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Four Ways to Learn About Architecture for Free

Four Ways to Learn About Architecture for Free
Four Ways to Learn About Architecture for Free, Project example from MIT OpenCourseWare's Geometric Disciplines and Architecture Skills: Reciprocal Methodologies by Isabel Collado and Ignacio Peydro. Image Courtesy of Luisel Zayas-San-Miguel
Project example from MIT OpenCourseWare's Geometric Disciplines and Architecture Skills: Reciprocal Methodologies by Isabel Collado and Ignacio Peydro. Image Courtesy of Luisel Zayas-San-Miguel

Learning doesn't necessarily need to be formal – or expensive for that matter. Thanks to the Internet and some generous benefactors, you can further your education for free from the comfort of your own home. Top schools such as MIT and Harvard University are affiliated with free online learning resources, allowing people from all over the globe to connect and audit courses at their own pace. In some cases, these services even provide self-educators with proof for having completed courses. Keep reading after the break to check out our round-up of four free online learning resources.

MIT OpenCourseWare: Architecture

In 2003, MIT officially launched OpenCourseWare – an online platform through which absolutely anyone can access the same course content as paying students – for free. The architecture section boasts over 100 undergraduate and graduate level courses, complete with downloadable lecture notes, assignments, reading lists, and in many cases, examples of past student work. Even though you won't receive feedback from professors or certification for completing coursework, having free access to the oldest architecture department in the United States' teachings is nevertheless an amazing resource. Below are two of the MIT OpenCourseWare architecture courses, described.

  • Architectural Construction and Computation is for students interested in how computers can facilitate design and construction. The course begins with a pre-prepared computer model, which is used for testing and investigating the construction process. The construction process is explored in terms of detail design and structural design, taking legal and computational issues into consideration.

  • Theory of City Form is one of the handful of architecture courses offered in audio and video format through MIT OpenCourseWare. The title is pretty self-explanatory – the course presents students with historical and modern theories of city form along with appropriate case studies, helping them build an understanding of urbanism and architecture for future educational and professional pursuits.

Delft University of Technology OpenCourseWare

Just like MIT, TU Delft also has an OpenCourseWare platform – albeit less extensive. Even though the website does not have a designated architecture section, designers can still make use out of the prestigious school's science and technical offerings. Available material for the majority of courses includes audio and video lecture recordings, readings, assignments, and practice exams.

  • Bio Inspired Design "gives an overview of non-conventional mechanical approaches in nature and shows how this knowledge can lead to more creativity in mechanical design and to better solutions than with conventional technology. It discusses a large number of biological organisms with smart constructions, unusual mechanisms or clever sensing and processing methods and presents a number of technical examples and designs of bio-inspired instruments and machines."

  • Wastewater Treatment looks at the development of wastewater treatment technologies and their application. "High-tech and low-tech systems, which are applicable in both industrialized and developing countries, are discussed." Specific examination topics include technologies for nutrient removal and recovery, such as anaerobic treatment systems and membrane filtration techniques.

EdX: Architecture

EdX, a non-profit online initiative founded by MIT and Harvard University, offers free interactive classes from some of the world's top schools. If you decide to take a course, you can try for a certificate of achievement – or you can simply audit it, choosing what and how much you want to do. It's up to you. A huge benefit is being able to connect with like-minded classmates all over the world using the website's peer-to-peer social learning tools. In addition to categories like computer science, music, and economics, they have a dedicated architecture section. Two of their architecture courses, described below, are currently open to fall registration.

  • The Search for Vernacular Architecture of Asia "is a comprehensive, dialogue-based course providing an in-depth exploration of the vernacular concept and its applications to the culture and built environments of the past, present, and future. Designed to promote discussion and dialogue while contributing to the discourse surrounding the concept of the vernacular, this five-week course will challenge the perception of tradition and stimulate a deeper analysis of one’s local environment." As suggested in the title, the course will focus specifically on the vernacular in Asia.

  • "While the development of cities in different parts of the world is moving in diverse directions, all estimations show that cities worldwide will change and grow strongly in the coming years" – especially in the tropics, where "it is expected that the number of new urban residents will increase by 3 times the population of Europe today." With a specific focus on Asia, Future Cities will explore design and management methods over the course of nine weeks to increase the sustainable performance of cities and therefore, their resiliency. 

Open Online Academy

Open Online Academy, a platform similar to Edx, offers a more selective range of courses relating specifically to architecture, art, and design. Dr. Ivan Shumkov, the website's founder and one of its educators, is a New York based architect, curator, and professor. He has taught at Harvard GSD, the Pratt Institute's School of Architecture, and Parsons The New School for Design – just to name a few. So far, Open Online Academy offers six courses, two of which are described below. Be sure to keep an eye out for when the platform expands in the fall to offer additional courses concerning leadership, negotiation, and management.

  • Contemporary Architecture analyzes "major contemporary architectural ideas, ideologies, and projects in the context of both globalization and specific local contexts" over an 8-week period. Students will study material from the 1990s onwards, submitting weekly assignments and sitting in on virtual classes and tours. After 27,000 people from across the globe participated in the course's first iteration, it is being offered again starting June 30, 2014.

  • Designing Resilient Schools is taught by Shumkov, Arnold Rivera, and Illac Diaz, the man behind the Liter of Light project in the Phillippines, which won the Curry Stone Design Prize in 2012. The 8-week course focuses on designing resilient schools for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the Phillippines on November 9th, 2013. At the end of the course, which is essentially an online version of a collaborative design studio, an international jury will select the best proposals for future implementation. The next iteration of the course starts on September 1, 2014.

The remaining four courses and their start dates are: 

Cite: Jennifer Whelan. "Four Ways to Learn About Architecture for Free" 16 Jun 2014. ArchDaily. Accessed . <>