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.

download-2

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).

download-3

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.

IMG_8267

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.

download-1

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.

The Vampire Factor: Are the universities ripping the architecture schools off?

Are the universities ripping the architectures schools of? Sure, the 18-20 architecture schools across the country are not the most significant revenue spinners for the universities. But, those revenues are not insubstantial.

When most people did architecture up until about 2005, there was still a strong connection between the profession and the architecture schools. This connection is still mostly the case today, but the difference then was that the architecture schools largely controlled their destinies. The schools could largely dictate what could be taught and how it was taught. Architecture schools largely controlled the agenda of architectural education. For the most part, there was a close linkage between the Architecture schools, the profession—via the Institute of Architects (genuflect and cross yourself)—and the registration boards.

 

To better understand Australian architectural education, the Australia Accreditation Council of Australia (AACA) is doing a survey of Architectural education in Australia. What is great is that the study is not only for architectural academics but also for the MANY SESSIONAL TUTORS who work in Architecture schools. Yep, let me repeat that it covers issues regarding research, university resources, career pathways, the practice-academic nexus, and what should be taught in Architecture schools. If you teach as sessional or fractional academic you can do it. This is a fantastic initiative and the AACA should be congratulated.

 Take the AACA Survey  

The blurb for the survey is below:

The brief anonymous questionnaire is open to all ongoing and sessional architecture academics and may be found at the following link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/5RLYN62

It is a once-in-a-decade opportunity to shape the future of architectural education so please take a moment to make your voice heard! The survey is open until 30 November 2018.

The questionnaire will ask some questions about your teaching career and will seek your views on resourcing, teaching and learning practices, graduate pathways, and the future of architectural education. Participation is completely voluntary. You can read the participant information statement here.

This Architectural Education and the Profession in Australia study is funded by the Architects Accreditation Council of Australia (AACA), the Association of Architecture Schools of Australia and the Australian Institute of Architects, and is being administered by the AACA.

 If you have questions about the research, please feel free to contact AACA Research Director Alex Maroya on 0413 339 394 or email alexmaroya@aaca.org.au.  For occasional updates about the study, please “like” our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/aepstudy.

 This research has National Ethics Approval through the University of Technology Sydney: ETH18-2931N.

 Architecture schools no longer control the agenda. Their voice is mostly diminished within the university sector and of course, as is the habit of the profession, this is exacerbated by an increasingly fragmented professional landscape. In the past, the Architects Institute has not been much of a policy advocate when it comes to Higher Education policy. The Architects Consulting Association and Architeam seemed to be consumed, and perhaps rightly, with more local issues around membership. So who is advocating for architects at a policy level?

With the rise of, diminished federal funding, international student markets, research metrics (architects never really seem to get very many research brownie points), university managerialism (in all of its absurd glory), the architecture schools are not what they could aspire to be.

Are the Universities ripping Architects off?

 

So let’s look at a few numbers. This will help put things into perspective. I have only started working through these and happy to argue the assumptions behind them if you are interested. At the end of each year in Australia, the universities produce given that each graduate pays that is an aggregated revenue assuming each graduate pays around 36K for a place each year. As the recent AACA report stated:

Australia’s architecture schools produced around 1300 graduates from accredited Masters programs in 2017, which is consistent with preceding years.Overall, architecture schools enrolled over 10,000 equivalent full time students in bachelor and masters level architectural study in 2017, collectively bringing approximately $225 million to the university sector.

I think these figures understate the case. So let’s look at a local example.

The Subject Example

So in a subject which is 12.5 point subject out of 100 points per year that is around 4,500 per student in the subject. If I then have 280 students that’s total revenue for the subject of $1,260,000. That is equivalent to a pretty big renovation!

If the semester consumes 30% of my time that has a cost of around $50,000 per semester including all salary on-costs (using a 1.7 multiplier). If the Subject teaching budget, for tutors, is around $81,000 It will then be about $137,000 with salary on costs.

Hence the total salary costs is around $187,000.

Now let’s say that the multiplier for other non-salary on-costs such as overheads etc. (in contracted research projects this might vary between 1.7 and 2.1) is 2.5 we get total expenses of around $467,500.

Bottom line: Then the net gain to the university is, by this calculation, $792,500 a profit margin of 62.8%

The Studio Example

For a studio of 14 students as 6 hour subject with 14 students that is about 9,000 bucks per student. Hence, the revenue is $126,000 per studio. Ok, so let’s say you get 70 bucks an hour for a studio. For a 13 week semester that’s about $5460 bucks. Not a lot of bucks for a small practice. The salary on costs would be $9,282, and the non-salary on costs would bring that up to $23,205.

Bottom line: The net gain to the university for a studio is thus around $102,795 a profit margin of 81.5%.

Again, I am happy to further debate and refine these figures.

How much goes back to architecture as research dollars?

How much of this is going back to architects? This is the Vampire bit. Sure the universities support many small practitioners through sessional teaching. But how much of this is going back into architectural research?

Not a lot at all. When was the last time the Australian Research Council consistently gave anyone grants in architecture? For example, we did not raise any money from the universities for our Architeam project and getting funding for book publishing is also a nightmare.

So, I would urge you to survey as it will help present a united front on how we want to promote and shape Architectural Education into the future. But of course, the universities love architects, and I mean lerv, when they get them to brand the new campus or capital works program. Hey everyone wants that gig, But apart from that, in the meantime, the universities will keep ripping off the architecture schools and give us very little back for architectural research.

Take the Survey

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/5RLYN62

It won’t be a silver bullet but it will help.

 

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?

The Double Whammy Stigma: What architectural academics do over January in Australia.

Happy New Year to all regular readers and visitors to this blog. if you read this blog post shortly after it’s posted I will still be on holiday.. This year I am on a road trip to Queensland to K’Gari traditional home of the Badtjala people. This was a early 2017 and popular blog on the travails of being an architectural academic. I have reposted it. I think it expresses a little about the incoherent simplicity of national university policy and the populist anti-design sentiments that seem to bedevil architects.

I know many international readers of this blog will imagine me lolling about on  beaches, surfing the waves, driving across the dunes, wrestling Crocs, or drinking in the pubs. Of course when I look at the Instagram and Facebook feeds of the other architectural academics I know they are all having a great time over summer. Maybe the new social media landscape is what is giving people the impression that architectural academics are slack arses who do very little when the students are not around. On Instagram my fellow academics are on beaches, in forests and far flung places like Central Java, Coolangatta,  and New York City. Mostly they all seem like they are eating a lot of gelato ice cream and chugging down the French champagne. But that’s only how it looks.

In anycase I have got sick of going to dinner parties over the holidays and people saying, “so I guess you have 3 months of holidays with no students around.” Generally the conversation goes something like this:

Fellow Guest: Great to meet you I hear you are an academic.

Peter R: Yes, that’s right.

Fellow Guest: I guess you have holidays now for a few months that the students are gone.

Peter R: Like most people we only get four weeks off a year. 

Fellow Guest: Oh huh really !??!?

Or maybe ordinary people, whatever that category is, have a distrust of expertise and think that it’s all bullshit. Because, you know, teaching at a university is a bludge job anyway. A job that is entirely funded by the public purse and one where you get to travel a lot and all you are doing all day is thinking and writing and researching stuff that no one gives a toss about anyway. Not to mention the fact that you are hanging out down the pub all the time with the students.

The above summer conversation is not so different from the other one architects have all the time.

Fellow Guest: Great to meet you I hear you are an architect.

Peter R: Yes that’s correct.

Fellow Guest: That’s INTERESTING. My partner (brother, sister, boyfriend, fill in the relationship here) always wanted to be an architect. But they decided to be an economist, lawyer, orthodontist or management consultant instead. 

or

Fellow Guest: I was going to employ and architect, when we did our renovation, but we decided it was too expensive to get an architect so we got the builder, draftsperson to do it.

I mean architects are so rich and all they are doing is really really really big white houses for rich people. Houses full of white Italian bathrooms and marble and Cinemas. Or they are doing whacky buildings with crazy roofs. It’s like a double whammy for me because: holy Mother of baby Jeezus I am an architectural academic. What a stigma.

Its amazing to think there are people who still think that working as an academic means that you have a bludge, as some might call it in Australia, job for life (I wont bore you with the onerous and narrow KPI regime we have to work under). My university facilty is essentially a not for profit business with revenues in excess of $50M or so. I wish people would understand this. Most of that revenue comes from teaching and international students. Most universities use teaching revenue to cross subsidse research programs. In Australia the education sector is the third largest export earner after coal and iron ore. That could be a good reason for our Federal government to have a decent policy on universities and university funding.

But there has been a lot of uncertainty in the higher education policy realm and so far not much has happened in regards to Commonwealth policy.

Many people I know in universities are employed on casual contracts and this is particularly difficult for female academics as set out in this report. It is also difficult for our young academics who are the best and the brightest. But, why would the punters care, when our politicians will always jump through hoops when it comes to the car industry or worse still the coal mining industry.

Maybe the above is because in Universities there is still mindless talk about universities needing to be like corporates. It’s similiar to the Trump phenomena. Lets try and run the university, or in Trump’s case the country, like a so called “business”. A university is a complex entity in terms of its operation. How it generates both research knowledge as well as revenues to support itself is quite different to a NASDAQ stock or a mining company or any kind of listed company for that matter.

During a change management program I was witness too it was horrific to see a executive manager say to a whole bunch of people about to be made redundant: “Thats how they do it in the corporate world.”  So much for managerial intelligence and authentic leadership when you have these kinds of brutal mantras alive and well in your institution. After that some of my colleagues wondered why I had lost faith and trust in the organisation. I have more faith in it now.

I am heartened by the fact that  my university supports an entrepreneurial start up program that I think is really great. As well as the fact that that my university is currently promoting and advertising its research itself with advertising on bus shelters around my city. Its a great way to get ordinary people to associate universities with their core task of conducting research.

If only the architects would do the same and advertise at a macro level and radically promote the value they add to our urban spaces, communities, policy and culture. That might go some way to me avoiding the double whammy and stigma of being an architectural academic.

No matter where you are located, or how you are placed, in the great global game of architecture, have a great 2018. I am looking forward to another incredible Surviving the Design Studio, year and really looking forward to interacting with those of you who faithfully read this blog.

MSD Architectural Practice 2018: Seeking Tutors, Practices and Architects to be involved.

We are looking for architects with a commitment to architectural education to tutor, guest lecture or join our weekly discussion panels, in Architectural Practice at MSD in Semester 1 of 2018.
IMG_3069
Subject aims and syllabus
The subject aims to develop a strong connection between MSD MArch students and architectural practice. The tutors are a key part of helping us to make this connection. For many of the students in the class this will be their first introduction to practice.
Using a traditional practice syllabus as a platform (e.g. fees, tenders and contracts), the subject covers strategic thinking, emerging forms of collaboration, scenario and business planning, negotiations, gender issues and work rights in the profession, as well as knowledge futures.
The subject covers just about anything architects need for survival in the current age. In 2018 the lecture content will again be delivered online and via lecture based panel discussions as well as structured tutorial case studies.
Social media 
We will be using social media more this year through our Instagram account amongst other things. To give students a sense of the reality of practice each tutor will also be responsible for posting “a week in the life of the architect” content to the Instagram account for one week of the semester.
Wanted: Tutors with passion 
We are not looking for star-architects but architects with a passion for architectural practice, business and design. The tutorial team is diverse and I welcome applications from architects with a wide range of experiences and backgrounds. The  guiding philosophy of the class is that professional practice is actually about maximising design outcomes.
Ideally, tutors in this subject will be registered architects or practitioners, with post-graduation or post-registration experience, who are currently working in their own practices, or as project architects in medium to large firms.
IMG_3075
Time commitment
Time commitment for tutors is significant: 11 x 90 minute tutorials plus 4-6  x 1 hour moderation sessions during the semester. As well as attendance at 2 x 1 hour lecture panel presentations. This is an opportunity to make a direct contribution to current debates about architectural practice. Tutors will also need to view the online lectures. There is approximately 32 hours of marking during the semester. Tutorials and lectures are Tuesday evenings.
It is expected that tutors will meet the challenge of teaching in a cross-cultural and diverse context. Tutors are expected to abide by the universities teaching policies.
We also welcome architects currently in leadership positions in practice, no matter where you are based as we can easily Skype,  who wish to contribute to the subject either as a tutor or as a guest lecturer and discussion panel member.
Host practices  
This semester we are hoping to have one tutorial in an architectural office or practice. This will probably take place in May on a Tuesday afternoon. If you are willing to host let me know. That would be fantastic. We are also hoping to run some employment ready sessions through the class.  Contact me here if you are interested.
Interested? 
IMG_3067
I am happy to talk with you further if you have any further questions about your contribution as tutor to the subject. I look forward to your application as a tutor via the MSD’s Session Staff Recruitment System at the following link.

Making Sense of Design Research: Five questions

It doesn’t really help if the Design Research debate is polarised between practitioners, bewildered by the fact that their project outcomes are not considered research, and academics, from within and without the discipline, who say that such outcomes are “not real research.” The area is fraught with ambiguity and emotion. This is the same for both the practitioner “just doing it” and the academic trying to fit into university research metrics.

After I blogged about Design Research last time I offered up a few definitions. A few further definitions of Design Research which I came across rang true in this article.  And at the, now infamous, RIBA Research Symposia of 2007 it was reiterated that ‘“Research” for the purpose of the UK’s University Research Assessment Exercise was:

original investigation undertaken in order to gain knowledge and understanding. It includes work of direct relevance to the needs of commerce, industry, and to the public and voluntary sectors; scholarship; the invention and generation of ideas, images, performances, artefacts including design…;

OMG! That sounds like from the above definition that Design Research is in fact actual Research with a capital R! (regular followers will know what I mean: but, sometimes, I really wonder if I am living in a research coal mine).

My ironic tone above is because, some still think Design Research is “not real research.” When I hear such things, I think architects are actually on the right track in order to elicit such doctrinaire reactions. So here are few quick ideas, and by no means definitive, for how practitioners, might strengthen, that most dangerous, impure and evil of things, Design Research.

1. Consider how the research fills or pursue a gap in architectural knowledge?

Ok, just going out and designing something is not really Design Research unless you can show or demonstrate that you are seeking new knowledge. Perhaps, you are seeking to develop a new fabrication technique, or designing a building type that other people have not designed before, or designing an existing building typology with a different design approach.

But to do all this you have to know what knowledge has been previously created. What are the relevant design contexts, projects, or techniques being the reference points for this new design project? What new ideas are you trying to test or explore? How is this new Design Research positioned in relation to the canon of architectural knowledge that already exists?

2. Develop a catalogue of projects which the Design Research can refer to.

It follows from above that you need to have a catalogue of either, the projects you have done before, or projects you are interested in. This information can come in different formats: In books, (yes, strange but true), or in some kind of data storage. This information could also be in your brain. But, it’s probably best if it is explicit rather than tacit.

One practice I know produces an in-house research books or file for each new project in the office. This contains a range of things.

3. Develop a Design Research methodology.

A methodology is not a method. Don’t be confused. Understand this and everyone will think you are a Design Research guru.

Methodology was once described to me as, the arguments for the way, or manner, that the research is being pursued. This is the same for Design Research. Why is the Design Research being pursued or approached in a particular manner?

What kinds of design activities or processes are involved in the design investigation and research? For example, is it master planning, or spatial planning or is it something about materials or light or maybe it’s something about form making and coding.

You need to be able to argue, and think about, why the particular type of design processes you have chosen is appropriate to what you are trying to investigate. The resulting argument is your methodology.

3. Are new methods of designing or making involved?

This is probably an easy question to answer. But, that is perhaps the problem. Just getting out the robots or 3D printer and making something anew doesn’t make it Design Research.

All too often is it easy to be seduced by the technologies of making. It is all too easy to think that, superficial objectness or aesthetic funkiness alone means that what you are doing is in fact Design Research. All because you are designing something new (and oh-so-organic and diatomic) doesn’t necessarily mean that the thought behind it is new.

Are there steps in the process that make it unique? For example, employing or developing, anew plug-in, a new algorithm, a new geometric regime, unique patterns of design iteration.

Is the design research exploring a new or existing technology and its relationship to design process itself? How is the technology, shaping or changing the way that architects design?

Taken together how do the different methods employed in the Design Research support the methodology?

4. Does it develop or add to new theories of architectural design?

Architects should ask does the design research, or the design itself, build or develop a new theory of how architecture is made?

With fellow students, I once went to a presentation by an architect of a large and prominent downtown high-rise office building. We asked the architect how he came to make the forms he was proposing. He stated these had come about as result of “whatever just came into his head.” We were aghast.

The mysticism associated with so-called “intuitive” design has often led to the situation where any theoretical scrutiny of architectural design is greeted with ignorance, and even hostility. For some architect’s theory is always going to be bullshit.

As architects, no matter the type of work we do we have responsible to develop theories that explain and argue the general relevance of what we are doing. Is there a body of theory around your firm’s design practices?

Testing theory and building new theories is an essential part of the outcome any ongoing research. As Design Research generates new design solutions how does it help to formulate guide, or determine a theoretical framework.

5. Finally, has Design Knowledge been added to?

This is the key question. Can the architect argue that new Design Knowledge has been created? How strong is this argument? Do the foundations of this argument simply rest on intuitive designing. Or is there a logical substance to the argument based on a clear aim to fill a knowledge gap, sound documentation, a supporting methodology, established or unique methods and a new theoretical framework?

Understanding and promoting Design Research in architecture as a discipline is essential to the disciplines viability. For architect’s attitudes to Design Research need to be clearer and less contaminated by the twin evils of academic prejudice, about what research is, and the theory free zone of intuitive alpha-male designing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.