My latest BD Student Blog post cane be found here.
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*** The published version of this post can be found here ***
Last night I attended a lecture by Richard Sennett, given as the annual address at Sheffield University’s Interdisciplinary Centre of the Social Sciences (ICOSS). I’ve followed Sennett’s work since heavily referencing his book ‘The Craftsman’ as the basis for an undergraduate dissertation in which I was interested in looking closely at the practice of architecture as a craft.
In hindsight, that study was perhaps limited by a pre-occupation with the idea of architecture as a technical craft. At the time, I’d been seduced by the raw, hands on experience of building, having attended the innovative ‘Studio in the Woods’ programme and its less frantic cousin, the Spatial Structures workshop at the Dartmoor Arts Project Summer School. Simultaneously, my then school of architecture was experiencing a renewed interest in the act of making, particularly utilising its extensive array of computer-controlled fabrication equipment. I was interested in how – through the application of these digital tools – we might, as designers and digital craftsmen, become more directly involved in the production of our buildings and the translation of our creative intentions into final physical form.
However, writing generally about labour, culture and capitalist society rather than specifically about architecture, Sennett explores the notion of craftsmanship further and defines it simply as ‘doing a good job for its own sake’. A craft, he argues, is fundamentally a skilled negotiation between the craftsman and their medium, using tools and technique, and celebrating the ‘happy accidents’ of lateral thinking that feed creativity and innovation.
Whilst this might be more recognisable to practitioners as part of their craft, what is also certain also is that ‘design’ is rarely an individual task. Moreover, it is one that involves skilled social negotiation alongside those creative and technical aspects more commonly associated with it. It is this notion of co-operation that Sennett addressed at ICOSS, expressing the difference between dialectic co-operation, which assumes a common goal of consensus, and that of dialogical co-operation which recognises the natural capability of human beings to acknowledge and negotiate complex difference without necessarily understanding it. It is this capability, Sennett argues, that we develop by the age of five, and is then progressively devalued by our (western) culture, economics and technology. Dialogical conversation, says Sennett, affords creativity and innovation through ‘happy accidents’, whereas dialectical process stifles it by requiring the adhesion to a common denominator – to use Sennett’s own term, the ‘brutal simplifier’.
The question I wanted to ask, unfortunately denied by pressures of time and enthusiastic academics, was how – in a discipline such as architectural design, which depends upon dialogical conversation between stakeholders in conception and development, but remains rooted firmly in a dialectic realm of production by consensus – can we truly create and innovate in our profession as craftspeople?
As a student currently at a school of architecture located within a Faculty of Social Sciences and one having also studied within a Faculty of Art & Design, the consideration of architecture as both a technical and social craft seems to be fundamental to its successful practice. I therefore firmly recommend both ‘The Craftsman’, and Sennett’s forthcoming work on co-operation, for those who recognise the necessity of being able to work well with those who differ, as well as those we do not necessarily understand.
***The published version of this post can be found here.***
Hey! Look at me! Im a student! Its brilliant, you can do anything you want…..so why is it so hard?
Doing what you want – or perhaps knowing what you want to do – is actually quite a challenge, and a source of almost constant anxiety for all but the most driven of students. The harsh reality is that if I don’t explore this idea, or do that drawing, then it is me that loses out, and my (expensive) education that suffers. And so, looking back to that all too fleeting ‘year out’, it is difficult not to long for a source of true validation. I can’t help but feel that by necessarily raising our expectation of what we could become, architectural education also heightens the debilitating fear of failing to meet such an ambiguous goal.
It’s certainly an interesting time of year at architecture school. I am writing this as I prepare for an interim review of my entire year’s design work, with the final review in two weeks time. Needless to say, I am experiencing the heady anticipation of an imminent challenge , accompanied by manic bouts of self-doubt and the all to infrequent flurries of frantic productivity and divine clarity – not, I would say, a feeling unfamiliar to architecture students past and present. Some silently implode, some violently explode, and some cruise quietly through, miraculously stealing moments of leisure amidst the scraps of trace and plotter printouts. Some prefer the solitude of home working, fading to grey in immediate concerns of those seeking the collective therapy of the studio . Known ‘stressers’ drift between those who, having made their peace with the enduring prospect of too little sleep, have permanently installed at desks and drawing boards.
Zoe Berman recently wrote in this blog about the nature of the ‘crit’ and the diversity of opinion surrounding its role in architectural education. It is interesting to note that here at Sheffield, teaching staff are keen to refer to the experience as a ‘review’ rather than ‘crit’, playing down the anticipation of conflict in favour of a positive conversation about our general learning, seeking to develop both our skill as designers and our projects as architecture. As we approach the review, there is much debate about the balance to be struck between ‘designing’ and ‘drawing up’, with a forceful argument made by our tutors that the divide should by no means be stark and absolute. This illustrates a core principal underlying the school’s pedagogical approach, that the goal of education – of any kind – is to produce autonomous, life-long learners rather than merely ‘knowledgeable persons’. By derivation, I should reflect on how I am working, rather than what I am producing.
So what do our readers think our education is for? And how do they think we should be using it? Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to light the other end of my candle….
***The published post can be found here.***
Having recently returned to my Part-2 studies, I have had the opportunity to reflect upon my year out, which was spent helping to establish an unusual model of practice at Hill Holt Wood (HHW), an award-winning Social Enterprise based in rural Lincolnshire. HHW operates not only as a sustainable woodland management and conservation outfit, but also as a school and training provider for troubled and under-employed young people in the local community. Facing almost non-existent employment prospects, two colleagues and I were able to use our graduate skills to exploit the business’ embodied knowledge of sustainable building and establish a student-led design office that specialises in eco-build – now continuing to employ students in its second and third years of operation.
Having enjoyed the hands-on experience of building, the fulfilling sense of facilitating a design process rather than imposing one, and the realisation that architecture as practice is both dependant and depended upon by the community it serves, I have become interested in other ways in which students of architecture might apply their skills to responsibly bring about change in the built environment. With evidence presented almost daily of dwindling employment prospects, I am fully open to the idea that our profession as it currently stands may be fundamentally unsustainable.
A recent colloquia, entitled ‘Social Enterprise: Lessons For Architects’ and facilitated by humanitarian change-agents Architecture Sans Frontières-UK , has been able to bring together a thought-provoking array of individuals operating within an as-yet under-explored area of architectural practice. The conference was of particular interest to me as in celebrates the kind of entrepreneurial ambition flavouring our endeavours at HHW. A base premise of social entrepreneurship is that a reduced financial reward is accepted alongside an auditable demonstration of social or environmental gain. There has been recent political support for the model, alongside access to funding and development grants not normally accessible by the private sector.
A number of cases were presented in which processes of participation and community engagement in the design process (Studio Tilt, Cristina Cerulli/Anna Holder) sat alongside impassioned advocacy for fundamental change in the way that architects facilitate and procure change within the built environment (Inderpaul Johar – 00:/, Jonathan Essex – Bioregional). Having witnessed the inspiring diversity of thought, it seems to me that the term ‘alternative practice’ does not necessarily encapsulate the tangible hunger that can be felt amongst students at schools such as Sheffield for something other than an office-based desk job. Indeed the word ‘alternate’ may be more appropriate – allowing for the practice of those skills that already successfully define us as a profession, alongside those which we will need to develop to best exploit the changing context in which we operate. Social Enterprise, to me, seems to represent a fitting business model for a profession that – bound by its own Code of Conduct – aspires to show ‘proper concern and due regard for the effect that their work may have on its users and the local community’.