Design education is an incredibly dynamic and continuously evolving field- and, one that is significantly influenced by culture and context: Culture, in this context, refers to the shared customs, often viewed collectively, while context encompasses numerous, different social, economic, technological, and political environments. In both cases, an emphasis is placed on the collective experience, which is relevant to this reflection in the sense that exceptions may exist, but these may be viewed as outliers to the existing cultural norms to be analyzed. Understanding how culture and context are interlinked, as well as their varying degrees of influence, is particularly relevant to how they impact differently design educational programs. Similar to architectural practice, a pedagogical consideration for cultural context conditions is deeply necessary: “It is not enough to consider purpose and structure when designing. It is also necessary to understand the social and significant functions of a building within its cultural and geographical context” (Delaqua, 2023).
While context and culture may seem redundant to consider when approaching design education, it is one of the most revealing and indicative variables, varying from country to country, and region to region. Different cultural dichotomies are reflected in these variables, notably those related to openness, religion, privacy, traditionalism, and environmentalism, among many others. Essentially, the content and curriculum of design education programs often need to be tailored to the cultural and societal norms of the region or community where they are offered, notably since different cultures and regions perceive, create, and design differently. For example, design-oriented programs in Western countries often emphasize individuality and personal creativity, while, generally speaking, Eastern-oriented programs might emphasize collective teamwork and tradition-inspired design. Different cultural contexts may also significantly influence what is taught: regions with a strong craft tradition that emphasizes manual work may emphasize traditionalism in terms of architectural design, whereas settings in more international and urban contexts are often more digitally-focused. Once again, this may be transcribed into an emphasis on physical model creation and materiality, versus digitized models.
Once again, different cultural contexts also allow for a conversion into different teaching styles and pedagogies, which draw heavily on regional preferences and social backgrounds. This can translate into either more hierarchical pedagogical approaches, which are, oftentimes, more teacher-centric, or, more student-centric methods which emphasize socially cohesive dynamics. Cultural contexts also dictate teaching methods: in industrial societies, design programs may emphasize real-world application, and industry connection, as well as a more engineering-centric selection of courses, whereas in more developing regions, more emphasis may be placed on theoretical foundations due to resource constraints. Cultural attitudes toward creativity can vary widely, which may, in turn, influence design education. Some cultures may highly celebrate experimentation and risk-taking, while others may value tradition and caution, as well as an emphasis on the demands of higher authority. This can affect how design students approach creativity and innovation in their work. Furthermore, more large-scale variables that are interconnected with context and culture may influence the pedagogy of design: for example, economic and technological contexts can stimulate or inhibit innovation. Design students in technology hubs, urban centers, and international cities may have more opportunities for cutting-edge projects, while those in economically challenged areas might focus on sustainable and resource-conscious design, in which both students learn entirely different skill sets relevant to the place they are based.
In considering all the aforementioned, it is important to take into account globalization and digitization when it comes to addressing pedagogies, especially ones related to design. Globalization has led to the intense blending of cultures- further translated in educational institutions, which often boast about the international blend of its different faculties. Cross-cultural exchange can enrich design practices by introducing students to diverse perspectives and approaches, allowing for a vast range of design pedagogies. This is further accelerated by the influence of the digitization of education, in which the spread of information has become increasingly accessible. On the flip side, globalization can also lead to homogenization in design education, in which there is a decreased emphasis on cultural teachings, vernacular architecture, and context-driven design. In the cases of the aforementioned, programs have become more Anglo-Saxon in their approach, potentially diluting the unique cultural aspects of design. This concept is reinforced by ZHA’s Patrik Schumacher, in referring to the architectural pedagogy, “He believes that the current “model of an unbounded diversity of experimentation” needs to transform into a “hegemonic, unifying paradigm”, which should be parametric design” (Ravenscroft, 2019).
In conclusion, culture and context play a profound role in shaping design education practices. Ideally, design education and its educators should be malleable, and able to respond to different cultures and contexts differently. Considering different cultural influences to ensure that their programs remain relevant, inclusive, and ethical is a concept that is exceptionally relevant in the contemporary era. Design education is one that often takes place in culturally diverse environments, with students of different backgrounds. Embracing, respecting, and further driving this diversity is crucial for fostering inclusive design practices, leading to more holistic and culturally sensitive designs. And so, in these cases, design educators must adapt their teaching styles to both align with cultural norms, as well as embrace the constantly shifting, constantly changing world of diversity in design.
Ravenscroft, T. (2019) Patrik Schumacher outlines the crisis in architectural education, Dezeen. Available at: https://www.dezeen.com/2019/07/09/patrik-schumacher-crisis-architectural-education/ (Accessed: 12 September 2023).
Delaqua, V. (2023) Contemporary Architecture: The importance of local culture in practice, ArchDaily. Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/1004081/contemporary-architecture-the-importance-of-local-culture-in-practice (Accessed: 12 September 2023).