architecture / essay

Architecture Pedagogy – Thinking outside the (school)box


Figure 1: Peter Cook ‘s cartoon depiction of the world of architectural education

In 1989, Peter Buchanan wrote “What’s wrong with architectural education? Almost everything.”

In 2012, he revisited the issue in The Big Rethink part 9: Rethinking Architectural Education, stating that little has changed and the current architectural education is neither current nor credible. Others also voiced their agreements, namely Will Hunter Alternative Routes for Architecture“, Beatriz C. et al Radical Pedagogies in Architecture Education, etc.

Within that same year, London Evening Standard article “A degree in architecture, but all I can get are mental jobs” sent ripple across the design community. Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce’s report, cited by CNNMoney, put architecture in one of the hardest degree to find a job & earn a living.

In 2013, I graduated from University, freshly entered the industry, and started to understand (as an outsider) some of the irrelevance of the education that i had been a part of.

In 2014, Quartz magazine published an article titled “If you want a job, don’t major in Architecture” with data from the New York Federal Reserve’s report. Many of my friends are still looking for jobs. Many more have switched to other degree such as Construction Management, Property, Landscape Architecture, etc…

What brought us here? How can we be better educated for the profession? are the two questions that this essay will explore.


Figure 1: Unemployment among college graduates by major, 2009-2011

Suspect 01 – The studio:

Considered as the backbone of the architecture education, traditional design studio has long been criticized for its lack of social relevance, practicality & collaboration. Too often students focus on their own individual projects with minimal group work. Urged (either by their tutors or by their own creative egos) to redefine the wheel (sometimes even the law of physics), they present schemes that might even make Zaha Hadid chuckles.

Having sat on many architecture school’s jury panel, Oliver Wainwright expressed his frustration: “Time and time again, the projects seemed intent on fleeing the real world of people and places, scale and context; retreating instead into fantasy realms of convoluted forms with no seeming purpose. […] Clouds of lines and layers were regularly employed as a smokescreen to disguise the fact that there wasn’t really an idea at all: visual complexity masking conceptual thinness.”

“What is left out of university education is the ordinary” echoed Colin Ward – famous British anarchist thinker 2.

‘Teach more about the realities of practice, and less blue sky thinking. We were often told that you’d never be able to build most of what we design in school, so why encourage it?’’ asked Jenny Dobson, Market Research Co-ordinator at RIBA



Figure 2 & 3: RIBA Skills Survey Report 2014 of 149 employers and 580 architectural students in UK

Within the curriculum of most school, students are introduced to a range of form-making technique, visual sophistication and “wow architecture” at a much earlier stage than they were taught about less appealing aspects like flashing, downpipe, or budget, procurement, ecologically sustainable development (ESD), etc. This has created a generation of designers who care more about how good it looks rather than how well it performs (see the astounding 1715 Guggenheim competition entries).

In addition, the “crit”- traditionally visioned to be a platform where ideas can be constructively shared, critique, reviewed and developed – has now become students’ nightmare, with unnecessary stress and fear 3. Students adopt a defensive instead of a constructive attitude during their presentation. 3

Suspect 02 – The institution:

Universities and colleges of today no longer serve purely as educational institutes but also have to be profitable as business entities, with certain level of bureaucracy & administration. In the case of an architectural school, this structure are usually compartmentalised & silo-ed into faculties (i.e architecture, urban planning, landscape architecture, property,…), which often prove to be not only too slow & rigid in responding and adapting to the speed of change within the industry and the discourse, but also threatening to the collaborating experience and sharing of knowledge. In addition, this inflexible,  risk-averse & commercially-oriented bureaucracy challenges the notion of innovation and experimentation, both of which deem crucial to not just architectural but any educating system 4. The situation is furthered aggravated by the narrowed entry point for students from related field (i.e engineering, arts or planning); while having multiple exit points (or “failure points” as Rory Stott put it) that see many students change to other disciplines. Has the institution become obsolete for design education? “If we are to promote access, inclusivity and diversity in the profession, and ensure an adequate pipeline of new talent, there will need to be more exploration of alternative and flexible study modes and practice-located study periods” said Adrian Dobson, Director of Practice at RIBA, wrote in the institute’s 2014 skills survey report.

Suspect 03 – The cost of knowledge:

Pursuing the profession has become too expensive. In 2011, university fees in England tripled from £3290 to £9000 5. Students attending top universities will likely incur a £100,000 debt by the time they graduate, possible into an even more job-deprived market, with a near-impossible task of paying that debt, raise a family, and hopefully enjoying life (or what’s left of it) 5.

In Australia, the 2014 budget delivered by Treasurer Joe Hockey provide a similarly grim future. Its impacts on architectural educations include:
– potential huge leap in tuition fee from university following the government’s deregulation policy and the 20% slashing of public funding to university from the government 6;
-huge amount of debt, as a result, placed on students who will have to partake more than three year study to enter the profession,6
-low average graduate architect wage (47,613$) failing to meet the minimum HECS repayment threshold (50,638$), resulting in a minimum debt of +78,000$ over four years (also as result of the newly introduced 6% interest compound annually) 6

Another “cost” is time. In order to go into one of the poorest-paid professions, it takes, on average, 10 years in UK and 7 years in Australia. This will create an artificial barrier that prevents the less-wealthy students to undertake such a lengthy course. Phillip Johnson’s quote starts to ring true: “the first rule of architecture is be born rich, the second rule is, failing that, to marry wealthy”.

Such high cost of studying, lengthy course & low wage have seen many people departing the profession hoping to acquire a more financial stable jobs 6. We lose faith in the profession at the time when it is needed the most.

Time of crisis is a time for change. 20th century architecture has witness many radical pedagogical movements that “shake foundations, disturbing assumptions rather than reinforcing and disseminating them” 7. What lessons can we learn from such past precedents as we move towards the uncertain future, filled with financial hardship, technological advancement, socio-political transformations and cultural merge/shifts.

Early 20th century

Up until the early 20th century, the architectural discourse had been dominated by a small number of institutions & their educating system, most noticeably the Ecole des Beaux Art & Bauhaus school. At the same time, criticism had been increasingly aimed at these schools for its irrelevance of teaching methods.


Figure 4: Protest at the Unite Pedagogique No.6 Paris

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Figure 5 & 6 (left to right): The political backdrop of the 1970 Black Panther trials & the burning down of Yale School of Architecture coincided with the architectural conversations surrounding urban housing issue.

In 1968, student revolution broke out at the Unite Pedagogique No 6 in Paris, accusing the Beaux-Arts School for being incapable of addressing architecture’s relationship to contemporary social and political maladies 7. The school, along with its provincial ally the Unite Pedagogique d’Architecture Nantes, used architectural interventions as the vehicle for political activism, with project spanning from the magazine Tout! focusing on urban struggles, the Front Homosexual d’Action Revolutionnaire seeking social recognition of homosexuality, to the Mouvement de Liberation des Femmes supporting feminist movement, and the so-called “wild course” (cours sauvage) protesting against educational reform promoted by the Ministry of Culture8. Such legacy still reverberates even until today when in 2012 the students of the Ecole de Nantes built a series of wooden shacks to support the “ZADists” of Notre-Dame-des-Landes and to protest against the construction of an ariport.8

In 1967, similar demand for a new structure in teaching and learning brought about the upheaval of the School of Architecture in Valparaiso, Chile 7.

In 1969, the Yale School of Art and Architecture was burnt, allegedly by students in the midst of the Black Panther trials as well as the ongoing discussion regarding urban housing issue at the time. Political unrest had fueled architectural debates which in turn challenged normative architectural educations.

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Figure 7 (above):Cedric Price & Alvin Boyarski at AA 1975; Figure 8 (below): Cedric Price “Potteries Thinkbelt”

One of the most significant advocate for the liberation of architecture was Cedric Price. As an architect, he prioritised out-of-the-box and relational thinking in design over traditional apprenticeship & model of architecture as craft. He also denounced modernism’s objectivity and emphasised the role of the end user in the completion of the building 9. As an educator, he valued “process, not product” as well as “learning by doing” principle, which he applied to his experimentation at AA during 1960s 9. Such mantra empowered the students & encouraged them to take hold of their education. This is best seen through “Taskforce”- an AA program requiring contractual responsibility of students to define what they wanted to achieve that year 9. As a public polemicist, he advocated for the renewal of architectural education in and outside of UK 9. He guest-edited the May 1968 issue of Architectural Design “Learning”, among people like Peter Cook, Norman Foster,etc 9… The issue featured his Atom project – a research on the Potteries Thinkbelt scheme in collaboration with students from Rice University – consisting of a network of terminal that would act as educational and information facilities 9. This again promoted the idea of a project as an educational tool and the notion of learning through moving, traveling & displacement. He also contributed to the 1970 Archigram #9 issue “The Cedric Price Column” on future for British architecture school, nomadic students and the concept of mobility in education9.

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Figure 9: AA/AD/Polyark Bus tour

Another project that resonate with AA’s continuous effort in using new forms of learning was the AD/AA/Polyark bus tour, a collaboration between Cedric Price, Peter Murray – technical editor of AD, and the AA 10. Students converted an old double-decked bus and toured around Britain, visioning it as an educational experiment of architecture’s sociopolitical agency, community outreach and new communication technologies (preluding the creation of Communications Unit at the AA in 1973-1974)10. The project was not without any struggles – construction difficulties, logistic problems, technical challenges – all of which were embraced by all as “learning through process not product”10.

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Figure 10 & 11 (left to right): Alvin Boyarsky on the cover of AD 1972; Dynamat project by AA students Mark Fisher & Simon Connolly, 1971 exploring inflatable materials and its capability to create flexible spaces.

Another equally forward thinking chairman of the AA alongside Cedric Price was Alvin Boyarsky. From 1971 to 1990, he developed the “unit system” with vertical studio teaching model as the foundation of the school’s educational program, encouraging tutors to experiment and critic architecture through the medium of pedagogy11. His vision of the school was to be a critic of society rather than merely its provider or form giver. In 1972, as director of the IID Independent Summer Sessions, he intended to structure the school as a “well-laid table and a platform for free-ranging souls”, allowing students, architects, historians, designers and urban planners from across the world to join in a 6-week-long programs of lectures, seminars, and workshops – a “supermarket for exchange of ideas”11. This informal and somehow unregulated structure directly challenged traditional formal education of the time, reclaiming a role for the school of architecture as the crux of architectural culture and disciplinary reinvention11.

Figure 12: Press release of the Universitas Project, 1972

Speculations for a new education system were widely discussed by the architectural community, most noticeably the 1972 symposium The Universitas Project by Emilio Ambasz at MoMA New York alongside architects, historians, writers, artists, philosophers, scientist and educators, namely French sociologists Henri Lefebvre , Alain Touraine, French philosopher Michel Foucault, Mexian poet Octavio Paz, Argentine design theorist and educator Tomas Maldonado, Peter Eisenman, Joseph Rykwert, etc 7… Sponsored jointly by MoMA & the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies, the conference aimed to establish in New York an for “environmental design” since “neither the intellectual tools nor the pedagogical institution of contemporary design could deal with the constellation of forces deriving from the socioeconomic context”, said Emilio12. Although eventually the school could not be realized, the movement constituted one of the most extensive engagements across architectural, technological and theoretical disciplines.

Figure 13: From “Learning from Las Vegas” book

The exploration of external methodologies became another aperture through which to question architecture where different schools around the world undertook this new approach during the 1960-80, most notably Robert Venturi & Denise Scott Brown’s studio ‘Learning from Las Vegas’ in 1968 and ‘Learning from Levittown’ in 1970 at Yale School of Architecture, considered as the cornerstone of postmodernism and two of the most seminal architectural and urban treatises of the 20th century 13. Situation between architecture and urban planning, science and the arts, “Learning from Las Vegas” was a prototype for accommodating urban research within architectural education, stressing the need for new representational media such as photography and film to document and analyse contemporary city, beside conventional maps & charts13.

Other radical architectural pedagogy further aspired to transgress its disciplinary limits. From Buckminster Fuller’s dome-construction workshops questioning global issue of resource management; to Charles & Ray Eames design education in India 7. From the radical experiments with cybernetic and artificial intelligence at MIT by the Architecture Machine Group, connecting architecture and an expanding world of computation; to the College of Environmental Design at the University of Berkeley’s approach to transform architects into political agent, investing in interdisciplinary methodologies including sociology, policy making and regional planning 7. All bears similar vision: to transform students into an architectural intellectuals, who understands the ethical and sociopolitical role of the profession in the midst of globalisation and technology advancement7.

Late 20th century – Early 21th century

If the challenge of those early movements were to deal with enormous jump in technology as well as sociopolitical shift in the postwar era, ones may find that the issue the profession faces today is surprisingly not that dissimilar. The paradigm of computation and technology skyrocketed, none has more profound impact than the advent of the internet. Sharing/obtaining knowledge becomes extremely easy and incredibly fast. Information is now globalised, mostly free, yet is harder to filter and digest.

During which time, the profession and its associated education have rather little change. Architecture education in UK is still based on a 7-year model that emerged from the RIBA Conference on Architectural Education in 1958 1. It has slowly diminished our part in shaping society and culture. The proliferation of sub-consultants, the rise of contractor-led procurement have increasingly sidelined the role of the architect in the making of a building1. Instead of redefining & renewing our skills, architects become lesser and lesser involved in the sociopolitical scene, ‘sheepishly retreat to the self-imposed exile of the drawing board, creating ever more abstract and autonomous visions, but not for society, for each other.’14 .We allow technology to dictate our creativity – the one thing that separate us from other professions. Students are too well equipped with algorithmic-driven software, 3D applications and other form-driven gadgets that they forgot what architecture is about.

If we want to regain our place, never a more crucial time than now to consider how architects/planners/urban designer should be educated. Some have already started experimenting. New surge of pedagogical movements supports “proto-practice” model which considers “school not as an established hierarchy, but as an orchestrated network, including a range of expert consultants, different disciplines and other institutions. It should offer the opportunity to experiment, to push and test ideas away from commercial pressures, to think how architecture might better operate as a spatial and urban problem solver”5.

Alongside such new model of teaching, different tertiary systems have also been investigated. In 2014, The Architecture Student Network (ASN) organised “Line Drawn” for 70 RIBA Part 1, 2 & 3 students to discuss changes to the education system. A general consensus were agreed among participants that while the required time for qualifications should be less, more attention should be paid on providing practical skills, teamwork, real designing and building etc. even if it means “creativity” can be dampened.These movements were sparked by the Bologna Agreement and the European Union Directives which aim to establish more uniformity across Europe when it comes to qualifications and mutual recognition of the architect’s title. And the voices do not go unheard. In 2015, a special RIBA council meeting was held to respond both to the European Union legislative changes to the Professional Qualifications Directive statute, and to the call for change of the architectural education. Agreement was met on the reduction of five full time years of study to four, with three years of paid work (professional practical experience); granted access to ARB register allowing students to use the title ‘Architect’ when finished without having to go through Part III certification. In essence, this could shorten the road to becoming Architects up to 3 years.

Australia similarly has suggested a 3-year degree model focusing on small-scale residential projects and then a further 2 years could be pursued by those desire to work on larger civic projects 6.

Within the confine of this essay,15 exemplary educational programs & initiatives has been selected and described below for their architectural and design-focused agenda as well as their social impacts.


Radical Pedagogies -Beatriz Colomina & Princeton University School of Architecture

Figure 14: Radical Pedagogies at the Venice Biennale 2014
This collaborative research project compiles of past schools and programs from around the world that were considered revolutionary and progressive during the postwar period. RP highlights the emergence of new poles of architectural thinking following the social changes of its time, while at the same time emphasizes on the continuous impacts it has on today’s architecture education, transcending beyond national borders and identities. The project was presented at the Monditalia section of the 2014 Venice Biennale and was awarded “Special Mentioned”.

The Dirty Art Department, Sandberg Instituut, Amsterdam – Jerszy Seymour, Catherine Geel, Clemence Seilles, Stephane Barbier-Bouvet

Figure 15: Diagrammatic structure of Dirty Art Department

The brief of the school later known as “Dirty Art Department”(DAD) was given to Jerszy Seymour by Sandberg Instituut described the school’s desire for a post-grad programme in Applied Ats which trains students to ‘critically question the discourses structuring the field of art & design’ and ‘engage with social reality as hybrid artist-designers’. In 2011, DAD was found offering an open space for all thoughts, creations and actions. The department fosters collaborations and is open to all students from all backgrounds including designers, artists, bankers, skeptics, economists, sociologist, poets, urban planners, farmers,..

SCI-Arc, Los Angeles

Born out of rejection of established institutional models of architecture school in 1972 in Santa Monica, California, the New School , as it was originally called, advocated an unbiased, non-hierarchical learning environment where students, educators and administration could work together on an even platform15. Being one of American’s few independent architecture school, SCI-Arc is home to approx. 500 students and 80 faculty members-most of whom are practicing architects. However, everything comes at a cost. And the cost of SCI-Arc might not fit every people, for it will set you back a whopping 20000USD per semester15.

AA Night School, London


Figure 16: Night school session at Sir John Soane’s Museum in London, hosted by David Chipperfield

Rooted in the origins of the Architectural Association itself, which started as an evening school, the AA Night School, founded in 2013, offers book reading, discussion, cross-practice talks, architectural photography, workshops,… with a speculative purpose to examine alternatives models of architectural education16. Some of its events are: “Run club Soho nights” – 10km route through London streets alongside commentary on historic and contemporary development; “Open Plan Dying” – a spatial history of dying and how city today proposes new ways of dying; “Sex marks the spot” – a workshop exploring ways in which the search for sex and romance attracts young people to big cities…

The Basil Spence competition, University of Bath, UK

The University’s strong belief in collaboration between architects and engineers is evident throughout the school’s program. Students from both faculties work with each other and learn from each other since day 1. This model has equipped them with valuable understanding of how real-life projects work at a much earlier stage in their academic lives so that these knowledge can be carried forward and develop into a more sophisticated and well-rounded skill. Fourth year students of both faculties join force and take part in the eight-week flagship competition to design a small public building. The school ethos is reinforced, promoting teamwork and problem-solving- 2 of the most important aspects of design and yet the least focused parts in today architectural education17. Interdisciplinary group work fosters collective knowledge, and along with practicing engineers and architects, acousticians and landscape designers as mentors, these collaborative group work will have to learn to negotiate not only between discipline but also between the abstract and the technical, real world problem and conceptual ideas17.

Strelka Institute, Moscow

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Figure 17: At a Strelka free lecture

Firstly conceived during the Venice Biennale 2009, Rem Koolhaas and OMA/AMO then develop a program to address their concern over the trajectory of Moscow urban development under former mayor Yury Luzhkov and prepare designer for societal problems in Russia and around the world18. Backed by billionaire philanthropists with curriculum designed by AMO, the Strelka Institute is an exemplary pedagogical experiment centered around internationalism, sociology, architecture and urbanism19.
Offering a nine-month postgraduate programme free of charge for 45 international cross-discipline students, Strelka “invites the world into Moscow and create a dialogue between intellectuals with the city itself, a ‘radical openness to the public” – said Anna Krasinskaya, deputy director of the school19. This vision is supported by a culture of inventive investigation , allowing students to pursue their own interest19.

During its existence, Strelka has become an exemplary cultural hub in Moscow, organising summer events, free lectures, panel discussions, design workshops, English lessons, TEDx forums, movie festival, ping-pong tournaments, concerts, poetry readings, all-night urban bicycle tour18. It also actively engages in the conversation of Moscow urban transformation both intellectually and physically, with projects that look over:
-the upgrade of the State Biology Museum,
-the reconstruction of Gorky Park,
‘Urban Routine’ research projects focusing on inhabitants daily routines surrounding the themes of ‘Cars, Retail, Dwelling, Offices, and Links’ to rediscover trivial things in a new way that can be applicable in practice,
‘Future Urbanism’ – 41 interviews conducted by students featuring architects, urban planners, sociologists, researchers and others, emphasising the importance of interdisciplinary thinking in urban studies and urban design, read more here
– 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale discussions among preeminent voices in architecture and urban design focusing on how architecture and design can drive the physical, social and economic regeneration of urban environments.
‘What Moscow Wants’ – an online platform designed to crowed source ideas for the development of Moscow. Residents first proposed ideas on the website, then these ideas get discussed by local architectural practices and proposal were put online. The most popular choices were presented at the Moscow Urban Forum.

Public School for Architecture, Brussels

Initiated in Los Angeles in 2007, the original PSFA offers an open online platform for users to self-organise and exchange knowledge through discussion sessions, workshops without college fees / accredited teachers. Then in 2014, Common Room, Telic Arts Exchange and Recyclart launched a new PSFA, aiming to create a public for architecture while opening up architecture for the public. Anyone can propose classes and when enough interest is shown the class becomes open for scheduling20. Having no affiliation with any school system, the school wants architecture to be political again, to be free from institutional interest, to be community-driven. Education is discursive. Participation turns the table; it redistributes the authority between teacher and student, expert and public’20

Some past and ongoing PSFA’s classes include:

Architecture & Power, which investigates, at institutional and organizational levels, architectural responses that are based on existing relationships of power & politics.

Cloud-based Institutional Critique, which is designed to be a forum for discussion of digital technologies and their relationship to arts, both theoretically and practically.Literature conversation classes such as Contemporary Art Magazines: A Critical Reading, or Society of Spectacle book discussion

A Soup Class calls “Stir It Up”

… and many more.

Unknown Field Division – Liam Young, AA

“We can watch a discussion of climate change on the BBC, and we can examine it through data, or we can go out there and see the glaciers melting, the snow turning yellow from acid rain, and the impacts of these changes on the Inuit populations and their hunting practices. Travelling to these sites allows us to see the real effects o culture and ways of life” -Liam Young14

Explaing their Unknown Fields Division (UFD) at the Architecture Association as “a nomadic design research studio that ventures out on expeditions to the ends of the earth to bear witness to alternative worlds, alien landscapes, industrial ecologies and precarious wilderness”, Liam Young and Kate Davis and their students document, through the use of film and animation, hidden stories, deeply embedded link with the global system and everyday life; and re-imagine the complex and contradictory realities of the present as a site of extraordinary futures.
Liam Young is a designer, futurist, critic and curator and was one of 25 people named by Blueprint in 2010 who will change architecture and design. Beside UFD, he also founded Tomorrows Thoughts Today, a think tank platform “exploring the consequences of fantastic, perverse and underrated urbanism” – an architectural practice they considered “not built on buildings as endpoints but on speculations and research as products in themselves”
Kate Davies is a designer, writer, educator and cofounder of Liquid Factory – a multidisciplinary group exploring the rich hinterland of art, architecture and performance.

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Figure 18 (left to right): A world adrift (China) project; Treasure Island (Madagascar) project; Never Never Lands (Australia) project

Some of the studio’s project include:
Never never lands: prospecting in dreamtime (West Australian outback) which explores the impact of modern technologies on remote, alienated of the Australian outbacks, especially its incisions on the sacred and mythical landscape of the Aboriginals.
Treasured Island (Madagascar) which look into the fascinating duality nature of the island: the non-rivaled rich ecological system vs. being one of the poorest are in the world; necessity vs. luxury; exclusivity vs. global resource extraction etc…
A World Adrift part 1&2 (China) which traces the route of mega-container ships through the China Seas in hope of understanding global sea trade, supply chains and more generally the life behind & the culture beyond global products.

Studio X – GSAPP


Figure 19: Studio-X talks in the open space

“This is Studio-X: studio meaning empty, usable space, and X meaning anything can happen”

Equal parts learning space, public forum and international think-tank, Studio X of Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture , Planning and Preservation (GSAPP) explores cities’ future and its challenges using real-time collaborative and collective knowledge cross-disciplinary from around the world to keep up with the speed of urban transformation 21. The network of studio-X spaces has expanded to Beijing, Amman, Mumbai, Rio de Janeiro and will soon reach Istabul, Johannesburg and Moscow – places that are undergoing radical cities transformation. Initiated in 2008 in downtown Manhattan, the studio occupies a 2000 square feet open loft-like space that fosters collaboration and tests new ideas, with facilities such as a book gallery, reading room, interactive video interface showing what is happening in other studio-X spaces in real time, exhibition space curated locally or between studio-X spaces; public lecture spaces; kitchen; shop; and offices for staff & visiting designers/scholars21.

21st Century School : A prototype of the school of the future combining the intense concentration of the classical university and the collaborative crowd-sourcing power of the global network.

Figure 20:  Studio X spaces structure

Discussion topics on urban space ranges from bio-control of invasive species, imaginary casino security systems to ‘participatory sensing’, swarm robotics and more 21. Explaining these sci-fi inflected dialogues, married coupled directors Nicola Twilley & Geoff Manaugh (founder of BLDGBLOG) wants to break away from the theoretical and traditional university lecture series where “people just talk about the same articles from the same academics from the 1970s”21. “We want to reach a wider audience” Twilley said “In the past, architecture schools have not always been the best place to have conversations, at least not in the places where those conversations need to happen”21. Studio X’s openness and open-endedness, though seems difficult to determine its part in the worlds of architectural practice and pedagogy, might prove to be a strength and potentially a new model for design education. One that encourage intellectual encounters and collaboration rather than just conferring degrees. “After all, if we can’t redesign our schools, how can we possibly imagine that we could redesign our cities?” 21 (Mark Wigley, Dean of GSAPP).


Rural Studio – Auburn University

Perhaps the most talked-about radical education programs in the last 2 decades, Rural Studio deserved all merits and praises that has been given. Founded in 1993 by Samuel Mockbee and D.K.Ruth out of Auburn University, the aim of the studio is to expose students to struggled community and environment from which they could learn “to be more sensitive to the power and promise of what they do, to be more concerned with the good effects of architecture than with ‘good intention”. Emphasising on smart (re)use of materials, the Studio has produced some of the most outstanding architecture with modest materials & budgets. Up to date, Rural Studio has constructed more than 80 homes and civic buildings, and continue to inspire young generations of architects/practices (i.e design build lab, studio H…). Some of its exemplary projects include:

i. Yancy Tire Chapel, 1995


Figure 21: Yancy Tire Chapel

One of the first projects by Rural Studio, the chapel’ wall was made of 900 packed tires, tired together with rebar, tamped with dirt and stuccoed. The heart pine roof beams were reused from an old house. The building was completed by three thesis students and was later sold to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for twice the building cost.

ii. Corrugated Cardboard Pod, 2001


Figure 22: Corrugated Cardboard Pod

The project experiment with bales of waste wax-impregnated corrugated clippings in construction applications, utilizing its structural capabilities, thermal mass, and insulation values. The prototype was built as a student housing “pod” and is still standing today. The project is the epitome of Rural Studio’s approach in material investigations and inventions.

iii. $20K House


Figure 23: $20K House project

The ongoing research takes place in Hale County, Alabama where there is a pressing need for decent affordable housing. With high rate of poverty, lack of knowledge about house funding, mobile homes (trailers) seems to be the only option for a lot of families. Associated problems include maintenance cost, high cancer rates due to Formaldehyde in trailers construction, and quick depreciation in value over time compare to conventional houses. the 20k house model utilizes mass prefab construction to cover the cost of building many individual one-off house, therefore becomes more affordable to the low-income population. The program has 17 design iterations up to date.

Free Unit  – Robert Mull, Catrina Beevor, Peter Carl


Figure 24: Oasis children’s venture, 2012

The studio emphasizes on students’ personal position and allow them to develop independent project with professionals. Students have been using this opportunity to reassess what is important to them and what they consider architecture should be about. This year the program offers students a chance to spend time in Moscow and Seoul on collaborative projects with Moscow School of Architecture and Korean National University of the Arts. Students consider these projects as their manifesto and first stage towards their future practice, rather than the final stage of their education. Such was the case of Joe Swift, an ex-student of ‘Free Unit’ who co-founded RARA (the Redundant Architects Recreation Association) – an ope access workspace established in Clapton, London providing long and short term users with affordable space in which to do anything they want.


Figure 25: “The Great Golden Retriever” installation 2012, RARA

Studio H – Pilloton & Miller


Figure 26: Container Classroom project


Figure 27: Windsor Super Market (featured in the documentary – “If You Build It”)

Bearing the philosophy and inspiration from Rural studio, in 2010, Emily Pilloton and Matthew Miller launched this design/build class for 6th-12th grade students hoping to use architecture and design to transform public education for the good of the wider community. Now based at Realm Charter School in Berkeley, CA, Studio H combines humanitarianism and education, with projects ranging from a pop-up park, laser-etched skateboards, sculptural concrete public furniture to 2000-square-foot farmers market pavilion22.

Jim Vlock First Year Building Project – Yale School of Architecture

Being one of the oldest design/build program, founded by Charles Moor in 1967, the program mandates participation of first-year postgrad students in constructing a structure in an economically-depressed neighbourhood23. More recently, partnerships with Habitat for Humanity and Home, Inc., Neighborhood Housing, and currently Common Ground has led to  the school’s focus on affordable housing.


Figure 28: 2014 New Haven affordable housing – a partnership with Neighbor Works New Horizons & HTP Ventures LLC equity firm. It is a part of New Haven Livable City Initiatives to develop vacant sliver lots around town and the Jim Vlock program’s design proposal is designed to be replicable to other urban spaces


Figure 29: Jim Vlock’s 2013 completed house at 116 Greenwood Street

Live Project – Sheffield University School of Architecure

Established in 1999, ‘Live projects’ is a Master of Architecture 6-week program which engages students with real works, real clients and real budget. Emphasizing on practical involvement in making architecture and community engagement, ‘Live projects’ has been responsible for over 100 projects across 13 different countries, many of which have led to design strategies and built works 24. The school also run a free architectural journal called “field” which is an open platform for discussion relating architectural practice, education and discourse. Some of the projects that have come out of the program include:


Figure 30: Jim Vlock’s 2013 completed house at 116 Greenwood Street

i. Gateway to Ecclesall Woods, 2011 – Learning through construction:
The project promotes local craft and innovative use of timber construction as well as educates young citizens and professionals about ecological practices. The final products consist of a ‘Children’s Hide’ and an elevated walkway through the forest canopy.

ii. Forkhill Barracks, 2011 – Vision for the future
The project focused on the development of a former military barracks site in rural Forkhill, Northern Ireland. Through understanding the setting, the politics and history of the site, engaging in public conversation about what their visions are; the team produced a series of proposal documents that acts as a first step towards the community-lead master plan for Forkhill.

iii. Southey Owlerton Area Regeneration, 2002-2012 – Building Legacy:
Over 12 years and 8 live projects, students of Live Project program have made an enormous impact on the regeneration of an area of north Sheffield, developing strategic visions for the future and guideline for specific spaces / buildings in the neighbourhood25. The on-going relationship have benefited both parties greatly. For the school, ongoing works create a legacy of knowledge, skills, networks for students throughout the years.

iv. Urine, 2007 – Mapping and Developing Resources
The program also value humanitarian projects and the knowledge such project brings to students. One of those projects is for the group ‘Architects 4 Aid’ dealing with the issue of constructing Sudan’s temporary camps under extreme shortages of water and timber resources. A prototype was researched at the school to test out the technique of adobe construction (‘mud brick’) substituting water, a scarce resource, with urine, a better binding agent. Students through this project gain valuable expertise in applying research to a practical project and the skills in making and testing prototypes. But most importantly, a critical awareness was raised regarding ethical consideration and social relevance associated with architects / designers 25.

Bower Studio – University of Melbourne

A ‘bower shelter’ is a simple traditional structure of the Australian Aboriginal used for meeting and sheltering from wind, sun, rain. Bower Studio’s projects are self-built, environmental friendly & support remote communities with a specific cultural needs in Australia & Papua New Guinea . Real-world issues (inequality, poverty, race,…) are tackled with responsibility and commitment by both students and academics. The studio hopes to not only build the necessary infrastructure but also build the relationship with the local people and get them involve in defining the short-term and long-term needs. Moreover, Bower studio provide students with the opportunity to learn about building construction & working experience alongside Indigenous groups – skills & knowledge that might not otherwise be possible within the constraint of an institution. A pedagogical approach that values the learning & making process as much as the end-product, and with the community needs at the core.

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Figure 31: 2014 Neonatal and Composting Ablutions Facility at Suanum, Papua New Guinea

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Figure 32: 2013 Outdoor Living & Kitchen for Belyuen Community, Northern Territory, Australia


Despite the current crisis that the profession is enduring, the prospect being drawn is by no means pessimistic. Our expertise rooted in problems/issues/struggles. We are problem solver by definition. And although the profession and associated education systems have been slacking for decades, a new generation of designers/educators has taken up the torch. These radical schools & programs are being recognized around the globe: Studio H is named one of 6 2015 SEED award winner; RARA from the Free Unit program claimed Runner Up at The Architectural Reviews, Global Architecture Graduate Awards; Live Project’s “Gateway to Ecclesall Woods” was shortlisted for the AJ Small Projects Awards; Bower Studio is the recipient of many awards for their community and indigenous works; Rural Studio has its featured film “Citizen Architect” which keeps inspiring many young designers/architects… It is an excitement to see what changes in the education and training of architects will follow. I believe we have the tools we need, it’s time we start using it properly and responsibly.


1. Wainwright O., 2013, Towering folly: why architectural education in Britain is in need of repair, The Guardian
2. Lofthouse N., 2013, The Changing Nature of Architectural Education, Oxford Brookes University
3. Parnell R. & Sara P., 2013, Fear and Learning in the architectural Crit, Field Journal 5
4. Hunter W., 2012, Alternative Routes for Architecture, The Architecture Review
5. Slessor C., 2012, Architectural Education: A call to arms, The Architectural Review
6. Perrott W., 2014, Will the study of architecture become unaffordable?, Australian Design Review,
7. Colomina B. et al, 2012, Radical Pedagogies in Architectural Education, The Architectural Review
8. Violeau J., Unite Pedagogique No.6 Paris up 6 and Unite Pedagogique d’Architecture Nantes, Radical Pedagogies,
9. Garcia-German J., Cedric Price: The Architectural Association and others, Radical Pedagogies,
10. Doucet I., Peter Murray, Cedric Price: AD/AA/Polyark – Bus tour across the UK, Radical Pedagogies,
11. Sunwoo I., Alvin Boyarsky: The Architectural Association, Radical Pedagogies,
12. Scott F. D., Emilio Ambasz: “The Universitas Project” at the Museum of Modern Art MoMA, Radical Pedagogies,
13. Stierli M., Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi: “Learning from Las Vegas” at Yale School of Architecture, Radical Pedagogies,
14. Hyde R., 2012, Future Practice: Conversations from the Edge of Architecture, Routledge: New York & London.
15. Vlassic L. T., 2014, Education As Accidet: SCI-Arc, Los Angeles, Uncube Magazine no.26,
16. Wilson R., 2014, Education As Curation: AA Night School, London, Uncube Magazine no.26,!/page48
17. Barac M., 2012, Pedagogy: University of Bath, UK, The Architectural Review
18. Polis blog, 2011, The Strelka Institute and the Reconstruction of Gorky Park, Polis blog,
19. Barac M., 2012, Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture and Design, Moscow, Russia, The Architectural Review
20. Will E., 2014, Education as Open Platform: The Public School for Architecture, Brussels, Uncube Magazine no.26,
21. Volner I., 2012, X Marks the Spots, Metropolis Blog,
22. Harper P., 2014, If you build it will they come? Can a high school class in rural America transform their town with architecture?, The Architecture Review
23. Hill J., 2014, Architecture Students Designing and Building, World-Architects
24. Barac M., 2012, Sheffield School of Architecture, The Architectural Review
25. Butterworth C. et al., 2013, A Handbook for Live Projects, The University of Sheffield


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