learning architecture


a PhD in live projects and architectural education

This weekend, I will be (trying to stay awake while) reading:

At 55.858º North, the sun rose this morning at 04:48 and won’t set until 21:40, which means that my largely seasonal insomnia has made an unwelcome return. Until a trip to Ikea for some new curtains can be managed, the only solution is a United Airlines eye mask. By mid-afternoon I’m pretty grumpy, but that hasn’t deterred me from a sustained assault on the key texts of Donald Schön, the widely known and highly regarded thinker and researcher on professional practice. Schön identified the design studio of schools of architecture as the apogee of professional learning, a blanket admiration with which I have some issues.

Behind this visit to Schön’s texts is a recent paper in the Journal of the Built Environment (JEBE) by Helena Webster entitlted Architectural Education After Schön: Cracks, Blurs, Boundaries and Beyond (pdf link). Although I’d read a handful of chapters by Schön, it was reading this paper that finally crystalised the wider contextual importance of Schön in relation to architectural education. Feeling rather sheepish that I hadn’t read them, I skidaddled over the library to do some catching up.

Reading Webster’s paper before Schön’s The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action (1983), The design studio: An exploration of its traditions and potential (1985) and Educating the reflective practitioner: Toward a new design for teaching and learning in the professions (1987) means I’m probably resorting to Webster’s critical stance by default rather than approaching the texts neutrally. However, I don’t think that’s such a bad thing, because when approaching what some might regard as the ‘sacred’ texts of a theoretical discourse, this kind of approach can be something of a release:

Schön identified a number of key elements in architectural education that together constituted his theories of ‘reflective learning’ and the ‘reflective practitioner’. Central to Schön’s understanding of learning to design were two concepts. Firstly, the necessity for students to engage in studio-based projects that simulated the complexities of real life projects. Secondly, the importance of reflection in the design process that was constituted of: reflection-in-action, reflection-on-action and most critically reflection-on-action that allowed students to observe and re-align their thinking with the ‘expert’ thinking of their tutors. Arguably, Schön’s notions of reflective learning have framed most of the discussions about architectural education to date. This paper will argue, somewhat paradoxically, that Schön was a remarkably unreflective thinker.

So I am swilling about in a big sleep deprived pool of self reflectiveness. More thoughts to follow when I’ve had some time to sleep and ruminate.


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