E.T.S.A.B. (Oliver Bayliss)

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    Why do we bother with this university nonsense?

    By Oliver Bayliss
    Jan 2, '06 9:14 AM EST

    Well 2006 is upon us and I think I might take advantage of this time off to write a very long overdue entry to my blog. As I haven't written for a while I'll start with a quick reminder for those who are not aware of what I'm up to. I'm currently undertaking a year abroad, my final year, studying at ETSAB in Barcelona. I started the semester a little concerned about the way in which they teach here but as the semester draws to a close I must admit although the styles of teaching here are somewhat traditional, I feel I have benefited enormously from what is essentially a style of education that is taken more from the point of view of the architect as engineer rather than architect as ”˜thinker'.

    After two years working in London, I started my Diploma at LondonMet craving for a student project where I could design a ”˜building' that not only dealt with the theoretical challenges of urban/landscape design but also allowed us to hone our understanding of the ways in which materials go together. For me I have always been sceptical about approaches taken by certain schools that teach ”˜architecture' purely for the purpose of intellectual exercise and graphical wizardry rather than educating the common language of wood, concrete and glass. Is it a cultural problem? In Britain today it is almost unheard of for an architect under the age of thirty-five to be working on his or her own. Is that because it takes that long to gather enough consultants and clients to sustain a small practice, or is it because during our five years of university we are not taught how to actually build! Consequently no newly graduated student would have the necessary skills to begin his or her own practice let alone have the contacts to do so. And so we rely purely on our time in practice to gain experience that would prepare us to go it alone.

    It seems in Spain they are more interested in training architects that understand how the profession works both from a design point of view as well as a business one. As a result there are far younger architects working independently here, well at least in Barcelona. For some I'm sure they will find it very difficult as working in Spain is tough at the best of times, financially speaking. However on the whole, the young architect here has more of the mentality of ”˜why not?' rather than ”˜I need more experience first'. The latter being quintessentially British!

    So it is this that I would like to open up to you guys! I know it's a common question but it's something that divides students and tutors alike. Why do we bother with University? Shouldn't we just get out there and do it!?


    • liberty bell

      Two easy reasons I can think of to get a degree from a university:

      1. Having a degree at the very least exhibits your ability to start something and finish it. People who are enormously talented have always been able to succeed, professional imprimatur or not, but most people frankly are not so brilliant that they don't need the cultural sanction of a university degree to achieve access to those who would be clients.

      2. Four+ years spent in school equals an enormous number of social contacts (aka a network) one would never be able to build so quickly just opening up shop - and a social network is the way most architects get clients.

      In the States of course one can't become a registered architect w/o a degree, anyway.

      I know I say this over and over on these forums but really - architecture is a slooooow profession. It takes years and years to gather all the knowledge - design, construction, cultural - needed to be an architect, and the resources for that knowledge are found in school, and in practice, and in engaging with the "real world".

      Jan 2, 06 11:31 am

      Oliver, I believe it is important that you "get out there and do it" before one enters graduate school. My own experience incorporated working for a local firm for 3 years (~20 hours per week) while finishing my undergrad to gain enough knowledge to put a design/construction "plan" together. Since, and before grad school, I was able to take on a few contractor and developer clients to hone my skills unleashed from an office. During this time of working at home, I really got a sense of what it's like to put food on the table as a designer/architect. The big moment, as a young architectural designer, happened when a family member asked me to lead them through an 800 sf addition to a 1200 sf residence. This experience actually propelled me into graduate school because I wanted to take a sabatical AWAY from practice to develop ME.

      Now 1.5 years into the M.Arch2 prorgram at SCI-Arc, I can truly say my time and money here is being well spent. Being SCI-Arc, there is an opportunity to develop both abstract and material modes of architecture. Even given that the M.Arch2 program is digital-centric, and led by the likes of Hernan, Marcello, Elena, and Testa, I still find time to work in the shop, learn how to weld, operate CNC machines, build real "stuff". Maybe our schools different; here you can design your own path... choosing to take the path of your instructors or react again them. Though a bit of a blowhard, Eric Moss' notion (and I'm paraphrasing) of keeping the school's trajectories "mashed up" (my words)... makes for many student opportuniites that tie into both architectures history and future. The reason I love what school affords me is precisely this opportunity to explore myself through architecture, NOT the other way around "in the real world". If I wanted to participate in the DIY movement, I'd watch WAY more HG, TLC, and Extreme Makeover. Though I do watch some of these programs on an inconsistent basis, University--especially at the graduate level--needs to open minds, and undergrad can be the place where practical training is more integrated. So, in a sense I'm agreeing with you that your initial "5 years" could be a better mix of academic and practical training. But, graduate school should remain a personal sabatical.

      Jan 2, 06 11:51 am


      What is the hurry, it is not the number of projects one completes during their life that counts. It is the number of good or great projects one is associated with that feeds the soul.

      Althought Liberty Bell says one is not able to become registered in the States with out a degree, it is not true. I know because I do not have a degree, yet I'm registered in two States, on opposite ends of the country. Apprenticing into the profession is a long and exhausting way to enter the profession, so if you have the money stay in school. You should look for ways to expand your understanding of Architecture, understanding of mankind, understanding of how things go together. If your time is well spent in school, you will look back and pat yourself on the back for all the revelations which came to you in the uncluttered portion of your life.

      Jan 2, 06 2:32 pm
      Oliver Bayliss

      Firstly, thank you to you both. There were some interesting points there. I especially liked Steve's comment about building 'real' stuff. University at any level allows you to explore the capabilities if different materials and their properties. So yes, I agree with you there.

      I suppose my worry is that young architects, including myself to an extent, are being scared away from trying something on their own. I realise that that depends not only on your ability to design but also on knowing enough prospective clients. But I have a feeling that if the average newly graduated student was handed a small, manageable project he or she might walk away from it purely because they feel they are not ready. I think the reason why we are not ready is because our education, or at least the latter part of it, does not teach us how to go about it and where to start.

      When I was working in London for a small practice I was given a small but expensive project to run. I was given the responsibility of documenting and getting it built. Now for a 22yr old part 1 student who had little professional experience, I was obviously a little concerned. I gritted my teeth and got on with it, learning as I went. Over time the project became my baby and when I eventually left the practice to return to university, I took the project with me to finish alone.

      The process of doing the project taught me a few things. Firstly, the skills I had learnt during the three years of university prior to my placement contributed very little to what I was doing on a day to day basis. Secondly, and most importantly, I feel that with a little bravery it is possible do anything that you are not prepared for.

      I am not belittling the things we learn during our education. I think what an architectural education does is teach us how to take an idea, explore it, during which time hopefully we learn a little about ourselves, and then finally present it! It is about confidence. Being able to stand in a room full of people and convince people that what you are doing is the right thing does not come naturally. But I also feel that, in reference to ‘liberty bell’s’ comment, we can build a network anywhere, not just at university. In fact as my father always tells me, ‘you’ll meet your first client the golf course’. No wonder he was so keen to get me playing so young!

      Jan 2, 06 2:32 pm

      Personally, I meet a good portion of my clients at the beach :)

      Jan 3, 06 11:20 am
      Oliver Bayliss

      Maybe that's why I've moved to Barcelona!

      Jan 3, 06 2:24 pm

      i get clients through hustling, bluffing, and shameless self-promotion...all of which are skills taught at my architecture school !

      Jan 3, 06 3:31 pm

      Oliver I discovered your blog today, which is the only reason I haven't commented so far. It is quite interesting for me to follow your opinions on teaching architecture and particularly teaching architecture in Spain. The thing is that I have quite a strong experience with it - a 1 year Erasmus exchange stay at the ETSAV - the other school of architecture "in" Barcelona (as it was mentioned in some comment before, it is in fact located far outside Barcelona and has sort of a rural atmosphere). I can say that I got the same impression of what they mean by architecture as you. In my words I would call it pure building.

      What makes the whole thing interesting is the way both of us appreciate the experience. I am now in my 11th semester at the Czech Technical University in Prague. I decided to go to spend a year in Barcelona among other reasons because of the amount of great architecture being built in Spain which is evdently not the case of my country. I was thinking that probably at the schools in Spain they had some great methods of teaching. But my big surprise and in a way disappointment was to discover that at the ETSAV they tought the same as they do at my school. The loads of technical stuff. But what was even more striking was to watch the local students work there. Yes they work hard. But going through radical majority the projects you just realized that apart from a lot of work, nothing else is present. As if due to so many demands concerning work there was no time left for THINKING! A lot of sweat is produced for each "entrega". But many times I asked myself - what is the point? there's so much useless work done, including detailing even when the project is not a good one yet and you still have time to change it! And guess who did the most interesting projects in the end? The Erasmus students (some of them)! As an exchange student you have a certain amount of liberty an you can go kind of a punk way. You don't have to be so much afraid of the professors and their demands, if you prepare good arguments for not doing something and doing something else instead, they will accept it. The local students would never dare this. But this is exactly how good stuff originates.

      Jan 15, 06 4:41 pm

      What was far more useful for me was to interchange thoughts and opinions on architecture with people from other countries (France, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and of course Catalonia) and to collaborate with some of them on interesting projects trying to develop them "the other way". So I can't say i didn't learn anything in Spain. Somehow it just wasn't thanks to the school or the professors.

      To conclude. It seems to me that we, people from technically oriented schools will always lack a bit more of intellectual training, meanwhile apparently at schools like Bartlett it is the other way round - you lack the technical trainig.

      Jan 15, 06 4:41 pm

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