Discourse, 17 October 2021
I have quite a love-hate relationship to my alma mater.
A recent chat with my friend Zhi Kai from the junior batch of the same school (read more at Zhi Kai’s Blogfolio, where he did some insightful writings on architectural pedagogy), had me recalled back my journey in the school and many other retrospective reflections of it. I would love to relate this writing to my experience and further correlate to the greater picture of architectural education in our local schools, largely based on my personal observations and some discourses with peers, practitioners, and seniors. Though the topic is so broad, my focus here is primarily revolves around the school-student relationships and many corresponding issues of it.
Within the 5 years study of architecture locally, the school has been putting emphasis on its aim to get us ready for the practice as a qualified employee or ideally a licensed architect in future. It was kind of a default, implicit consensus of expectations for both the students and the school. However, the rift between the education and practice is gradually prevailing as the industry nowadays as I observed, is expanding horizontally and crossing to various fields. Do our schools evolve and respond to such phenomenon? It raises my question on our current education proposition and their stance to be projected on the students. Are we trained to be an architectural designer? A good draughtsman? A critical thinker? A researcher of built environment? A construction expert? A walking UBBL? Or simply a submitting person? Or a little bit of all? It could further relate backwards on how we perceive architecture principally: a profession or a form of intelligence? (Further read on Architect: A Powerless Profession?)
I believe in the latter, simply because that ‘profession’ is usually conditional and dependent, but the ‘form of intelligence’ is rather autonomous and non-static, growing through discovery and rediscovery timely. As much as I hope the school can train myself into a well-fitted labor or profession into the industry, I also believe the schools to be a leader to venture into the test boundaries of architecture. And this is how the coming generations could involve and escalate the current industry to be more progressive and perhaps, a little more subversive and radical.
These can be linked to my opinion on the architectural education in my former university (not sure is it applicable to other local schools), especially in the knowledge of design. We are being taught to design in very monotonous approach, almost like a format or mathematical equation, which can be clearly evidenced in our works. Most of the works displayed a lack of ambition, a lack of allegory imagination, a lack of rigor understanding to the subject matters, but merely producing drawings as if we work to simply complete a task, fulfill a checklist for drawing submission, or begging for a grade. It’s mediocrity. To me personally, the worst of all is that architectural ‘concept’ is seemingly just a word or term to package up the whole design.
Apart from going such specific into the design matters which could be probably my very own insight and experiences, I noticed that we had very least knowledge about the formal knowledge of architecture, especially the history and theories of it. Despite we have quite a rigid structure on our design studio which is due to the university compliance to the LAM/RIBA standards (yes, ironically our schools need to comply to someone too- it is a vicious cycle of compliancy), the classes for formal knowledge are instead loosely structured, and pretty much being ignored. The school limits many possible ways to approach architectural design yet leaving us hollow of fundamental wisdom of architecture, making us almost clueless and unconscious in doing our works.
Most of all, I guess the worst issue of my school as an academic institution is it institutionalizes, like how it supposed to be (?) This subconsciously oppressive yet unspoken tension eliminates many possibility of two-way communication between the students and the educators but reinforce the superiority of institution instead. This may not be an actual issue until the institution become corrupted internally or simply that the education system couldn’t provide any better learning environment. The nightmares happened where it instills the fear to fail, when we are actually learning the most from our failures. In another word, the school should be a place to embrace failures, rather than sweeping them under the carpet or making the so called ‘per-fake’ architecture.
After all, I will still cherish and remain gratitude to the days I had in the school. Those are the times that built me and my resiliency in the endeavor of many challenges in the process. As I moving on to further my learning of architecture in the practices, I hope this piece of writing could remain as a reminder to myself, and perhaps the greater audiences or anybody who cares.