Schools with "Timeless Way" or Design/Build focus


I'm 33, looking at moving out of the computer / business world and into Architecture / Building. Likely to apply for a 3-year MA program in 2012.

My interest in architecture has been largely due to my exposure to Christopher Alexander. What schools are most sympathetic to his thought?

Phrased differently - I'm looking for schools that aren't overly enamored with what *can* be built, but are very interested in what *should* be built. Sustainable focus is a plus. Opportunities to do hands on in-the-field building is a plus. Respect for traditional building methods - cobb, straw bale, etc. is a plus.

Schools with a sustainable focus and schools with a Landscape Urbansim focus are good candidates.

Also a big plus for me is the ability to train as an architect and get a strong background in planning - so as to be able to work at different resolutions.

Currently looking at:
UC Berkeley
U Oregon

Some of the programs at AA may be appropriate - Landscape Urbanism, and later maybe Design & Make.

Where else should I be looking?

Sep 18, 10 7:28 pm

Companion question -

Who are the professors that are carrying on Christopher Alexander's work, now that he's retired?

Sep 18, 10 7:46 pm

not an march, but auburn might be right up your alley, on all accounts
could get a barch+design/build masters

Sep 18, 10 7:54 pm
creativity expert

you one of those guys with enough dough to start an office? let me know when you hire. if you are not good luck to u anyway, hope you wont try to support yourself or a family on an interns pay.

Sep 18, 10 11:12 pm

william mcdonough is supposed to be green. not sure if he actually is, and his architecture is often rather poor quality in my opinion. but he did write a good book called cradle to cradle that i think is brilliant.

also there is the rural studio, where lots of "should-be-built" is going on.

before you decide what "can" be built is not worth building, i have been to one of the projects alexander worked on here in japan. it was horrible. followed all his rules and was nonetheless horrible. sometimes it is necessary to set aside what we know and see what else can be done, because a rigid approach leads to rubbish even if the intentions are good.

with the environment and sustainability so high on the agenda i am not sure why we are not broadening our horizons rather than limiting them.

Sep 19, 10 12:27 am

Thanks for the tip.

Years away, lots of road in between here and there. Still, good to hear from a sympathetic soul.

I hear what you're saying. I see CA's work as the beginning of a conversation, not the end. As for the tensions between 'can' and 'should', it's important to me that both questions are asked. I try not to pre-suppose any answers.
Still, looking at the designs coming out of most architecture departments these days, it's hard to call them anything but monstrous. They often appear to be in love with technological possibility and difference for difference sake, and nearly totally divorced from human or societal need.
I'm curious to hear more detail of your impressions of the Japan project - was this the Eishin school?

I'm realizing that I should probably make my question more general, and ask what schools have a strong focus on environmental design / sustainability.

Sep 19, 10 5:38 am

yeah. my office went there on an extended company field-trip to study the place. we specialised in open plan schools and were very interested in seeing how alexander would do things, given a chance. so few westerners are able to design public buildings here so we were particularly interested in what knew ideas he could bring to the typology.

myself i was a big fan of his work when younger so i was looking forward to seeing the theory hit practice.

it was rather underwhelming. it was mostly just strange to be in this disney-like stage-set pastiche of ancient japan. it was not representative of how people lived anymore and actually my boss (who is a conservative man and was always referencing the lessons of the past) felt like this foreign man had done something mildly offensive, picking up all the graphic cues of the past but not much of the actual way of life that originally gave them meaning (and were more important). i think he felt ripped off.

it was some time ago since i visited it and i am strongly influenced by my boss' reaction - I recall him talking about how impractical the design was and how little it did for the students (because it was based on a rigid, almost victorian organization instead of a modern flexible one). perhaps i would take a different view now, but i also recall from the same trip going to the school by coelecanth at makuhari (close to the steven holl building) and was dumbstruck by how perfect it was, and it was entirely a new typology, taking lessons from the present rather than the past (which makes sense since we live in the former and not the latter). i have been there a few times since and it remains a fantastic building in my mind.

which does not answer your question about schools.

if you like design build and believe sustainability begins with people rather than technique the rural studio seems like a great place. for the technical side of things frankly i think any school is suitable. Learning about the topic is I think still a self-directed project for most of us...

Sep 19, 10 10:42 am


I'm currently updating website content for the Auburn Design/Build look for some new info by the end of next week. I'm currently one of the cohorts for 10-11 track. The program has taken a different shift from what I thought the program was about but I'm happy with my decision to come here. It's a great program.

Sep 19, 10 12:25 pm

we had a Pattern Language studio 2nd year at Cincinnati...worst studio of the 6 yrs

Sep 20, 10 12:31 am

you may want to check out Yestermorrow. It's not a full fledged accredited masters program but it may be a nice first step in seeing if you want to make the career change in that direction..

Sep 20, 10 9:10 am

great idea tagalong

Sep 20, 10 9:30 am

I'm curious about Yestermorrow. Seems like a really interesting program.
Is it unique, or are there any other comparable programs? West Coast?

Sep 20, 10 11:12 am

this is in oregon...similar to yestermorrow:

Sep 20, 10 1:55 pm

Mark_M -

How has the program changed? I was there in '06-'07 when DK was around. It was pretty seat-of-the-pants back then... Are you guys still building projects?

Sep 20, 10 6:47 pm

anyone who tries to sell you a 'timeless way' is trying to con you. carry on.

Sep 20, 10 8:18 pm

unless it involves psychadelics, meditation, or tantric sex. then they may think they want to con you, but they haven't thought the con out enough to actually make it work.

personally, I think the OP wants Notre Dame.

Sep 20, 10 10:15 pm

laizer- definitely look into UT Austin we can be buddies. Also Cal Poly Pomona offers what you're looking for

Sep 21, 10 7:23 am

@Steven Ward
Reference was to:

Sep 21, 10 9:10 am

I've never understood why people pay university tuition to do "design/build". Your better off just getting a job with a contractor and learning the trade. After reading one book, it sounds like you've already made up your mind about the should and shouldn'ts of design. So you should fit right in.

Sep 22, 10 4:39 am

sorry, laizer. being cheeky. i know alexander, and i've dipped in to 'timeless way' recently, strangely enough. but the book is a resource, not a way. only one very valuable resource of many, and certainly not sufficient foundation for an architecture curriculum.

there are schools that work in a way that suggests that there can be a specific path for architectural learning, but my own opinion is that these are among the least worthwhile programs.

Sep 22, 10 7:41 am

two issues are conflated here. The OP mentions alexander as that was her/his segue into a broader range of issues. but ignoring alexander for a second, the main point seems to be:

"Phrased differently - I'm looking for schools that aren't overly enamored with what *can* be built, but are very interested in what *should* be built. Sustainable focus is a plus. Opportunities to do hands on in-the-field building is a plus. Respect for traditional building methods - cobb, straw bale, etc. is a plus.

Schools with a sustainable focus and schools with a Landscape Urbansim focus are good candidates.

Also a big plus for me is the ability to train as an architect and get a strong background in planning - so as to be able to work at different resolutions."

Addressing OP's request for suggestions with this quote as the primary benchmark against which potential suggestions are judged yields a different list than responding based upon who teaches alexander.

given this, i suggest auburn, maybe yale, maybe k-state's studio 804, UVA, perhaps NC State

Sep 22, 10 8:16 am
won and done williams

before i knew anything about architecture, i thought taliesin was the ideal school. now, taliesin is nothing more than a stopover in pheonix. as sw points out, i would look at schools that provide a broader exposure, particularly for an older student like youself. "craft" could be intricate wood joinery or it would be 3d cnc milling. your education will help you figure out what craft is to you. with a good education, your thoughts about architecture should change radically from where they are now (let's face it, your exposure now is a handful of books and monographs you thumbed through at your local border's). while i don't have any specific recommendations (i really think you will get more out of your own research than you will find on a message board), a new urbanist going to miami to study under duany or a design-builder in search of mockbee at auburn is only looking to validate a narrow and pre-conceived view of architecture; i would ask for more from your education.

Sep 22, 10 8:51 am

are there any architecture programs where the above suggestions, i.e., "sustainable focus, craft, planning, etc.." meets traditional/ classic architecture? or are they, atleast in a education setting, fundamentally juxtaposed?

i guess, does a program exist that is the anti-narrow/ pre-conceived view? does any one program emcompass everything?

Sep 22, 10 9:02 am

ww & sw, in concept the point is valid, but (for instance), to reduce auburn to mockbee is a gross over-generalization (i cannot speak about miami but i would be surprised if it were not also an over-generalization) as these are both mature, active programs

auburn has planning/arch/landscape arch/bldg science & design/build, each very active in its own right. it offers coverage in all of the areas the OP mentions, and it offered that coverage before there was mockbee and rural studio and nothing has changed since. also, a range of design paradigms were taught before mockbee and nothing has changed since. it offers broad coverage of design perspectives though it does not cover all perspectives. but is true of all schools. No one covers everything equally well.

again, the point is good, to seek a broad view of architecture is good, but the insinuation that a program like auburn or miami is perhaps one dimensional is very incorrect.

rather, it is worth noting that not all schools have the coverage of related fields about which the OP asked, and of the schools that do have the coverage, not all have truly active programs in each area; and if they do, not all of them have healthy dynamics between the respective programs (in which case working across the disciplinary boundaries can be fraught).

so the suggestion, as a starting point, is to look for schools with the right mix of programs. from there, to figure out if the ones of most importance to the OP are truly active and to see whether or not there seems to be collaboration or at least openness to / flexibility for taking classes in the different programs as part of one's curriculum

Sep 22, 10 9:23 am

to any real effect on the "should be built", it would be more prudent to become a developer. As an architect, unless you are footing the bill for your own projects, you can have an influence, but will ultimately always be at the mercy of what the client "wants to be built", and that is definitely not always inline with the "should"...

Sep 22, 10 10:03 am

funny, chistopher alexander always seems to be brought up to me by non-architects upon finding out im an architect....

Sep 22, 10 6:13 pm

Thanks for the favorable reading, and the recommendations.

@Steven Ward
I appreciate the constructive criticism here. Curious that we think being disillusioned is a negative thing. If they're illusions, let's do away with them already.

@won williams
Also - thanks for the constructive crit. Would appreciate directions for research, if any occur to you.

CA's thought has had a very strong impact on the world of computer programming - helping to elevate it to a craft. There's a pattern movement in programming that has born fruit that is universally acknowledged as valuable. I'm learning that his standing in his home field is much more mixed.

Sep 23, 10 1:31 pm

If you have an interest in ca's influence in programming & systems, then we should correspond. His notes on the synthesis of form I find very interesting and useful. If that peaks your interest then I might suggest looking up Gordon pask, John Frazer, AA and Nicholas negroponte and achim menges

Sep 23, 10 4:03 pm

@laizer, what school did you end up going with?!

I'm curious how your thinking has evolved.

Aug 14, 19 12:35 am

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