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EDUCATION

Architectural Education — Dead or Alive? _ A lecture by Professor Robert Mull co-founder and honorary Professor of the MARCH School on the occasion of the schools fifth birthday.

I have been asked to talk about architectural education and rather than give you an academic description of architectural education past, present and future, I am going to tell you about some of the moments in my own career as a student, architect, educator and sometime activist. So, it's a form of "derive" rather than a conventional lecture. A "derive" being a form of wander through a particular territory, in this case, architectural education.

In doing this I will be touching on some of the moments primarily in British architectural education that are the context in which the MARCH operates. So, structures like the studio or unit system, ideas about making, ideas about live projects, ideas about your responsibility and duties to the society and the city around you. So, it is about MARCH but not about MARCH and it is about architectural education but not only.


Chapter I. The end of modernism

I started my architectural education at the Bartlett School of Architecture in the late 1970s at the end of what one might call modernist education. It was the end of the heroic period of architecture in London, this meant projects like Neave Brown's Alexander Road Housing, a social project about collective action, and about making architecture that has social value.

We learn about proportion, building science and planning. We had lectures on fire extinguishers and defective concrete. It was an orthodox architectural education which in hindsight had many strengths

There was also a strong interest in Italian rationalism and a powerful sense of the city and architecture as an archaic common language. Architects like Franco Purini, Georgio Grassi and Aldo Rossi were very influential and a formative experience for me was going to Venice in 1978, to the opening of the Teatro del Mondo by Aldo Rossi just after it had been floated into the harbour of Venice.

A key document of this time was a magazine produced in London called 9H. 9H is the description of a pencil that is very sharp and very accurate. 9H was the magazine that caught that sense of the power of modernism. Many of the people who were involved in 9H at that time, people like Peter St John and David Chipperfield have gone on to become dominant voices in architectural education and practice.

But at this time architectural education was changing in London and the Architectural Association (AA) was the engine that drove this change. As postgraduate students, we moved to the AA.
Chapter II. The Architectural Association
The architectural association of the late 70s and early 1980s was led by Alvin Boyarsky. Alvin Boyarsky turned his back on modernism and the idea of a single orthodoxy and set up an educational system called "the unit system" as a system which still dominates architectural education today and is the system used here by MARCH. The unit is a studio where between 10 and 25 students work with a particular teacher or practitioner. In a sense a simulation of the dynamics of a small practice. The unit system was about an expansion of the field of architectural education by allowing competing voices and competition between units. Students voted for the unit they wished to join and unpopular units were closed.

Out of this brutal but very energetic system came many of the famous individual practitioners that you will know. Zaha Hadid, Peter Cook, Bernard Tschumi, Nigel Coates, Peter Wilson and many more. But against this background of individualism and formal invention, there was something else, less well known within the culture of the late 70s and early 80s which was around activism and represents a different trajectory of architectural education and architectural thought still important today. This movement was exemplified by The Architects' Revolutionary Council (ARC) and Brian Anson, The ARC was in opposition to the formalism and perceived elitism of others. So, they were aggressive towards institutions such as the Royal Institute of British Architects, the professional body that looks after architecture in the UK. Ultimately suppressed and forgotten their work remains passionate and important.

If the ARC were more interested in action than formalism then architects like Bernard Tschumi this further. Tschumi worked at the AA throughout the 70s and was interested not in stuff you could touch or make but in the way in which architecture contained and sustained events. So, architecture as a container for programs, for events, for movement, for emotions, for conflict. Tschumi mapped space using storyboards, choreography, film and music. What later became known as narrative architecture.
Alvin Boyarsky on elephant outside the AA, 1973 (Image ©️ Nikolas Boyarsky) _ Student AA Robert Mull in a review in Nigel Coates' unit, 1983 _ Posters of Architects' Revolutionary Council (ARC) set in Brian Anson's unit (Image ©️ AA Archive)
Chapter III. NATØ — Narrative Architecture Today


I graduated from the AA in 1982 influenced by the activism of the ARC and the narrative approach of Tschumi. As graduates, we were highly critical of the status quo and a political landscape dominated by conservatism, civil unrest and gross inequality between rich and poor.

So, our graduating work was very unconventional and nearly failed by external examiner James Stirling. But to demonstrate the value of our work and prove James Stirling wrong Alvin Boyarsky helped us set up a group called Narrative Architecture Today or NATO soon after graduation.

NATØ was formed in a period when Britain was in flux, the certainty of the late 70s was over it was a time of social unrest, the miners' strike, the Falklands war and riots across the country. Mrs Thatcher was in charge and London was derelict following decades of industrial decline. So, NATØ set about finding ways of working within this social and physical environment.

NATØ was linked to popular culture, to music culture, to fashion, to the punk movement and began to make projects which captured that sense of activism and the do-it-yourself culture of the early 80s. It was a period of no money and no hope for young people. So, we began to produce projects looking at the future of London as a result of that visceral sense of contemporary culture. Projects like Gamma City, Albion or Giant Sized Baby Town, captured the optimism that you could take the city and you could make it yourself in the same way that people were making music within the punk movement. Architecture and architectural education were beginning to release themselves from the orthodoxies of the past.
Chapter 4. AA Diploma Unit 10


After NATØ, I returned to the Architectural Association and taught.

In teaching a postgraduate unit at the AA we looked into the origins of an event based or narrative attitude to urbanism and architecture. In particular, we revisited the work of the Situationist International and the notion of the Society of the Spectacle. Guy Debord spoke about the Society of the Spectacle. By that, he meant a society which is highly codified, highly authored and static.

In the unit, we challenged the Society of the Spectacle as it applied to architectural culture and production. Our aim was to reconnect students with their true emotions and ethical beliefs by requiring them to engage with the urban environment through direct involvement, direct action and direct communication.

To do this we adopted three Situationaist devices or methods: The Derive, which is the form of wander through the urban territory that allows you to see the city differently, the Detourne which is a way of changing something through slight alterations to its appearance and meaning and the Constructed Situation which is a way of intervening in the city 1:1 through direct action.

A key aspect of this approach was to challenge and extend the traditional role of the architect. One student, Amir Sanei, who was working work in a city in Scotland began to think about his different role within the project as an engaged citizen and as a proto-professional. Two roles which are often in conflict when you find yourself doing things as a professional that are in conflict with your duties as a citizen and vice versa.

Exploring the limits of practice, we made projects in Tiananmen Square in the wake of the massacre and we did projects in like West Belfast during the sectarian conflict so students working in areas of conflict and deprivation through the Derive, the Detourne and the Constructed Situation we found ways of being effective as citizens and architects in ways that were not limited to making buildings. Making social structures as well as making buildings.
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Chapter 5. The CASS


From 2001 to 2016 I was head and then Dean of The Cass which is the school of architecture that validates MARCH. At the CASS, I focused the education on different forms of care and exercising our individual and collective responsibilities as caring citizens and professionals. We spoke about care in a material, social and environmental terms.

Materiality and making is a particularly important aspect of care. In a Ruskinian sense it is the power of things that are made well that dignify the user and dignifying the maker. Over the last 16 years, there were many, many projects that picked up on that sense of care of making from very small scale to the scale of buildings, from the scale of the hand through to the scale of the city. But if you start to make things at the small scale, how do you as architectural students go one step further, stop talking about and actually do it? One answer is the live project which helps students and staff to make projects as part of their education, to build things, to get involved, to cross the bridge between the isolated world of the academy and the real world of the city around them.

The other form of care which, I think, is really important, is care in relation to social issues. So, if one is caring through making, one is also caring by being socially engaged. And within the Cass there's a strong tradition of that: from direct action within local communities through to trying to work in very difficult situations such as Kosovo after the war or Cuba or in India.

This form of education not only has the ability to make things but also has the ability to really change the way in which society works and cities work.

So, running through that pulse of activist tradition is the idea of architectural education not as a rehearsal ‒ it's not something that happens before real life happens. It's a part of real life, it's a part of a continuum and students and architectural education has a responsibility to exercise that power really, really carefully.

The third part, of course, is around the third and most dominant form of care which is around care for the environment, for future generations, for sustainability, for the circular economy and for forms of production. And this is something that matches the other two forms of care in architectural education.
Chapter 6. The Free Unit

Within the Cass I ran a unit called the Free Unit that allowed students to make their own projects free of the orthodoxy of the school thereby handing power back to students to be active within their own world, to make projects which were about their own lifestyle, their own responsibility, their own history rather than being bound by the orthodoxies of a single studio or institution. As such the Free Unit implies a criticism of the way in which education had evolved and specifically a criticism of the studio or unit system that came from that trajectory of the AA studio system described earlier by giving power back to students and diminishing the power and control of the tutor.

In order to be "free", you need structures that support and protect those freedoms. So, our students make a contract with themselves and with the school describing how, where, when, why, how the project would be made. We as teachers signed those contracts partnering with the student becoming partners in the students' education.

Part of handing agency back to the students that were for our students to make their own group of tutors, what we called "Friends" who helped and assisted students. We gifted projects to those friends testing the boundaries of the projects and allowing the students to legitimize their position through its impact on their friends rather than the school.

The projects the students made and the forms of practice that emerged were as diverse as the students themselves. Students built for real clients, students invented new cooperative forms of practice, told stories and worked in areas of political change and deprivation across the globe. The network which emerged over the 12 years it ran at the CASS was described as the "Free World" and is a tangible and positive resource for all involved.
Chapter 7. The Global Practice Unit


This structure the "Free World", this global conversation between the students is now turning into an academic structure, which is not a single institution or a single pedagogy, it's not the AA, it's not an institution that has an investment in being exclusive or an investment in being powerful. It's a representation of a much, much more organic sense of architectural education where individual institutions work within a series of live projects situations across the globe.

It specifically relates to work that we have been doing within the European refugee crisis. If one is thinking about education as somehow itinerant and stateless and without borders, this is a situation which is stateless without borders. And that's a very powerful conversation about architectural education at the moment.

So, our students are working within refugee crisis in Greece, in Turkey, In Northern Sweden and Calais and he the question I keep getting asked Is "I'm an architecture student. I've been volunteering in the refugee camps for a year and a half. I don't want to go back to formal architectural education, there's nothing there for me. I want to know how the skills and the vitality and the motives that I've learnt in the refugee camps can become part of architectural education?" That's the question we're trying to answer.

So, we talked about care, we talked about our responsibilities as architects to do things that we care for. And we are now setting up educational structures that place you, as students, you, as architects, in the situation where you can't avoid the responsibility to be careful.

The Global Practice Program, the latest chapter has academic institutional partners in many countries and in the next year has live project classrooms in Turkey, in Northern Greece, France and in other places including prisons. So, architectural education has left the building. Architectural education is now something which can be cheaper, can be less codified, and can be something that one does as a seamless part of one's everyday life. It's very exciting.

So that is the end of my brief and highly personal "derive" through architectural education. I hope you will see that architectural education is in flux and is changing radically. It's evolving, it's becoming itinerant, it's becoming agitated in a way that is really exciting. We are seeing again a moment of change as profound as those key moments I described earlier. A change driven by another period that is inherently brutal and careless that requires the architectural community to be careful and extra responsible. So please don't worry Eugene, architectural education is very much alive and I am confident that MARCH will play a major part in its future

So, thank you and good luck MARCH on your 5th birthday.
For the first time, the interview went out in a book "MARCH V" celebrating five years of operation of an entirely new School of Architecture in Russia. Issued by the TATLIN publishing house, the book is available in both English and Russian languages.
ON THE SUBJECT
EDUCATION
Narine Tyutcheva, an architect and the MARCH School teacher, reasons why the methodological consciousness is more essential than typologies knowing.
NURTURING
Eugene Asse, the MARCH School Dean, reflects the subtle process of architecture learning, and education as a form of radical architectural project.

PER FORMA
Choreographers and architecture students comprehended four significant architectural texts and treatises from the XV to the XX c. and found for them a form in a joint performance.
Made on
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