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    thesis reviews pt. 3: my humble opinion

    Nick Sowers May 7 '09 4

    Another professor who wasn't at the wrap up discussion told me later on: "When else do you just get to do whatever the hell you want?" While you can do whatever the hell you want, that's such an incredible task to tell yourself what you're not going to do because you don't have all the time in the world.

    But you have to be willing to jump off. For me, that's the huge value of the thesis, and why a research studio should not replace the individual thesis. Even if you're doing someone else's research, where do you learn how to navigate? Maybe the "myth of the genius" is finally easing itself out of architecture schools as we collaborate more and more, but that's not an argument for abolishing thesis.

    If architecture school is a struggle, thesis is an amplification of that struggle. And we know it doesn't end in architecture school. I remember at my first job out of undergrad, my boss telling me (I think it was 2 am) "If it was easy everyone would be doing it." Long hours aside, the distance traveled is never so great if you aren't first stepping into the dark, unsure of where the end may be. A research studio also begins with this uncertainty, but a key difference is that in the research studio the uncertainty is only a jumping off point, not the object of struggle itself.

    Thesis--and by extension, architecture school--is not about the 'what'--in contrast to Saitowitz's call for students to watch more TV and do something about the world. It's about the 'how'. Thesis is about the vehicle, the transmission, the medium, the fetish. The 'how' is also about language. It is the burden of the thesis student and really any architecture student to communicate--not just at the final jury but at every step in the design process--what their position is, what their world view is, and why that matters. It is not the duty of the instructor to figure that out for the student and that would be a laborious prospect for the instructor anyway. The thesis student must hone the question, be deliberate with testing it and focus, even exaggerate the representation so that all is left for a critic to do is react.

    As long as the thesis is to be something loved or hated, it is probably a good thesis.

    The self-indulgent "genius" thesis project and the notion of a research driven 'thesis studio' have been falsely dichotomized. It is not as though the shortcomings of one are picked up by the other. I admit they have their differences, but in what ways are they also about the same thing? Both have the potential to become 'the infinite game' i.e. a method or way of thinking that extends beyond the limits of the semester. At the essence of both is the need to produce a question and to find means to test it. The testing is not done literally, of course. So we have only figures of things. We have only shadows. Architects need to be better shadow-makers.

    It may be for some that the proper medium for exploring the efficacy of a design language is a research studio resulting in a publication. For me, so far at least, the luxury of discovering my path from a set of interests towards a means of expression, of struggling and learning resistance, which is at the core of the individual thesis, is the better means for learning architecture.

     

     
    • 4 Comments

    • copper_top
      May 7, 09 11:19 pm

      Thesis is dead.

      Long live the thesis!

      Nam HendersonNam Henderson
      May 8, 09 8:51 am

      Nick,
      I have likely said this before but base don my own graduate school experience your comment abou the "how" instead of "what" is right on.
      I feel like although my post-graduate professional life hasn't gone exactly the direction (at least for now) that i was hoping the process the how both personally and academically that i was forced to go through, define, research and most importantly articulate was for me worth every penny (that i will be payign forever)......

      Carl Douglas (agfa8x)
      May 8, 09 5:17 pm

      i agree. i'm all for collaboration, and participating in ongoing research projects, but i think that it is undeniably an essential skill to be able to provide yourself with direction. a thesis teaches self-management - or at least that's what mine taught me.

      stefjam
      May 9, 09 3:45 am

      throughout my life i have criticized myself for lacking laser focus and feeling as though i did not properly establish end goals. maybe i just feel too much definition leads to constraint. the process is what is beautiful, for me. light bulb flashing moments, experimentation, royally screwing things up, repairing, and lather, rinse, repeat are sooo gratifying. i am getting better at accepting this as my modus operandi.

      i'm not an architecture student (yet), but when i am, i'm probably going to be that girl with an ear to ear grin on her face at 4am while still tinkering around. i love creating. i love discovery. i love learning by doing. if i make something horrid, who gives a shit. i probably had a ton of fun with it and hopefully learned why it was horrid.

      p.s. i need to read more of your blog... but berkeley seems pretty stellar. i talked to a graduate admissions advisor on the phone the other day about my visit up north next weekend. she's going to leave some materials in the office for me to do a self-guided tour. really excited about it!

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