Architecture School, 1990–2012: The Future That Is Now: Places: Design Observer

[excerpt]

When we look back over the past 20 years of architecture education, three overriding tendencies stand out. The first is the shifting relationship between the profession and the schools. In many cases, passionate academic debates have brought to light a deeper anxiety about the changing role of the architect in society. Architects, as Rem Koolhaas has pointed out, are at once immensely arrogant and massively powerless. That is to say, they are no longer effective in many areas traditionally seen as the domain of the architect, but potentially powerful in other, perhaps unanticipated arenas. One task of schools today is to identify these new arenas and capacities. This is a task made more difficult by a climate of increasing pluralism. Clearly no single design direction dominates today, and while it is possible to map shifting intellectual agendas, the situation is not so much that one agenda supplants another as it is that one is layered over another, multiplying the possibilities and points of view. This can be confusing to a student, who is often thrown back on his or her own resources. Young architects need to cultivate intellectual independence, but students need stable landmarks as well. Complicating the climate of pluralism is the leveling effect of new technologies and the tensions between the global and the local. Not only are there more choices out there; the differences among them are ever smaller. As information proliferates and the speed of access accelerates, it is more difficult to identify specific local design cultures. Architects today work in distant locations, and students are highly mobile. The student enrolling in a school in Tokyo, Los Angeles, Chicago or London is drawn to that city less for its local design culture than by a desire to plug into the global network. Students today look at the same journals, work with same software, and listen to the same architects who travel the international lecture circuit. What is required to comprehend globalism today are not tired generalizations, but close study of specific places, cities and cultures. It is worth remembering that architecture remains rooted to place, even in an age celebrated for global culture; what circulates are images, ideas, expertise and architects themselves. Political philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah has written about the need to cultivate a cosmopolitan attitude in the face of global culture today, neither artificially preserving “authentic” local traditions, nor giving in mindlessly to the forces of globalism. [22] Instead, he advocates paying close attention to the necessary hybridity of a contemporary culture that works with elements of history and tradition just as it takes full advantage of new technologies and the opportunities of global exchange. Something similar will be required in architecture and education to take account of the issues discussed here as well as others impossible to anticipate.

via Architecture School, 1990–2012: The Future That Is Now: Places: Design Observer.

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