Tools & Knowledge: the road to teaching architecture
What is really important in being able to do Architecture? Is it the tools or the knowledge? Architecture is a broad subject area of study, so Academia prioritises always been a point of debate among students educators. This article will try to discuss that matter and try to find a middle ground.
I came across this article from Life of An Architect discussing priorities of teaching in Architecture school. What is more useful? Is it teaching students the current tools of the time? Or is the underlying knowledge of making architecture?
Studying for about 6 years in Architecture, you tend to have a firm opinion on the matter. But now that I am 5+ years removed post-graduation, there is a bit more clarity in understanding why the curriculum is in Architecture school.
The case for tools
There is a case for both camps, but having particular tools under your belt seems more attractive lately when it comes to employers and recruiters. Do you use Revit or ARCHICAD? Do you use photoshop? Do you know Excel? How good are you rendering using Vray? And who even still uses AutoCAD?
If you’re fresh out of your university or have graduated in the last decade, you will be familiar with these terms and software.
This seems to stem from the need and point of view of efficiency. That is, if you are starting with little to no experience in the practical application of your degree, you better be useful somewhere else. And that somewhere else is the current tools of the contemporary architecture practice.
For me, it was easy. Technology is on the side of my generation more so than the previous. And I was actually interested in it. I love everything digital to the point that I can clean up my workspace of all remnants of the traditional way of doing things (i.e. pen and paper) and do my work with my laptop alone.
Perhaps a trusty notebook and random pen will remain in my bag. That, I think, is still relevant.
I can do now what back a few decades ago you will need a team of people—for example, a 70+ unit multi-family unit development. (Disclaimer: I am simply talking about the Architecture aspect. Other consultants need to have their input include. Always.)
So learning the “tools” in itself bestows a category of expertise. And being an expert at something gives relevance to your role in a company. Or in the profession, for that matter.
The tool helps you get to the “how” of things as it inevitably aids in that process. But what about the “why” and “what”?
The longevity of knowledge
Then there is also the fact that knowledge is more important at the 5-year mark down the line. I am always reminded by one of my more senior co-workers that “Clients don’t care how you do it, as long as you do it”.
So in comes the confidence of experience and knowledge. It speaks to the practicality of the profession and how we are providing a service with a particular result at the end of the day. The result is the built environment.
Pen and paper is king, and rendering is a sin.
The dogma of the universities that I went to is almost nostalgic. Pen and paper is king, and rendering is a sin. No matter how much I justify that the core concept of the design is there, just packaged better and more efficiently, they can’t seem to help themselves from harking on the “ … good old days”.
Now that I am practising professionally, I am finding it more common to demonstrate my competency on the spot. For example, at worksites and client meetings, I often draw up details and concepts, so my audience understands the goal. This gets people’s attention, no question.
So what is a new kid on the block to do? I am speaking to first-year students entering Academia and the soon-to-be graduate finding their first professional position post-study.
What I say is to follow your interest. Follow what makes your heart beat a little bit faster and, without the need for caffeine, keeps your attention and focus. Architecture school will expose you to a lot in terms of design. From temporary dwellings to large masterplans of whole cities, you will not lose out of variety.
In saying that, not all of them will tickle your fancy. And knowing myself, I tend to not excel on things that I do not find interesting. In my first year of study, I try to do everything, which led to burnout. And unhappiness and bad habits and health repercussions.
Once I realised that, I just pursued and put more effort into things that I found interesting. In saying that, I made sure I pass all my courses. Not all of them will have A’s. There a spattering of B’s and C’s. So not the overachieving type, but my professors appreciate the mentality. I paid attention to everything, but the inputted effort will vary.
It is just how it is. I like the design studio and the digital tools studio of the university. The design studio is your typical architectural design class. It is arguably where most of the energy and effort students put in at school. We started designing simple shelters to massive masterplans for city regeneration schemes.
The digital design studio is where I learned about coding for designers, parametric design, and BIM. This started me on a path of learning more about efficiency and how these digitals can aid.
I both know the why of things and the how of it.
In terms of employment, having a digital mindset in my process helps me overtake some of my senior co-workers. My speed of understanding the software platform we are using, whatever it is, was and is still is my definite edge. Mainly because, whatever it is that I am thinking of designing or proposing, I can effectively execute it with as little pain as possible.
I both know the why of things and the how of it.
So this is the view of this young professional.
What is your approach?