Our memories of childhood are filled with extracurricular activities where we represented our schools but at the same time, balanced our studies. Our academic routines were reconsidered and were appreciated for participation.
We still remember the season of college fests when the entire campus used to stay awake for a festival, a celebration of a student’s life beyond the walls of the classrooms. People used to go into an absolute frenzy when classes were rescheduled to allow time for this participation.
The existing system of architectural education and the relevance of architectural competitions has been discussed as separate topics for a long time. However, this article aims to bring the two discussions under one umbrella.
Architectural competitions have been taking place ever since the time of ancient Greek mythologies, as a fair platform for the talented to showcase their work for a project. Today, the competitions are generally held for live projects wherein architects or architectural firms participate or for the students and professionals, with design briefs that might pique interest in the young and yet to be explored minds.
As a student who has participated in a few of them, the design brief intrigued me a lot. Sometimes, it was to design a tiny house, a school of architecture, a space for festivals, to design an airport (in the third year!), and so on. We worked with a group of friends or seniors and debated until the late evening after college, trying to think of the optimal design and its execution and divided the work accordingly.
Participating in an activity outside the curriculum but at the same time, doing something related to one’s own choice of the stream is the part that draws a student. This entire exercise is liberating and at the same time, adds insight to the conventions taught in the studios. Needless to say, it increases the ability to socialize for team works, the skills in architectural software, and allows designing something that can only be imagined, or for a cause that is close to one’s heart but cannot be executed within a studio work.
However, these exercises need time outside the curriculum along with the infrastructural support to work for long hours and credibility for the representation of one’s university. The lack of these facilities and professional insight can often make the task difficult.
Whereas, formal education follows a particular curriculum with traditional teaching methods as per the guidelines of a university.
It involves projects that teach students about norms and conventions. These assignments are under the guidance of experienced teachers and therefore shapes the mind of a young student around the pragmatic aspects of design.
However, the constant concern in a student’s mind to get a design approved by the professors and the ultimate goal of receiving grades can often restrict his or her creativity as well as independence to try something new and fresh.
So, does the solution to the problems faced in competitions lie within a curriculum of formal education?
I would like to disagree with this.
Even though a competition as a part of the curriculum will get the necessary guidance of the teachers along with the infrastructural support and credibility, the basic essence of liberty and choice of topic to work with will be lost. It will be considered as a part of regular studio work with, just larger exposure.
Therefore, it is crucial to think of a middle ground for this issue.
Informal education has been part of our academic curriculum in the form of workshops, seminars, excursions, etc. where the participants are rewarded or certified and may not be graded with the curriculum. This takes place outside the framework of formal education where the students can be a part of an event voluntarily.
This was the sort of network we saw in our schools while participating in extracurricular activities as well as college fests. There was a choice of work but at the same time, not bound by the system of assessments.
A similar approach to architectural competitions is needed today.
To broaden the perspectives of a student with a free speaking and studying environment, which is probably the primary objective of a university, informal education with architectural competitions should be offered. This can bring an intersection between the theoretical information reinforced by the university curriculum with a process of applying it, thus creating a network between the formal and informal forms of education.
We may need guidance from our professors, but we also need the independence to choose a brief that excites us and draws our mind to design something that may look funny to the conventional framework of education. We need to exercise our capabilities to work as a team, but at the same time, a safe and student-friendly place to work together as well as time allotted within the academic curriculum.
Architectural education has always focussed on a process-based education rather than product-based. The incorporation of an informal system of competitions will further help the process-based system by creating an environment for conversation and flexing one’s mind. (Civaroğlu, A. (2003) “Sen’in Ardından”, Mimarlık, No.310, March-April 2003.)
Therefore, with my personal experiences and the research done by professionals (M. Galieh Gunagama, Yulia Pratiwi “The Role of Architectural Competition in the Learning Process of Architecture Students”, Melike Orhan “The Role and Importance of Workshops in the Architectural Design Education; Case of “Self Made Architecture I-II), “an integrated formal-informal education network” can be a suggestion for this argument.
This can bring a free-study environment while exercising skills differently and allow the students to understand and tackle the short-term problems while designing a project of their choice, stay motivated and most importantly, raise one’s self-confidence to understand and design by his or her intuitive knowledge which will help a student to grow into a responsible, sensitive and a confident architect and an individual.