What good is an architecture professor?

Josef Albers, drawing class in Black Mountain College 1939-1940, image BMC archive.

Actually, the question itself is offensive. “A lot of good”, thousands of professors of architecture sharing their teachings in the many classrooms of our Schools of Architecture would reply without the slightest doubt. And yet, taking the answer beyond those simple two words requires an effort that is not easily made. It could actually seem like an act of rebellion defying the utilitarian underlying meaning of the question. “How else can someone become an architect?”

The way the learning of architecture is generated is a controversial issue. Are the evaluation systems for most of our subjects, merely doing the final exams and the final project, actually valid methods in these times to verify learning? Owing to the obvious educational changes we are steeped in, many of us teaching architecture are questioning whether these are actually are the best methods for verifying students’ degree of knowledge.

In a certain way, at some time, we have identified passing exams or doing a final project with proof that certain knowledge has been obtained during formal studies. And yet, there is nothing farther from this association, and even less so in the specific field of architecture. This is perhaps why, day in and day out, any teacher of architecture faces the temptation to forget that the primary purpose of their work is not to deliver a degree but to bring about quality learning. Indeed, if exams and final projects are not a way of learning in and of themselves, why have them?

Today, the “hidden curriculum” in which students function is what truly determines their future careers. This is why we are perhaps obliged to think with them about whether there are better models for learning and studying than the conventional ones. To start with, if the systems we are using to evaluate our students are not fostering acquiring truly deep-seated knowledge, then they should be called into question. More than ever it seems clear that this is the direction we need to move in because it is where we can better perform the tasks that architects need to perform collaboratively. Exercising critical thought, providing the skills to communicate ideas by whatever means, problem-solving requiring creativity and self-learning all require new forms of teaching. Fostering interactive learning, experience-based learning, can foster gaining that deep-seated knowledge and gaining experience through designs as a fundamental component to learning.

Actually, the current progressive shift away from time spent designing in schools, with the pretext of this not being helpful in real life, is a disservice to students as it deprives them of a primary source of  serious reflection about their discipline. Designing as a system of learning helps not only to develop that skill, but also to gain experience in a specific type of problem-solving. This lies at the heart of the inevitable changes in education we are experiencing. In the eyes of some teachers, this change would clearly be fostered by students and would change the way we receive information. Stated otherwise, no one will impose this change. No higher instance shall issue an edict. And yet this is all so present that it has become necessary for each school to promptly stop gazing at its own navel like a mere administrative unit for issuing degrees, and move on to serious educational endeavours.

Text translated by Beth Gelb
Arquitecto y docente; hace convivir la divulgación y enseñanza de la arquitectura, el trabajo en su oficina y el blog 'Múltiples estrategias de arquitectura'.

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