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A more human architecture

Published on Friday, 07 Dec 2012
Photo: iStockphoto
Professor Nader Tehrani
Photo: CUHK

How do you train the architects and engineers of tomorrow? How do you build something permanent when the digital age is defined by obsolescence? And how do you design a school for the designers of the future?

Fresh ideas on architectural experimentations and evolving views on the profession's social role emerged when deans and professors from 20 architecture schools from all over the globe converged at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) in October for a symposium convened to mark the second decade of its School of Architecture.

In his keynote speech, Professor Nader Tehrani, head of the Department of Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) School of Architecture + Planning, posited going beyond the usual methods of teaching.

"I'm often asked, 'How do you prepare the students for practice?' My standard response is, 'We don't.' If we did, we would be preparing them for something that is on the verge of obsolescence. They need to redefine practice as we know it to produce new forms of knowledge," he said.

Tehrani is also the founder of the NADAAA practice, where the main mode of research is testing to failure.

"Without failure, there is no advancement. A lot of what we do tries to go outside of our comfort zone, venturing into places that may, in fact, elaborate or expand the boundaries of the architectural discipline," Tehrani said.

"Instead of becoming recipients of building-industry culture, you can have change through the kind of experiments we're doing at the school. MIT has a variety of departments that can potentially radicalise what we do in design," he added.

Another school that is pioneering new ways to approach architectural design is the College of Environmental Design at the University of California (UC), Berkeley.

"Maintaining the human being at the centre of architecture in the urban enterprise is an important dimension of our architectural pedagogy," said UC Berkeley Professor Margaret Crawford. "The ideas of everyday life - people's everyday cycles, their dreams, hopes and views of the future - are important information that really should be the basis of the work we do."

UC Berkeley projects are also multidisciplinary, with anthropology as one of the key disciplines. "A particularly significant dimension of anthropology is self-awareness and a self-critical attitude, which is often lacking in our designs schools," she added.

Responding to these ideas, Professor Colin Fournier of University College London, UK, and visiting professor at CUHK, noted that particular schools tend to be identified with certain positions, ideologies and agendas.

"It's important that a school should have a diversity of positions. A really strong school of architecture has to have antagonistic positions. Few schools are able to nurture that multiplicity," he said.

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