Drawing the line: A discussion on Architectural Education and Technology

Posted by modlar in BIM, Guest Blog Appearance on February 28th, 2013 2 Comments
Editors Note: Rebecca De Cicco is currently employed with KSS Architects in London, specializing in the digital design process and technology. In her role Rebecca manages the BIM implementation and process and works with teams to develop solutions in the way our digital toolset can be utilized to change the way we work. Rebecca most recently joined the BIM2050 group and is passionate about thought leadership, change and influence in the industry today. She has always had a strong passion for digital technologies and how they can begin to shape the way we work and help to provide for a more informed design process along the way. Rebecca is also an integral part of the twitter #UKBIMcrew whose main intention is to promote and share knowledge openly, discuss and debate and ultimately drive those willing to learn and understand future processes.
 Twitter: @becdecicco
Website: http://rebeccadecicco.blogspot.co.uk/

I remember sitting in a studio in my first year of University, a bright eyed 17 year old thinking that it was an amazing day, coupled not only with a few aspiring young and eager students, but the day I would change my life forever in the way my thoughts and mind processed ideas. The sheer magnitude of what it meant to be an Architect reigned true in my young and naive mind. I wanted to be the best at what I did – no matter what industry I chose. As much as my education in Architecture was aligned to how current Architectural theory was progressing, it was not entirely aligned with how rapid technology was moving. I understood I needed to engage in digital manipulation of form and narrative on all levels, but was not encouraged or pushed to do so. The way that these theoretical guidelines were developing as a process meant a lot to me, but I also knew then that I needed to build a skill-set within the digital realm for a real world connection – this thinking was rare I’ve come to realise. Most students were happy to naively sketch and create drawings without acknowledgement of developing their software skills and digital ideas. The degree for me and what it represented was not about learning to construct data intelligent buildings – it was about learning to theorise and extrapolate ideas in varying ways to drive complex form. I stand by and value what I gained from my degree in this way. It has ultimately allowed me to become the person I am today, but what I am now led to believe is that Architectural theory and design – and Architectural Practice in the real world are two very distinct and different processes that must come together. They both represent very different directions in career and in approach to building form both virtually and in the real world. I believe it is this disconnection that governs why we have some fundamental issues in Education and its disconnect from the rapid movements in embracing BIM as a process in Architecture. It is not about software, it is not about what our narrative and theoretical process is, it is that if we do include the BIM process or any other form of real world association to the degree we will have a generation of professionals not capable. The hesitation I believe is that there is a school of thought that the BIM process will not allow students to freely think – freely create form, and in turn become beautifully creative designers. I do not believe this is the case. If we did not theorise Kristeva, Nietzsche or Freud would we be better designers? This is debatable.

The reality is that a large portion of students are graduating our Universities with some unrealistic dreams as outlined above but with no connection to the real world. We are bombarded for 5 or so years with the process side of an Architectural degree and less about the realistic nature of how we build. Yes we will all grasp and cling onto varying elements of the degree that we have passion for but I believe we need to allow a more informed and connected approach to real world examples. This is not foreign, not something that only exists in one University over another, it seems to be a universal problem out there. I believe it is something that we need to come to grasps with and ultimately try to change so that we have an informed generation of industry professionals we can bring on board when we are managing our own organisations. What concerns me is that education is too far removed from industry, the way we teach, our education system (albeit only slightly varied across different universities in the world) expels young industry professionals into a world not aligned with one they evolve through whilst studying. I believe it is an Architectural problem predominantly, mainly because that is the world I am closely connected to, but for other industries and careers alike the education and real world connections are still too disjointed.

 The industry is changing, BIM adoption is moving rapidly in the UK and in the world and the way we see this heading in Architectural design is not entirely a positive one. Organizations will change, the roles are changing, design theory and guideline also, but I do not believe at all that the influence of our changed process in BIM should affect this. I believe we need to filter a pragmatic approach while retaining the strong theoretical process and narrative. A good Architectural graduate is one that can theorize space, and make it real. If that is not the drive for the student then they have chosen the wrong career. I was once told to ‘put those ideas up on a shelf’ regarding my strong theoretical approach to design which i found bizarre. Surely what I was taught i should utilize? I find it offensive when buildings are created with no real narrative – with no idea about why the facade turns or twists or moulds into something else. For me BIM is not going to change this at all. BIM should actually aid in this development. BIM shouldn’t be something separate from our world as designers, it should be embedded in it. There are various arguments about when to begin this process and how to do so and I do not believe this is relevant either. Technology will continue to develop just as the designs of our buildings do – this does not mean we’ll be designing ill informed space. This simply reiterates that we must adopt these changes and continually mould our education process to align to an ever changing profession.

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    It’s quite sad that universities seem to turn a blind eye on the real world (then again, why would lecturers need to worry about that if those skills are not applicable to them?) Unfortunately the older generation whom is teaching are generally at the point of not wishing to grasp new technology at all. And the elitist design theorists turn their noses vertical at anything computer-assisted, creating a strong anti-CAD culture.

    The pragmatic approach would require currently trained individuals to re-write curriculums – these individuals are not in universities, but at work! A rollover in teaching would take at least a generation, perhaps always leaving it one step behind. I guess the least they could do is somewhat advise students what the real world requires; I heard no such comment during my 5 years and feel like I will be forever catching up on CAD skills.

    Technological advances in processes are just as important as any design theory – they need to be kept somewhat parallel in teaching for generations to be able to survive in future practice conditions.

  • http://twitter.com/becdecicco Rebecca De Cicco

    My thinking is that there should be a break down in the type of degree that students study. I feel that an Architecture degree should be focused on real world approaches but coupled with a strong theoretical process. This is somehow lost as some students excel in one area over the other. In some ways the structure in the UK (eg. Part 1/2 and 3 etc) is a good way to field out where students specialize but it is also very difficult to do this as most believe – we learn in the real world and we are not prepared for it after a University degree. This is true in some cases and not in others – it is very disjointed. We need to be reminded what we are actually studying to be and how we monitor the change in culture, process and technology and its influences on education.



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