COVID-19 & the Future of Architectural Education

The Midnight Charette is an explicit podcast about design, architecture, and the everyday. Hosted by architectural designers David Lee and Marina Bourderonnet, it features a variety of creative professionals in unscripted conversations that allow for thoughtful takes and personal discussions. A wide array of subjects are covered with honesty and humor: some episodes provide useful tips for designers, while others are project reviews, interviews, or explorations of everyday life and design. The Midnight Charette is also available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

This week hosts David and Marina are joined by Marc Neveu—Chair of Architecture, The Design School, Arizona State University and Executive Editor of the Journal of Architectural Education; Renée Cheng—Dean of the College of Built Environments, University of Washington; and Kiel Moe—Gerald Sheff Chair in Architecture, School of Architecture, McGill University to discuss how COVID-19 has impacted teachers and students, the future of education (changing studio, reviews, and lectures), and more. Enjoy!


How the different universities managed the quick transition from ‘normal’ teaching to teaching remotely (00:00)

How the change has impacted students (10:31)

  • I don't think we really fully realized how many of our students were right on that edge of being food insecure or housing insecure. We're dealing with really difficult issues, not just about internet access, but about things impacting their families. [. . .] We’ve been finding out more about our students in detail; things that we didn't use to know or ask about and that has really shown us how they're not able to be as resilient as we would love them to be, because there's a lot of risks in their lives. - Renee Cheng (10:59)

How in education should change during and after COVID-19 (15:42)

  • I think one emblematic example would be the absurdity of the jury system. The idea that we have a tyrannical metaphor as a way of evaluating architectural knowledge at the end of the semester and that this is the primary assumed tradition is bizarre to me. It remains bizarre to me… the kind of juvenile behavior of a lot of reviewers on those panels, the crazy power geometries that emerge. I think there are a lot of better ways to evaluate one's progress, one's contributions to discipline, one's understanding and capacities. We're starting to see some much more interesting methods of delivering feedback on student work. In the worst cases, I think it is just trying to reproduce the jury system via Zoom, which is always a disaster and I think a kind of failure pedagogically. - Kiel Moe (16:14)
  • Overarchingly, the shift from having me being the one who produces knowledge and gives it to the student to a model where people are co-learners or co-developers of information and knowledge. If you look at that across a class-like studio, it changes the review system. I don't do final reviews in the same way most people do. I don't give it individual desk crits ever in the studio. And students are a bit shocked at some point when I introduce that. [Instead], we set up different group situations and games, really. Those games then translate to people developing a sense of studio culture that's sort of lost now because we don't have to be in the studio all the time. So we really have to be intentional about how we create studio culture. I think a lot of peer to peer learning can lead with or help with that. - Marc Neveu (17:41)

Rethinking the lecture format and online learning (25:36)

People need space. That's what we are seeing for sure in these Zoom 50-minute classes. If you use the entire 50 minutes, it's really hard. Whereas, if you did 20 minutes and had some discussion and then did another 10 minutes, I bet those students would be a lot less tired and a lot more engaged and a lot happier. [As a teacher], you have to say, "I've got 50 minutes of stuff I want to cover but, students only going to hear 10% of that.” Do you want to choose the 10% [students learn]? Or you want the students to do choose it? -Renee Cheng (33:21)

  • I teach history theory and studio and one of the problems with history is that we end up teaching the masters because that's the amount of time we have: We had four semesters, now it's two semesters… We keep condensing the amount of information we can give to students. I'm not saying that I think we should just break up those [longer] lectures into 20-minute segments. But if we rethought how history is understood, what the value of it is, and who is history, who are those stories? We could actually have students be co-creators in creating a kind of narrative. That is extremely powerful. I don't need to tell students about the six projects by Corbusier that are on top of my list because ‘I need to tell them’ or because they're iconic and they're important and etc.. But if there was a baseline of understanding of history… if we could open that up and have students actually co-create around those things, it's much more powerful. - Marc Neveu (35:03)

The challenge of creating rubrics in architectural education, when student work and outcomes are difficult to predict (37:22)

Demounting the design studio be the most important class and the hurtful power-dynamics in the studio (42:11)

  • We're definitely trying to break down those distinctions and demount studio as a quasi-holy thing in an ostensibly secular discipline. I think that's really important because that just doesn't reflect how practice works. It doesn't reflect how our experience of architecture works. There are so many different types of people in architecture, within the building industry. There are so many other ways that architects need to develop [in terms of] intelligence and agency in this century beyond just debates about representation or this facade or that plan, etc.. I still value all that knowledge, but there are ways of teaching that, gaining those skills, and having those conversations in a lot of different formats. [. . .] How can you run a normal studio if it's all remote? It seems like it's better to break up some of those exercises into smaller chunks that are more manageable and teachable and have clearer learning outcomes, etc.. All of that is part of the democratization that Renee mentioned earlier. I'm all for that primarily because I see it as a flattening of some really disgusting power dynamics that I think haunt schools of architecture even today. -Kiel Moe (43:15)

Working outside of the studio setting (57:18)

  • How do you find a way to discipline yourself to drop into that zone of intense creativity that often it happens at two in the morning in the studio? I'm mentoring this student who's coming from community college and starting in architecture. He has two jobs and really limited time, so he is not going to stay up all night in the studio. He was asking me, “What am I missing? Because I hear about the studio culture and I have classmates who are [working all night in the studio], but I can't do that.” I explained to him, if you know what that feeling feels like, to be in the flow—and for students who are starting, that will often happen at two in the morning—then you can train yourself to drop into that [flow] at two in the afternoon. Figure out what that creative flow feels like and be able to trigger it. -Renee Cheng (57:18)

Students dropping out and the challenges of teaching different levels of students (01:00:43)

Broadening architectural education to better prepare graduates for the world (01:06:44)

  • The idea that we're just graduating top designers who are going to be designing plans and facades or something like that is pretty crazy at this point, as a position to take. So how we support these students who are going to be doing all kinds of work in a variety of related disciplines is part of the task at hand. [. . .] We’ve been under characterizing what the discipline of architecture is and does in this world. We’ve somehow, in modernity, narrowed this kind of purview of what we consider to be architecture to be incredibly narrow with its apotheosis and various believers of autonomy where we actually only do a couple of things and if you're not doing that, you're not an architect. - Kiel Moe (01:06:10)

Preparing for the Fall semester/quarter (01:12:58)

We invite you to check out ArchDaily's coverage related to COVID-19, read our tips and articles on Productivity When Working from Home and learn about technical recommendations for Healthy Design in your future projects. Also, remember to review the latest advice and information on COVID-19 from the World Health Organization (WHO) website.

About this author
Cite: The Second Studio Podcast. "COVID-19 & the Future of Architectural Education" 31 May 2020. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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