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The Wrong Ethics: what teaching architecture is actually for

By Timothy Brittain-Catlin


Architecture schools have few friends. One problem exacerbated in recent times is that of administrative streamlining in universities and funding councils, which tends to prefer word-based over visual skills. This affects not only timetabling and examination procedures but more widely research and funding opportunities; specifically, methods of assessing architectural design and research tend to be quantitative and logical. All of these in turn affect the ability to foster a visual and spatial culture amongst undergraduate designers. An architecture school which is distracted from this primary duty is a school that faces an ethical problem.\ud \ud In the autumn of 2008, a group of 19 students from the Kent School of Architecture engaged in a term-long project with pupils from a recently established academy, in the north-west of the county, in which the pupils acted as ‘clients’ for an imagined partial redesign of their school campus. This was an empirical exercise and not a structured one: rather than aiming to meet particular goals, we wanted to see what issues would arise from the process. Indeed, reactions from those involved in the collaboration raised a series of questions about how architecture students should spend their time – and how the nature of the responsibility an architecture school has to its region could be defined.\ud \ud Overall, however, the purpose of our collaboration with school children was for them to have fun, and maybe for some of them to discover what working with buildings and ideas about buildings is actually about. From it we hope to gain allies, people who one day will understand what makes buildings tick; and that’s part of our responsibility to the region where we are located. As far as our own students were concerned, it was an experiment in pushing them to meet unexpected demands, the kind that can’t be quantified in advance. In that latter respect it was problematic, because the same students found that their peers, following a more conventional route in their studies, were able to quantify more exactly what they had done or needed to do. The old devil thus raised its head again. The project needs revisiting with the benefit of experience, and we will do so this autumn.\u

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