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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Question Time: Pearls of Wisdom

Question Time: Pearls of Wisdom

Architecture impresario Frank Gehry was recently named ??Judge Widney Professor of Architecture?? by USC President C. L. Max Nikias. Gehry himself earned his Bachelor of Architecture degree from the USC School of Architecture in 1954 and it will now be within his power to pass on his pearls of wisdom and valuable knowledge of structures to budding architectures of the future.

Not one to shy away from controversy, Gehry??s builds have gained him something of a reputation for ??out there?? designs over the year??s, including his work on the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA. That said, he should be well placed to divulge on the different approaches to the craft and give an intriguing account of his own experiences as an architect thus far.

If you were ??Professor for a Day?? what knowledge would you impart on your students that goes beyond the structured and assessed teachings that dictate our schools and colleges? What have you taken from your years of education and experience that you have used and is reflected in your designs?

Make it Beautiful, by John Nordon and Jonathan Clarke, Design Intelligence Leaders at Woods Bagot

Architectural education is a prescriptive amalgam of subjects taught to give a rounded introduction to the idea of being an architect, yet is often unrelated to previous formal education that proceeded it and the professional landscape in which one emerges. The results by which you are judged are a weighted set of outcomes brought together into a grade which allows you to be ranked against other candidates and ultimately against unwritten secret codes which places one student or their school above another. There is little room for individual self-expression because the student is already on a walk into the unknown. To let go of the guiding hand is seen as too risky.

This leads to a culture in which it is difficult to be truly self aware, to understand oneself, the situations you find yourself in and to act with confidence. Yet these are the kinds of skills that we should really be teaching, as we move to a more open source culture, where ?intellectual property?? is less important than the human need to share.

The idea that you can give away in order to get more is becoming more possible within the structures of contemporary society, but this requires a confidence which can only come by being self aware. This raises questions for ??professionals??, about how to engage in this new world and for architects in particular about the role we play.

One thing that is never said openly in a school of architecture is ?make it beautiful??, yet this is our greatest skill, and one we should be proud to give away.

Look to the future, not the past, By Ian Moores, Architect and Director at ARK

Until recently I had not realised quite how many years Frank O Gehry has been around  (82 this year).  He has a lot to draw on, but if I was one of his students I would be most interested in understanding his worldview during that volatile post-war period in American and World history.  It interests me primarily because it was a time of immense change, which seems to have enormous relevance now.  Today a new world order is emerging; old structures that once seemed immovable have begun to collapse.  This new environment is where today??s young architectural students enter, but do they realise the opportunities before them?

A professor should seek to equip students not for yesterday??s challenges but for tomorrow??s.  What the tutor??s experience yields is the ability to see a larger and broader picture, how things work, how things are failing and where to begin in seeking solutions. As Professor, my experience and knowledge would be of greatest service in releasing and channelling the talents and ability of students in new and productive directions. We need to think globally now, and we deal with a unique set of parameters.  Students need inspiration and the confidence to believe that they can provide answers

My own work has taught me that architecture is regarded by many who commission buildings, as paper-thin facadism with little value. Architects are wheeled out when all the major decisions have been made to apply a veneer and spice up a lacklustre box.  This approach is misguided, not because it bruises our egos or fails to recognise how truly great architects are, but because it simply will not work in future. The increasing technical complexity of building, and the drive for true sustainability, brings the welcome return of the central design coordinator. A function, which balances cost against scores of design parameters, while at the same time delivers buildings, which appear delightfully simple and elegant. This is by definition an Architect, but we would be naive to think that role will fall to architects by default. Many consultants eye up this role, but could they ever really deliver?

Our big challenge is not to endlessly tell industry and government how they need to listen to us and how we could help them if we were included in the discussion, but to bring real and deliverable solutions to the table, which cannot be ignored. Today??s students need to become inventors and visionaries, schools of architecture need to become active in research programmes, linked with practice to output live prototypes and practical applications.

Yes students need guidance and mentors, but they need to ultimately believe in themselves and be optimistic about their future role.

Think of the business of architecture, by Mark Muir Director at Kay Elliott Architects

I would aim to address the issue of architects being trained primarily in the broad business of architecture but not in ??architecture as a business??. First I would hold an examination so that my students and I could assess their strengths and weaknesses. No matter how brilliant an architect might be, all of us have areas in which we excel and others where we are not as strong. My exams would not be looking for gaps in knowledge but for areas of strength, which I could help students build on.

An architect needs to consider three operational strands: design, technical expertise and delivery. At present I think that not enough students have the kind of technical expertise which makes them strong players in the work place, so I would aim to take my students back to the basic skills.

While I appreciate that the world of architecture is broad I strongly believe that a brilliant architect will not be a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none. Nor should a talented student who excels in one area, where they would be in high demand as an expert, be left to feel disheartened because they do not excel in all. I would develop a personal academic plan for each student and would aim to get my pupils to specialise in the same way you get doctors who specialise in a different area of medicine. Clients should expect experts to deliver architecture that matches their requirements in the same way a patient with a heart attack would expect a heart specialist to cure them. It makes business sense that this expertise is nurtured from the beginning.

To work my students?? strengths and overcome their weaknesses I would establish teams where each student would be able to contribute their strengths and through peer support gain confidence in their areas of weakness.  I would hope that this would be a step at university, which could lead to strong partnerships and businesses in the future. I would seek to create genuinely joined up architectural teams who can contribute a range of specialisms to the market ?? in essence a rounded and complete architectural offering.

Distinguishing art in architecture, By Roger Fitzgerald, Partner at ADP

Architects today have to be scientists, mathematicians, computer wizards and accountants to deal with regulations, standards, building construction, processing data, technical drawings, and to simply stay in business. I??m going to assume that the structured course will deal with all of this, and in my role as ?Professor for a Day??, engage with the artistic side of the profession, as it is in danger of being forgotten.

It is the artistic side that really distinguishes the architect from all the other roles in the industry. Our work overlaps with others in the technical areas, but when it comes to putting a line on paper and starting to design: that is our unique skill. The temptation is to start designing on a computer which enables us to create complex and exciting shapes; but I would want to convey and explore the creative ??dialogue?? that can occur between brain and paper: the power of the sketch.

What is the meaning of a line on a piece of paper? It can represent a means of organisation; it could indicate the relationship between two objects, or equally, between spaces. It might portray the edge or face of a solid; what is that solid made of? Is the line representing a hard, crisp edge, or a wavering surface; what does the object look like? In that sense the line is actually representing the play of light; what you see as light, bounces off the face of a solid.

I would begin the day by looking at some well-known buildings and, whilst sketching in front of the class, speculate on how the designer had arrived at that solution. I would also illustrate some of my own sketches, and how they had been realised in built form. Having indicated what I was looking for, we would then look at images of other famous buildings and urban spaces, and it would be the turn of the students to try to represent through simple lines on paper, the ideas that underpin the designs. Sometimes, these lines will indicate key lines of movement, spatial sequences, or built form. No lines would be allowed unless they had a purpose; I would be searching for simplicity, summarising complexity with the essence.

Keeping the artistic theme going, over lunch we might have a short and surprising change of pace with some music or a piece of poetry; comparing and contrasting the art of architecture with other creative fields. Music, for example, has repetitive themes with subtle variations, within a mathematical structure; how does this compare with the repetitive elements of construction? How do the marks on a musical score compare with a drawn representation of a building?

We would end the day by completing a simple design exercise, and all drawing a design concept. I would want every line to be considered and meaningful, representing carefully considered thought processes on paper.

Learning from history and by examining some great precedents, by the end of the day I would want every student to be enthused about drawing, encouraged by what they have learnt, and ready to use simple lines to capture the essence of what they go on to design. That is the true art and skill of the architect.

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