In my experience there are a myriad of approaches that can be effectively employed to educate students, my experiences have led me to believe that four characteristics are the most engaging: the development of a rigorous and investigative curriculum/pedagogy, a continued investment in the development of students skills (often in the forms of representation, theory or making), the cultivation of a collaborative environment where the professor and student tackle problems together and the development of an environment that supports lines of open and honest communication. My approach and coursework employ these axioms in an attempt to motivate students to explore the conceptualization and creation of architecture but also, and maybe more importantly, to help them to develop a self-guided curiosity that assists them in becoming complex and creative thinkers. These pedagogical ideals are important because I believe that one of the characteristics that separates the education of an architect from most other disciplines is that we architects learn to solve complex problems through creative means. These skills often are not innate, but instead are developed though the cultivation of an educational environment of cooperation and collaboration in which the professor becomes an active participant in the students education and fosters discussion about issues related to the problems amongst his or her student peers. As discussed by Peter Zumthor in Thinking Architecture:
“Young People go to university with the aim of becoming architects, of finding out if they have got what it takes. What is the first thing we should teach them? First of all, we must explain that the person standing in front of them is not someone who asks questions whose answers he already knows. Practicing architecture is asking oneself questions, finding one’s own answers with the help of the teacher, whittling down, finding solutions. Over and over again.” 1
Zumthor’s sentiments clearly outline the role of the professor as mentor, participant and guide. As I see it cooperation, experimentation and communication are simply means by which a professor can assist students in taking charge of their education and developing the skills critical to the field of architecture.
As the key method to this approach I attempt to employ cooperation and experimentation through the implementation of a rigorous process, technology and making to explore design and to craft an experience. In addition to being the focus of my design research, the phenomena of making and the integration of technology, are methods by which students engage architecture, develop their design skills and gain exposure to new methods of process. Through the integration of making, at all scales, students gain an understanding of the behavior of the physical and material world as well as challenge their own abilities in making, and often mine. While the creation of the physical product is generally the final manifestation of an educational project, it is often the sketches, discussions, studies, models and mockups leading to the final product that are the vehicles to learning, the product is merely the final stage of a well crafted and articulated process. I believe that whether a project is articulated through traditional or digital means this fact remains fundamentally true.
If the cultivation of a diverse and open educational environment and explorative modes of making are the core of an ideal pedagogical methodology, students are then able to hone critical thinking skills and begin the coupling process that ties the design of architecture with its realization in the profession. The coursework featured in my portfolio demonstrates such investigations and ultimately its results. Similarly, I view the development of my students as a process and I see my work, thoughts and methods as a teacher as an ongoing process and continually adapt to reflect changes in society, technology and curriculum. As an educator, I believe that a professor, and a faculty, who willingly adapts, communicates, respects and works collaboratively can become one of the most formative elements in the life of an architect.
1 Zumthor, Peter. Thinking Architecture. Birkhauser. Basel. 2006