Architect, Landscape Architect, Urban Designer, Land Use Planner, Environmental Observer

Friday, August 7, 2009

Teaching Architecture - Two "War Stories"

I have taught both Architecture and Landscape Architecture for many years. These types of curricula have a studio teaching methodology. It comes from the guild system which was translated to the Ecole des Beaux Artes in Paris. The design studio is typically 16-20 students with their own permanent stations. These are often in a "cubicle" arrangement. You are expected to do a primary portion of your work in the studio. In most universities that have environmental design type studios, the buildings are open 24 hours. I remember coffee makers, hot plates and hammocks being stored in compartments in peoples cubes.

In the studio the instructor gives lectures, but most time is spent in desk critiques. These sessions may be fifteen minutes each or stretch to more. At intermediate points, the work is put on the walls and there is a larger critique, often with outside professionals and/or professors. Students present the work, and then there is time for the critics to give opinions and comments. The end of the term review is a major event.

I present these two scenarios out of years of teaching as examples of the way design instructors are direct, opinionated and passionate.

Scene One -

It is a normal desk crit type of day for me in a middle level studio (second and third year of a five year curriculum). One of the students on my list to see today is M. He listens to me explaining some principles that he needs to pay attention to about his design. Then he grabs his eraser, erases a portion of the drawing and starts to redraw. I say "whoa, listen and absorb what I am saying". I explain more and he erases and draws again, telling me "okay, then I will do this". In frustration, I pick up his pencil and throw it across to the other side of the room.

I tell him "don't pick that up until you have really thought about the changes you are about to make!" I suddenly feel like, I blew it. As I look at him, he starts laughing. I said "what is so funny?" He tells me that I am the second professor to throw his pencil away!

I asked him who else did that...he says Professor K. and I said, "at least I am in good company!"

Scene Two -

It is the final review of the quarter in a first year studio. One of my students is a transfer from a junior college. Even though he had two years of design, they made him take one quarter in beginning studio. He's not a happy camper because of that.

I invited about four or five reviewers and each had to be rotated every 45 minutes so that all the students could get individual critiques that afternoon. I was too busy to hear all the reviews. There was always a summary at the end of these. The studio professor and the outside reviewers sum up the impressions of the student work. After that I went to see T. (the student) and asked him how is review went. I had assigned a particularly talented and experienced professor to him because he had the junior college experience.

He tells me that "Professor P. did not like the design, but that was only his opinion". I tell him that Professor P. has thirty years experience as an architect, has taught for fifteen years at major universities, that he worked for one of the greatest architects of the twentieth century, and has a Master's degree from the University of Pennsylvania! - and that HE (the student) is a beginning architectural student.

I said "his opinion and your opinion are not equal! -- If they were, there would be no need for you to go to school."

. . .

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