What is wrong with architecture education?
Updated: Jul 5
Before I begin, I would like to express my gratitude to my architecture school education. I had the opportunity to learn from many wonderful teachers. The course taught me many remarkable things for life, experiences to learn from. Nonetheless, it is critical to question how we do things in architectural education, which is one of the objectives of this column. For a long time, I have been discussing this issue with friends and coworkers from various cities. There are a few issues that we have all had in common.
In 2018, the Architects' Journal conducted a students’ survey. It exposed widespread struggles regarding debt, workload, and practical training. It also revealed an unsettling environment of stress-related illness. 26 per cent of students’ poll indicated that they had sought medical attention for mental health issues caused by the course. Another 26 per cent were concerned that they would have to seek professional assistance in the future. As a whole, 52 per cent of those who polled showed some anxiety about their mental health.
The underlying goals of architectural education do change with age and time. But the basic principles that are formed in the studios stay constant and are passed down through generations. In the words of Garry Stevens, “They become the architectural cultural capital, the subject of architectural identity.”
Architectural education is very prescriptive in terms of achieving a homogeneous order. A culture of hand-me-downs emanating from the top of the seat- the tutor, and imposed on the bottom- the freshers. It is a culture that rejects any other explanation. It is a culture that disembodies any subaltern ethos, philosophy, or experiment. It operates by total tyranny— sheet shredding fiasco and unexplainable flunks.
The following example is not only the account of one of my friends, instead it serves as a guide for India's 469 architecture colleges (and counting).
In one of the first fresher’s classes, during their first all-nighter, their seniors told them, "Don't worry. Expect your sheets to be torn once or twice a month. If not, how do you plan to become an architect?” The following day, sheets were ripped and students' work was used as bad examples. After chiding two students, professors refused to see the work of others. They were given an ultimatum and some random comments. All students with different ideas had to incorporate the same guidelines.
Some of the students refused to give up the next day. They intended to put their thoughts into practice while staying within the parameters. As a result, they went to the professor's cabin. They were instructed to refer to their seniors' sheets.
There are various distinct identifiable aspects of architectural education which include fatigue, hygiene deficiency, and chronic illness. Architects prize overwork, workplace mental harassment, and a lack of work-life balance. I realised this when I was working on a project, and my daughter (then three) had some friends visiting. One of them said that he aspired to be an architect. She replied, in a frightening tone, “No, you should not! She hardly ever sleeps.” When I turned around, I saw she was pointing towards me, and she wore the most solemn expression on her face.
Architects take pride in extreme competition and toxic workplace interaction. These are taught in the most dictatorial manner in the architecture studio. Why? To attain that absolute order of a socially and psychologically homogeneous community.
Architectural education has remained rooted in its traditions for rigid order and homogeneity. What has changed is probably a move away from hand-drawn 2D designs and towards sensual parametric design on a computer screen. It is possible that fewer sheets are being torn. But this is only a sliver of the deviation that is required. The technique's overall “make-up" gives it a unique appearance. On the other hand, changing architecture’s whole appearance to take on notably new principles may take generations. It is resulting in present products that do not have innovative ideas, science, or substance.
The underlying traditional patterns and fundamental norms of thought are still present in architectural education and practice. Painfully, it continues to laud the tyrannous autonomy of the established processes.
A study was conducted by the US department of labor in April 2021. It suggests that the employment for architects is projected to grow 1 per cent over the next ten years. This is slower than the average of all occupations. On the plus side, an architecture school helps you build a thick skin to stand your ground in this industry. However, this does not imply that it is a good practice. What disturbs me the most, after much consideration, is that damaging critiques are viewed as an important part of the pedagogical process of design education. This method of instruction can suffocate opportunities for the formation of experimental practices. It undermines creativity and exacerbates a negative trait– the fear of making mistakes.
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About the Writer
Anchal Srivastava is an architect, urban planner, writer, researcher and scholar. She is a certified GIS specialist from IIRS, ISRO, Dehradun. She is a graduate of the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), Delhi and Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Technical University (APJAKTU), Uttar Pradesh. She has experience working at the Town and Country Planning Organisation Delhi, Jabalpur Smart City Limited, Suresh Goel & Associates (SGA), APS Green Architects & Associates, and as the head architect at SSAP and Shantiniketan Buildtech Pvt. Ltd.
About the Editor
Shama Patwardhan is an architect and writer from Mumbai. She is a graduate of the Rachana Sansad's Academy of Architecture (AoA), Mumbai and the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Heritage Conservation Society, India. She has experience working with Rethinking The Future (RTF), Abhikalpan Architects and Planners, and Manasaram Architects.
About the Illustrator
Palak Gupta is an undergraduate architecture student at the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), Bhopal. She is also a graphic designer, illustrator and painter. She has experience working on the packaging design and branding for NutriTown Organics.