Across the globe, architecture programs are cutting resources and raising fees in an effort to stay afloat. Meanwhile, architecture students feel powerless to demand more - to demand quality, to protest fees, to suggest how curricula could better serve them for the future (a poignant concern in this troubled economy, where even a competitive degree doesn't guarantee post-grad employment any more).
In this Catch-22 of a situation, what can students do? Well, as any good architect-in-training, they can use their craft to form a solution.
Which is exactly what, on the 9th of April, 20 architecture undergrads from the University of Sydney did.
More on the University of Sydney students' architectural protest, after the break...
For months, architecture students from the University of Sydney have been angered by the Department of Architecture's decision to reduce contact hours for design teaching by 38% - a cut which took place despite the administration's specific promise that it would not.
And so, on April 9th and after five weeks of preparation, the architecture students took architectural action. They unveiled BDES0000: design+construct+protest, an "unauthorized guerilla design and construct project" of six architectural installations. An estimated three hundred current and former students, staff members, architects and architecture critics attended the show.
Each installation was completed by a different group of students, each focused on the role of architecture in political protest. The installation "writesomething" - for example - in which users approach a hanging wall of glass bottles and place a message inside one, comments on both "transparency," as the bottles represent a range of solidities, as well as democracy, as each user can communicate his/her message.
Moreover, the project (which each student group designed and built themselves) was also a commentary on "the lack of practical learning opportunities provided in their course." As Michael Baker, one of the students involved, told me: "we wanted as a group to provoke thoughtful discussion about the nature of architectural education. Does it focus too much on pretty pictures and graphics? Is there a black hole of knowledge where construction is concerned? Why are Australian students having to be retrained for five years when they get into the workforce? What better way to discuss architectural education than through an architectural intervention."
The administration, on the other hand, claim that the cuts have been made in the name of "equity and fairness." According to the Dean, Professor John Redmond: "We are reducing students’ expected workload to enable those with professional, carer and other responsibilities to complete their architectural education in an equitable way that does not disadvantage their academic performance or put strain on their other duties."
And while the students report that the administration has "failed to acknowledge" the protest, the Dean responded with this statement:
"Our students’ protest exemplifies the qualities we are looking for in young architects: they are passionate, committed and using their skills and future profession to express their voice. We look forward to continuing this discussion with their student representatives, with whom we have been in consultation throughout this process."
More info at Design. Construct. Protest.