If Architecture itself is a myth then what are architecture students supposed to believe in? Architectural education is often thought to be reactionary and unresponsive to market forces but my perception is that it’s attuned all too well. There’s no shortage of digital students who’ve picked up on image and perception management being everything. For them, architecture is an endless learning curve of new software skills. Their modern career begins with being accepted into a starchitect intern farm where they’ll compete to generate daring development envelopes and appropriately dramatic or atmospheric visualizations. But what becomes of the analog architecture student who has a complete set of skills no longer needed to produce this new architecture of the present?
Being able to see the bigger picture is not something wanted by employers despite the analog student being more likely to know what’s important by having observed it and processed it.
The analog student will generate proposals that succeed as visual compositions even if they are no better or worse than any other student at balancing the equally real contexts of urban planning and development gain. Their problem is with perception management. They don’t understand how the new modern architect “sees” physical context as a driver to generate forms representing the future of global society, and how this is more important than satisfying any provincial concerns. The bigger picture the analog student sees is not the new and bigger one.
Sketching has no place in the new way of doing architecture. We already knew this since sketching isn’t a skill employers are advertising for. It may be quicker when it comes to communicating an idea but, when the only type of idea needed is a crowd-pleasing shape that maximises development gain, Sketchup is sufficient to model the magical ROI+α volume. On the perception management side of things, everyone’s happy with digital visualizations because they “look more real”. The real problem is that sketching is thinking and, as such, poses multiple threats to the new architecture.
It’s evidence someone can observe and decide for themselves what’s important. Not good.
It’s evidence someone is trying to understand something for themselves. Again, ungood.
It’s evidence someone is weighing alternatives – a subversive activity in a world where the best solution is the one presented loudest.
Sketching is evidence someone can imagine something, can think of how much nicer something might be – and that’s absolutely the last thing wanted.
Finally, sketching is evidence someone enjoys having their eyes, brain and hand work together. It displays a shocking lack of reverence for our new digital technologies and the 0-1 world they are being used to create.
Physical modelling skills similarly have no place in this new way of doing architecture. Everyone wants perfect 3D printing NOW so the human link between idea and modelmaking can be eliminated in precisely the same way as the new architecture attempts to eliminate all trace of the human labour that went into its production.
As it is with sketching, making a physical model shows someone wants to understand something and this is not the way to impress zeitgeisty architectural employers intent on providing an architecture of affect that’s beyond understanding.
Software skills aren’t exclusive to the digital student as the analog student is not ignorant when it comes to software.
The analog student is likely to be an AutoCAD user because, much like a pencil, it doesn’t do anything unless you push it. The analog student sees no beauty in the object libraries enthusiastically embraced by digital students sensitive to time and labour efficiencies. The analog student views object library parts as external intrusions that are flawed in principle as well as by overdesign, overcomplexity, excessive file size and inherent bugginess. The analog student measures real things that work and then designs their own components to be clean and light. Analog students don’t map other people’s textures.
Ultimately, the problem the analog student has with digital tools is the same problem they have with analog ones. They insist on using them to either design things their own way or to understand things their own way. They use technology on their own terms and for their own ends. As such, they have all the signs of a misfit architect.
What place is there for the analog student? They have the complete set of skills not required of those who are to generate our brave new architecture.
• • •
We hope there will be a place for you sometime soon.
In the meantime, wherever you are,
misfits salutes you!
• • •
Hello Lee and thanks,
Afterwards I thought that the digital student / analog student divide perhaps isn’t as binary as what I made it out to be but nor is it a sliding scale. I know of digitally proficient students who don’t see being digitally proficient as an end in itself or as some superior way of designing, but merely as a way of communicating something already imagined. It’s just a different medium, nothing more. To be fair, simply holding a pencil doesn’t make a person a great conceptualizer but analog tools have probably fallen out of favour because they make faking it more difficult. The students aren’t the only ones to blame for this.
I love the sarcasm, but it gets at a very relevant point. Since the use of computers, there has been a belief among many that since architectural practice is changing, all of it needs to change and elements of our legacy can become historical, but irrelevant. The initial push back is often a misunderstanding (or straw man argument), that the desire to sketch or use analog methods are intended as a (inefficient) production tool rather than a thinking tool. Those who are digital natives often claim they think better with digital tools rather than a mere #2 pencil. However, the outcome of that is proving, from what I see being built, to be a bit shallow. I think this article covers it well.
My undergraduate class was one of the last, with parallel rulers strapped to our first year drawing boards, all of which had been completely replaced with computer setups and 3D printing labs by my fifth year. I lament the pedagogy that is lost on these new students, the way of ‘thinking’ architecturally that they’ll have to learn somewhere, somehow, and someday. . . God forbid their multi-thousand dollar education teach it. I can’t thank my tutors enough for giving me these tools. I couldn’t imagine being a non-drawing architect, it would just seem ludicrous to even try.