When one is asked to distinguish between the terms theoretical and practical, the most probable answer might be that all those which are not practical come under the domain of theory. Today architectural education has become censorious by pragmatism. Here are some of the cliché assertions about architectural theory proving it-
‘Architects should be well versed in graphical representation and avoid writing as much as possible since nobody has got the patience and time to read anything’,
‘Nobody can teach architecture, only one could be guided’,
‘One needs to study allied subjects such as building construction, services, graphics, structures, etc which must support an architectural design project. The history of architecture should be learned to acquire a source of inspiration for designs’,
‘Three or four years of academics should enable an architecture student to be a good intern in his/her practical training firm’.
These are all certainly not wrong, but make an architecture student restlessly eager to practice or design a building project. But before that should one primarily know what ‘architecture’ really is? Is it just about the expertise for designing a building or the art and science of building as defined by the dictionary? If it is so why should there be a council of architecture? It is high time to ponder and pontificate over these questions, especially when the Supreme Court has declared that a person does not require having a professional degree to practice architecture; making architects and anyone who can design under one umbrella with the exemption for the title.
This is where architectural theory attains significance in education. It is the theory of architecture that distinguishes it from other allied fields such as civil engineering, structural design, design profession, etc. A student architect is ought to define and demarcate his discipline precisely rather than simply saying ‘an architect builds a home, whereas an engineer builds a house’, and for which learning, comprehending, and exploring architectural theory becomes essential.
Architecture is devoid of a well-documented, systematic pre-existing system of knowledge that other professions like medicine and law have got, due to the quasi-philosophical nature of the architectural profession and its association with non-physical constituents such as humanities. Architectural theory is such a codified knowledge system that could solidify the practice into a verifiable societal gauge.
But theories are always misconceived as normative statements that hinder creativity or subjective assertions that lack universality or even as dogmas anchored to a convention. In reality, architectural theories have multi-dimensions, can be a positive statement, a model, a hypothesis, or a prescription for action.
“The circumference of architecture is shifting but the center remains unchanged” –the statement put forward by Frank Llyod Wright implies that the theory of architecture is the center of architectural activity and the scope of practice and range of ideals are its circumference. The theoretical treatise in architecture has a two millennia-old tradition beginning with the Vitruvius principles or his magnum opus De Architectura. The architectural theory encompasses the broad spectrum of facets of this multi-discipline such as explanation or criticism of architectural works, instruction or guidelines for practice, advocacy of new design approaches and methodologies, researches in hitherto neglected domains in architecture, explanation of conceptual foundations, development of philosophical insights and identifies challenges within architectural education and practice.
Architectural theory is the strong base upon which the present and future are to be built since it describes the musings of the origin and evolution of architectural forms, styles, ideologies of movements, and architects of diverse eras. Rather than a blindfold approach of acquiring inspiration from the master crafts of the renowned architects, a comprehensive understanding of the theory helps an architecture student to critically scrutinize the works which prevent an easy fall into dogmas. It also helps one to synthesize didactic and polemic interpretation of architectural works which will eradicate imitation of designs and promote self-evolution through devising design methodologies. Architectural theory is a key to unlock any confusion as it facilitates a crystalline perception of the constituent facts, its classification, and decode the relation among them, making the thoughts more systematized and resulting in mature architectural solutions by imparting a certainty of purpose for the students in their work. With the background of a sound theory, the thoughts and actions will be more certain of success. In this time of burgeoning architecture schools and consequently graduates, it is the identity or individuality that is of paramount essential. The 20th century witnessed a spurt of architects, among whom the exemplars were the ones who left their footprint as the architectural manifestation of their phenomenal theories such as Le Corbusier’s 5 Points of architecture, Kenneth Frampton’s Critical Regionalism, and the eternal theory of Form ever Follows Function by Louis Sullivan, etc.
Moreover, freedom is a word that is often used to describe academic projects in architecture schools, but the students need to be aware that icons of architecture over the years had laid down concrete theories and objective guidelines that address the complexity of issues in architecture design. The most common pursuit for fostering creative instincts among the budding architects is to browse case studies that offer merely a vision centered learning. The increased demand for visual and graphical communication in academics is the main reason behind the minimal enthusiasm for architects to read and write architecture. Reading of theoretical books and essays are the best way to develop philosophical insights and intellect for architecture students and architects.
Architectural theory is inevitable in education for a better understanding and appreciation of the field to be aware that architecture is not confined within the enclosure of practice. However, a major drawback of the theory is that it distances laymen from design. For architectural designs to resonate with a large gamut of population, it is necessary to widen the scope of theorizing, seek universal and comprehensive theories, and develop appropriate criteria for judging the validity of the architectural theory for which Architectural theory should be a core component of the curriculum.