The characteristic of architectural education is spending nights and days in the design studio, exploring various design ideas through group discussions, collaborative team works, hands-on workshops, remote learning, and in-person events with professors, peers, and professional architects. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the whole world and the necessity of stay-at-home and mandatory social distancing paralyzed the normal way we live, work, or sustain, the education system also became one of the casualties of this pandemic and architectural education with other design-related fields that hugely depend on studio works got extremely affected by going digital.
With the need to make digital education interactive and feasible for design-related course works as well, architecture schools all over the world are also rethinking the remote learning process for both initiating preliminary responses as well as for the long-term post-pandemic future.
At the strike of the pandemic when the digital method of teaching architecture was still not standardized and the students had to return to their country, often to different time zones, and they had to struggle with many issues like lack of dedicated workspaces while all the family members are at home all the time, childcare and home-schooling for students with children, and also being sick and quarantined and unable to study. Therefore, as a quick response, many faculties started by recording lectures, holding classes through video conferencing, and reviewing drawings and projects by screen sharing options.
While following asynchronous teaching and learning systems the students can learn at their own pace, with tailored individual learning experiences the students can engage in more creative thinking and even can follow flexible degree paths for gaining multiple degrees at the same time. The Bartlett School of Architecture has also allowed the students to self-certify without any evidence if they need more time for submissions due to any justifiable cause.
While technology has been the base of this transition from traditional to digital teaching and learning experience, the limits of technology and the inequities in architectural education have become visible due to this pandemic.
Issues like different time zones, lack of high-speed internet, software license, access to the library, or fabrication workshops have become major drawbacks in remote education. According to Meejin Yoon, dean of Cornell Architecture, Art, and Planning (AAP), while technology was considered an equalizing force, the pandemic has revealed the limits of technology as equity has become a major issue to make digital education successful.
Planning for the future
Many architecture schools have rightly pointed out that besides addressing the technical issues of the online teaching process and remote learning, supporting the students emotionally, mentally, and financially is equally important in this time of global crisis. The University of Buffalo Department of Architecture and Planning has launched a new career advisement system for the new graduates by networking them with alumni networks and career advisement coordinators and also started a student emergency fund to relieve some financial burdens of its students.
The pandemic has compelled the architect community to adapt and innovate new tools and methods for interactive teaching and as per Harriet Harris, dean of the Pratt Institute School of Architecture, by rethinking these traditional practices that were unchallenged for decades, we can project many positive values as well. According to him, as the pandemic is teaching us ways to become more sustainable and inclusive, digital architectural education also can become more environmentally sustainable as there will be fewer printed drawings and physical models resulting in fewer cost implications for the students as well.
As the lockdown measures are being eased, the vaccine is on the way and everyone is becoming ready to face the new realities, architects and urban professionals are going to held a major role in reforming the built forms to make pandemic resilient cities and places. Therefore, only digital education in architecture will not be enough and the students need to get trained to build back better places; hence a collaborative studio atmosphere is necessary for the students. While Penn is working on a contingency plan to ensure conducting fall semester in person, many prime universities including Yale, Syracuse, Harvard, and others are exploring possibilities to offer an in-person semester next year to provide a model of partly in person and party digital education by allowing students in studio projects only maintaining the new 6 feet distance norm of the post-pandemic world.
Although there were many difficulties that the students and faculties faced due to this forced move to online learning, there were many takeaways as well that they would like to carry forward. According to Kyle Miller, associate professor at the Syracuse University School of Architecture, by using Zoom and Conceptboard (visuals sharing tool) more geographically diverse critics could be incorporated and they are still looking forward to maintaining that virtual review system after returning to the normal situation as well. Many traditional learning institutions have also explored various engaging and creative tools that they can continue using to add value to the standard educational packages, resulting to equip the future architects with a more stable foundation.