© Maren Bödeker
TEACHING ARCHITECTURE - BEHIND THE FOREGROUND
At the latest after the experiences reported by those who have been able to position themselves in architectural offices and have been moulded by the everyday world of making architecture can we possibly gain a more reliable perspective on the competencies we as teachers, instructors were able to contribute to the quality of professional education, to equip them for their way into this world. It shows that often the most talented will not and are not the most known on the architectural market because here assertiveness has priority over sensitivity.
Critical thinking as a prerequisite for the way into the world is formed through the realization that reality is subject to processes; it is not static, realizing that one is in the world and with the world. The ‘Banking Method of education’ rightly criticized by Pablo Freire is dominated by a passive image of the learner visualized as an empty container. Here the primary task of the teacher is simply seen as to fill the heads of the pupils with content disconnected from reality. This way the teacher indicates how reality should be and is a good teacher the more he or she fills in and the pupil the more he or she willingly absorbs. This way of conveying enhances passiveness and adaption to an apparent reality without critical awareness and without the ability for discourse.
The main teaching objective is to be open to facilitate, support the personal and professional development of the student, even when always the unexpressed urge lies in the air, not only from the students’ side but also from our own peers, to finally or eventually deliver prescriptions and recipes for designing and constructing. Behind the wish for a successful path to follow, mostly given by an authority, lies the longing for a secure platform or realm from which thinking in known, well acquainted and well worn paths can take place instead of courageously diving into creative processes with all of their backs - and forwards, perpetual searching, finding, trying, rejecting and finally - on reflected foundation - acquiring and realizing your own viewpoint. Insights and knowledge that were gained and secured through acting, by applying conveyed theoretical content at best while immediately finding an appropriate balanced relation of acting/applying and reflecting, which I try to ensure in classes through intelligent methods of exercising. These exercises are integrated, make students aware of strategies and are guided by specific support with immediate response to their performance.
Operating manuals and rules to architecture or even a set of “patented solutions” will not be delivered by a teacher who would like to avoid mimicry and conformity. An instructor can convey the appropriate approach to “wicked problems” (Horst Rittel) beyond technical competencies through sustainably initiating a confrontation with perspectives, views, and perception in the sense of “Weltanschauung” and ensuring strategies of thinking and working methods. This incorporates the clear structuring of the content and plausibility of objectives of lectures.
The real objective of teaching is to teach how to learn, how to develop and acquire methods and strategies of solving problems. In this context though, the instructor’s challenge is to be a good example and role model and at the same time has to be able to withdraw himself or herself in the right moment or phase from being a pacemaker or guide - to be dispensable. A good teacher has to keep his or her distance to prevent close, dependent disciples.
As a studio, seminar or thesis instructor I have always understood myself as an enabler and precursor. If we all knew what architecture is, then we would not have to give it as much attention as we do. We have to be vigilant towards any certainty of knowledge. Students move, as in all creative-scientific subjects, between diligence and genius. It is up to us as teachers to help to clarify things, to be authentic, enthusiastic, to help widen the student’s perception and at the same time being precise, to promote and strengthen students in their individual abilities. Only the assured proficiency of a subject matter that one teaches allows a playful, imaginative and human conveying with forms of good address (Hartmut von Hentig). One personal approach I pursue is to inform my teaching through reflecting my scientific and creative professional work: past, present and current.
University, if it is understood correctly, offers the necessary freedom and with it a variety of working methods e.g. in a studio environment, it can be a laboratory, a place for experimenting, an intensive care unit for thinking, working through and substantiating. Complex thinking creates at the same time the prerequisite for dealing with different models of reality, for acknowledging and flexibly responding to strengths and weaknesses of different designs of others which themselves reflect their own reality.
What is reality? A Chinese proverb, which Herman Hesse in “Chinese Legend” has a master tell his scholar, summarizes this simple and complex matter: “The reality exists, you lads, and it cannot be joggled. But truths, which are opinions expressed by words about reality, exist countless and each one is as right as it is wrong.”
The so much desired competency for discourse implies independent, critical thinking. It requires also that the student is perceived as a person, seen as a Mensch. He or she has to be affirmed or accepted as such instead of ‘educating’ him or her. He or she has to be allowed to present or demonstrate his or her viewpoint: only what one is sure of can be abandoned; what is being argued against has to be defended (Hartmut von Hentig).
Learning various methods and their application serves the cultivation of independently approaching problem areas and the structured development of processes towards solutions. Creative processes certainly drift chaotically or are iterative but can be unfolded in a way that persisting patterns are recognized. Individual, aesthetic approaches are of little help. It is not primarily about aesthetics, but about quality of living through the built environment, which enables, encompasses the need for a graceful appearance in the frame of the object character, besides social cultural and various sensual impulses. In a more direct sense: Schönheit aus Funktion und als Funktion (Beauty through function and as function) (Max Bill).
These matters are integrated into and conveyed through the studio projects, but are still pushed into the background by the concrete objects that are to be planned but are not sufficiently questioned. Being conscientious about the methods and through a critical, reflective dealing with planning problems and to realize the necessity to ask the unquestioned, the neglected, the omitted lies the key to conceptual thinking and at the same time the encouragement for lateral thinking.
The educator is needed as a whole person, beyond being authentic, enthusiastic, it means: he or she himself, herself is mediator but also is responsible, fair and accommodating. Creating an atmosphere of communication through simple tools e.g. seminar minutes, sketch-book-diaries and encouraging participation in planning are perceived from my side as amplifying soft skills. The studio environment itself equally has to facilitate a communicative atmosphere. Here improvements to the status quo are necessary which I am currently part of. These aspects help the students to develop their competencies independently. The instructor becomes more and more consultant and observer. Out of these circumstances grows a responsibility.
We are part of an educational institution. It is important that students and teachers appreciate and respect each other. Teaching techniques and methods are a part of it all - no more, no less. Answering to your own experiences as a learner or teacher reassures this, who does not remember? In the hope, that the here outlined objectives can be seen as a layer in the background, that the independently thinking student, whose methods and concepts are transparent and accommodate discourse, will in future be regarded as a serious project partner, open for cooperation, collaboration - neither rower in a galley, nor sailing in solitude.