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Segovia, Spain – Mark Wigley calls for more radical thinking at education summit

Too much agreement? The second International Architectural Education Summit in Segovia fails to cover new ground

Do architecture schools train accountable professionals to meet the demands of accreditation bodies? Or do they empower elite observers and artists who listen to and enact what the world wants architecture to be?

With 22 high-profile deans and professors on stage, and with many more in the audience, the biannual International Architectural Education Summit was not short of ideas on these issues. But the gathering, which was co-hosted by UCLA and IE University at the latter’s home in Segovia near Madrid, covered too many topics and failed to engage in meaningful debate. Martha Thorne and the other organisers must surely have been disappointed that her call for ‘disagreement that would prompt progress’ went unfulfilled.

In fact agreement reigned everywhere. In the first of four sessions, contributors assented that ‘cross- and inter-trans-disciplinary’ teaching was a good idea - or as Odile Decq (General Director École Spéciale d’Architecture, Paris) succinctly put it, ‘architecture schools should know more people, make more friends, and exchange more ideas’ - while the second concluded that the world was big enough for the co-existence of a range of different schools. There was little to argue about in sessions three and four, with the discussion on education in the digital age presenting a series of well-illustrated (but less than searching) student portfolios and the final debate on the implications of global outreach predictably decreeing that standardisation should not obliterate regional specificity.

On the range of educational models, AR columist Peter Cook picked over the merits of the ‘liberal arts tradition’ (as seen at the Architectural Association), the Technische Hochschule model (prevalent in Germany, Turkey and Greece), New Academicisim (described as a ‘post-Eisenman American style now threatening to invade Europe’), and so-called Small Private Peripheral Schools (which are largely paranoid about status, curriculum and falling short of SCI-Arc’s example). Meanwhile, the Architectural Association’s Brett Steele observed that ‘truly global schools were gateways not destinations’.

All this accord was a bit much for Columbia University’s Mark Wigley, who humorously mocked the lack of panel criticism by relating the exchange of niceties to an architect’s optimistic approach to just about anything. He stated that ‘architecture schools should not see their role as places that produce architects’, but instead produce new thinking about what architecture is, holding up a mirror of the world for non-architects to look into. He described the best schools as ‘stupidity-reduction machines’. And with the future of our cities as the greatest human experiment of our time, he called for schools to get out into the world to speculate, confront, and interrogate conventional ‘stupid’ thought in order to help change people’s minds.

While many schools think the way to respond to changing demands on the profession is to do even more things and to launch even more professional masters programmes, Wigley suggested that we should embrace the larger narrative of the evolving demands of the world. Perhaps the salient conclusion is that correctly trained architects should be able to help the world see globalisation in different ways, and as such our schools should not rush to dilute the primacy of our vocation with too many peripheral professional pursuits.

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