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Lesson Plan #2: A Time of Change
The coming technological changes in architecture will impose a full deconstruction of the way we educate architects.
By Duo Dickinson
July 25, 2019
Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series on the future of architectural education created and curated by Dr. Nikos A. Salingaros, Ph.D., Professor of Mathematics, winner of the 2019 Stockholm Culture Award for Architecture, and co-winner of the 2018 Clem Labine Traditional Building Award.
The words of Dr. Nikos A. Salingaros have more meaning than their topic. His article for the July 10 ArchNewsNow (“Signs versus Symptoms”) focused on a letter by British architecture students, “A Call for Curriculum Change.” While his trenchant analysis, based on the scientific method of discernment of evidence was spot-on, I think that the dismay of those students is a morning star of a dawning change. The coming technological changes in architecture will simply impose a full deconstruction of the way we educate architects – an academic structure that humans made. That impending change is sensed by the architecture students I encounter at Yale and the University of Hartford.
Salingaros refers to the “architectural establishment” – and like every aspect of established civilizations – government, commerce, academia – all “establishment” institutions are more about “keeping the flame” than seeing a new dawn that will render that flame a dim memory. Whether it is architecture, law, medicine, or fast food, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is on the edge of edging out any resemblance of the 20th Century from almost every aspect of First World life in our generation, including, exquisitely, architecture, its execution, and thus its teaching.
Sensing this impending sea change, I asked the heads of Connecticut’s two academic programs, Deborah Berke, dean of the Yale School of Architecture, and Jim Fuller, chair of the University of Hartford Architecture Department: Why would somebody want to be an architect in 2019? What is the essential framework for architectural education going to be in the future? This question must be decided before we apply technology, because then it can push it in two different directions. Will the basis of architectural education still be based on technical mastery of its methods, rather than first and foremost on how we design?
Dean Berke said simply: “I think technology has changed how we design, how we produce, how we quantify, and how we present our design ideas, but I do not think it has changed the reason someone decides to become an architect.”
I can hear those unchanging motivations in Department Chair Fuller’s response as to why students want to be architects: “To make the world a better place. Maybe a poetic answer. But that’s what separates the engineers, technicians, contractors, and others from architects and artists. And the architects (and artists) bring beauty into the world. Beauty that all humanity treasures, remembers, is inspired by, and strives to emulate.”
And the essential truth of beauty at the center of teaching and learning what architecture is, is as undeniable as what food tastes like for those in culinary school. But in all “establishment” institutions, the rationale of The Canon is more about justification than evolution, let alone revolution.
In medicine, extending life is a hard metric. In law, justice is an easy criterion for success. But in architecture, the obvious core Canon – creating beauty – seems like an afterthought to all the applied criteria of “innovation,” “sustainability,” or “parametrics” that drown out any sense of what humans consider to be beauty. It is clear to me that the primary reason architects exist beyond “style” is to manifest beauty in what is built.
The future in this century is far less certain than it was in the last. The last decade of economic collapse coupled with the explosion of technology have made the future a place more of fear than hope. Absent a certain path for the profession, the best option for many is to teach what is known, not relevant for many, including those British students, in a time of change.
If the entire methodology of making architecture is radically changing, as Berke maintains, teaching any end product without knowing how it is facilitated simply defaults to yesterday’s knowables: “parametrics,” “modernism,” or any “style.” The problem those British students perceive is that old answers are the only ones given to them in a time of almost unlimited uncertainty, whereas our times demand new answers. Yet what is still missing from the old answers is the one base Prime Directive of architecture: Beauty.
Unless there is courage beyond what is knowable, which I think is best defined as the human capacity for faith, we break away from reality. Truth lies most powerfully not in what humans control, but in what none of us controls, which, in architecture, is the way we perceive, and thus create, beauty. No new technology can presume to create what we find beautiful, but it can simulate any number of "styles." In school, the elements of education can be carefully conveyed, sequences applied, knowledge imparted, and answers obtained: the correct numbers, specifications, facts. This happens in all disciplines but the arts.
In previous generations, the way we made anything was exquisitely analogue: first using the human eye, then the hand, then the product was deliverable. As technology exploded, machines displaced humanity in many operations, and education could convey these changing rules of engagement. But soon, the entire theater of engagement – our humanity – is shifting to incorporate the digital into a completely integrated extension of the entirety of human knowledge into every act. This is Artificial Intelligence.
The overwhelmingly comprehensive integration of AI in our future leaves our posturing in the dust of technology – an integration that is fully capable of being blind to aesthetics beyond rote imitation.
What is left of education’s essence, as the fundament of all technological application? I think education in architecture should start with the inscrutable reality of what each of us finds to be compelling and inspiring – I call that beauty. Beauty exists before and beyond pedagogy. How do you teach that? Those British students want to know. Our schools, British, U.S, everywhere, are not delivering.
As Jim Fuller states: “Interesting times, indeed.”
Duo Dickinson has been an architect for more than 30 years. The author of eight books, he is the architecture critic for the New Haven Register, writes on design and culture for the Hartford Courant, and is on the faculty at the Building Beauty program in Sorrento, Italy.
Asking for radical reforms in architectural education, this courageous appeal could help this latest effort be taken seriously, and not simply dismissed, as previous cries for reform have been.
By Dr. Nikos A. Salingaros
(click on pictures to enlarge)
Nikos A. Salingaros
Sensitive architectural education with intellectual weight reflects adaptive architecture that evolved along with humanity itself. It is not linked to any authoritarian past, as contemporary architects falsely claim in promoting an expensive and non-sustainable philosophy.
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