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New tools of the trade

Published on Friday, 07 Dec 2012
Photo: iStockphoto
Christine Hawley
Photo: CUHK

The ability to work across different disciplines is becoming more and more important for architects and engineers.

This is a fact well understood by Christine Hawley, professor of architectural design at the Bartlett School of Architecture at University College London. She has worked in a multidisciplinary environment for most of her career, including stints as a lecturer at the "radical" Architectural Association (AA) School of Architecture, and as head of the School of Architecture at the University of East London.

Even when she was dean of Bartlett and head of the Faculty of the Built Environment from 1999 to 2009, Hawley's scope has always gone beyond architecture, into areas such as conservation, planning, construction, spatial analysis and energy consumption.

In her speech at the symposium marking the 20th year of the Chinese University of Hong Kong's (CUHK) School of Architecture in October, Hawley cited an almost invisible thread that ties various generations together at both AA and Bartlett.

She believes that the education of architects is not merely a technical process, but also the product of place and cultural context. "Although there is much that schools share through international exchange and shared professional requirements, there are essential characteristics that can only be the product of geography, history and people," she said.

She stressed the importance of the people we associate with and their influences. "This includes those who we've worked with when we were students. All schools are products of individuals in the community."

The issue of cultural legacy, Hawley added, was almost impossible to analyse because it was an invisible influence.

"It is important because cultural legacy not only shapes what we've learned, it also shapes our attitude towards work," she said.

"What we experience in Europe is not going to be the same as what you experience in Hong Kong and China. The identity of the legacy that you create and pass on to the next generation is also going to be different."

Hawley cited the lively spirit of inquiry into the behaviour and characteristics of the human body in space, which students at the AA were already experimenting with using primitive models 25 years ago, but which Bartlett students were also exploring years later, albeit with more advanced tools.

Hawley warned architecture teachers not to get left behind by the extraordinary speed at which students are picking up skills using new software.

As a visiting architecture professor at CUHK two years ago, Hawley said she was astonished at how open-minded and globally aware local university students were.

"There's a much greater feeling of sensitivity. Maybe it has to do with access to information," she said.

"There is an opportunity to instil in the students the idea that experimentation is possible. It is absolutely possible to engage not only students, but also a wider audience that goes beyond the immediate architectural domain," she added.

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