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AR 120: Beatriz Colomina on Education

Artofseeing

Both a fascination and dissatisfaction with architectural education’s processes has preoccupied the AR

In a remarkable photograph of May 1968, Giancarlo De Carlo vigorously debates with student protestors at the Milan Triennale. He leans forward, angry but listening intently as a student lectures him. Both sides, teacher and students, are radicals. Despite his jacket and tie, Giancarlo De Carlo is a self-professed anarchist and the students are paradoxically following his call to question institutional authority by refusing to follow him. The whole ecology of architectural education is destabilised. The circle of students has become a classroom – a portable, improvised space in which the streets become the real teacher. The line between urban life and education has dissolved. Protest has become pedagogy. 

In the 2010 protests against university reforms promoted by Italian Minister of Culture Mariastella Gelmini, students marched on the streets of Rome, taking over public space with shields reproducing covers of seminal books. The scene captures the intersection of protest, education and Italian design, with the brightly coloured shields lined up as a visual manifesto. Rather than addressing the content of the protest, Gelmini responded: ‘Do not let professors manipulate your opinions.’ Active political engagement was suddenly reduced to a faded replica of 1968, instigated by now tenured radicals. The scene in the streets was treated as just a classroom exercise. Pedagogy has become protest.

‘Looking back to the postwar period, most leading architectural players were also teachers, archivists, writers and even activists’

Radical Pedagogy is a collaborative PhD research project at Princeton’s School of Architecture. It involves deep archival work, oral histories, lectures and workshops with protagonists and scholars from schools worldwide. The organising paradigm of this is collaboration in which the differences between teacher and student and between scholars and protagonists are blurred. Looking back to the postwar period, most leading architectural players were also teachers, archivists, writers and even activists – among them the protagonists of Global Tools, Ant Farm, and Manfredo Tafuri. In our team we too consider ourselves activists. We see scholarship as having real effects in the world, history as not something distant but fully alive. 

The project is part of a series of experiments that go back more than 10 years. The idea was to find an educational model where instead of PhD students working in isolation on obscure research, you introduce them to collaborative research between faculty and students in the first year, oriented to the production of something – a book, conference, exhibition, film. 

Privateschool

Privateschool

It is more than 40 years since PhD programmes in architecture history and theory were established in the US and it is time to rethink their approach. The key point of Radical Pedagogy is that pedagogical experiments played a crucial role in shaping architecture in the second half of the 20th century. Indeed, these experiments can be understood as radical architectural practice in their own right. They are radical in the literal meaning of the Latin term radix– relating to the root, the basis or foundation. Radical pedagogies shake foundations, disturbing assumptions rather than reinforcing them. This challenge to nominative thinking was a major force in the postwar field of architecture but has been neglected recently. We have to go back to this period because it is the last time there was radical innovation in the field of architectural pedagogy. We identified around 75 such experiments, in such diverse contexts as Valparaíso in Chile, the Polyark Bus Tour in London, Charles and Ray Eames as consultants to the new School of Design in Ahmedabad, and Negroponte forming the Architecture Machine Group at MIT. 

This was a time of collective defiance against the authority of institutional, bureaucratic and capitalist structures, a geopolitical landscape further transformed by the Cold War and the Vietnam War. The many protests included the 1968 occupation of the Triennale di Milano, the 1968 student revolts in Paris rejecting the pedagogy of the Beaux-Arts School, the strikes at Columbia University in the same year, the 1969 burning of the School of Art and Architecture building at Yale, and the ‘Free the Panthers’ demonstrations by students there. It is precisely in this context of protests that the most radical pedagogy projects were last established. 

All of this took place in the context of the Cold War, of a domestic environment built out of consumable plastics and objects of mass-produced desire, and a utopian technological prophecy foretold in science fiction now realised in a brave new world of computation, gadgets and spaceships. Architecture was not impervious to such shifts. The discipline sought to stake its claims amid a new territory by articulating its relationship to the technological, sociopolitical and cultural transformations that were occurring. Whether in high-tech spaceships or informal slums, architecture as classically defined was gone. Architecture itself had become indeterminate, so the discipline was forced to examine its own protocols. Some forms of radical practice celebrated architecture’s integration in a larger cultural milieu, whether it was political, cultural, economic or even ecological, while others retreated to the fantasy of an autonomous discipline.

‘Is radical pedagogy an oxymoron, since radical means challenging the origins of a system and pedagogy implies a system?’

A shared understanding among these very different radical practices was that a new modus operandi for the discipline could only be created if divisions were questioned, destabilised, or even destroyed. Education became a vehicle for this subversive action and importantly this was not just a Western phenomenon. Urgent concerns worldwide provoked radical upheavals in academic institutions where alternative visions of the discipline were generated. Pedagogy operated as an active agent in social and technological processes rather than through detached or complacent reflection –challenging conventions at different scales. Radical pedagogies questioned the institutions of education, probed disciplinary assumptions, and aimed to disturb relations with social, political and economic processes. 

Schools became as active as streets. Rem Koolhaas described the Architectural Association in 1970-1972: ‘a school awash in sex, drugs and rock and roll. David Bowie hanging at the bar. For a studio, write a book if you want. Dance or piss your pants if you want. Structure or codes or HVAC? Go to Switzerland.’

Layout education 8

Layout education 8

‘Front Door in Pimlico’, AR October 1976. ‘Architects are always complaining…that “people do not see”…those who use and walk among our buildings are occasionally heard to suggest that perhaps architects cannot see very well either’

But is radical pedagogy an oxymoron, since radical means challenging the origins of a system and pedagogy implies a system? Perhaps this is true of all radical practices: you need a system to undermine an existing system. Radical pedagogy, in other words, might be a sort of transitional phase. That is, a system is developed to undermine an existing system but eventually the new system is institutionalised and no longer radical and it will have to be undermined by another form of radical practice – in the same way that every avant-garde inevitably becomes a monument that needs to be challenged by another one. It is important to remember that avant-gardes are always systematic, even before they are absorbed by the institutions of the market. Radical pedagogy is that key phase when a new system is used to undermine an old system. 

Architectural pedagogy has become stale. Schools spin old wheels as if something is happening but little is actually going on. Students wait for a sense of activist engagement with a rapidly evolving world but graduate before this happens. Teachers likewise worry too much about institutional hierarchies. Curricular structures have hardly changed in recent decades, despite the many transformations in the growth of globalisation, technologies and information culture. As schools appear to increasingly favour professionalisation, they seem to drown in self-imposed bureaucratic oversight, suffocating any possibility for the emergence of experimental practices and failures. There are the odd few attempts to wake things up but it is all too timid. They are not real innovations. So in response to the timidity of schools today, the Radical Pedagogy project returns to the educational experiments of the 1960s and ‘70s to remind us of what can happen when pedagogy takes on risks. It is a provocation, therefore, and a call to arms.

Women architects

An early mention of women architects in September 1908, ‘Here and There’ by R Weir Schultz, is the reproduction of a paper read at a conference on employment for women, which considers whether the profession is a suitable occupation for women and one in which they are likely to succeed. ‘I see no insuperable obstacle against women who have gone through a thorough course of training becoming competent and capable architects … but I advise those to take up the work who are really determined to go through with it seriously … and I am afraid that they will find a good deal of prejudice in the ranks of the architectural profession itself.’

Ten years later, Annabel Dott entreats women to enter the profession, the ranks of whom ‘have been sadly and bravely depleted by war’, stating that ‘there is work at hand that, like much other, can be undertaken by women’. In 2016, the AR supported the Women in Architecture Awards, publishing the results of a survey that showed persistent prejudice within the profession.

Hereandthere

Hereandthere

The AR and the Bauhaus

Fascination with the educational approach of the Bauhaus surfaces periodically – on this page through the memories of a student, photography by one of László Moholy-Nagy’s students, and a piece written on the educational philosophy of Chicago’s Institute of Design, founded by Moholy-Nagy in 1937.

Although the work of Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius was published by the Review, the AR’s most tangible link to the Bauhaus is through its collaborations with Moholy-Nagy, who was commissioned when in exile as a photographer and even invited to design the pages for a special issue on the seaside in July 1936. Perhaps what is described as the ‘many-sidedness of Moholy-Nagy’s interests’ made him a natural bedfellow for the catholic and eclectic Review – at the Bauhaus he is described as having taken ‘an active part’ in editing its publications and his ‘diversity of talent’ included photography and typography, alongside film, painting and industrial design.

Bauhausmemories

Bauhausmemories

Lazlonagychicago

Lazlonagychicago

Design by making

The apprenticeship programme of the American Cranbrook Academy of Art, founded in 1932 under Eliel Saarinen, attracted attention for its self-directed approach to learning, which includes small classes of 10 to 16 individuals who study under an artist-in-residence with no courses. The cult of craft and design-through-making continues to be a popular stream of education and practice, perhaps seen as more extreme/orthodox in the age of computer-aided design.

‘In this country of the aesthetically blind, the one-eyed man is liable to be thought of as a cissy old queen’ reads the introduction to the AR’s ‘Can We Teach the Art of Seeing?’ from May 1978. Preoccupation with teaching the public – especially educating children to appreciate the built environment – is a perennial concern repeated in the form of workshops and school outreach programmes designed to bridge the gap between the profession and its public. But Colin Ward illuminates its failures, explaining that many people, including teachers, work on ‘the assumption that God made the country and Man made the town, and that the former is good, and worthy of reverence, while the latter is a regrettable necessity to be escaped from’. 

Cranbrook

Cranbrook

‘Cranbrook Continuum’ by Annette LeCuyer, AR November 1997

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