“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 (http://www.archvoices.org/issue.cfm?n=184)–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. This week, that task force released an impressive 30-page report, available online at http://www.aiasnatl.org/resources/r_resources_studioculturepaper.pdf Items 1-4 of this issue of ArchVoices are excerpted directly from that report.
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’s possible. Forwarding this email or the entire report to your current or former studio instructors and friends could at least provide the basis for a local discussion. We encourage you to keep us at ArchVoices as well as the AIAS posted of your successes and challenges.
2. Describing Studio Culture
4. New Vision, Shared Values
5. AIAS Studio Culture Task Force
6. “Design Juries on Trial”
7. Responses to “Patterns of Exploitation”
8. Related Issues of ArchVoices
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.
2. Describing Studio Culture
Excerpted from pages 7-18 of the AIAS Studio Culture Task Force Report
From the start of our investigation, we have focused our research and questioning on twelve current aspects of studio education that we felt were crucial to the success of architectural education. The content of this report was largely informed by extensive feedback gained from diverse individuals within the architectural discipline.
– Students Should Lead Balanced Lives
– Time is More than a Constantly Endangered Resource
– There is a World Outside of the Design Studio
– Design is the Integration of Many Parts
– Design Process is as Important as Product
– Collaboration is the Art of Design
– Design is Inherently an Interdisciplinary Act
– Even Educators Can Learn
– The Good of Students Must Prevail
– Grades Can Impede Productive Assessment
– Critiques are Learning Experiences, Not Target Practice
– To Design for Many, Parts of all Must be Included
STUDENTS SHOULD LEAD BALANCED LIVES
Within architectural education, we have witnessed a student culture that takes pride in dysfunctional behavior. Unhealthy work habits help define studio culture at too many schools. In our examinations and visits to architecture schools, students consistently reported long hours in studio, poor sleeping habits, unhealthy eating patterns, and high levels of stress. While schools and educators may not have intentionally created unhealthy studio environments, it is not apparent that there are many efforts to promote against these consequences. As Kathryn Anthony stated in her landmark book Design Juries on Trial, “While no one is forcing students to stay up all night, the current studio subculture encourages it. Studios are usually accessible 24 hours a day. Well-meaning professors sometimes offer criticism so late in the process that students have to stay up all night just to address their concerns” (p. 40).
Architectural education should be challenging, rigorous, and time-consuming. However, as one noted practitioner stated, “If we want professionals to lead balanced, healthy lives, we should not expect them to put off practicing that mindset until later in life.”
TIME IS MORE THAN A CONSTANTLY ENDANGERED RESOURCE
The nature of studio coursework is time consuming, therefore it is essential to examine the critical aspect of time. At issue are the attitudes and values that architectural education places on the notion of time.
To get at the core of the issue of time, examination must focus on student workloads and the attitude towards time. Students who manage their time well typically perform much better than those who do not. Good time management usually leads to stronger design projects due to a more balanced work schedule and allowing time for reflection. Also, good time managers have more successful reviews because they have allotted time to sleep as well as prepare for their oral presentations.
Whether in architecture practice or any other discipline, people have a limited amount of time that must be utilized carefully in order to lead healthy professional and personal lives. Does the attitude towards time that exists in design studios sufficiently prepare students for the world they face upon graduation? What connection does the lack of value placed on time have on the relatively low fees and wages found in the architecture profession? Is there a strong link between the value architects place on their time and the value society places on the architecture discipline?
THERE IS A WORLD OUTSIDE OF THE DESIGN STUDIO
The study of architecture is demanding. The development of a professional body of knowledge requires long hours and intense reflection and application. As with all professions, specialized knowledge is contained in theories of the discipline, which are furthered and refuted by members of the profession. Both parties share specialized graphic and verbal vocabularies. Unfortunately, all too often in studio education, the real clients and communities are left out of the equation. To quantify this point, more than 73% of students surveyed agreed that they “often feel isolated from others outside the architecture school” according to 1996 Building Community report (p. 92).
When students spend all of their waking time, and some of their sleeping time, with each other for four to six years, in the same classes, in the same building, they become disconnected from the ubiquitous public they will serve. Too often, faculty members do not encourage or even allow any unstructured time for students to develop interests and relationships outside of studio. This, in large part, can lead to clients accusing the profession of arrogance and ignorance.
DESIGN IS THE INTEGRATION OF MANY PARTS
Here is the paradox of architectural education: Design is correctly the master value, for it is architecture’s approach to design that distinguishes architecture from other trades and professions, and it is the design process that holds so much potential for integrative learning. Yet design, as studio courses narrowly define it, limits integration and is a rare commodity in practice.
We must define design more broadly. Others have suggested that “Design Studio” be renamed “Architecture Studio.” Some programs attempt whole-scale integration, with all coursework tied to studios–or all studios dependent on all other coursework. Other programs have developed curricula with parallel, highly-coordinated tracks; a history/theory/criticism sequence, for example, runs beside the technology and design sequences. Other programs, recognizing that integration is difficult while a student is just gaining proficiency with a subject, purposefully insert studios with a focus on integration, utilizing knowledge that was to be gained earlier in the curriculum.
DESIGN PROCESS IS AS IMPORTANT AS PRODUCT
The value of the discipline of architecture lies with how effectively we prepare students to utilize the broad applications of the process of design. To what extent do our current studio practices and projects promote the learning of process as a main objective? Is more emphasis placed on design process or final product? We fear that the current studio culture rewards students with the “best looking” projects. Does emphasis on appearance take precedence over the quality of ideas and the process behind the design project?
There also must be serious consideration concerning the impact that digital technology and computers have on studio culture and the learning of design process. Computers are clearly changing education and practice by offering new tools for design and changing the way in which work is created. Digital technology offers exciting new opportunities in graphic representation, visualization, and construction methods. At the same time, we fear that computers may devalue the art and craft of architecture, decrease collaboration, isolate students, and emphasize product over process. As the prominence of computers increases, how will educators and students deal with the wide range of implications?
COLLABORATION IS THE ART OF DESIGN
Architecture is a social art, involving countless voices and agendas. Its success is dependent on the application of knowledge from multiple disciplines and perspectives. Yet, much of architectural education “upholds the primacy of the autonomous designer by focusing all its attention on the student’s experience as an individual” (Cuff, 1991, p. 81). Students work side-by-side, but alone, often guarding their ideas from each other, competing for the attention of the studio critic. Group projects are most often limited to pre-design activities of research, analysis, and site documentation. The synthetic processes of design, in which negotiation and collaborative skills are most critical and difficult, are limited to individual efforts. Through these practices we unintentionally teach that the contributions of other designers, clients, consultants, and users are not valuable in the design process.
Individual learning, personal development, and mastery are crucial requisites of studio education. Augmenting these individual skills with collaborative skills is a difficult challenge in the studio. Student designers are nascent and insecure in their capabilities. They often bring similar, rather than complementary, skills and knowledge to a team project. Hierarchies are difficult to establish and administer, but necessary to get work done.
As one educator responded to our inquiries, “No true leader works in isolation, no true leader would not listen before showing the way, and no true leader imposes his or her own individual dreams.”
DESIGN IS INHERENTLY AN INTERDISCIPLINARY ACT
On any given project, architects must work with urban designers, interior designers, landscape architects, contractors, engineers, building consultants, public officials, and many other individuals. Despite these obvious connections, few schools make serious efforts to expose students to the disciplines. As importantly, on any traditional college campus, there exist opportunities for architecture studios to collaborate with many disciplines that contain knowledge that is essential to the creation of the built environment. Architectural education would be well served to make connection with programs on campus such as sociology, business, English, art, public policy, political science, and social work. Not only would students benefit through new knowledge, but they would also have experience interacting with those who will someday serve as future clients. By embracing the value of making interdisciplinary connections on campus, architectural education can truly become a liberal arts education.
We live in an increasingly non-linear world in which everything is connected. Twenty-first century architectural problems are complex, demanding multi-disciplinary responses and attention. If architects are to remain the generalist leaders of design teams, they need to be able to understand the language of multiple disciplines and of particular areas of expertise. Education needs to offer students a broader base of ideas from which to draw, different ways of knowing, different methods of research and analysis, and different approaches and attitudes.
EVEN EDUCATORS CAN LEARN
A primary concern of our task force involves the level of preparation and communication that schools provide to their instructors. Academic institutions and architecture schools have specific missions and objectives that shape the design of curricula, the design of studios, and the broader aspects of instruction. When instructors are actively engaged within the academic community of the school, there are many opportunities and avenues for these individuals to embrace these objectives and incorporate them into their teaching methods. However, what are the effects on studio culture when the instructors and critics are not engaged in the academic life of the schools?
Many faculty members, full-time and part-time, do not make a concerted effort to align themselves with institutional missions. In fact many of these mission statements are unclear to begin with. In particular, however, we are concerned about the preparation of adjunct professors, visiting instructors, and guest critics who come from outside the school and may not be connected to these broader missions. Many respondents to our inquiries have communicated that many outside instructors are not connected to the larger goals of the school and do not exhibit successful levels of preparation.
We believe that schools and instructors must seriously question and examine the methods of preparing instructors to teach and critique studio projects. To what extent should schools and the ACSA provide guidance on how best to structure studio courses? Is there a formal method of faculty mentoring that schools can develop? With exposure to cultural-sensitivity training, would educators create healthier studio environments?
THE GOOD OF STUDENTS MUST PREVAIL
Perhaps one of the strangest ironies about the design studio is that while it is the central experience of nearly every program in architectural education, it is also the most nebulous. This paradox and predicament of learning to design describes provocatively the life in design studios. But to what extent is this an issue inherently of design studios, or is this more a matter of the application of particular pedagogies?
Explaining learning is a responsibility about which professors ought to be more explicit. At the very least this should entail syllabi that are clear about what is to be learned and the criteria for assessing that learning. Professors would also do well to confront directly any slip into the game of mastery/mystery by exposing their language and frames of reference, thereby allowing students to relate to and challenge these; not to be dominated by them. By working towards a studio context that is clear in the promotion of learning, perhaps the studio can become less nebulous.
GRADES CAN IMPEDE PRODUCTIVE ASSESSMENT
We fear that grades tend to heighten individualism and competition. Grades are a form of control and shift responsibility for learning from students to the professor. They enforce compliance and unwittingly reinforce the pervasive ideology of “do what the professor wants.” Hence, we believe grades reduce risk-taking, reinforce conformity, and generally lead students to avoid challenging themselves in the studio.
All learning needs assessment of some type and the question here is whether grades provide enough breadth and depth of feedback for real learning to take place. Too often, grades are used exclusively without other forms of assessment–they become substitutes for the kind of feedback and evaluation needed for intellectual growth. As one researcher put it, “A grade is a uni-dimensional symbol into which multi-dimensional phenomena have been incorporated” (Milton, Pollio, and Eison, 1986). This is especially problematic for the design studio.
CRITIQUES ARE LEARNING EXPERIENCES, NOT TARGET PRACTICE
Outside of the individual desk critique, the formal review may be the most ubiquitous social behavior of the studio culture. As Anthony writes in Design Juries on Trial, “Although they may be called reviews or critiques, with few exceptions, the format of design juries is virtually the same in every design school in the English-speaking world.” The question is, why?
Our concern here is not to question the value of criticism per se in assessing student design work. Criticism is an important form of assessment for learning. Our concern is with how the function or role of criticism is socially organized, and hence what kind of learning is privileged by that particular social setting. In other words, what is the hidden curriculum of the formal review, where jurors (typically professors) sit in the front row, students in the back, and the presenter stands in front of his/her project? What is learned in this kind of context regardless of the actual content of the project?
TO DESIGN FOR MANY, PARTS OF ALL MUST BE INCLUDED
Over the span of the last decade, progress has been made in airing questions about diversity in architectural education. Certainly there have been advances in scholarship, evidenced by the rising production of books, articles, and initiatives around diversity and multiculturalism in architectural discourse. The extent to which this production has been swift enough is open to debate.
What, if any, has been the extent of this change upon the culture of the design studio? No one doubts that design professionals need to function more effectively within a multicultural society, and thus students and faculty should receive more exposure to theories, research, and experiences that increase multicultural sensitivity. But the design studio, like any institution, is not free of the relations and forces of the larger society. That is, it will reproduce those systems of belief and relations that the larger society values.
Excerpted from page 26 of the AIAS Studio Culture Task Force Report
Our challenge now, is to design a studio culture that promotes:
– Design-thinking skills
– Design process as much as design product
– Leadership development
– Collaboration over competition
– Meaningful community engagement and service
– The importance of people, clients, users, communities, and society in design decisions
– Interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary learning
– Confidence without arrogance
– Oral and written communication to complement visual and graphic communication
– Healthy and constructive critiques
– Healthy and safe lifestyles for students
– Balance between studio and non-studio courses
– Emphasis on the value of time
– Understanding of the ethical, social, political, and economic forces that impact design
– Clear expectations and objectives for learning
– An environment that respects and promotes diversity
– Successful and clear methods of student assessment
– Innovation in creating alternative teaching and learning methodologies
4. New Vision, Shared Value
Excerpted from pages 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.
CULTURE OF OPTIMISM
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.
CULTURE OF RESPECT
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.
CULTURE OF SHARING
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.
CULTURE OF ENGAGEMENT
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.
CULTURE OF INNOVATION
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.”
5. AIAS Studio Culture Task Force
The Studio Culture Task Force is comprised of Aaron Koch, 2001-02 AIAS National Vice President and a graduate of the University of Minnesota; Deanna Smith, 2001-02 AIAS National Director and a student at Drury University; Kate Schwennsen, Associate Dean at Iowa State University; and Tom Dutton, professor at Miami University. With the support of the AIAS staff, the task force members elicited opinions of students, architects, educators, other leaders in the building and construction industry, psychologists, sociologists, and experts on higher education. This diversity of voices shaped the findings and recommendations described in the task force report.
For more information on the AIAS or the Studio Culture Task Force, visit http://www.aiasnatl.org, email email@example.com, or call 202/626-7472.
6. “Design Juries on Trial”
The AIAS Studio Culture Task Force Report took a number of queues from Kathryn Anthony’s 1991 book, “Design Juries on Trial.” We are highlighting this book because it remains the only print publication specifically on studio culture. It is based on extensive research with systematic observations and videotape recordings of juries, diaries of design students, as well as interviews and surveys of students, educators, and practitioners conducted during a seven-year period. Interviews feature leading architectural, landscape, and interior designers, including Peter Eisenman, Michael Graves, Steven Izenour, E. Fay Jones, Richard Meier, Charles Moore, Cesar Pelli, Robert A.M. Stern, and others. More than 900 individuals participated in the research for the book. More information is available at the url above.
7. Responses to “Patterns of Exploitation”
The following are a few excerpts from the many responses elicited when we republished Tom Fisher’s 1991 editorial, “Patterns of Exploitation,” in January 2001. ArchVoices elected to republish it because the incident that inspired “Patterns of Exploitation” was repeated in late 2000 at a different school in a different part of the country–another all-nighter, another car accident, another death. The full text is available at the url above.
“As a parent of an architecture student, I have always thought that the rigors of the program are insane. My daughter had a job this past summer working for an architect. She in no way had to work anywhere near as hard as she does in school. What is the purpose of giving so much work? It is unrealistic and unfair. I would be happy to help in any way I could to get the word out that architecture schools have to change their minds about the amount of work that they assign. I believe that every dean of every architecture school should be emailed a copy of what I received so they can see and read for themselves what the overly demanding work load is doing to students!”
“Bravo! I read this issue of ArchVoices and immediately identified with it. I don’t believe that any of our family, friends, or spouses realize what a trial architecture school is. I have forwarded it to all of my family and friends to try and make a point that I have been trying to make for ten years. At one point and time during school, my mother actually signed me up for alcohol treatment because she believed I was always partying due to me never answering my phone at home. She didn’t realize that I was at studio all the time. I had my sister explain to her my REAL schedule and we all had a laugh…but maybe it wasn’t so funny.”
–Intern architect, Johnson Laffen Architects, North Dakota
“There is more to the story. Stress is one thing, but to have so much stress that you don’t get enough sleep, it is a danger to the body. Professors understandably want their students to learn; they cross the lines though. This is college and it is supposed to be difficult. Not this difficult.”
–student, University of Kentucky
8. Related Issues of ArchVoices
The following is a list of related reading available through the ArchVoices website. The official bibliography used by the AIAS Studio Culture Task Force is available on page 31 of its final report, online at http://www.aiasnatl.org/resources/r_resources_studioculturepaper.pdf
“Patterns of Exploitation” (Progressive Architecture, May 1991)
“Studio Culture at its Worst” (ArchVoices, January 2001)
“The Insane Little Bubble of Nonreality” (Chronicle of Higher Education, June 2001)
“Thoughts on Studio Culture and our Dependency on Automobiles” (Architectural Record, September 2001)
“Architects’ Core Skills” (ArchVoices, April 2002)
“101 Ways You Know You’re an Architecture Student…”
We welcome your thoughts on studio culture at firstname.lastname@example.org What aspects would you change? What aspects would you preserve?