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Dual-course Architectural Education…

The more I spend time in studio with different years at the Sheffield School of Architecture, the more it seems like those students that study on dual courses (landscape and architecture, engineering and architecture, etc.) are better equipped / suited to design-based education. At a basic level, I guess you can suppose that studying two ‘subjects’ is more reflective of actual design practice than studying only one, simply because ‘designing’ usually involves multiple points of reference and interaction with a diversity of professionals. But I also believe that a breadth of interest and focus reinforce the idea of inter-dependency behind most good design, and certainly behind most good design practice.

Within the particular focus of our ‘ARC571 – Reflections on Architectural Education’ module – learner autonomy – it has been particularly useful to work (however briefly) with two students from the landscape/architecture dual course. My current knowledge is that these students engage with teaching from both the Landscape and Architecture Departments at the school in their first year, before picking a discipline to specialize in for the remaining two years of their undergraduate degree. Each project comes with different and potentially conflicting briefings from each department and the students are expected to resolve them in their projects. This early necessity to ‘pick and choose’ from the priorities, demands and advice of their teaching staff, in my opinion, results a more readily adopted idea of autonomy than their counterparts on the straight BA Architecture course. Being a small group of students in relation to the whole cohort, and being obviously recognized as ‘different’ by their assignment to a dedicated ‘tutor group’ (as well as attendance of a specific programme), I also feel that these students are drawn together more easily than the others. There is a camaraderie that comes with an anxiety of personal choice clearly embodied; they help each other out more readily; they crit each other; they offer each other advice. When, as 5th Year students, we venture into the undergraduate studio seeking to offer ‘tutorials’ in order to satisfy another requirement of ARC571, it is the dual-course students that accept the offers most enthusiastically. They simply recognize the opportunity to air some ideas, and gather some feedback. They’ll say “That sounds really interesting. But no thanks, I don’t think it suits my project in this case. How about this…?”.

From my own experience on undergraduate architectural education, I distinctly remember feeling that those students that had either done an Art Foundation year, or taken a particular kind of ‘gap year’ were more suited to the particular style of education found in design disciplines. This observation is echoed by colleagues I have at this and other institutions. Is there something to be said, then, for recommending that architecture shouldn’t be taught as a distinct discipline? Or maybe it already isn’t, and we just need to be more explicit about its ‘inter-related-ness’? I think the important point, however, is that simply having a wider, more inclusive ‘focus’ doesn’t contribute anything to the autonomy of students. In the case of the dual-landscape/architecture students, it is the existence of multiple, specific foci that necessitates and autonomous approach.

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