How to Succeed as a Young Architecture Professor (Without Dying in the Process)
In this article originally published in Spanish by the Arquia Architecture Foundation's blog, the author Manuel Saga speaks about the important task of involving young professors in architecture schools, arguing that it is essential that the academic route is seen as a real option with as much value as being a “big name designer,” especially when you take into account the current crisis seen within the industry.
Every year, Forbes publishes its "30 under 30" list that highlights the latest young entrepreneurs, creative leaders and brightest stars. According to MIT News, at least 25 of those on the roster are 2016 graduates of a prestigious university. More than five of those are graduates or post-doctoral assistants with teaching responsibilities. Not one of them is an architect.
Honestly, I'm not surprised at all. We can easily imagine a successful Wall Street broker without any gray hairs, but not a successful architect. Architecture is a complex and profound expertise; the great masters of the twentieth century are remembered in their later years possessing an unhurried wisdom. When we’re in our twenties we’re barely apprentices; sometimes explorers, even innovative, but lacking the holistic view that only experience provides. How the hell are we going to teach anything?
Don’t get me wrong. I think today it’s more necessary than ever for young professors to be involved our architecture schools. In addition to the growing diversification of our discipline, the crisis in the architecture field has made it so the academic route has become a legitimate option right up there with being a "big name designer." An architect who built his career as a researcher or communicator will find teaching almost inevitable and take to it very quickly. How can we meet this challenge?
First, I recommend an act of freedom: put aside the “maestro” mentality and become a facilitator. Designing curriculums and lesson plans can become an adventure when you think of it as two-way communication. The teacher provides techniques for students to produce their own knowledge, which they then give back to the teacher.
Graphical presentation skills are perhaps the best example. In this subject the teacher hopes that, with the help of some basic but precise tools, their students surprise them with an exercise of absolute rigor. A surprised teacher is a satisfied teacher.
Secondly, I think it's key to start with a specialized area that allows us to impart our knowledge as we continue to grow. In this sense, being a professor of toilets for twelve years like Saenz de Oiza is a choice that is both enjoyable and smart. Whoever said that the ritual of going to the toilet doesn’t hold all the knowledge of architecture in itself? A starting point like that lets you reach diversity from a very specific starting point, an anchor that keeps us from drifting off too soon.
Not only do you have to be a good architect to be a professor of architecture, but most importantly you must be a good student. Demonstrating what a good student looks like, learning in an independent and innovative way, that’s the real contribution of a teacher. I wish that our inspiring quotations would resonate through the ages like the classical masters of the past; but in the meantime, you get to participate in an exercise of humility, teaching while continuing to learn.
Remember, you won't be under 30 forever.