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    Apathy in Architecture School

    By PROJECT x
    Dec 12, '05 8:13 PM EST

    Is it important that architects care about society and politics?

    I was so sure that it was important. Yet, throughout my undergraduate education in Architecture and now at the end of my first semester of grad school I find myself among students that prefer the polite small talk. The polite small talk about the newest Ipod or a well crafted model seems to be so terribly petty. Are we somehow more highly evolved than the English majors protesting outside of the campus Starbucks? Are those that are involved with Students Against Sweatshops wasting their time? I'm going to see the film "Syriana" tonight---should I cancel those plans only to spend the evening in the computer lab refining my portfolio? Would that make me a better architect? There is a trend or a force among the student body that is resisting politics in schoolwork. Is this maturity and objectivity or is this something else? Is this the apathetic American spirit on my heals.

    Harold Pinter's Nobel Lecture, Art, Truth & Politics recently inspired me to continue thinking about this topic of apathy among architecture students.

    "Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words 'the American people' provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don't need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it's very comfortable. "--Harold Pinter

    This lecture can be read and heard at the following website.

    Is this cushion present here in Crosby Hall? Is the small talk keeping political thought at bay? I think it might be.

    I'm curious about the culture of other architecture schools and whether or not that culture inspires students to analyze political, social and economic forces in the world. Are their architecture student activists?


    • tactilegoods

      I'm a student at Wentworth Institute of Technology, and I'd say that politics is pretty much absent here. It seems like all we're interested in is our own projects. I don't think I've ever had a conversation with another architectures student in studio or in class about any kind of social issues that we should be responding to. We do have the occassional professor that promotes exploring these ideas, but mainly politics seem to be totally negated.

      Dec 12, 05 10:26 pm

      interesting post...

      while I was a student at the University of Florida School of Architecture, we would certainly participate in discussions about politics, society, economy etc, and in some cases apply our ideologies to our projects.

      This dialogue, however, was typically between students and of their own volition. Faculty would occasionaly engage the discussions, but they were, in most cases, more concerned withh the goal of the investigation at hand (in the case of studio) and not a seeming tangent. Some faculty would help stir the discussions with thoughtful questions, others would simply not touch the subject(s).

      In my case, and a few others, these pressing concerns where layered into studio projects, along with programmatic /spatial / tectonic considerations. Our discussions and individual stances would inform our projects and process. In many cases this layer only acted as noise, in a few others, it thoughtfully added to the depth of the project. The latter is difficult for a student to pull off without due guidance from professors more concerned with teaching design fundamentals and architectural technique (understandably so).

      this may be slightly off topic...I still haven't had coffee...

      Dec 13, 05 11:25 am
      Rim Joist

      Architecture and politics. Well that's the real stuff now, isn't it...

      Has one ever existed without the other?

      Dec 13, 05 4:48 pm
      Carl Burdick

      Are their architecture student activists? Well, Yes, at least one. Back in 2002 I was one of the 4 founding members of Students Against Sweatshops at UB, and have been involved in a number of progressive campus, local and national campaigns ever since. Many of the skills gained in architecture school work hand in hand with political activism.
      With all the work that I have done on campus, I feel that much of the apathy in architecture school stems, not from a lack of interest, but a lack of engagement by the scholarly class, which seems to prefer to focus on aspects of architecture that do not matter to the larger world. For example, instead of focusing on a project like “Design a structure to respond to climate change and the Kyoto protocol” we are instead asked to “Design a structure which responds the the body in motion.” Now, with of all the real world problems we as architects and designers are going to be facing in the next 20 years, i think the problem of “the body in motion” is probably at the very bottom of the list. But climate change is something that we are all going to have to deal with. Frankly i think that if architecture does not decide to begin to care about “society and politics” in a big way soon, its going to bite us squarely on the ass.

      Stop by studio 310 some time this week, you still have to see my instillation, it is full of political undertones.


      Dec 13, 05 6:49 pm

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