So, is it this iterative process, this reframing that makes a difference between an architectural and an engineering approach?
I wouldn’t call it exactly iterative as much. I mean you can call it like `zooming in and out`. So, you say this is the solution I want to give to this problem; for instance, I want to create a hinge mechanism that `does this exactly`. Engineers would not mind spending a whole year figuring out what a hinge mechanism is. While on the other hand, an architectural method would be like… you decide on that hinge, you work for it for a bit, but then you say ‘oh wait, that might not be the right way to go’, so you zoom out and you say I am going to do something else. And you suddenly change and go for something completely different.
So, because of this, when we had engineers who came in to teach, they always solved problems, always thought that their job is to help the kids with the technical issues. Because they were never really put in a space where ideas can be critiqued, or can be driven in a certain way. So this whole kind of run of ideas. The first thing I am telling to students who come to us, is that this is a space where ideas can be critiqued. Whereas the kids are very defensive in the beginning, like ‘this is my idea, you cannot critique my idea’. Because they are coming from a traditional teaching, that is all about manuals and skills. You have a textbook and that’s what you are working with. You are not teaching anything that is related to ideas. So they come here and say ‘oh its all about ideas!’. Obviously we have a lot of skilled people who can execute, but it’s different. You know, we need more seeing in learning –obviously I’m going back to my dissertation a lot. The seeing piece is really for me the key.
The seeing in what terms? Not only technical, I guess.
Right. The technical piece comes from applying rules. So you need to understand how to execute. But then the seeing is about changing your perspective on something. And that is a piece a lot of non architects are unable to do. But I don’t think that architects realize exactly what they have, either. You know, so that is the other problem in architectural education, that nobody reflects on it.
I assume that you are referring to the studio culture, rather than the design enterprise.
Exactly. The pedagogy of the studio. Nobody talks about it. This is why Schön’s work is probably the only work that does that and in a brilliant way.
This begs the following question. While researching at MIT you focused on ways for extracting the design studio from an academic to a high school context. And, throughout these last almost five years you are actually practicing in this direction. If I asked you to look again at the architectural design studio, what would you see?
There are a few things that have become very clear to me. One thing is transparency about the studio culture. So, it’s been kind of known that a lot of people who go to architecture -whether as undergraduates in their first year or by entering the MArch without having any previous architectural background before- in both of these cases, the students really struggle the first year. And that struggle happens because there is no transparency about the studio culture. You are thrown in this environment and someone comes to you and tells you ‘do this thing’, whereas you are taught before that you can only do things with a lot of research, by writing something and if you did someone else always knows the answer. But, architecture demands for a very different way than doing problem set and solving it. So nobody tells you exactly what to do. You are expected to learn how to do it by doing it. But there is obviously a lot of friction that happens, and this is why there is usually a lot of frustration. Even in the case of MIT sometimes kids just drop out because they could not adapt to the culture of it. So, even for us here, it became very key that we needed to be very transparent about the process. Therefore, when we are critiquing the kids we tell them exactly why we are critiquing them. We explain what the role of critique is, so they understand. We show them this diagram, where you get the critique and then you synthesize it and then you make design decisions. And we start building this language with them from the very first day. So for us this is a big one.
The second one is the collaboration piece. For me its amazing that architects always work alone, now looking back at it. You are always in your studio with your own kind of walls and it`s an extremely individualistic kind of education. It’s very rare to actually collaborate with other people in the studio in the MArch level. The main studios where you spent 70-80% of your time is always individual kind of work. So for us when we started doing the collaboration piece it became really interesting. We had to do a lot of social engineering and learn as we go how to do it.
The third one is documentation of the process. That is, a medium to reflect the creative process where we go through the critique, the synthesis and the design decisions. So, we‘ve built this whole platform to do that, the studio management platform that is already used in some five or six architecture schools including MIT.
In a sense, this documentation platform sheds light to a logical underlying nature of the creative process. I mean, by documenting and externalizing decision makings a student has to argue for making certain conscious decisions, instead of evoking intuitive, mysterious aesthetic criteria, for instance.
Exactly, basically our documentation is all about recording the design decisions being made at every step. And, our final presentation is all about the story of these decisions. We don`t allow them to use Powerpoint, Prezi etc. The idea is that with the platform, every day you are recording 2-3 design decisions with images that describe them and the presentation is a ‘curated version of all this decision making`.