sucked into the design vortex.

Get with the culture

If you are going to think that you are some kind of star designer, then become one properly. Pick the hardest studios to do, expand your design skill base each time you do a studio at architecture school. Become involved in the local culture of your architecture school. Join SONA. Hang out at architectural events and be engaged. Go to the nearest peer awards presentations. Be interested in the latest architectural and urban controversies. Sitting at home on your computer with the Rhino or Revit family catastrophe is one of the most boring things you can do. You might even get off your computer and organise a studio space with your fellow travellers.

By getting involved with architectural culture, you will help to change it.

Build a profile 

Every architectural employer will look at your social media feeds to see how you fit into the culture of their practice. If your Instagram account is full of images with you taking selfies in bathrooms, skulling alcohol out of the red plastic cups, dancing at the toga parties, or latching onto a bong-pipe or vomiting in stretch limos while wearing the hire tuxedo then maybe it is not such a good look. Keep your professional profile separate from your personal one.

You need to build a “professional” profile. There best way to do this is through social media. Choose which avenues will best help you to do this. This engagement can be great as it is your opportunity to show what you are interested in on Instagram or Pinterest or Linked-In.

Get work experience while studying

Yes, sacrifice that precious studio design time and get a job in an architects office while you are studying. And that doesn’t mean getting a job that is some low-rent unpaid exploitative internship. DON’T EVER WORK FOR NOTHING. Most architectural employers enjoy having students around. Usually, they will actually think your quite smart and will be interested in your views on architecture. But that doesn’t mean you will be designing the latest Opera House.  You will learn more about design in an architects office than you might in a graduate school architectural studio. Of course, it depends on the office and the studio. This is why the balance between the two is so important.

 Be enthusiastic about doing stuff

Oh, and be sober at the job interview: Someone I know who was struggling to find a job in the early 90s recession swallowed a whole lot of homemade hallucinogenic cookies. About ten minutes later the phone rang, and the architectural firm asked if he wanted to come in for a job interview later that afternoon. He said sure. The time was just about when the cookies started to take hold. The rest is history, needless to say, he did not get the job.

In the job interview, don’t shove every design thang, every design sketch, every design robotic fab-labster-lobster thing down the throat of the interviewers. It is a mistake to think this approach will make you seem different. It’s not about you. I once got a job by saying that horse racing was in my blood and I liked nothing more than documenting the joinery and urinals in jockey’s rooms. I got another job as a site architect on a correctional centre PPP by saying I was great at anti-vandalism detailing. That was because I convinced them I could think like a sub-criminal teenage vandal.

Be different 

Better to tell the potential employers how much you enjoy doing bathroom and tiling details than saying you are some awesome emerging mini-star designer. Become an expert on the mundane things by being curious about those seemingly ordinary things now. Chances are saying that will spin out the employers out so much, at the interview, you will get the job on that basis alone. To the architectural employers, you will seem different and a cut above everyone else. Once you get that post-graduation job, because of your tile detailing or contract admin knowledge skill set, and do anything attitude, you will eventually have to do just about anything once employed in practice.

You might even get the chance to design a few real bathrooms because you will be the person who has to design and document them. There are some great bathrooms in my city designed by the students and the recent grads. And after all, isn’t designing great bathrooms and toilets what design is all about?