Studio Culture

"Those who have studied architecture undoubtedly have vivid memories that characterize their design studio experience. Late nights, exciting projects, extreme dedication, lasting friendships, long hours, punishing critiques, predictable events, a sense of community, and personal sacrifice all come to mind. Those aspects are not usually written into the curriculum or even the design assignments, but they are likely the most memorable and influential. The experiences, habits, and patterns found within the architecture design studio make up what we have termed 'studio culture.'"

--Excerpted from page 3 of the AIAS Studio Culture Task Force Report

In January 2001, ArchVoices republished an early-90s editorial, which originally appeared in the late Progressive Architecture magazine. That editorial, like our follow-up issue published ten years apart--leads off with two separate, but equally tragic stories about architecture students who were killed after falling asleep at the wheel following long nights in studio.

A classmate and close friend of one of those students happened to be a member of the AIAS Board of Directors at the time. By simply raising the issue at an AIAS Board meeting, this one student engaged his peers, and soon after helped start the AIAS Studio Culture Task Force in January 2001. In late-2002, that AIAS task force released an impressive 30-page report, available online.

Among other things, the report includes a revealing list of "Myths" about studio. Another myth, which has sustained studio culture for more than a century, is that students are helpless to do anything but endure studio. If a few dedicated students and educators can generate a rapidly-growing national dialogue about this topic, anything is possible.

Myths of Studio Culture
--Excerpted from page 6 of the AIAS Studio Culture Task Force Report

Studio culture can also be characterized by the myths it perpetuates. These myths influence the mentality of students and promote certain behaviors and patterns. The following prevail within many design studios, if not within every school:

Architectural education should require personal and physical sacrifice.
The creation of architecture should be a solo, artistic struggle.
The best students are those who spend the most hours in studio.
Design studio courses are more important than other architecture or liberal arts courses.
Success in architecture school is only attained by investing all of your energy in studio.
It is impossible to be a successful architect unless you excel in the design studio.
Students should not have a life outside of architecture school.
The best design ideas only come in the middle of the night.
Creative energy only comes from the pressure of deadlines.
Students must devote themselves to studio in order to belong to the architecture community.
Collaboration with other students means giving up the best ideas.
It is more important to finish a few extra drawings than sleep or mentally prepare for the design review.
It is possible to learn about complex social and cultural issues while spending the majority of time sitting at a studio desk.
Students do not have the power to make changes within architecture programs or the design studio.

New Vision, Shared Value
--Excerpted from page 19 of the AIAS Studio Culture Task Force Report

"To design a healthy studio culture, we have laid forth five essential values: optimism, respect, sharing, engagement, and innovation. Every school has its own qualities and needs that will ultimately govern how it creates a more successful studio culture. One asset every school shares, however, is talented and energetic students who will embrace these shared values when they are embraced by faculty members and school administrators. Instead of offering prescriptive recommendations, we have focused on larger values and ideas that will enable schools to address holistically the critical issues they face.

First, we propose that design studios engrain in students a culture of optimism. We imagine a culture where students are optimistic about the skills they are learning, hopeful that architecture can make a difference to society, and confident that they will succeed within the profession or in any other discipline they choose. We also believe that it is possible for educators to be optimistic in the potential of architectural education to reach new levels of success.

Second, to promote a healthier studio learning environment, schools must create a culture of respect. We envision a climate where student health, constructive critiques, the value of time, and democratic decision-making are all promoted. In addition, respect for ideas, diversity, and the physical space of studio are all essential in order to enhance architectural education.

Third, we believe that architecture studios should be known for promoting a culture of sharing. With this value at its core, studio learning will promote collaboration, interdisciplinary connections, and successful oral and written communication. By embracing this value, studio educators can make the learning of architecture and design less mysterious. Architecture schools can also embrace sharing as a way to play a larger role within larger university communities.

Fourth, to realize enriched educational goals, studio learning must promote a culture of engagement. We believe in the value of preparing students to serve as leaders within the profession and within communities. To achieve this goal, students must engage communities and understand the necessity of embracing clients, users, and social issues. We also envision studio projects engaging the expertise and opportunities presented through partnerships with architectural practitioners and experts in allied disciplines.

Fifth, to design an effective studio environment successfully, schools must support a culture of innovation. It is not sufficient to merely encourage innovation in student design projects. We must encourage critical thinking, foster risk taking, and promote the use of alternative teaching methods to address creatively the critical issues facing architectural education."

For more information on the AIAS or the Studio Culture Task Force, visit http://www.aiasnatl.org, email mail@aiasnatl.org, or call 202/626-7472.