Architecture in the hands of professors

Patrick Schumacher’s conference at the Saudi Design Week, in the KAPSARC building auditorium designed by Zaha Hadid’s studio.

Patrick Schumacher’s conference at the Saudi Design Week, in the KAPSARC building auditorium designed by Zaha Hadid’s studio.

 

I would like to offer some food for though on the current state of architecture instruction. This is a field where American institutions are leaders, setting the pattern for many models and consequences. I shall not be discussing the business of academic publications, but there is another large bubble that originated across the ocean, and that is the bubble of accreditations. In principle, no one could ever see any ill will in this. Quite the contrary, in fact: accreditations serve the purpose of validating and standardising content and, as a result, they can help determine the skills to be developed in the future internationally. They can help remove borders and create a more flexible, nimble global market for architects, thus encouraging mobility – something that is very much sought after in Spain, when it is not unfortunately almost mandatory.

However, Issues arose when, in pursuit of these accreditations, processes were simplified into unbearably boring and childish templates. Meanwhile, justifying bureaucracy produced endless reports on learning objectives along with their corresponding details on completion percentages. Paperwork has grown exponentially and teachers are buried, year after year, under piles of increasingly meaningless documents that only those who specialise in University education find a use for, upon carefully inspecting their content. And the content, by the way, is unlikely to be understood because, after all, it is specific to each and every discipline.

Finally, in the midst of all of this, another important phenomenon occurred as a consequence – the very phenomenon lending the title to this blog. Architecture has fallen into the hands of professors, as opposed to architects themselves. This statement does not aim to challenge those who have earned a degree and teach at University. However, I do wish to voice my concern about the fact that, increasingly, more schools are filling themselves with teachers whose practical experience in the profession is virtually non-existent. These teachers have gained access to their precarious posts on the basis of internal merit, for instance by attending mentorship programmes in the department or by acting as assistant professors for years. Often times their experience is limited to bureaucratic tasks or mere attendance. This keeps the chances at bay of accumulating baggage of knowledge and expertise that they can later on impart to their students. Not to mention all the redundancy and repetitiveness typical of academia.

It is true that young generations have not had an easy time acquiring direct building experience. These opportunities have decreased to the extent that this is no longer expected, and far less a mandatory requirement for teaching. Even more importantly, the very notion of architecture has been redefined and elaborated upon, out of either necessity or ambition, and quite rightly so. The architect’s traditional role as a mere builder has been left by the wayside.

 Having said that, and although it should be acknowledged that there are a wide array of opportunities to work as an architect in contexts other than mere building, it seems difficult to accept that areas of architecture such as construction, facilities, structure and of course project management should be taught (more and more often) by professors who have never worked as architects; professors who only graduated from University a few years back and went straight to teaching without ever interrupting their studies – thus lacking the hands-on experience that would imbue their teachings with practical value.

Associate professors were once able to fill this gap. These are experienced professionals who devote a few hours of their time to teaching, while the bulk of their work carrying out the various typical tasks of this profession is conducted in either their own or someone else’s architecture studios.

In Spain, the large number of schools and of young graduates has resulted in greater competition. Yet at the same time, it has given way to a plethora of very valuable University teachers. In other countries, however, this has not happened and University education has been left in the hands of true teaching professionals.

A lot of them view the various programmes and areas of knowledge as individual elements that can be taught on an ad-hoc basis and with a little preparation and time – even though they have had no direct professional experience in these fields. This turns knowledge into a simple transference of ideas acquired a few minutes back; ideas that were never tested practically, much less filtered, contrasted or processed by the teacher.

 I am afraid that this trend, imposed on us by American Universities and increasingly present in our universities seeking to provide students with an international framework for self-development, may lead to potentially trivialising teaching as it falls into the hands of mercenaries.


Text translated by Beth Gelb
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Beatriz Villanueva es Doctora en Proyectos Arquitectónicos Avanzados, MArch y MPAA (ETSAM). Francisco J. Casas es Doctor en Comunicación Arquitectónica, MArch y Master en Análisis, Teoría e Historia de la Arquitectura (ETSAM). Fueron comisarios de “Menáge a Trois”, “F. A. Q.”, “Portfolio Speed Dating”, “Al Borde de la Crítica” y de la exposición "Couples & Co.: 22 Mirror Stories of Spanish Architecture" en Berlín, Hamburgo, Sevilla y Granada.  Han sido profesores en IED, UEM, UCJC, ETSA Zaragoza, Summer School AA (Londres) y ahora en Riad desde 2014.

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