Ben Nicholson - 7 Lampless Questions

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Ben Nicholson

Ben Nicholson offered three models for thinking about architectural education: 'taking ', 'giving and taking ' and 'giving '. First the model of 'taking 'was discussed in the context of his personal experience as a student in a one-room school. As Nicholson explained, in such a school younger students learn through interaction with older students, who pass on the knowledge and experience they have gained. The effect is a collective educational environment, in which it is not individual teachers who mobilise an educational programme, but rather a body of individuals who make the educational experience an inherently social affair. Characterising it as the epitome of universal pluralism, Nicholson aligned this experience in a one-room school with his education at the AA, Cooper Union and Cranbrook. To elaborate the value of 'taking 'from one's peers, he noted that what was also important during his own time at these institutions was not necessarily what was taught, but rather what was not taught –what 'slipped between the cracks '. In short, he encouraged a paradoxical educational model whose objective is to foster exploration outside itself.

Nicholson then turned to the Alabama Studio projects in the United States as an example of an education based on 'giving and taking '. Here he suggested that architectural education need not limit itself to its own institutional boundaries, but could integrate immediate social contributions. Indeed, the application of the learning experience ('taking ') to actual built work for communities ('giving ') is, in his view, a type of social responsibility neglected at many architecture schools.

Finally, Nicholson suggested that architects and architecture students reevaluate their speculative and experimental capacities as a way to combat a 'shortened spectrum of what architecture has to offer 'and to reconsider the extent to which architectural education can give .He continued by discussing a perceived contrast between existing types of architecture: some invest in 'practical 'knowledge, with accreditation as a goal, while others value 'useless ' knowledge, or experimental work. Insinuating that the former currently dominates, Nicholson welcomed a return to fundamentally 'useless ' knowledge. What contemporary architectural education neglects, excludes and ignores, he contended, must be the catalyst for change at the AA. As examples, Nicholson challenged the unit system and its insularity, as well as the mechanics of architecture offices, which he suggested are lamentably lacking in research initiatives. In sum, Nicholson contended that if the AA wants to rethink its identity, it must focus n that which it is not.

Irene Sunwoo
Apr 18, 05 7:46 pm

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