Dilemmas between Architectural Education and Professional Practice - #Analysis07
There is shared notion that the world of academia exists in vacuum and you learn to become an architect only after entering practice, which seems to exist in - reality. This notion is both conditioned and problematic because it hinders us from thinking of new ways to balance the gap of learning.
How much reality should academics bring in? Why should academics be duplicating the real world scenarios in the first place? Shouldn't academia privilege limitless creative thinking? Are contingencies truly hindering towards creativity? Does academics really sit in a vacuum or is the reality too far compromised from the values imbibed in academics? These questions kept coming up in countless discussions during the studio, across multiple exercises.
In some ways our studio walks the thin line between both. The interviews served as our first glance into contemporary architectural practice and the kind of models that exist today. They were also a way for students to locate their own ideologies by clarifying which practices they could relate to and which were far off from their way of thinking and working.
The next step was to jump into designing their own practices. Every design project given to them was a way to test their ideological positions and the systems they would require for the practice that they had envisioned. We were not able to simulate all real world challenges such as – budgets, fees, coordination with contractors and vendors, conversations with clients etc. The tutors played the role of the client in some situations, but mostly we were around to question their approach at every stage. However we could simulate the aspect of time management by handing two projects at a time and a surprise project later on, all very different from each other. One was a project close to the heart of the practice's ideology, another a collaboration and lastly a dialectically challenging project to their ideology.
This definitely stretched their way of thinking, they constantly had to balance practicalities and rationale with their creative inclination. In a way the studio did oppose the common belief that creativity must works against rationale. The studio attempts to sit right in the middle, pushing each proposed practice in other directions.
When the interviews were conducted, the studio was still in a nascent stage. Often our conversations would lead to the gap between architectural education and professional practice. This helped us see what we needed to stay alert on and what we needed to address in order to make the learnings richer.
(P stands for Professor while A stands for the architect)
P: On one hand there’s collaboration with clients etc. but there’s also multiple architects, whether it’s a junior architect in hierarchies, or simply architects. How does the conductor analogy work then? Where the architect is the conductor of the orchestra? Are multiple architects’ conductors? Going back to education it’s always a single conductor.
A: The whole jury process is rigged because it implies that you are the sole defender of the project and you are not attributed that role by the jury or faculty. Then you will not be able to work with others.
I think collaboration as a word works, like you’d hire a structural designer for what you can’t provide, they usually also don’t say anything about architectural quality, it’s an implicit thing for them to not drive the process but just help where needed, initially I also found it difficult to let go and let someone else take the lead etc. Because I’m also from the same education system. But I try to, like when colleagues suggest something I do take it very seriously, so in a practice you have to try to have the conversations, as a proprietor of the practice you have to take onus of what kind of work goes out, like you are the one signing the sheets etc., Even with clients communication, so the needle keeps going back to us. Even when we are having discussions, people who are not part of the discussion are allowed to eavesdrop and that is the culture. About authorship, I feel the less I am the author, the practice grows more.
P: In college, older projects don’t inform the next one to a great extent, the learnings are translated but they are abstract, like a black box which cannot be explained or expressed. In practice the learning is more concrete and physical, like these details of a chajja or cross ventilation, which are improved from project to project. The idea of learning from projects has a componential progress.
A: In college the process ends in a drawing, in office it ends in a real physical space, what happens is that the former is only a series of actions, but when something gets made there is a reaction also, that makes us reflect, and go ahead.
P: I think that is a very interesting dimension, I am also trying to work with that idea, the education itself is organized in a way that is different with practice. In practice projects have a rhythm.
A: Another dimension is, in college you choose the studio, project and professor, whereas in the practice the project precedes you, someone comes to you with the nostalgia of a reference of a project you have already done.
A: It’s always important to understand that everyone need not start their own practice, we come from a time where everyone thought they are the next Corbusier, sitting in the canteen and thinking they are it. But now the context is different, we need to teach how important it is to be part of a team and how to design that way and work towards a collective consciousness and contribution, it’s better for our mental health's too.
P: History of architecture definitely privileges the star architect opposed to offices that are making good robust buildings.
A: Yes in Europe it happens a lot, even in South East Asia, which are robust simple buildings and that makes the larger built environment, what happens if everyone makes that. Its like a hyper individual expression.
P: It’s also a result of the media, the obsession of the image, looking good and different.
A: Also about capitalistic notions of being focused on how to capture the attention as an individual.
P: I'm coming at this question from the educational perspective that in all education, the design belongs solely to you. There might be reviewers, there might be teachers who are saying do this, don't do this, etc.,, but it is still your individual baby. Whereas the moment you go into practice, there could be anywhere between four people to 10 people working on one single design.
A: (On masters in architecture) So what any of the masters did and is worth remembering is what they did by embedding themselves into a certain culture, and bringing out something new which was always inspired. So what you were learning was not what they were doing, but how they would be doing, when you get how, is when you understand the importance. It was how they would respond to a certain context, climate or culture or whatever, that was intriguing. It wasn't what they did with it, that was not so important.
A: I worked with the event industry straight out of college for many years. And that showed me how different a design process can be than what was taught in university. I learnt how to think on my feet and how deadlines are not a limitation for design as seen in school. There was an importance given to collectives, versus the master architect model taught at school. You also needed to be ready with a 100 ideas at a time and know how to make it work, design thinking is much slower and focusing on one grand scheme in school.
A: I don’t agree actually, with practice being less individualistic than education, lot of people are working in practice as if they were doing projects only, like an extension of the academic hangover, where the personality precedes, and then you either conform or leave.
We don’t have such thoughts at all, people don’t come to us for our personality. They come so we can use their personality, we have been malleable since the start, because we were working with brands a lot that became our responsibility.
We also conduct bridge studios for fresher’s who are concerned about capitalism, and big social issues. How do you take that burden? Especially when you have to now work on toilet designs? How do you marry the two? We introduce them to people who take them action in social issues so that they can find a way to work in their fields of concern. This is an issue as well with architecture schools. We perpetuate a social consciousness and then we have these freshers who want to save the world, but one has to understand that architecture itself can’t do that. We are far low on the wrung of power structures to be able to solve anything to a large scale that one aspires to do as a graduate. That’s why these bridge studios are important, we need to connect students to people that are actually doing the work to change the world. Otherwise there is no way out of that disillusionment.
P: We aren’t taught how to create value, especially for developer driven models – design that is finance driven – it’s interesting how you want to take the other position, that one must find elbow space to test architecture after giving value financially, it must be a difficult shift to that from an education system that looks down on finance driven and developer architecture.
A: Yes I had to reimagine my own self to be able to do the work I am doing, I chose firms that were opposite to the kind of exposure at CEPT because I had an inkling I didn’t have full well rounded understanding of the state of things. Struggling between business and designer and balancing both.
The gap in education I compensated with experience at 3 firms instead of continuing with the master’s degree. One also has to understand the reason for approaching masters because it is also a financial burden, when people my age in other fields were already making money, I’d be paying a loan for a degree that might not bring me the professional experience I need. Hence it’s important to know the tangible value of masters.
We interviewed 18 firms whose tenures ranged from 2 years all the way to 70+. Everyone was at a different stage of practice and had a different age gap between education and work. This allowed us to see many perspectives and observations accumulated across India. The number of architectural colleges and subsequently the number of graduates have risen drastically in the past decades. This puts a huge pressure on both academicians and practitioners to address the gaps. We do have the COA which ties the two bodies, but it barely aides any communication between the two. As a body its role is to regularize practice, however a lot of the work tends towards architecture education itself.
At the moment, the internship is the only way in which students get a glimpse of architectural work in the “real world”. Often students come back shocked and disheartened at the state of affairs having expected life changing and meaningful work only to spend six months doing renders, making countless models, toilet details and tiling layouts. The idea of bridge studios certainly seems enticing, if introduced early on it could prove beneficial as both a reality check and also as a way to find the right place for oneself and ones ideologies.
Similarly the angle of finances and business needs to be a part of the curriculum, especially when we push our bias towards running individual practices as the end goal in academics. Perhaps more collaborative design projects at every studio level would help teach management and shared authorship early on.
Additionally housing studios that vigorously employ financial contingencies are a must to understand the current architectural landscape and intervene in it. To an extent, architectural education normalizes the criticism of developer driven and finance driven architecture, but we fail to realize that we provide no training in balancing finances in the first place. Most of the work done in universities revolves around privileging programs like public institutions. Such projects make up for a very small percentage of work commissioned in the country and often are taken up by a handful of firms with the resources and networks to execute them. The largest chunk of work lies in urbanization i.e. Housing, a typology that is largely avoided in architecture studios.
Studios like these begin to reveal the dichotomies and dualities in architectural education and its fraternity. We hope that the future terms of this studio are able to open up more of these gaps and critically think of ways to respond.
In the meanwhile, this website is an open repository of all the data collected which could be useful for other architectural studios and practices.