Editor’s Note: This is the eighth in a series on the future of architectural education
created and curated by 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.
See Lesson Plans #1 through #7 at the end of this feature.
Curator’s Note: When architects refuse to criticize their fellows, and delicately avoid
entrenched system in which they are comfortably embedded, where do we turn for
sage advice on how to improve the world? To architecture critics and
journalists, of course. They are commonly supposed to be impartial outsiders:
fierce watchdogs working in the public’s (that’s our) interest. But,
unfortunately, not many of them are truly objective. Having an informed and
intelligent critic like David Brussat around who courageously speaks his mind
is a boon for the entire world. — N.A.S.
What are the priorities for reform?
Recently, a petition was assembled by
students from several architecture schools in Britain asking their schools and
other pertinent institutions of the design world to do more to address climate
change. I read it, and looked around to see if I was being watched. I thought
Allen Funt might pop out and cry, “Smile! You’re on Candid Camera!”
“We are concerned,” write the petitioners, “that at
present our education does not give sufficient weight to the inherently
ecological and political basis of architecture.”
In Britain, as well as in America, climate change is
the central and almost exclusive focus of every architecture school and every
architecture firm. Second billing goes to whether there are enough women and
people of color. These are justified concerns, but not critical to architecture
at a time when its product fails to satisfy a huge segment, possibly a very
sizable majority, of the market for buildings. Time spent trying to turn the
big business of architecture into a think tank for climate change is time spent
dodging the existential issues facing the industry. This sort of misdirection
can come off as intentional, perhaps even conspiratorial, in a profession that
doesn’t like to hear itself criticized.
An alternative to the architecture-industrial complex
Prof. Nikos Salingaros, in his own reply to the student
petition at ArchNewsNow.com, applauds their desire to reform architecture
education, and offers sage advice to students seeking change. “[I]s it
realistic to expect architectural education to change? The current cult-based
system is not set up to diagnose – let alone fix – deep internal contradictions.
The best it can do is to protect its ‘business as usual’ approach to design by
applying a band-aid. Hope exists only in developing an alternative education
outside the mainstream” – easier said than done, Salingaros adds.
However, the professor notes that efforts to bring
real reform to architecture make this a hopeful moment for students. The best
comparison may be to the “slow-food” movement. It offers a more locally based
alternative to the agriculture-industrial complex. Architecture could benefit
from a parallel approach. Salingaros himself has led scientific research that
mines neurobiology to identify how a living, healthy architecture can be
nurtured by mimicking nature’s reproductive system. The “cult-based system”
shields students from learning of such advances. They must seek knowledge from
outside the insulated, isolated environment of architecture school.
Here are some things students should seek to learn
from beyond the walls of their universities:
• The true history of how the architectural
cult captured the industry’s establishment.
• How to structure architecture
firms as bottom-up rather than top-down practices.
• How to locate and use the many new
sources of traditional materials and techniques.
• How to work with clients to reach
solutions rather than seeking to impose solutions.
• How to understand the incremental
nature of genuine architectural creativity.
• How ornamental techniques open new
avenues to solve architectural challenges.
What students learn today is how to navigate a
top-down system based on inept revolutionary concepts developed a century ago
that have not changed substantially since the Bauhaus. Design has become a
succession of experimental fashions. Creativity of form, with novelty the
primary goal, has led to a corporate architecture that stifles the sort of
conceptual creativity that ought to drive evolution in the design process.
Students are taught how to tinker with computers and how to plug into a
corporate design culture that aids and abets precisely what drives the
petitioners to seek reform.
This corporate mindset cannot possibly conceive any
creative way for architecture to address complicated global issues such as
climate change. Inevitably, the answer that arises from the architectural cult
is lame – for example, LEED-influenced gizmo green, which seeks to solve
problems arising from over-dependence on technology with more technology.
Learn from nature and from tradition
Neurobiology has affirmed that architecture achieves
its life-enhancing powers through a process that resembles nature’s
reproductivity – the opposite of what current architectural curricula teach
students, and the opposite of how architecture operates today. Much like the
natural selection discovered by Darwin, best practices in erecting buildings
and cities have been developed by trial and error, which are then handed down
by generation after generation of builders. Styles of architecture change
slowly over time as new materials and technologies capture the attention of the
market and gain popularity among practitioners. These best practices are
inevitably replaced by new materials and technologies, with the most useful
lasting the longest.
This “natural” way of architectural evolution had
been happening for centuries until it was replaced in 1920-40 by today’s
machine aesthetic – in which a promised efficiency was sacrificed to a bogus
metaphor of “the future.” In many respects, the practices ingrained by
centuries of architectural progress mimic the scientific principles behind
today’s “slow-food” movement. And those principles come from nature, and are
the same principles by which architecture operated for millennia. These same
principles represent a much better way for architects to help address climate
Architecture before what architect and urbanist Steve
Mouzon calls the "Thermostat Age” developed many
ways to address the challenges posed to human habitation by weather, seasons,
and climate. They include windows that open and close, thick walls that retain
heat in winter and cool in summer, porches and deep windows that create shade,
angling houses to catch the sun or invite prevailing breezes, and other methods
of enabling architecture to harness nature to control comfort. These measures do
not require electricity or gasoline. Some, in their purity, may be gone, but
can still be adapted to our time. The corporate architecture of the so-called
Machine Age, which teaches students to look down their noses at such “old-fashioned”
techniques, should be shown the door. That is how architects can address
Break out of the cult!
Such possibilities will not be developed within the
cult of architecture because it would upset too many of the socio-economic systems
that have properly triggered the student petitioners. The students do not
appear to realize that their petition calls upon architecture schools to
reinforce those very systems in a misguided attempt at their reform.
To break out of the cult is, as Salingaros states,
the only hope for real change. Here’s how individual students can plan their
• Read beyond the texts assigned by
your professors of architecture.
• Use your outside reading to ask
probing questions of your professors.
• By their response, you may judge
whether your current school is right for you.
• There are very few architecture
schools with traditional curricula: check them out.
• Most communities have one or more
traditional architectural practices: visit them.
• Visit local historic districts
with an eye to the role of beauty in modeling the future.
• Keep your chin up. There is more
you can do to leverage the cyclical nature of architectural history, so there
is genuine hope that change will come, especially if you, yourself, push for
David Brussat was the architecture critic of the Providence Journal in in Rhode Island for 25 years, until 2014. He still writes about architecture and design thrice
weekly in Architecture
Here and There, launched in 2009.
Lesson Plan #7: An
Implicit Rather than Explicit Model for Teaching Architecture
I would institute an annual prize, with substantial cash awards,
for architecture students who would be given the task of designing a building
that surpasses an iconic monstrosity in ugliness.
By Dr. Theodore Dalrymple
Lesson Plan #6:
Teacher, Don't Teach Them Nonsense: Reforming Architecture's Broken Education
A curriculum overhaul alone cannot fix the problem; rather,
the practice of architecture must first reform itself for any pedagogical
reforms to make sense.
By Mathias Agbo, Jr.
Lesson Plan #5:
Letter from an architect to the gurus [teachers] and chelas [disciples] of
From India, Shirish Beri writes this special letter out of
the restlessness that arises from a genuine concern for the present state of
architectural education and profession, as well as that of our society.
By Shirish Beri
Lesson Plan #4:
Response to Open Letter for Curriculum Change: A New, Biological Approach to
This response, in two parts, is from two instructors at the Boston Architectural College.
By Ann Sussman, RA, and A. Vernon Woodworth, FAIA
Lesson Plan #3:
Beauty and Sustainability in Architectural Education
We were greatly heartened to see architecture students call
for a curriculum change to address the social, political, and ecological
challenges of our time, and we want to say something about how their proposals
intersect with the work of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission.
By Nicholas Boys Smith and Roger Scruton
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
Lesson Plan #1
"Signs versus Symptoms": A Reply to the Open Letter from British
Architecture Students Calling for Curriculum Change
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