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Sep '06 - Oct '07

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    debates and considerations- mark wigley's theory class

    By mikilee
    Sep 26, '06 5:12 PM EST

    This semester I am taking Mark Wigley's History of Architectural Theory course, along with a score of other students jam-packed in one of Avery's least-favorite rooms. The course is quite popular, and I understand why- attending the institution of Columbia, being 'fashioned' into one of its students, is one thing. Taking a course from the head of that institution, namely, the Dean, promises insight into that production of mind and thinking. Little secrets, about me and you and where they're going with all this.

    If you look at the GSAAP website, the role of the architect is titled, "the EXPANDED architect." What does that mean? Is it that the architect's role IS professionally-expanded, into other disciplines, or that the role of the institution and goal of Mark Wigley, is to academically expand the way of thinking and producing architecture, so that then graduates might attempt to expand the professional role of the architect. I don't know. Or maybe I do know. The important question is, are students actually being exposed to mechanisms they can use as tools to do just that? Do students even want to do that, or they merely content to join the camaraderie of the architecture/practice they were originally inspired by, what they 'knew' in their earlier years, before even stepping into Avery. Mixed motives throughout formulate an interesting school filled with tensions.

    In the last lecture, Wigley talked about the 'academic elite'/theorists, about 'knowledge as a building,' thereby institutions and universities. In the earliest days of the academy, architecture joined this elite group and evolved from thereon to other 'schools' and approaches. An analogy can be made between a top-down approach to design vs. a more bottom-up approach. Are other architecture schools out there (pls comment) doing experimental, interesting things from the bottom-up? That's all for now.



    • Luis Fraguada

      Brett Steele along with others at the AA in London have set up research clusters for various topics in and around architecture. These clusters are open to anyone involved with the AA (students, faculty, staff, members, etc) and seek to engage these topics through various discussions, events, lectures, and competitions. Seems like this is an open ended approach to develop various trajectories of thought and practice that could be integrated into the overall message/image of the school. I have been involved in a few meetings and an event for the New Media, Design Systems & Tools cluster. Other clusters include Alternative Practice & Research Initiatives, Environments, Ecologies & Sustainability, and
      Architectural Urbanism, Social & Political Space. These clusters are still quite young and need further definition, but I get the impression that with the right energy and student commitment, the institution as a whole could see the implications for a broader definition of our profession.

      Sep 26, 06 5:52 pm
      Arjun Bhat

      Of the schools I applied to for graduate school, MIT offered hands down the most open-ended "curriculum" of them all. The most appealing aspect of going here would be the possibility of joining anyone of the several cross-disciplinary research groups which combine fields ranging from city planning and urban design, computations, fabrication, robotics, prototyping, and still more. Having the Media Lab here as a haven for artists and techies from various backgrounds is an incredibly valuable resource.

      Sep 26, 06 7:37 pm
      the righteous fist

      ahhhh.. the elusive bottom up, i'd like to know what that means.

      how can you design from the bottom up? it sounds like the sort of thing you do in places in crisis. it's immediately responsive, using immediately available materials. but beyond the question of provisions and necessity how do you design from the bottom up for a more stable context? how does the bottom up address the typicality of human situations without recourse to totalising abstraction?

      is the bottom up meant to meet the top down? or are they like the sun and the moon?

      Sep 26, 06 9:19 pm
      Arjun Bhat

      I would take "bottom up" in regards to architectural education as a system where students are allowed to explore, convene, debate, and form their own assumptions/conclusions/attitudes about design - as opposed to a more rigourously dogmatic approach where you are taught to analyze and design in a specific fashion. The first examples of this "top down" education style that come to my mind are the original Bauhaus school and the 'ol Ecole de Beaux-Arts (altho I could be completely wrong.)

      Sep 26, 06 9:33 pm

      By throwing out the question, I meant bottom-up and top-down as two ways of approaching a design. I think both are necessary, to see a project from a macro- and micro-cosm, adding too, a "humanistic" approach that comes from more textual (and less visual) accounts of social research disciplines like anthropology and the medical sciences. (Not that those disciplines are more humanistic, but to say that they are also grounded in research of abstract patterns in human nature and behavior.)

      What I was suggesting from my original post is that different approaches taught in institutions of architecture and design, are valid, inherited from the world of thinking visually, and haptically, but nonetheless, visually.

      Systematic design in this way has produced and solidified thought from the top-down level, but is not interested in culture in the grossest and most visceral manner, as film schools explore through narrative and individual experience.

      i don't have any answers. don't ask me for any. i'm a student, and whatever i present as an idea could be wrong. but that's why i'm paying money to be in this intermediary, conflictual academic world where one should not be afraid to say what they think.

      but something that "the righteous fist of archinect... your name" posted made me think, and wonder. (s)he wrote:
      "beyond the question of provisions and necessity how do you design from the bottom up for a more stable context? how does the bottom up address the typicality of human situations without recourse to totalising abstraction?"

      i think you bring up a critical point. Does bottom-up imply, locus, stasis, and place? Or should we, as students, question this 'stability' and the forces that act upon it?

      i don't know. i know nothing. just some thoughts to end the night. but not the discussion.


      Sep 27, 06 12:59 am

      Can you please answer the following questions? (and it relates to the notion of "top down vs. bottom up"):

      As a student at Columbia, how much freedom do you have for shaping the school, its program, the research and topics of inquiry, its future?

      How much student organizing is there at Columbia and in the GSAPP?

      For example, I went to UC Santa Cruz where there are ample opportunities for both being creative in your academic and extra-curricular experiences. Granted there is no full-fledged architecture program there and the daily grind is different, the institution is open to student participation and involvement. One can teach a seminar, or assist faculty on research, or start research projects with fellow students, campus staff, or create campus organizations about planning, sustainability, politics, campus stewardship, the arts, etc, or even hold art shows or campus-wide events. There is much freedom to be creative with the educational environment. There is a great deal of things driven by the students -- the bottom-up populace -- and their desires.

      Do you -- and fellow GSAPPers -- consider yourselves activists in any way?

      How does the environment of New York City influence these factors?

      Thank you very much for your answers and time!
      Best, -mw

      Oct 30, 06 6:02 pm

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