The Faculty of architecture at KU Leuven, which last year featured on QS's Top 100 Universities in the World for Architecture, is Belgium's largest and most established university. The following essay, by Dag Boutsen—Dean of the School—and Kris Scheerlinck, examines cyclical learning in architectural education. It was first published by Volume in their 50th issue, Beyond Beyond, the editorial of which is available to read here.
The ongoing Bologna process in Flemish education forces us, as a Faculty [of KU Leuven], to constantly rethink our inner rationale. Where conventional learning is based on telling, on producing knowledge, architectural learning revolves around showing, adding to the discourse told: questioning knowledge and making artefacts as an illustration of one’s progress, and adopting a position on how to make the world we inhabit. Architectural learning thus requires a communicative process, a dialogue between the intention of the learner, the learning group, the instructors and the disciplinary boundaries. Classroom instructions and an idea of the Faculty as a pool of design gurus make place for a more non-hierarchical environment characterized by mutual trust, where reviews and opinions are based on interpreting and evaluating personal propositions, with an absolute belief in the person behind the student.
In design reasoning there is no singular, clear route towards a valuable proposal. The most valuable proposal might thus be situated outside the intended framework. This can lead to a form of learning (or research) that is radically non-methodological, while—at the same time—being almost obsessively methodical, not only from work to work, but from moment to moment.
Changing external societal or professional conditions that transform practice, and advances in tools to make and visualize architectural ideas, call for different approaches to the production of knowledge and its proper questioning or testing. They introduce a level of uncertainty that we need to embrace.
This uncertainty challenges the traditional idea of creativity and learning as a progression towards a final project. Dealing with this kind of uncertainty requires a form of learning which is indeterminate, in the sense that one has to be able to accept any result as a point of departure for new inquiry, to keep the learning process open. This requires a method where progress depends on errors and failures. Moreover, in real building or site construction, obstacles along the path usually lead to even better results (or, perhaps, this happens when the designer is ready to accept and embrace hindrances and hiccups).
Learning, however, is not something that ends when you leave the Faculty. It is a continuous process of exploring the very borders of the profession. The practice—always in evolution—of our teachers is essential to the education on offer. A large number of them are relearning by plunging themselves (and consequently the Faculty) into a research-by-design culture, including alternative PhD [doctorate-level] trajectories. If exploring questions about ways to design was once something for specialists outside architectural and design practice, these teachers/practitioners now become students again and explore their design skills and methods through a process of self-investigation. As a result, the designer loses the aura of a solitary genius, whose methods are kept secret, and becomes a teacher who is better able to impart skills to the student.
In collaboration with Volume, KU Leuven, Faculty of Architecture, campus Sint-Lucas Ghent/Brussels, formerly known as Sint-Lucas, selected recent graduate projects and reflected on the underlying ambitions of the school. The result is ‘Doing It the Belgian Way’, one of the two inserts in Volume 50. The insert presents three perspectives: Embracing Complexity, Embedding in the Local, and Un/Re-Learning. The text presented here is the introduction to this third chapter.