Sunday, August 24, 2008

Architecture School - The Next Reality

It’s intriguing. A reality show, based in an architecture school? You know I’ll be watching.

Having premiered on the Sundance Channel this past week, Architecture School follows students of a studio at Tulane University’s School of Architecture. Their task: design an affordable house for residents of central city, a neighborhood in the heart of New Orleans. The prize – the chosen design will be built, a single student’s design realized in wood, glass, and in this particular case, structural insulated panels (SIPs).

The first episode is a whirlwind, as the project, the students, the history, are all introduced. You get a brief sense of the major student players – I say major players because, there were, it seems, more students than the ones named and profiled – and an even briefer sense of them as designers. Maybe they are holding off for now, but, in the first episode, all I could gather is that one student designs a lot with the computer, most design with small parti models of chipboard, and everyone is adept at drawing with sharpies.

I admit to a good deal of the shows appeal is for the nostalgia I feel when they show the studio space or round-table critiques. Watching the studio professor quickly cut through the concept BS brought me back to those long afternoons, when we would sit, models and sketches in hand, trying to display some sense of design acumen. “I wanted to bring the outside in”, “I wanted to carve the volume”, “I wanted to connect public and private”. We all said those same things. We all believed those things. We all were probably speaking out our ass.

As for their studio spaces? Well, they were a LOT nicer than ours; A LOT cleaner as well. I’ll chalk that up to clever editing and camera shots. But, hell, if I were a prospective student nowadays, I would be dreaming of their cavernous spaces, new desks and seemingly endless amounts of workspace. Dude, I was lucky to have room for a drafting board, which doubled as a modeling board, cutting board, gluing board and materials storage.

If anything, watching the first episode made me wish I had done something like this first. I mean, how better to capture the experience of architecture education than tape it. So simple. It would have been particularly helpful when I worked for my alma mater, meeting with prospective students.

So much of what architecture is, as an education, is the indoctrination into a culture unique unto itself. It was hard to describe to prospective students the life they were interested in pursing, the world they would enter if they chose architecture. It was my responsibility to honestly answer the questions of “how much time will I spend in studio”, and “is it hard to do well?” It was also my responsibility to promote the school, and my belief in the education, despite its flaws. It was good training in diplomacy. I think a show like this would have greatly helped my cause.

Thankfully, this “reality show” is less MTV “Real World” and more a true documentary. Though only thirty minutes into this six-part series, Architecture School has already grasped the pace of studio, the ambitions of architecture, and some of the outstanding questions facing the profession. It has also, for now it seems, avoided the fake conflict and producer-induced drama that makes “reality tv” so unreal.

In particular, I like how the show has captured the student’s desires, their drive – why they are there in the first place. That’s probably the most interesting thing about this entire project. Interest in architecture is a combination of altruism and ego, the need to give back, be an responsible steward, and the desire to see your ideas built. It’s probably the best marketing campaign architecture has ever had.

So each Wednesday night, for the next few weeks, you’ll find me on my couch, watching, quietly cheering these students on. Because, despite my own frustrations, my own struggles, I still want believe in the possibilities. And, hopefully, the possibilities imagined by these students will conclude with a successful, provocative reality. I think you should join me.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This above all has to be the best overview of the learning process of architecture I have ever read.
This is great the way someone had the insight to realize and write what it really is like. It is a shame i did not hear this years ago.
I have since left the profession some 20 years ago because of this
"indoctrination into a culture unique unto itself". I spent years in college to learn the profession a few while raising a family. Only after I realized what this indoctrination was all about did i realize I wanted out. And I did. But I will admit that I did learn alot while studying architecture that made me a bigger success financially and professionally than I could have ever expected. To the author thank you for your insights

8:27 PM  
Blogger rosy said...

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12:43 AM  

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