Posts tagged with "pedagogy":

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Architecture’s crisis is deeper than #MeToo

Architecture has been grappling with its own #MeToo moment since the reports of sexual harassment allegations against Richard Meier broke. The responses have varied, ranging from statements condemning sexual harassment and promoting workplace reform to the creation of a “shitty architecture men” list. The conversation also underscores existing challenges within architecture: the field is almost completely white, overwhelmingly male, and shrinking. But so far, most responses have addressed symptoms rather than structural issues. We need to talk about how architecture’s crisis is deeply rooted in its culture. If architecture is to be saved—from the Richard Meiers to the unpaid internships—we must expand how architecture is evaluated and rethink how it is taught. Expand the Terms of Architectural Value Our definition of good architecture is woefully myopic and outdated, beginning with the cult of personality. A list of important architecture is analogous to a list of individuals or acronyms synonymous with individuals. The dominant narrative (think the Pritzker Prize) recognizes design excellence as an individual rather than office-wide achievement. And though important scholarship is deepening our understanding of the canon by recognizing the contribution of overlooked women like Anne Tyng or Charlotte Perriand, the office-wide effort, fundamental to architecture, remains unseen. The production of the design—from the labor practices to the contributions of team members—should be considered when evaluating architecture. We should be asking: How is the office structured? Is the office environment oppressive? Is there pay equity? These questions are as fundamental to architectural quality as a building’s relationship to its surroundings or the detailing of a corner. This will help to debunk the sole creator myth, recognize the profession’s collective nature, and establish the importance of the practice of architecture. In this light, Meier’s projects would be rightly seen as bad architecture. Well-rounded criticism will expand the realm of architectural value beyond its narrow-minded focus on the building to examine and celebrate architectural practice. As architects, our offices are the only environments we can completely design, implement, and control. So it is maddening that they are so often toxic and inhumane. In response to the allegations against Meier, the Pritzker Foundation reaffirmed his 1984 award, stating: “We do not comment on the personal lives of our laureates.” This is ridiculous. Meier did not harass in his personal life; he harassed in his professional life. It is scandalous to valorize architecture made in such an environment. Change Architectural Education to Change Practice Design studio, which is based on a master/apprentice relationship, is a unique and valuable form of pedagogy. But its unequal power dynamic is too often exacerbated by the harmful and inappropriate behavior of some studio instructors, an ill-defined student/teacher boundary, and an acceptance of hostile and aggressive crits. Studio sets expectations for the kinds of workplaces and mentor relationships that young architects will seek or accept. Painfully, against this backdrop, the allegations against Meier are not shocking. They are just over the line of what many students and young architects have learned to put up with. Studio also establishes overwork as a cornerstone of architectural excellence, reproducing the belief that good design is never done. Saying yes to another parti, model, or rendering forces us to say no to meals, sleep, and social life. We also learn that, trapped in a service industry, we should expect to be underpaid (or unpaid) and under-appreciated. School-taught expectations shape our decisions to work at offices despite the overwork, underpay, and toxic environments (not to mention our student debt!). Many offices rely on and enforce this culture of overwork to offset the cost of uncompensated competitions, low fees, accelerated schedules, or scope changes. Poorly compensated labor props up many firms, allowing them to win critical acclaim while operating sham businesses and undercutting the industry as a whole. Pedagogy should project the ideals of practice, not reflect its worst tendencies. Universities should temper the always-yes culture and advocate for boundaries. They should establish guidelines for studio organization, schedules, workloads, deliverables, and time-management in concert with students. They should also clarify the codes of the student/teacher relationship and teach students that their time is valuable and that architecture can be done without lopsided power dynamics and overwork. If we learned in such a setting, why would we go to offices that pay little, expect us to work nonstop, and serve abusive, ego-driven individuals? Firms built on unpaid or underpaid labor would be rightly seen as pariahs regardless of their designs’ originality, not celebrated as they are now. The professional practice track should also be strengthened. A sequence of courses in this vein could teach real-world responsibilities and reinvest in architecture as a circumscribed discipline, fostering scholarship around the history and theory of architectural practice. Leading professionals from various types of offices could speak about the nuts and bolts of running their practices. Students could learn to creatively and effectively run an office, as well as to design. Imagine if we learned the profession and studied the typologies and history of offices in order to think critically and innovatively about practice. Only then could we say that school truly advances the future of architecture. Rebuild Architecture’s Credibility On top of our internal structural issues, architects’ expertise and authority is eroding and our necessity is being questioned. In our desire to limit liability, we have ceded responsibility to other parties: architects of record, consultants, engineers, contractors, and owner's representatives—shrinking our professionalism. Yet we trumpet architecture’s ability to address social and global challenges: the future of work, housing, urbanization, climate change. To credibly take on these issues, we need to tend to our discipline from the bottom up, starting with expanding architectural value and repairing education. Our problems are not intractable and there are a few downsides. But without change, architecture is undergoing a brain drain. The #MeToo reckoning adds urgency to the profession’s troubling trajectory. With its abysmal diversity and the discipline's shameful state, it’s hard to see why anyone would want to be an architect. And yet we do. Those of us who love architecture—its history, worldview, and optimism—must refuse to say yes to its unhealthy and degrading demands. Architecture has never been more important to the world’s realities. But to meaningfully contribute and fully realize the #MeToo moment, we must rebuild architecture from the ground up.   Miles Fujiki is a young architect working in New York City.
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Of prophets and professionals: a response to Peter Zellner

Though I share some of his concerns about the state of contemporary architectural education, I was taken aback by comments from my friend and colleague Peter Zellner in a recent editorial in this paper. In “Architectural Education Is Broken—Here’s How to Fix It,” Peter offers a five-point critique of contemporary education and a matching five-point prescription for a “post-studio and post-digital architectural education.” The criticism, gleaned from twenty-five-year-old comments by John Baldessari about the artist’s development of a “post-studio” course at CalArts nearly 50 years ago, takes aim at hierarchical master-disciple relationships between teachers and students, at the proliferation of academic styles that often result from them, and at the suppression of dissenting opinions such situations often entail. His prescription for change unfolds along a familiar, if vague, trajectory that valorizes shared knowledge, free experimentation, and egalitarian exchange among students and teachers. Some of Peter’s criticisms are justified, if a bit overblown. “Various forms of academic cult worship” indeed exist in architecture schools today, and this “pied-piperism,” to borrow a term from Eric Moss, has led many a promising student into unproductive territory. In my experience, though, most of those lost sheep eventually find their way home, and more often than not they return primed to parlay experience gained in foreign fields into significant contributions within the disciplinary fold. Peter’s complaints about the nefarious forces of digital technology, on the other hand, lack both specificity and substance. He merely states, rather than argues, his contention that digital tools foreclose creativity, and dismisses without comment not only the obvious achievements of several decades of innovative work at schools around the globe but also of his own students. Worse, the statement is not his own, but rather a quote from Peter Eisenman, which adds to an air of older generations kvetching about newfangled habits and, like his invocation of Baldessari, undermines his admonition against undue authority invested in the pronouncements of elder statesmen. However problematic, Peter’s criticisms are for the most part innocuous. I have more serious concerns about his proposals for change. His recipe for post-studio education rests on a specious, if common, elision of art and architecture and a ludicrous, if equally common, contention that architecture “can’t be taught.” Such arguments brush aside significant differences between art and architecture and perpetuate damaging mystifications about the nature of architectural practice and education. I agree with Peter’s assertion that architecture is an art form. But unlike painting, literature, music, and other modes of artistic production, it is also a profession with significant ethical and legal responsibilities, and a discipline with cultural ambitions to advance the public imagination. The latter aspect distinguishes the practice of architecture from the craft of building. The former distinguishes it from the production of fine art. Peter and I share a deep commitment to architecture understood as a cultural practice with professional responsibilities, as opposed to a design profession with cultural ambitions. Nonetheless, I take issue with his proposals, which, in spite of his criticism of a supposedly style-obsessed status quo, continue to portray architecture almost exclusively in aesthetic terms, pay only passing lip service to “technical knowledge,” overemphasize issues of style and individual expression, and disregard questions of professional competence. Any serious proposal about architectural education must take the full gamut of architecture’s professional and disciplinary responsibilities into account. More damaging is Peter’s proposition, also borrowed from Baldessari, that architecture cannot be taught. Apparently, the best we can do is to “set up a situation where [architecture] might happen.” This is a bizarre idea to be put forward by such an intelligent and effective teacher as Peter Zellner. Peter proposes that we can’t teach architecture because he conceives of architecture, as Baldassari apparently conceives of art, as a mystical quality, a transubstantiation of physical matter into some higher form of existence. This is the sort of stuff that routinely pours from the mouths of those academic shamans Peter rails against in his essay. It can be seductive, to be sure, but it is nonsense. Architecture doesn’t just happen. Architecture is made. Architecture can be made, and its methods taught, because “architecture” refers not to a specific object but rather to evidence that an object—usually but not always a building—has been produced in terms of a specific way of working. Just as literature cannot be reduced to books, architecture cannot be reduced to buildings. Neither can it be reduced to drawings, models, or digital animations. Architecture is method all the way down. The Oxford English Dictionary defines architecture not as a kind of building but rather as “the art or science of building.” Another Peter, the historian better known as Reyner Banham, put it better: “What distinguishes architecture is not what is done… but how it is done.” Understanding architecture as having to do with how  rather than what  makes it easier to see that architecture is, like all academic disciplines, a cultural construct. Its techniques and methods, its history and theory, the habits and conventions of those who practice it, can and routinely are taught and learned, as evidenced by the surfeit of students who quickly master the tactics of their teachers that Peter laments in his essay. Of course, those techniques, histories, habits, and conventions also can be developed, transformed, thrown out, and replaced as needed. Such activities rank among the most important work that takes place in architecture schools. Understanding architecture this way also makes it easier to see that the field’s value system, its internal methods for identifying what constitutes good and bad work, is always a work in progress. Architectural quality, like architecture itself, is determined not by the presence or absence of some quasi-spiritual attribute in an object but rather by consensus. Constituencies in support of any architectural work must be constructed long before the project can be built, and even if constructed buildings are not one’s aim, it is an ability to assemble such constituencies, and little else, that transforms individual interests into relevant contributions and, in some cases, canonical achievements. In other words, architecture’s aesthetic ambitions are deeply political. And the disciplinary politics of architectural education, as Peter intimates in his essay, can make for some pretty ugly situations. Luckily, contemporary architecture can and does support a wide range of coexisting genres and associated value systems. In the best schools, a handful of them vie for dominance, motivating proponents of each to hone their political as well as their aesthetic and technical chops as they make their respective cases and build their respective constituencies. In the worst ones, well-meaning but misguided faculty utter empty pronouncements like “you can’t teach architecture.” There are plenty of issues with contemporary architectural education today, and I commend Peter for having put some of them on the table. But at the top of any list of things to fix in architecture schools must surely be the abdication of so many faculty of their responsibility to teach it. Todd Gannon is the Cultural Studies Coordinator at SCI-Arc.
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Architectural education is broken—here’s how to fix it

Todd Gannon, cultural studies coordinator at SCI-Arc, issued a response to the following article that can be found here. In an interview1 by art critic Christopher Knight at John Baldessari's studio in Santa Monica, the seminal Los Angeles artist had much to say about the state of art education in L.A. in the early 1970s and his efforts at the then-nascent CalArts program. At the time, the dominant pedagogical model in most art academies, as in many architecture schools, was founded on the inviolable relationship between master and disciple within the studio environment. This tradition—mostly established in medieval artisan guilds and professionalized in the 19th-century academy—relied on a few well-worn shibboleths:
  1. Creative or technical knowledge can only be passed on through direction supervision.
  1. The hand and eye of the disciple can only be cultivated, monitored, and authenticated by an appointed authority, typically a master or a master’s apprentice.
  1. The authority of the master’s opinion is evidenced by the caerful replication of the academy’s official style(s) and through the copying of known works by the master.
  1. Until sanctioned by the master or the academy itself, the disciple remains a novice and therefore an intellectual and creative subordinate.
  1. Any challenges to this (mostly) patriarchal order are considered heretical. (To wit: The Salon des Refusés of 1863.)
Baldessari and other notable L.A. art educators like Michael Asher upended these traditions by teaching what is now known as post-studio art practice. Post-studio art teaching was conceived of as a model of art-academics that inverted the relationship between what is taught, if it is taught at all, and what is practiced. It leveraged intensive group critiques between students and students, students and faculty, and faculty and faculty to attack what was practiced by artists in an effort to create space for new forms of art to emerge. Baldessari and others at CalArts shifted the onus of responsibility from the teacher to the student, moving art teaching from a master-disciple model to a communal and relational notion of education. This new model of art education was founded around open conversation, relentless critique, and a demand for a radical autonomy put to and assumed by each individual student. Baldessari explains:

Well, the whole idea was to raise the question what do you do in an art school? And you say, "Well, what courses are necessary to teach?" and that is question begging in a way, because you can say, "Well, can art be taught at all?" And, you know, I prefer to say, “No, it can’t. It can’t be taught.” You can set up a situation where art might happen, but I think that’s the closest you get. Then I can jump from there into saying, “Well, if art can’t be taught, maybe it would be a good idea to have people that call themselves artists around. And something, some chemistry, might happen.” And then the third thing would be that to be as non-tradition-bound as possible, and just be very pragmatic, whatever works. You know, and if one thing doesn’t work, try another thing. My idea was always you haven’t taught until you see the light in their eyes. I mean, whatever. Extend your hand, that’s what you do. Otherwise, you’re like a missionary, delivering the gospel and leaving. [laughs]”2

Architectural education today, perhaps not surprisingly, finds itself at a similar juncture some 50 years after institutions such as the IAUS, the Cooper Union, SCI-Arc, and the Architectural Association challenged accepted architectural academic orthodoxies, much like CalArts did in the arts. Many of the very schools of architecture that modeled new and innovative forms of teaching and pedagogy in the 1970s and 1980s now find themselves mired in various forms of academic cult worship: Digital traditionalisms, faux-art fetishisms, silly mannerist dead-ends, philosopher-shaman worship, and other neoconservative returns. The outcomes of this neoliberal and cultish return to a seemingly 19th century Beaux Arts models of architectural education have been devastating: Several generations of students were robbed of their voices and their right to grow potent individual practices; the architecture school falsely made into an imprimatur-machine for its academics, superseding the idea of a school as a space for free conversation, debate and critique; and most worryingly, the importance of the architectural school as an autonomous intellectual and cultural institution has been trolled and traded in, cheaply, for the bad faith business-innovation-two-point-oh-idea of education as an enterprise, student and teacher masquerading as entrepreneur and investor. Freeing architectural education now seems imperative and necessary. If we have reached the end of the current road, perhaps this is a golden opportunity to challenge these tired orthodoxies and to create a space for new forms of education, perhaps in post-studio and post-digital formats. This will require a challenge to these cults, and of them, the cult of the digital must be confronted and interrogated ruthlessly. Technology and its misuse and abuse, in particular, must be wrestled with now. As Peter Eisenman recently noted, “Technology is a cruel tool, because what it does is defer the possibility of the student being creative. The student can take an algorithm, produce 50 alternatives to the same problem… It takes away from you the possibility of value judgment.” Beyond the problem of too much technology, which might have an easy fix—namely turning off the screen once in a while in studio to read and think for an hour or two—one imagines that an inversion of the aforementioned and blindly accepted new academic traditions might produce a post-studio model of architectural education that could be constructed along these lines:
  1. Creative or technical knowledge can be shared through engaged debate, critique, and conversation.
  1. The relatively high value placed on the approved hand and eye of the student as an expression of the notion of individual genius should be challenged.
  1. The fast paced reproduction of official styles and the copying of contemporary professional works should be exchanged for awkward experimentation and slow growth.
  1. The student and the teacher must be seen as intellectual and creative colleagues whose conversations followed shared but not parallel paths.
  1. Intelligent challenges to accepted academic concepts by students and teachers alike should be celebrated and not extinguished.
Without placing more radical expectations on our current models of architectural education, our schools will forfeit their ability to fulfill their cultural and academic missions. Without freeing up a zone for architectural education to explore the space between vocations and ideas, the profession and the discipline will wither. Without a return to the value of an architecture of ideas and not an architecture of marketing concepts then the purpose and need for the very a school of architecture may be on the table. As these are not acceptable outcomes, the new goal of post-studio and post-digital architectural education must be to promote genuine intellectual change through a radical questioning of the very purpose of teaching, of the academy and, by extension, of architecture itself. The question one might ask now of architectural education, after Baldessari, is this: “Can architecture be taught at all?”  And, the answer might be, “No, it can’t. It can’t be taught. You can set up a situation where architecture might happen, but I think that’s the closest you get.” Peter Zellner is a longtime contributor to The Architect's Newspaper and teaches in the Graduate Architecture program at the University of Southern California, School of Architecture. 
1 From an oral history interview with John Baldessari,
conducted by Christopher Knight at the artist’s studio in Santa Monica, California, April 4–5, 1992. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
2 Ibid.