Category Archives: Tutorials

Tutorials # 7

Elevations: A Workshop

Drawing elevations is a much neglected virtue; as the computer allows the idea of frontality and composition to be dissolved in a parametric blur, the visual contribution of the building as elevation is decreased. But there are still some very old fashioned things to be learnt from elevations; they do act as an signal of what someone might perceive, not in terms of formal composition and geometrical rules, but as the basis of a view that might just be glimpsed in passing. To this end we will have a workshop on elevations, starting at 12.00 on Wednesday 7 May in the studio. Bring paper, pencils, rulers and straight edges. This is so damn normative that it is quite cool. Mostly for sixth years, but fifth years welcome if they might find it useful.

Tutorials # 6

Group Therapy

Tutorials (in the sense of tutors speaking at students) have been to some extent replaced by group sessions in which the students present their work to others or else set tasks for each other to do in order to progress each others’ schemes. Tutors do not attend these sessions. This week each student, as I understand it, devised a 20 minute ‘game’ for the others to play on their scheme, which in some way moved their process forward. At the end of each session a newsletter is produced; here are issues one and two, also named as group therapy records. Looking from the outside, what is as important as the direct advice given is the mutual support, and encouragement to collectively suspend disbelief.

Tutorials # 5

What If?

A lot of the work today felt like all the flotsam that builds up behind a dam. Lots of really interesting ideas, themes and potential processes swirling around, but not so much forward movement in terms of playing out these ideas against any kind of context. Maybe the work is stuck in the classic mode of architectural education, which is that of problem-based learning. This goes something like this:

(a) A problem is set. It is called a brief.
(b) A ‘good’ solution is seen on the distant horizon
(c) A process unfolds which moves towards that solution.

There are a number of difficulties with this approach.

(i) The solution is either tacitly – or more often explicitly – accepted at the start of the process, in terms of the tutor’s own interests and track-record. Students are thus locked into tramlines leading to these accepted values. This is exactly the problem with Donald Schon’s much-feted reflective practitioner model, in which the process he describes, while seemingly allowing the students their own voice and space for self-reflection, is actually overseen by the demands and suggestions of the tutor
(ii) Because of the implication that one solution is better than another, there is an endless process of deferment in which students try to cover all aspects (theoretical, formal, material, spatial) in the search for that solution. Architecture in all its dependency can never be pinned down to a contained set of issues, so as soon as one thinks one has covered one of those tracks, another one emerges. Therefore any ‘solution’ to an abstract problem is inevitably partial, but is usually presented as definitive. (see: J.Till Architecture Depends, MIT Press forthcoming late 2008. “A brilliant book. I read it cover to cover and did not understand too much but I am very proud.” B.Till, father).
(iii) There is, as Alistair pointed out today, a falsification in the documentation of the process, which is obliged to work forwards in a linear manner to demonstrate that the solution is inevitable, or else (worse) work backwards to fake that logic.
(iv) The idea of a good solution leaves not room for mistakes or accidents, which are ruthlessly edited from the documentation of the process. It is therefore not possible to learn from mistakes or enjoy the chance event.
(v) As Chris Jones notes, to think of designing as ‘problem-solving’ is to use a rather dead metaphor for a lively process and to forget that design is not so much a matter of adjusting to the status quo as of realizing new possibilities and discovering our relations to them.” In this light, problem-solving is revealed as an inherently conservative act of incrementally shifting around what is already there in a manner directed by preconceived ideologies.

So lets get rid of the idea of problem-solving as a pedagogical exemplar. And lets replace it with a week of ‘What If?’ This means abandoning the idea that there is a good solution or a logical route to it, and so suspending disbelief. It means taking one of your ideas or potential processes however barmy or irrelevant they might appear, and playing it out against a more concrete context (a fragment of your project). Maybe then some of that flotsam will be released from the top of the dam to drive something forwards more productively. ‘Mistakes’ are not just accepted but encouraged, because in that way you will be able to see what works and what doesn’t. Cul de sacs may be reached, in which case you will need to find means of maneuvering out. Surprises may be thrown up, and then seized gladly. But, and this is important, the process must be precisely, regularly and confidently documented. At the moment, many tutorials proceed in the manner of throwing drawings onto the table in a slightly haphazard way in the hope that we will see something in one of them (and in this you become dependent on approval). This means that the work, in all its fragments, never really adds to more than the sum of its parts. For this week, we expect to see instead precise, regular and confident documents.

Tutorials # 4

Tutorials started again this week. The issue was how does one do tutorials now that the ‘hard’, bossy stage of the process is over. If one just gives tutorials in the normal way, are we not just reasserting the power structure, and resulting combination of dependency and imposition, that accompanies all architectural studio teaching? This was the question we raised in open discussion. The response was twofold. First, the students will have weekly sessions without us, in which work is discussed collectively in the spirit of mutual support. At the end of each of these sessions, a newsletter will be made and published here (awaiting the first.) Second, in tutorials we accept the inevitability of some degree of imbalance of power, but in that very acceptance have to use it responsibly rather than exploit it. I think that we are also feeling that unpicking some of the assumptions of practice is ambitious enough in its own right, and to add in wholesale revision to pedagogy may be another project. But that is a bit of a cop out.

Tutorials thus proceeded. Below are short descriptions of what was discussed and the way forward, as much for Tatjana and my benefit as anyone’s (because we only saw half the studio each).

Tutorials # 3

With two out of the three weeks now gone in the competition schedule, the pressure is now on, and not surprisingly work has shifted into expedient mode. What can be done in a week to win the competition? Worthy values and diligent planning have been sacrificed on the altar of hard sell. Most students have found this strangely liberating, but at the same time are concerned about the sheer contingency of the way that decisions have been reached and how things might have turned out differently.

Much talk of that killer drawing to seduce the judges into suspending disbelief.

Tutorials # 2

Two common features in tutorials on 20/21st November.

One: Students are torn between being good students (and thus covering backs, being diligent about the requirements of the brief, moving from issue to issue) and being good competitors (being opportunist, being a bit dumb, feeding the eye candy). No clear winners here, because years of architectural education breed a certain type of diligence which is at odds with the edited version of architecture that competitions throw up.

Second: Students were allowed to ask ten questions. The only one that everyone asked, almost without exception, was: “Is the sustainability expectation really serious.” For which maybe read: “Can I be a bit token about it all?” Depressing. The answer, by the way, is YES, the sustainability expectations are serious.

Tutorials # 1

In the first tutorial, studio members were asked to choose what type of tutor they wanted. This is on the understanding that most architectural teaching is underwritten by definite ideologies, and that the tutor’s stance and ideology goes a long way in determining the final process and product, often under the assumption that there is a ‘right’ way of doing things, and a certain set of goals, even truths, to be reached. So what if those ideologies are made explicit, and the choice is handed to the students as to which one to proceed with? And what difference does their initial choice make on the final product? If the initial choice is necessarily a bit random, then how does one navigate towards any end given the contingency of the first advice? The answer to the latter is perhaps through finding one’s own voice and criteria for judgement rather than dancing to someone else’s tune (of power).

So these were the choices, from a cast of six, that the students made for us to role play:

The Contextualist (4 choices), The Complete Bastard (3 choices) The Conceptualist (3 choices) The Enigmatic Suggester (2 choices) The Functionalist (1 choice) The Formalist (o choices)

Slightly worrying dependency/masochism shown in the popularity of The Complete Bastard…

And isn’t contextualism slightly passé?