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.

Surviving the Design Studio: When you choose the wrong design studio and you realise you are just not that into your design tutors, and they aren’t into you.

The title of this blog was my life in every design studio. Anyway, I thought it was time to write something a little more positive and less cynical than in recent weeks. It’s been Design Week in Melbourne this week, and there have been lots of great events, and I would encourage all of you to go along to some of these before it finishes. I will be at this one on Sunday, and it should be an excellent opportunity to have a collaborative discussion about how architects can improve their working conditions and begin to think about labour practices in the profession.

But hey, let’s take it easy this week and talk a bit about design studios and design studio  teaching. Specifically, what should you do if you get that sinking feeling you are in the wrong design studio.

The Wrong Archi-School?

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Image: Simona Castricum 

So, you think you are in the wrong studio. And firstly, and you need to check this, you may actually be at the wrong graduate school of architecture, and if that is the case, it could be worth looking at the latest QS ranking list and seeing where your school falls. Some schools are better than others, and yes arguably the rating methodology is flawed. To say the least.

The ethos and the culture of your current school may not suit you. Especially, if you are different in some way and this clashes with the two extremes of Archi-school’s. These extremes are those with a prevailing cult mentality or those with a lacklustre culture of design mediocrity. I know of one new school of architecture where everyone has been narrowly recruited in the image of the head of school (cult). I think it is relatively predictable that without diversity in the academic cohort the school is doomed from the start (IMHO).

Another friend of mine is teaching at another Archi-school where the students seem to be so lacking in motivation; they are always late for class, and they never turn up on time for studio (lacklustre). Something is seriously wrong with that.

Ok, so let’s assume you are in the right architecture school for you but for whatever reason a few weeks into the semester you realise you are in the WRONG studio.

The Wrong Studio?

This may sound strange, but the best thing you can do when you are in this situation is to stay in the studio. I will try and explain why I think this is the case in more detail below. Firstly, there may be different reasons for thinking that you are in the wrong studio, and some of these reasons require more substantive actions than others.

Dud studio project

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Firstly, despite the lustre and appearance of the studio at the beginning or at the studio presentation, you might realise that it’s a not very interesting project. The site is banal, the brief is simplistic or the tutors love to dampen everything down with prosaic pragmatism.

If the project seems more comfortable than what you have done before, then that is obviously an excellent opportunity to think of ways to make it more complicated and to engage with your tutors at a deeper level. Try and understand the project and understand where your tutor wants to take it. Most tutors will have expectations about what they want from the studio. They don’t expect every student project to be super great, in the sense of looking fabulous at the end of the studio. Most tutors know that there will be people with a range of skills in their studios. But if you can understand what your tutors are passionate about and what ideas they might particularly want to develop in the studio then you can certainly use these to develop your project further. In tandem with your tutors you can help your them explore, to the max, the best ideas for the project even if the studio project seems dull.

Studio project beyond your skill set

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Of course, if you think the project is too hard for you and that’s the reason why you are in the wrong studio. A legitimate reason for this will be if your skills are not up to scratch or they are undeveloped (The bad reason is that you are just lazy). An excellent way to deal with this is to be very analytical about what skills you have and what skills you need going forward (some ideas on how to do this here).

A good design tutor will help you develop your skills and confidence. They will give you the space to do this. Having done your own skills analysis you will then need to figure out which skills you want to work on. Don’t be a dumbass and say: I just want to learn Revit or Rhino. You need to think about the range of skills you need. A good idea is to let your tutor know what it is you think you want to learn. Don’t make your tutors second guess what that is. Too often tutors don’t ask or just try and figure it as the studio proceeds. It’s not until the end of the semester that they actually work out what it is you needed to learn. Another related issue to this is your learning style, and it’s always good to figure this out and let your tutor know how you like to learn.

You realise that your tutor or tutors are a little bit crazy

Yep, this can happen, and it’s more likely to occur in schools where there is a cult mentality or a lack of oversight when tutors are chosen. Ok, don’t panic. Try and look on the humorous side of the situation. Take it easy, as the bad thing about this is that you probably are going to get contradictory messages from the tutors. And they will probably be inconsistent in either the value they put on your work, the advice they give you and even worse the respect they have for you. If you get caught up in the craziness you will end up being on an emotional roller coaster.

I think the best you can do in this situation is to gather around you a group of support critics and friends who can provide you with consistent design advice as you negotiate your way through this. If you can do that and you can gather enough support around yourself, then you should be all right. But it’s a bit like doing two studios at once, as you will need to meet with your friends each week and tell them what your crazy tutors have told you and try and work out your own design priorities. Two studios are better than one and if you survive you will be better off. Best not to worry too much about your marks in that situation.

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No studio friends?

You might find your friends aren’t in the studio. Really? My advice is to find some new friends and quick. Having no friends in the studio is an opportunity to make new friends and especially if the studio involves group work. Too often architecture students are crap at group work, and too often design tutors, even those tutors who insist on group work don’t give students any hints or ideas about how to do the group work.

There are a few fundamental rules of group work that everyone should know. Like assigning roles at the start and understanding everyone’s different working styles and maybe even working out common methods of contact. I guess I worry that architects and Archi students are hopeless at organising teams and teamwork.

The research syndrome.

Most studio participants don’t mind this. Hey, procrastination can’t be all bad. You can put off the hard stuff (actually designing) and talk and drink filtered coffee almost all semester. But it is essential not to go down this path at Archi-School. This used to drive me crazy, and it has a couple of different variants. Basically, it’s when the studio spends like 80% of the time talking and researching and talking and researching and talking and researching and never any ACTUAL designing. If you get stuck in this kind of studio vortex, don’t be sucked in. The sooner you start developing and generating your own design propositions the better. The idea that you have to wait for all available information and ruminate over it before you design the best way to never learn anything about design.

You realise you just not that into your design tutors, and they aren’t into you

Look you don’t have to be. And sometimes it’s hard when your tutors are vainglorious, discriminatory or they excessively foster others through obvious and not so obvious favouritism. But hey that’s architecture, and it’s something we all need to negotiate. But these things are also what we all really need to call out: the self-serving ambition, petty rivalries, profiling, bias and cronyism that is endemic in architecture schools and studios. If you feel bullied or discriminated against get help to call it out.

But again, getting yourself through this morass means you need lots of support, especially if you’re the only intersectional person in the studio and you feel like you have to hide in a corner when everyone else in there seems like they are in some kind of club or a clique. But shit who wants to be in that club anyway.

Make your own club as this is always better.

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In the global architectural system, architecture as a domain of knowledge practice is continuously being eroded, and so many architects have blindly accepted the celebritization (is that a word?) of our discourse. The elite clubs, the secret meetings, and unspoken smarmy clubby masculinities and handshakes. The few stars and the many. Why do we swallow it so readily? Why do our architecture schools mirror that stuff?

For me, celebratory and absurdist vitriol is one way to dismantle all of that. Someone asked me after I told them I was in the process of writing a book if it would be as vitriolic as the blog? I thought that was hilarious (I am just waiting for someone in my small village to say I am flaming down in a bitter and twisted way). However, for regular readers I am sure you will appreciate that the vitriolic tone has been pretty consistent over time. I like to describe this tone and voice as one of celebratory vitriol. After all what else can you do?

Finding your place 

If you get really desperate, you can find your voice in the studio via design tactics of irony, collage, mimicry and absurdity. Take a look at PJ’s work. Is it critique or homage to corporate capitalism. As soon you stop thinking that your mediocre tutors, in their many little mini-celebrity club guises, no longer have power over your design you will actually begin to design. For some of us we are never going to be in the club, we are never going to win the awards or the Archi-School prizes, or hang out with the celebrity architects. We will never have that Archi-pedigree. The architectural celebrities aren’t as fun as the real celebrities and they will only wipe their feet on you anyway, and the pedigreed types will never change the profession. After all, why would they?

Don’t Panic

Above all, and firstly, when you don’t like the design studio, you are in don’t panic. In architecture we don’t always like our clients or the projects we get dealt with and learning how to deal with these things as result of these factors is something we can learn when we hate our design studio.

But more importantly, the best tutors are the ones that will respect you regardless of how you look or your background. The best tutors are the ones who will not have favourites, and they will help you find your voice. These are the design tutors who have respect not only for you but for the future of architecture as well.

Updated March 21 

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: 6 hacks to develop your crap design quickly.

The all too familiar scenario

For many students, even in the most prestigious architecture schools it is easy to be seduced by the computer: The lure of the computer with the shimmering screen, often means you can easily convince yourself that what you are creating is Architecture; that your design is more developed and refined than what it actually is.

In fact a computer can help you think your design is actually fabulous.

Crisis

Then suddenly you realise your time has run out. The jury crit is looming, or the client is coming, and you haven’t done enough to develop the design. You were too busy researching, or procrastination, or kididng yourslef you were great, or bogged down in admin, or suffering under the hands of a capricious tutor or client. Crisis time !!!

The problem with having a capricious tutor is that they will quickly cut you lose, and wont defend you when the jurors start drilling down into the details of your design; actually, jurors don’t actually care that much about function; they are usually more interested in discussing, those things known as ideas. Holy Rissole Batman !!! Do you you mean actual ideas !?!?

 The Danger

A primary danger is this: allowing the computer to fool you that you had done more design development than what you have actually done. In fact, if you haven’t done enough design development, all you have really done is a functional diagram at best. At worst a conceptual diagram simplistically mapped onto the site. It is awful to see people fashion these diagrams in order to make them seem like architecture.

Knee jerk reaction

The common response to time pressures of the jury session combined with a lack of design development detail is to develop the design through an obsessive and irrational focus on the brief or program, function and functional elements. Yes, it is easy to lapse into form follows function when you are in a desperate panic to get that conceptual and schematic design finished in time.

Certainly, The first thought of most people in this situation is the old keen jerk reaction of developing the design further through, an even further and intense consideration of function. But probably over-thinking the functions is what got you in this mess in the first place.

The worst thing you can do

For a start it is too easy. Secondly, architecture is not about just solving functional problems. Sorry, to have to tell you but it is about more than this and it is also about Ideas. As a socio-material practice architecture concerns itself with embodying ideas in space. I will even stick my neck out and say, architecture actually has nothing to do with function. In the hierarchy of elements a designer should be concerned about function is really a very, very, very, low level concern.

A bit of theory

Yes, in modern architecture, some architects in the past have been to develop radical notions of “pure” functionalism that manages to escape the prosaic. Hannes Meyer, Ernst May, and the Neue Sachlichkeit in Weimar Germany spring to mind. Maybe even Hilberseimer. In the late twentieth century Kazuo Shinohara springs to mind. There are glimmers of this functional realism and objectivity in the work of OMA and Bjarke Ingels. But all of these architects are able to evoke a functional realism resulting in a highly refined and abstract ambiguity (let’s argue about that point later).

Architecture can’t escape being read, or perceived, in ambiguous and uncertain ways. Just solving a design for “function” won’t allow you to control or even apprehend the pathways of ambiguity.  Hence, over-thinking function is really, really, really boring. Developing a design by over-thinking function will not actually allow you to develop the design in a way that accounts for all the other factors architects need to consider.

So here are the 6 so-called hacks:

In no particular order, that might help you get out of the function rut and save your career as a capital D designer.

1.Develop the spatial experience

Develop the spatial experience. What is it like to walk through it. What will people see? Box-like rooms with no windows maybe? What kind of light is in each of the rooms and at what time of day?

2. Develop from the context

What is physically around the design?  How does your design respond to this? Take an element or idea from the context and integrate it with your design or use it to develop your design. Or is your design just an isolated object with no relationship to the  surrounding context. A box, or a industrial product on a blank site.

3.Develop the materiality

What are the materials?Is there materiality or texture? What is your functional diagram like as a physical entity? Or is it just lines in a computer?It won’t look good if it’s just a functional series of boxes. It’s your your pick, is it concrete, parametric plastic or inflammable metal cladding? How do these materials look? How are the materials joined together? Are there floor or wall patterns?

4.Develop the façade treatment (and technology).

How do things look on the façade. Is there a pattern? How is the facade constructed? Are the facades layered or just one material? Will the facade get hot or cold, or mitigate sun, and or carbon emissions? How do the openings look like on the facades?

5.Develop the Public and Private

How are the public and private spaces gradate? Which rooms or spaces in the functional arrangement are more public, or more private. What can you do to emphasise and reinforce this?

6.Develop the car-circulation

Cars can seem like a really functional kind of consideration. But not really. The car is a site where the future will be a contested area; as the AI revolution and the data analytics cult kicks in.

But if you can do this with elegance and actually design the way the parking works and how this is linked to overall concept that helps. Slamming the carpark next to your building or sticking it underground and showing this only in the section is really ordinary. The more, you can think through how people drive to your building, the better.

In other words: Develop the design through playing

Exit the computer and play. Get the design out of the of the computer and print it. Ask yourself how does it look? Then draw on the prints. Draw on the plans, draw on the renders, draw on the elevations. Draw on yourself.

Yes, if you are looking at something in the computer and have yet to translate it to the real world or to the layout sheets. How, the on earth (I will refrain from using profanities this week), do you know what it is you have is actually designed and developed?

The point is, to play with and explore a design, in order to create and even better developed design. Yes, I mean play, like getting into a sandpit and making a sandcastle. After all when was a sandcastle made as a result of strict functional requirements? But some sandcastles l are really cool.

Finally

Everyone can tell, especially jurors,  if it’s a uni-dimensional overthought-in-function design. A better rule to be guided by when developing a design is: If it looks good it is good.

Surviving the Design Studio: Don’t be a Lemming when choosing a design studio.

Yes, it is almost that time of year (at least in the Southern Hemisphere) when architecture students begin class and go about the business of choosing their final semester design studio.

This blog is a repeat of previous blog I did last year. In that blog I argued that the four worst reasons for choosing to be in a design studio are related to a cluster of common syndromes. But I have now added more syndromes to the original list. This is as a result of countless millenia watching architectural student lemmings jump off the cliff  and choose the wrong studios.

So here is the latest list of Lemming like syndromes:

1. Everyone passes this studio (Degree of badness 9  out of 10)

Choosing a studio or a design tutor because you think that everyone who takes that studio will pass. That’s great until you work out that it’s not exactly true and you fail the studio. Never take passing for granted.

2. My friends told me to do it (Degree of badness 10 out of 10)

Another bad reason and indicative of someone who can’t take responsibility for their own architectural education.

3. My friends are in it (Degree of badness 8 out of 10)

Time to cut the umbilical cord from the friends you met in the enrolment queue or at orientation. When you leave architecture school you will be working in teams, yes I am serious, actual teams with different people in them. A good idea to get used to it now.

4. It sounds too theoretical (Degree of badness 10 out of 10)

Sure that’s fine if you never want to think about architecture’s place in the world as a critical practice. that’s the path to CAD monkey and BIM monkey mania. If you want to be valued in a practice, when you graduate, then you need to have a handle on theoretical and conceptual ideas.

5. I already did that kind of project before (Degree of badness 7 out of 10)

Maybe. This is a legitimate excuse for not doing a studio. But it may also be a good reason to get really good at something by doing the same kinds of over and again. Going into greater depth might be good.

6. Running with the pack syndrome (Degree of badness 8 out of 10)

This is a variation on, “my friends told me to do it”. It’s great to get into a popular studio and “run with the pack s” at the beginning of the semester. But, it is not so great at the end of the semester when you realise how unsuited that studio was for you. It’s even worse when the studio outcomes semester end up being the most mediocre at the end of semester.

All because it is popular doesn’t mean the studio will be good.Popularity is the most misleading reason to choose a studio on. Don’t succumb to  peer group pressure or groupthink.

7. Charisma syndrome (Degree of badness 10 out of 10)

The seemingly charismatic tutor or architect may not be the tutor that you need to foster and build your design confidence. Charismatic architects, especially the alpha-male variety, do not necessarily make good studio leaders or teachers.

Of course they looked great at the studio presentation, they have been published a lot, won a few awards and have a great website. But, that charismatic architect or the person who gives a great presentation to students about the studio may in fact be one of those woefully inadequate studio teachers. Woeful studio teachers are the ones that are potentially narcissistic, lack the humility needed to teach, mismanage your criticism time, develop favorites in the class and give contrary and contradictory advice to students from week to week.

8. Interesting project syndrome (Degree of badness 7 out of 10)

This is when students choose because it seems like an interesting project. What do you mean by “interesting” and how do you know it is actually interesting? Will the design outputs of the studio make a contribution to design knowledge.

What architectural or studio project isn’t potentially interesting? Good architects are the people who  make mundane and ordinary programs and problems into something cogent and culturally powerful. So just choosing a studio because it sounds like an interesting project is a really unthinking way to choose.  I learnt the most from the worst and least interesting projects that I did at architecture school. The bourgeois house, the outer suburban primary school, the kindergarten the social housing on the large site. You don’t need an exotic landscape, location or intricate program to learn in a studio.

9. Sounds easy syndrome (Degree of badness 10 out of 10)

Unfortunately, it is easy for students to think they are learning something when they are having a great time in a design studio. In fact the converse is probably true. When the student is challenged by a tutor or a design problem that is probably when they are actually learning something. By doing studios that are personally challenging an aspiring architect is able to learn design resilience, not just in the face of critical indifference or negative criticism, but also learn how to pursue a design proposal from start finish with all the various steps and missteps that this normally involves.

After all, once outside of architecture school, the aspiring architect must rely on their own reserves in the face of trenchant indifference to architecture.

10. Bogged down in research (Degree of badness 7 out of 10)

Of course, it’s not so great when you get into that “interesting project” studio and find there is no established brief and you spend so many weeks researching the project that you don’t get enough time to design it at the end. This is a common syndrome. Make sure that the tutors have a handle on the research component of the studio. A clear time schedule usually helps.

A few guidelines to help 

Choosing a studio for  a postgraduate architecture student is a personal one. It’s a personal decision. In choosing a studio students should firstly ask themselves the following questions:

  1. What technical skills do I have and what skills do I still need? Which studio or studio leader help me develop those skills?
  2. What am I yet to do at architecture school? What projects or types or scales of problem should I get experience in?
  3. What do I need to learn about in relation to design processes? Do I have the confidence to experiment? Should I do a studio that allows me to do this? SHould I do something is right outside of my comfort zone?
  4. What do I need to learn or in what kind of studio do I need to be in to grow in confidence as an aspiring architect?

Finally

You cannot rely on Architecture school to learn what you need to learn. Learning and and becoming an architect is kind of like any race in many respects. Preparation is important, practicing on different types of tracks, constantly refining your own training regime and above all taking responsibility for your own education is vital.

The best architecture school’s, like the one I teach in, offer an impressive range of diverse studios and teaching approaches.  The best architects in the future will always be those architects who are self-taught. The ones who made the most of the diverse opportunities available to them at architecture school.

At the end of the day, the best and most employable graduates will be the ones who took the harder path at architecture school rather than the easier one.

 

 

 

 

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.

Surviving the Design Studio: 10 things design tutors really really hate (and like) about Archi students.

This week I discuss how to make the most of being in a design studio at architecture school.

I will keep this one short and simple. The following is based on my own experiences and I was trying to figure out how many design studios I had actually taught over the years. I think it is around 30. Maybe more. On average about one a year since I graduated. Most studios have been pretty good and my current students this semester at MSD are awesome. Some studios have been bad; usually as a result of a bad combination of mismatched expectations (usually: tutor expects students to do work, students not motivated to work). Of course some studios I have done are great and memorable. A few studios and moments spring to mind “The Springtime for Hitler Studio” (Speer’s classicism), the studio when I jumped on the student’s model ( a really bad move), the Situationist studio when all the students hated me and I pretended to be Debord, the fire station studios, the tower studios, the Mexico Studios and the summer studios both at RMIT and MSD. Studios with friends or colleagues too numerous to mention although the early studios I did with Neil Masterton of ARM were great. The ones I did with Dr. Karen Burns whilst doing my PhD were memorable. Now I am sounding perhaps all too nostalgic. But, nostalgia for past studio glory means nothing. The real point to remember for architects, design tutors and architecture students is you are only as good as your last studio or project.

So here is the list of the things we as tutors both like and of course hate, and I mean really hate. If you are doing more than five of these hate things then maybe you should not be at architecture school.

10 things that design tutors really like/hate.

1. Turning up 

Hate: Not turning up without a prior email or message. It’s always best to turn up to the crit than not turn up. The one thing a studio tutor hates more than anything else is a student who does not turn up.

Like: A courteous email or text to say you are not turning up.

2. Being on time

Hate: Turning up late after you have had the main discussion with everyone else in the studio.

Like: Being on time

3. Being present 

Hate: Spending the entire session looking at you from behind a PC or multi-tasking on a phone (of course I am being a little hypocritical in mentioning this).

Like: Being present to interacting and listening to all of the conversations in the studio.

4: Listening when other students present their work.

Hate: Just turning up for your presentation. Not engaging with the presentations of other students.

Like: Engaging with and asking questions when other students present. Most good tutors like to hear questions from other students when someone is presenting. After all the reason we have studio groups is so that individual students can see and learn from what other students are doing when confronted with the same problem.

5. Working consistently

Hate: This is really a bundle of syndromes. Doing a lot of work at the end of semester or just doing enough work to get by each week. The tragedy of this is that a design project could have been so much better if the work did not happen in short bursts. Students who consistently do this often wonder why there marks are lower or the get bad crits at the final.

Like: Students that work consistently and produce something no matter how seemingly minor each week.

6. Doing a lot of work. 

Hate:  Getting the project up to a reasonable point for mid semester and then just stopping work for a few weeks until the end.

Like: Doing lots of work each week. Letting your tutor know when you have other time pressures.

7. Seeking help when stuck 

Hate: getting stuck after a 1 hour of design work and then waiting a whole week to see a tutor. Worse still employing “getting stuck” as an obvious excuse to do no work.

Like: Student who contacts tutor or friends as soon as they are stuck in order to get unstuck.

8. Avoiding print queue excuses. 

Hate: Making excuses. The more common ones being: Print queues, IT problems (May variations on this one) and Laptop stolen. Problems printing seems to be an affliction that strikes a small but significant minority of architecture students.

Like: A student that seems to be constantly reflecting on and improving their own design and project workflow. A student constantly checking in with the tutor about this. A student organised enough not to print at the last-minute.

9. Drawing it rather than talking it up. 

Hate: Minimal drawings or diagrams on the wall or the screen and then a long, long intimate description of the concept, what the design will be like and the student’s semester narrative. It’s really annoying when this style of presentation is repeated each week with little or no design development.

Like: Students who talk succinctly and have  drawings  on the wall that describe the current state of their projects development.

10. Students who know architectural history. 

Hate: Students who look at you blankly when you mention famous 20th C architect, 21st C architect or iconic project’s constructed in the last 10 years. As tutors in the modern era we need to respect our students as “customers.” But it is pretty hard to know what to say, apart from a non customer-centric  profanity, when the occasional student does not know who Corbusier (let alone Terragni or Libera) is. The crazy thing is most students at architecture school do history but there are still some who don’t really get it.

Like: Student’s who know something of architectural history and read actual architecture books as well as following architectural discourse on social media.

Finally 

Mostly, as design tutors we want to be generous, we want to help people, we want everyone to do well and produce great projects. We want great students in our studios, we want to teach  in the best way that best prepares architecture students for the real world. Moreover, tutors want all their students to be resilient, successful and great architects. Sadly, in the managerialised and “customer” orientated university the above is getting harder and harder to do.

I have survived the week back after the teaching break, recovered from my painful sinus infection and now my MSD MArch students have about three weeks to get their projects complete. Yesterday in the studio we had  sustainabilty, structural and mechanical consultants from AURECON come in and enage with the stduents designs. It was a great session.