In my experience there are a myriad of approaches that can be effectively utilized to educate students, but in the end it boils down to the personality and energy of the instructor. My pedagogical approach and coursework employ my strengths to relate to the students and to motivate them to explore. This atmosphere of cooperation and experimentation is not a novel approach but instead, one that establishes a value system that creates an environment in which the professor is a participant in education. 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” Zumthors’ sentiments clearly outline the role of the professor as mentor, participant and guide. As I see it, cooperation and experimentation are simply means by which a professor can assist students in taking charge of their education and developing the skills critical in the field of architecture.
As the key elements in my approach to teaching, I employ cooperation and experimentation through the medium of technology and making to explore design, architecture and experience. In addition to being the focus of my design research, the phenomena of making and integration of technology, are methods by which students engage architecture, develop their design skills and gain exposure to new methods in process. This integration of digital techniques as an approach to the pedagogy of design is most clearly represented in a series of projects in my Fall 2009 Digital Topical Design Studio. This vertically integrated studio utilized computer software in both a parametric and algorithmic manner. As defined by Michael Meredith, ‘parametric (design) is a technique for the holistic control and manipulation of design objects at all scales from part to whole, the algorithmic is a method of generation, producing complex forms and structures based on simple component rules.’2 An algorithmic design problem, utilized in the Mint Pavilion project3, presented the students with a patterning exercise. This algorithmic approach allowed the students to explore a generative methodology in a detailed manner and subsequently integrate the design into a architectural construct. The final project of the semester, the Traveling Pavilion4, utilized a parametric approach to design by articulating design at a variety of scales simultaneously. This design method encouraged the students to pursue overall aesthetic, construction and detailing simultaneously. The capacity of these techniques, among others, empowers the students to explore design in a manner that promotes variation within a clearly defined and articulated system.
By exposing the students to alternative methods of design in a focused and rigorous manner, they are less likely to be seduced by aesthetic excess, so easily achieved in a virtual environment, and can clearly explore architecture in a logical and systematic manner. “If one thinks of the computer as no more than a sophisticated pencil,”5 it can become just another tool for students to utilize to investigate, learn and explore architecture. Correctly articulated, the computer is a tool for empowerment. My understanding of these tools enables my students to be exposed to advanced digital techniques in a precise manner early in their design education and will facilitate the continued reinforcement of this thinking as they move forward. These techniques, many of which are currently being integrated in architecture firms worldwide, contextualize and explain the benefits and pitfalls that can result from misuse of digital tools yet allow the students to freely explore their designs. This type of exposure empowers the students to embrace the technology, whatever it may be, that is altering the methods for creating Architecture and learning to evaluate it through their own educated and critical lens.
1 Zumthor, Peter. Thinking Architecture. Birkhauser. Basel. 2006.
2 Meredith, Michael ed. From Control to Design: Parametric/Algorithmic Architecture. Actar D USA. New York. 2008
3 Mint Pavilion project further outlined in Portfolio
4 Traveling Pavilion project further outlined in Portfolio
5 Friedman, Mildred. Gehry Talks. Universe (Rizzoli). New York. 2002.