Detours and Denouements

Rapid and extreme scalar oscillations. Student work by Alexander Thomas (top) and Jonathan Fidalgo (bottom), prepared for Architectural Design6, ARC 3321, Spring 2013. Instructor: Bradley Walters.
Rapid and extreme scalar oscillations. Student work from Architectural Design 6, ARC 3321, Spring 2013. Instructor: Bradley Walters.

Architectural education is challenged by the pressing needs of a changing profession. With increasing costs and diminishing fees, firms deploy digital tools and/or outsource work to more efficiently deliver design services. Schools are similarly streamlining processes, responding to charged professional and political environments. With constrained funding, curricula at many schools are being abridged, shifting programs progressively further from a broad-based liberal-arts education and towards highly specialized professional training. Schools are increasingly pressured to provide students with marketable technical skills that can be applied immediately. This has created a deepening debate surrounding education and training.

It is too simplistic to simply posit these positions as diametrically opposed, with the scientist and poet (or technician and theorist) battling one another for students, funding, and/or validation. The indeterminacy of contemporary architectural discourses, in particular, require professionals skilled in the kind of “rigorous artistry” outlined by Donald Schön in his seminal Educating the Reflective Practitioner, which serves as an important reference for the current research. To educate students for both the near- and long-terms, we must develop both refined technical skills and broad-based reflective thinking that together can sustain and fuel a lifelong love of learning through making.

This paper begins with this premise, elucidating studio practices that allow for students to answer direct quantifiable questions with great precision and specificity, while also developing the ability to ask open-ended questions. Nonlinear studio practices begin by providing students with the clarity of certain known goals, while consciously interrupting their paths with meaningful detours and/or denouements along the way. Of particular importance are those exercises that may change the terms of the argument, unsettle formerly known territories, or create unexpected synergies amongst unlikely partners. The work requires planning, intense coaching, management of students’ expectations, and a certain willingness of students to suspend disbelief along the way.

This work will be presented at the Association of Architectural Educators UK (AAE) Conference 2013 at Nottingham Trent University, 3 – 5 April 2013.  For more information on the conference, go to:

A link to the full paper is available here.