Sunday, February 20, 2011

One track mind

Hi there. It's been a long time (long time). How have you been?

I feel like I need to re-introduce myself, seeing as I've gone MIA. Remember me? I used to post regularly, occasionally making an, I'd like to hope, insightful observation. I may have even been funny from time to time. But, for quite a while, it seems, I've lost my mojo. Maybe that's life. At least, it seems, that has been mine.

My life, however, is beside the point. At least for today. I'm trying to get my groove back, you might say, and finally get down something that has been nagging me for a while.

As I mentioned here, I had the opportunity to find myself back in Studio. Observing the dramatic change in process, particularly the design tools being used, from my collegiate days was...shocking? Unnerving? Inspiring? I'm not sure, exactly. Conflicted. Yeah...maybe that's it.

As the studio progressed, thoughts about this evolution in education stayed at the back of my mind. It gnawed at me more after I read this, which, while interesting, failed to explore what I thought was the most provocative statement of the entire interview:

Prince-Ramus: It’s an architectural education issue. It’s not that I’m not hiring architects. But as someone who teaches and has a practice and has real projects, I see the skill set of people with architectural education as increasingly irrelevant, if not detrimental.

I've tried to understand this statement, reflecting on my students and my approach towards the studio. But I am still not sure what is Mr. Prince-Ramus's ultimate point. Given the context, where his comment follows a contractor who has mentioned hiring more architects for his company, I first took it to mean that architects skills have now made them increasingly production oriented. Thus, rather than leading, we have a generation adept at executing.

When I first began teaching, what struck me most was the time students now spend on a computer. Unless asked to specifically produced something by hand, everything I saw was on a screen, or a printout of something digital. It was jarring, not only because I had been a model guy, but because I found it very difficult to have discussions with the students about their process.

If anything, iterative design was the one thing drilled into me during my own studies. Try one version, then another, compare, contrast, and repeat. But, crucial to all of this, was that you could view versions simultaneously, which allowed you to make decisions based upon the relative strengths and weaknesses that you observed in the comparison.

While the students may have been doing this, it was unclear, as I spoke with them, if it was really happening. I would often have them go back to materials they showed during previous sessions, asking them for sketches or printout that seemed to be already tucked away - out of sight and out of mind. For many of the students, the design process seemed so linear - decisions made considering only direct cause and effect. Address one problem, then move on. Checklist done.

If this is what Mr. Prince-Ramus is referring to in his comments, then I heartily agree. The technological tools my students relied upon seemed to have fostered a certain simplistic attitude towards their design process. If it works on screen, it looks okay in the model, it's fine. Move on. Move down the list of things to address, and once the list is done, the project is good to go. Forget about considering the implications of decisions to things previously decided, or potential pitfalls down the line. At that moment, the decision made sense, and so the decision is made.

But, I have to say, I can't be sure if that is really Mr. Prince-Ramus's take. He has made a certain distinction between what architects are now learning and what he thinks they should be. He condemns this new architectural model that technology, like BIM, has seemed to usher, as well as what traditional model that others often deride architects for having - the "someone will make it work" attitude that many think architects have when designing. So I guess I'd like to know, what is the right way to educate future architects? Because, from where I now stand, it seems like we better figure it out soon.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

You can always dream...