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a PhD in live projects and architectural education

Engaged and Enraged: in the absence of more coherent notes…

On Friday 1 April (well into the evening, so no foolin’ involved) a lively audience of about forty to fifty architects, academics, students and interested others convened in the office of Public Works in Hackney, East London, to listen to eight trigger papers and to discuss the state of architectural education in this country today. This was Friday Session No. 45: Engaged and Enraged.

The event was convened by Public Works and (full disclosure: my supervisor) Prof. Ruth Morrow of QUB as an opportunity to talk openly and frankly in a non-academic and non-institutional environment about architectural education. Speaking were Helena Webster, Bethany Wells, Alex Warnock-Smith & Elena Pascolo, Colin Priest, Trenton Oldfield, Ro Spankie, Ruth Morrow and Torange Khonsari.

Feeling an opportunity to be all cutting-edge-and-the-like, I experimented with some live social meeja, and attempted to summarise and live stream the event via Twitter. As a result, I wasn’t able to keep detailed notes of what caught my attention, just little snapshots from throughout the evening. It was something of an education to try and surmise the opinions and positions of so many speakers, and it was nigh-on impossible to keep up with the open debate from the floor.

So while this is by no means a complete or adequate recording of the evening’s event, I did at least want to collate in chronological (as opposed to Twitter’s usual anti-chronological) order my tweets from the evening. With a few redactions (namely my repeated disclaimer that I was responsible for interpreting, transcribing and condensing what was being spoken), here’s the evening in no more than 140 characters at a time, parsed from my Twitter stream.

  • Depending how much beer I consume I will attempt to tweet some of the proceedings from Public Works’ Friday Session http://bit.ly/gU5y1Z
  • #PublicWorks #FridaySession ‘Engaged and Enraged’ getting under way now. Latecomers welcome, 1-5 Vyner Street, London E2
  • http://twitpic.com/4frjhu #PublicWorks #FridaySession
  • Good news, there’s soup. Bubbling away as we begin …
  • Speaking: Helena Webster, Bethany Wells, Alex Warnock-Smith & Elena Pascolo, Colin Priest, Trenton Oldfield…
  • … Ro Spankie, Ruth Morrow, Torange Khonsari. Andreas Lang introducing the concept and history of Friday Sessions.
  • Lang: Everyone speaking tonight involved in and somehow frustrated by teaching.
  • Lang: Tonight an opportunity for an informal discussion about architectural education, initiated by Ruth Morrow.
  • http://twitpic.com/4frmzp http://twitpic.com/4frnh2
  • Warnock-Smith: teaching architecture is doing architecture.
  • Warnock-Smith: at worst, architectural education the deliverance of finite and calculable skills.
  • Warnock-Smith: trying to reduce the chance of “inevitability” in teaching architecture. Not knowing what you’ll get out of a project.
  • Webster: “I have all the symbolic capital that makes me a pillar of the establishment. However…”
  • Webster drawing parallels with the training of soldiers (marching, singing, casting off old self) with architectural education.
  • Webster: formal education can escape being a tool of those in power.
  • Webster: all education a form of symbolic violence. Creating architects outside the system could subvert this act of violence.
  • I’m tweeting from #PublicWorks#FridaySession on architectural education. Nine speakers speaking for 5 minutes each. Next up Colin Priest
  • Priest: four years of live project experience started with an intervention for Hungerford Bridge that was vetoed by South Bank authorities.
  • Priest: live projects take students out of the chain of authority. Students take control. Status quo inst’l authority is removed.
  • From the floor: the universities, not the architectural profession (RIBA/ARB) should be determining how we teach and research architecture.
  • From the floor (cont): RIBA/ARB should get out of architectural education.
  • Next up: Ruth Morrow, QUB
  • Morrow: Once asked “how did you get to be a professor of architecture?” Morrow: “Wrong place, wrong time.”
  • Morrow: Practising architecture in Belfast makes you really question what we [ architects ] are here to do.
  • Morrow: all the interesting people I studied with dropped out by the end of architectural education.
  • Morrow: 72% of all people who start architectural education do not complete RIBA Part III.
  • Morrow: Things about architecture I don’t accept: its traditions; its trad’l forms of practice; its seriousness; …
  • … its inability to explain its value; its refusal to relate to money; ARB/RIBA ringfencing themselves to be stronger; …
  • … notion of “retreat” to the studio; the refusal to accept responsibility for fabrication.
  • Morrow: accept and want permeability of arch’l practice; places to debate; an idea of how to manage critique.
  • Next up: Torange Khonsari. “T-Orange” for those writing notes.
  • Torange Khonsari http://twitpic.com/4fs59s
  • Khonsari: model of Taliesin much more interesting than the work produced
  • Khonsari: Sense of collectivity at Taliesin School expressed through growing of vegetables, eating together, building stuff.
  • Khonsari: live projects are not about the master architect teaching the intern, but about the collective.

  • Khonsari: Second example the Really Free School. “Education can be re-imagined… knowledge a currency everyone can afford to trade.”
  • Khonsari: referencing http://reallyfreeschool.org/
  • Khonsari: can postgraduate architecture become a non-institutional platform where different practices come together to teach?
  • Khonsari: arch’l edu. does not need to be bound to a place. It can be nomatic and the students travel to different projects to learn.
  • Khonsari: conceiving architecture students as [sic] journeymen.
  • Khonsari: can there be a hybrid model between residencies and apprenticeship?
  • Khonsari: in Iran students are called those who seek knowledge, not those who are given knowledge. Study is about the seeking of knowledge.
  • Khonsari: how do we certify this? Perhaps the UN universities scheme.
  • Khonsari: the space where collective discussions happen can replace the crit space. Skype? Internet? Community centres?
  • Brief break in the tweets while I make a point to the floor…
  • I’m tweeting from #PublicWorks#FridaySession on architectural education. Nine speakers speaking for 5 minutes each.http://bit.ly/emf9Zp
  • Morrow: referencing Leslie Kanes Weisman’s Women’s School of Planning and Architecture (1974-1981) http://bit.ly/dG4h10
  • Student, speaking from the floor: learnt more about self and direction from a one week live project than in rest of course.
  • Same student: “studying outside the school is a lot better.”
  • From the floor: beautiful drawings are so time consuming we struggle to escape the school of architecture.
  • Lang: I am struggling with the use of the word “we” tonight [ that one is partially directed at my earlier point… noted ]
  • Priest: Careful of sweeping statements. It is possible to have an establishment that allows us to engage more.
  • I’m tweeting from #PublicWorks#FridaySession on architectural education. Next up: Bethany Wells, architecture student at RCA.

  • Wells: so much of secondary and tertiary education focused on the neoliberal structure of output, output, output.
  • Wells: proposing interested architecture students pool fees into learning cooperative. Tuition fees go directly to funding engagement.
  • Wells: we [students] should walk with our feet and talk with our money.
  • From the floor: RIBA/ARB criteria don’t make any mention of talking to people. So I re-wrote them for my thesis project.
  • Morrow: ARB/RIBA criteria are put out to consultation every few years. Just not to anyone outside the architectural profession.
  • From the floor: open school model in Denmark that allows students to seek own courses. Took c. decade to be accepted for university entry.
  • From the floor: there is a lack of choice in education. How good your education is depends on luck.
  • Lang: I miscounted. Only 8 speakers, not 9. Proposing we have the remaining 2, then soup. Whoop.
  • Next up: Ro Spankie. All speaker profiles linked here: http://bit.ly/emf9Zp
  • Spankie: architects always rattle the cage, but never let anyone in.
  • Spankie: student decides future education c. age 18 using A-level grades. Not based on experience of subject.
  • Spankie: lots of non-architects create good architecture. Why are we so obsessed on how we train architects?
  • Julia Dwyer is co-speaking with Jo Spankie. Why are parallel disciplines that make space considered peripheral to architecture & architects?

  • Dwyer: if some is to be an architect, what is it that they should study.
  • Next up: Trenton Oldfield. All speaker profiles linked here:http://bit.ly/emf9Zp
  • Oldfield: referencing project / book: http://www.criticalcities.net/
  • Oldfield: seeking to create environment to live in continuous critical condition. Approached the brief this way.
  • Oldfield: the urgency and gender mix of this session is really unusual for a discussion about architectural education.
  • Oldfield: reminded of regeneration conference when he tweeted “I’m at the death of a profession.” Architectural education is collapsing.
  • Lang: I find that quite comforting.
  • Oldfield: who are we? what are we meant to be doing? Reminds me of the deep irrelevance of the Royal Family. Trying to be useful, important.
  • Oldfield: both architects / architecture and Royal Family are completely irrelevant.
  • Morrow: but architecture is what architects make it.
  • Trenton Oldfield speaking: http://twitpic.com/4fsndm
  • Oldfield: a parallel between architectural education and Libya. Is this system change or regime change? There is nothing deeply radical here
  • Oldfield: it is fair and legitimate to want change in architectural education. But it’s not going to revive a dying system.
  • Oldfield: a Royal Wedding can’t revitalize the monarchy.
  • Oldfield: so who is going to resign? Who is prepared to work for free? Who went on strike? Who marched? Who educates their kids privately?
  • Oldfield: The future of architecture education has already been discussed. It’ll be discussed again and again. So much work that needs doing
  • Oldfield: it’s very easy for well educated, well connect people to do very good work. Doesn’t address the real issues.
  • Oldfield: everyone in this room can do something to resolve the unbelievably bad conditions in which people live.
  • Oldfield: now come at me with your critique.
  • Priest: need to open up debate about how institutions can change, we can never get rid of them. Could they be different, with new relations?
  • From the floor: we live in a fantasy world of ‘architectural education’. This is a world we created. We work hard, but no-one’s interested.
  • From floor (same speaker): we are too inward looking, inward speaking.
  • From the floor: release the pressure. I am more optimistic. Don’t try and die for the cause. Discussion must be more positive.
  • From the floor: “It’s too easy to sit down in the corner and cry.”

  • Morrow: a saying in my house – “if you’re in the shit, learn to love shit”
  • Morrow: that’s my tactic. It as brave a tactic as walking way or resigning.
  • From the floor: we are really really bad as a profession at explaining what we do, how we do it and why.
  • From the floor: we need to be better, clearer, at explaining what it is we do. Other professions are better than us at doing this.
  • Khonsari: I don’t understand why we as a profession still protect the term ‘architect’
  • From the floor: that protection is to protect the consumer, not the architect.
  • I’m tweeting from #PublicWorks#FridaySession on architectural education. Eight speakers on architectural educationhttp://bit.ly/emf9Zp
  • Lang: education should be a political issue about how we empower ourselves. I left behind the middle class hobby of architecture.
  • OK, that’s a wrap. I can’t keep up with the developing discussion now that the floor has opened up.

More photos in my Flickr photoset from the evening.

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