Aug '09 - May '10
This week, the NAAB team is here for Accreditation.
While often, I end up working in a jaded existence; questioning the relevance (both academically, and realistically) of some of the pedagogy here, the pomp and circumstance of the NAAB visit is a really nice moment to actually reflect on what goes on here and why I’m really really glad to be here
(At this point, I should also disclaim, that as a post professional student, the NAAB visit technically means nothing to me; apart from an extreme effect on the ‘mood’ of the institution).
The visit is still underway – so it’s shrouded in schedule and secrecy (things like “the team room,” closed galleries of student work, meals with various administration), but when it opens, I’m very excited to see the work that Penn’s showing to the powers that be (which we will get to see afterward).
What is open right now is the faculty gallery. Walking through it the other day was a really humbling experience. It’s easy to get lost in the immediate when dealing with professors; I’ve seen the same imagery for several elective, studio, and degree presentations (usually something involving “emergence” “parametrics” or “component-based design”) and I consider myself pretty familiar with the published ‘work’ from the faculty here (mostly paper architecture, and non-winning PS1 entries). Yet my cynicism is really what’s undeserved – amidst the sea of this familiar imagery are lots and lots of really interesting things that I didn’t know came from Penn faculty. Writings, books, collaborations, articles, (really successful) built projects, and impressive imagery. It was a nice moment for me to count my blessings that I’m at a school with a variety of compatible and diverse viewpoints, all with an equal passion for their own design direction. And, while the proudly unrealized seem to be the touting images on every publication, the realized are just as prominent, maybe just not as much within the institution.
This could be an odd point of the Post Professional program. Because we’re out of the running for any necessary architectural educational requirements (building systems, methods…), without some looking, I didn’t really even notice the sea of pragmatic knowledge here amidst the foam of parametricism (which I enjoy in moderation, it just happens to be the butt of the joke in this entry).
For those of you who haven’t been at a school during accreditation, it’s a really cool experience. (Kent State went through accreditation when I was there as a second year in 2006). I suppose it’s kind of nerve-wracking for faculty and administration that everything goes as planned, but while it holds the final say in whether or not your education counts (which is a really scary way to think about it), I see it as more a celebration of the educational experience. For the student, whose educational experience can seem to fall out of one’s hands and into the whim of budget/administration/etc, it’s a unique chance to voice an opinion (and likewise, hear an opinion voiced about your role as a participant in ‘studio culture’). There’s a closed interview with the entire student body and the NAAB board which has potential to be both an airing of grievances (regarding the administrations/pedagogy/facilities/etc) and an aptitude awareness test (to cross-reference the claimed curriculum). At the end of the several-day visit, there’s a reality-show-esque report-card reading. It’s a really interesting experience to participate in – it’s a satisfyingly democratic moment in the educational system where students and professors can take a moment to re-orient the system, bring up the elephants in the room, and generally step back and realize that despite differences in opinion (both within and between students/faculty), everybody’s interested in the same thing (architecture) and working toward a common goal (making it better).
During the NAAB visit when I was at Kent, I was a second year student and remember it being ‘not a big deal’ from the general student perspective (except for the continual put-down about how we were sure to fail), yet a pretty big deal for the faculty. It was a sheep hearding adventure where we were attending school-wide meetings instead of working in studio at our professors insistence (gasp), and there was this mystical “NAAB gallery room” that had been pad-locked off limits from students for months. In contrast to my memory of that, this week at Penn seems like less of a big deal – the student gallery sprung up this week, and we have all been informed about the schedule and where we need to be when for meetings and such – no surprises.
What will be really interesting is when they open the student gallery on Wednesday and I see the work that Penn’s showing. Back at KSU, the work was largely beautifully rendered hand drawings (I don’t remember more than one or two computer generated images from 50+ drawings), and a sea of perfect basswood models (the lasercutter at KSU was installed 1 months before the NAAB visit, most of the work was hours of toil and a #11 blade). In contrast, here I expect the showing at Penn to be completely the opposite – nearly all computer-generated imagery and digitally-aided models. In a way, it’s nice when everything is digital – I’m sure it makes it easier to amass the work with a simple email and re-print things in a coherent manner, though on the other hand, I remember the inner turmoil of having something “archived” (for future accreditation) at Kent – the only copy of the drawing you had worked for hours and hours on was confiscated with no questions asked for this future date (after which everything would be unceremoniously trashed).
(I’ll let you know what the gallery is like after Wednesday).
Meanwhile, I’m model-building at 1:1 scale for studio. I’m in a fabrication-based studio with Jeremy Edmiston of SystemArchitects and it’s becoming quite the experience. For a school that doesn’t seem to dabble much in design-build, our outlook for this studio is refreshingly ambitious. Expect some sort of large-scale, outdoor installation come May.