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Essay on Architectural Education
Pedagogy and Paradigm: The Master-Apprentice model in Architectural Education
When teachers of architecture - full time teachers or architects teaching part time - reflect on their task, methods and criteria of success they should try to relate general disciplinary issues like the built environment’s significance for societal progress, the discipline’s contribution, the architect’s professional role in a changing society, the creative process, its rationalizability etc. on the one side to the general concerns of pedagogy on the other side. However, unlike school teachers, teachers of architecture (like university teachers in general) are not professional pedagogues. Architecture teachers, often practicing architects, are thus largely autodidacts with respect to the science and art of pedagogy. Teaching in architecture has not been professionalized and does only tangentially and sporadically partake in the discourse that guides the education system of society. This engagement usually reaches not much deeper than to the most prominent concepts and principles of pedagogy that have also reached mainstream educated consciousness.
The insights we associate with contemporary progressive pedagogy are in fact as old as the academic discipline of pedagogy (or education science) itself, which had its first flourishing, with a dense cluster of treatises, in (the protestant parts of) the German speaking world towards the end of the 18th century (under the alternate titles of “Paedagogik” or “Erziehungswissenschaft”). The discourse centered around an ambitious concept of education (“Bildung”), full of humanist pathos and in explicit contrast to the mere training of skills and transference of knowledge. Bildung was and is distinguished from Ausbildung. This distinction is perhaps best rendered in English with (self-)development versus training, and is to some extent institutionally represented in the anglo-saxon world with the difference between liberal and vocational education. The German Bildung of the 18th and 19th century had more pathos, and included, with emphasis, the aim of the pupil’s moral development. The distinction of Bildung/Ausbildung was and remains more than a neutral distinction: it usually implied a hierarchical ordering with emphatic preference for Bildung.
A science of pedagogy emerged from the systematisation of debates about a secular education and educational reform supported by magazines and practical guide books, absorbing the influence of French enlightenment (Rousseau) and English Empiricism (Locke, Hume). The first formal academic professorship in the science of education was instituted at the University of Halle in 1778 with Ernst Christian Trapp as first appointed professor. Prominent figures in the scholarly discourse on pedagogy were Basedow, Campe, Stuve, Kant, Schleiermacher, Fichte, W.v.Humbolt, Herbart and Pestalozzi along many others. Bildung aspired to the formation of an autonomous, responsible moral subject, e.g. in the work of Johann Stuve (1752–1793), calling for the “free development of the young human being’s talents, powers, and self-expression, in accordance with his general human nature, his individuality and his social situation”[i]. The prominent pedagogue Joachim Heinrich Campe (1746-1818), who also became the home teacher of both Wilhelm and Alexander von Humbolt, insisted, against romantic sentimentality, to found educational practice on science. The developing child should freely choose its sensations. Campe emphasized that “the free play of ideas, thoughts and emotions are the only means of education and self-perfection”[ii] and that the child will not be able to transform the material it is passively receiving into insights, but that “self-activity alone exercises, strengthens and develops the mental and physical powers of the child”[iii]. This doctrine of self-activity became foundational for pedagogy ever since. In Campe’s approach self-activity builds on the natural inclination of imitation and the natural capacity for empathy, and emphasizes sociality. Morality was always emphasized too; after all, this secular pedagogy was offering itself as a substitute of centuries of church dominated education. The moral thrust of the new education has been strongly emphasized by Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814), who served as first rector of Berlin University from 1810, and who characterized the new pedagogy as “the deliberate and sure art of cultivating the pupil to pure morality.”[iv]
The issue whether and to what extent the full development of the individual conflicts with and can be sacrificed for the individual’s usefulness to society was already thematized in the late 18th century German pedagogy (e.g. by Peter Villaume). Even the slogan of the importance of learning to learn was already explicitly formulated in the first decades of pedagogy’s flourishing, namely in the treatise on educational reform put forward by Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835): “The young human being is doubly engaged in learning, with the immediate learning itself, but also with the learning of learning.”[v] According to Humboldt (who was the founder of Berlin University and who rejected any class differentiation within the educational system) education is work on oneself, as the individual’s active appropriation of scientific knowledge. Fichte made a similar point: “However great or small the sum of the knowledge that he takes with him from education, he has surely been left with a mind that for the rest of his life can grasp every truth whose cognition will become necessary to him, that remains as constantly receptive to instruction by others as it is capable of independent reflection." [vi]
From this excursion into early pedagogy it is clear that our seemingly cutting edge pedagogical ideas have been around for a very long time (even if educational practice might not have reflected this the way we would expect on the basis of this spirited discourse). This general thrust of a humanist pedagogy was, once more, effectively summarized over 100 years later by John Dewey, and Dewey’s pedagogy still rings progressive for us today, yet another 100 years later (perhaps because the gap between these perennial ideals and educational realities on the ground remains.) Dewey summarizes the “contrast between traditional and progressive education” as follows: “To imposition from above is opposed expression and cultivation of individuality; to external discipline is opposed free activity; to learning from texts and teachers, learning through experience; to acquisition of isolated skills and techniques by drill, is opposed acquisition of them as means of attaining ends which make direct vital appeal; …; to static aims and materials is opposed acquaintance with a changing world.”[vii]
The point of this excursion into the universally espoused insights of (an always progressive) theoretical pedagogy is to emphasize that these insights and the value asymmetry of the distinction between liberal education (Bildung) and vocational training (Ausbuilding) is presupposed here, in order to make sure that the distinction I would like to introduce in this paper, namely the distinction between the ‘master-apprentice’ model and the ‘peer-to-peer’ model, despite superficial appearances, is neither being confused with the conservative vs progressive distinction, nor with the liberal education vs training distinction. Both models are compatible with an enlightened humanist pedagogy that aspires to facilitate the students’ independent, critical-reflective intellectual development.
In the ‘master-apprentice’ model the teacher assumes a position of leader who invites the students to join his project as junior partners. The teaching relation starts as an apprenticeship that evolves into a discipleship that finally aspires to approach a relation between collaborating peers. In the ‘peer-to-peer’ model the student initiates the project and the teacher acts only as a sounding board to bounds ideas off.
This distinction is not conceived as asymmetric, i.e. it does not have an inbuilt preference with respect to all educational situations. Nevertheless, it is the master-apprentice (or master-disciple) model that I am personally pursuing in my teaching practice and which I am thus introducing and defending here. I also believe that this model is, in most cases, the more appropriate, honest and realistic model, not only for undergraduate studies but also for graduate (or post-graduate) studies. It reflects the (hopefully not only presumptive but real) asymmetry in knowledge and experience between teacher and student, and entails the appropriate expectation of the university teacher’s resourcefulness as a leader in his/her field, a resourcefulness that elevated him or her into this university position in the first place. When it comes to doctoral studies, the ‘peer-to-peer’ or ‘sounding board’ model might often be, and ideally should be, the appropriate model for the underlying relationship and terms of engagement. The same applies to exceptionally strong and strongminded graduate students who know what they would like to do and who are only looking for a sounding board. In situations where all student work is conducted in teams (as is the case with my teaching at Architectural Association Design Research Lab (AADRL) this full individual self-determination is harder to accommodate. This also extends to my PhD research group where the master-apprentice model with its implied leadership role for the supervisor or advisor still prevails to some extent. Another factor that plays into the choice of model is the resoluteness of the teacher’s own positioning. Not everybody embodies a determinate paradigm or has a determinate project to share. For some the sounding board role is more congenial. Thus, my own preferred teaching model, despite its advantages, is not always viable or most appropriate. In what follows I primarily mean to refer to post-graduate level design projects (from the AADRL) rather than to PhD research work.
One key thesis here is that the apprenticeship model can and ideally should adhere to the principles of a progressive pedagogy aiming for the full, final, confident and discursive-reflective ownership of the work by the student (or student team), inclusive of its underlying motivation, thesis, and argumentatively defensible rationality. This self-confident appropriation of the work is credible even where students join as apprentices and the study project’s underlying theoretical premises, problematic, brief, methodology, style and argumentative defense might have been largely provided by the teacher. The teacher’s input might also include a critical involvement with design decisions. In this model it very much depends on the quality of the students whether the teacher provides his leadership via critical guidance or via outright project leadership. The master-apprentice model allows for a wide range of variation on this axis from guiding to leading. In any event, the studio teacher has a lot to offer, namely a very well thought through studio agenda with sufficient horizon of solution resources to ensure that the design task can be successfully addressed. On this basis original, unexpected solutions that exceed what was anticipated by the teacher are very welcome. However, the resultant design thesis, no matter how original, will always contribute to the framing paradigm. The particular paradigm which underlies my work and teaching - the paradigm of parametricism/tectonism – is expansive and open ended enough to allow for the development of an inexhaustible number of original, innovative contributions.
Under the auspices of the master-apprentice model the student project usually partakes in and contributes to the teacher’s larger design research programme that in turn relates to his built and unbuilt oeuvre as pursued within the collective effort of his professional practice, in my case the evolving oeuvre of Zaha Hadid Architects. The design studio projects I am guiding (or leading) at AADRL are always embedded in a cluster of simultaneous projects operating from the same premises and addressing the same problematic and brief with the same (or closely related) design methodology. Further, these projects are always embedded in a lineage of completed comparable projects that act as benchmark reference projects and that help the incoming students to visualize the level they should aspire to supersede. These benchmark projects act as paradigmatic exemplars or paradigms (in the Kuhnian sense). In fact since AADRL operates with overlapping student generations, whereby a new generation commences every year but only finishes after 18 months, all students have the benefit of witnessing the process they will go through later. They see how these projects are developed and debated. They are also briefly drawn into the projects of their predecessor cohort as apprentices, helping with the final charettes finishing the projects, and then they witness these projects’ final presentations and crits.
This way of teaching/learning might be called ‘paradigm teaching/learning’ because the students are socialized into a determinate, well-rehearsed paradigm by participating in the creation of yet another (hopefully further enhanced) exemplar. The paradigm, in the sense of a set of principles, values and methodological precepts is not only illustrated and made tangible by a set of paradigmatic projects but the paradigm is also theoretically articulated in resources like books, papers and recorded lectures made available to the students. Finally the principles, values, and methodological precepts that constitute the paradigm are, again and again, explicitly referred to, argued for and related to the projects in tutorials and crits. Thus there is sufficient opportunity for the student to assimilate, critically engage with, as well as actively work within the offered paradigm. Indeed the students are finally required to stand up, explain and defend their work within the paradigm, with the argumentative resources provided, in front of invited critics who will confront the project, its thesis and its premises with both immanent and extraneous critiques, in public presentation events. The students know and anticipate this. They know they cannot rely on pre-scripted formulaic phrases without genuinely owning their thesis and the paradigm within which it is framed. They must fully comprehend and internalize the paradigm so that they can transfer and apply its principles, values and typical turns of argument to new situations and unexpected discursive challenges. They also know that they will have to make an original creative design contribution.
All this implies learning through experience, genuine self-activity, and the capability of independent reflection (to refer back to phrases from Dewey, Campe and Fichte). While the educational relationship within the master-apprentice model starts off with a strong asymmetry in competency and authority, the teaching and learning process proceeds to level this asymmetry, so that, finally, the apprentice advances to become a genuine peer. This is an appropriate model especially for the final master thesis that completes the formal educational career of the student and establishes him or her as colleague. This trajectory of ramping up to level up is highly beneficial for the student. The whole process also benefits the teacher’s agenda as he gains a group of eager apprentices who dedicate their time, energy and creativity to advance the design research program and the larger paradigm the master is invested in. That these students grow rapidly to become full blown collaborators, perhaps competitors, is another advantage from the perspective of a teacher who is committed to this direction of work. If this paradigm has value within the discipline and within society at large, then the societal benefits exceed the benefit that is entailed in mere education. The paradigm teaching described here is also an innovative paradigm expansion that feeds into a collective, cumulative upgrading of the discipline’s capacity. Graduate (post-graduate) level university teaching is, within architecture, one of very few, and probably the most important, research arenas. This additional function of post-graduate teaching was explicitly recognized in the name of the ‘Design Research Laboratory’ (AADRL). This benefit and capacity of feeding into a collective cumulative research and sustained disciplinary upgrading is far less certain in the case of the open-ended sounding board model. This model is not structurally geared up to enact this role or function (which some of us expect from our leading architecture schools).
The active participation and learning experience is energized by being perceived as a means of attaining ends which make a direct vital appeal (to use another part of the formulation from Dewey quoted above). This is so due to the evident connection this work has, as an original, ambitious forward projection, rather than as mere appropriation, with related prominent built works within the paradigm, e.g. the works of Zaha Hadid Architects a.o., and with what is currently under design within ZHA or similar prominent firms. This combination of paradigmatic positioning, i.e. here the positioning within the cumulative collective research programme of parametricism/tectonism, with the connection to successful real world practice is potent and empowering: it gives credibility to the students’ work by suggesting that this work has not only innovative thrust and theoretical relevance but also the prospect of eventual built realisation.
In contrast to these opportunities offered by ‘paradigm learning’ within the master-apprentice model, the peer-to-peer sounding board model seems rather impoverished.
Here the teacher gives hardly more than a studio title (and perhaps an intellectual provocation) and leaves the elaboration of the brief and thesis to the student. The teacher is then confining him or herself to immanent critique, possibly in the manner of a socratic dialogue, without conclusions or impositions. No expected deliverables are specified, and no pre-defined set of success criteria. The underlying assumption that all students already come with sufficiently elaborate and worthwhile internal resources that only need to be given space to unfold is not only overly optimistic as a default assumption, but such an assumption is fundamentally fallacious due to the social-historical discursive origin of all worthwhile ideas. Productive intellectual agency cannot be located in individual minds left to their own devices.
Another problem is that there is little guarantee that the different student projects within the peer-to-peer studio are comparable, or relevant to each other. The possibility of utter incommensurability between projects cannot be excluded. (This kind of teaching is typical for contemporary art schools.) There is also this limitation: The teacher’s competency with respect to the student defined agenda, brief and thesis cannot be guaranteed, while in the apprenticeship model the teacher can utilize his best knowledge, skills and experience for the purposes of teaching. While this description of the peer-to-peer model might seem like a caricature, I believe this art-school-like teaching approach exists in many schools of architecture in recent years. Again, these reflections are not meant to discredit or altogether discard this ‘peer-to-peer’ model. It certainly has its keen attraction for students, and it has an indispensable role to play. However, the limitations identified above imply that it cannot and should not be become the dominant or default model for architectural education in general, even if certain ideological currents seem to suggest this. That’s why this paper emphasises that this prima facie rather appealing ‘peer-to-peer’ model is not the only logical contemporary embodiment of the enlightened, humanist, progressive pedagogy we all subscribe to.
Published under the title ‘Master-Student Engagement’ in: Five Critical Essays on Architectural Education, edited by Austin Williams, Machine Books, London 2021
[i] Johann Stuve, Allgemeinste Grundsaetze der Erziehung, in: J.F. Campe (Ed), Allgemeine Revision des gesamten Schul- und Erziehungswesens von einer Gesellschaft praktischer Erzieher, 5 Volumes, 1785-1792
[ii] Joachim Friedrich Campe, Ueber die Bildung Junger Kinderseelen, in: Allgemeine Revision des gesamten Schul- und Erziehungswesens von einer Gesellschaft praktischer Erzieher, 5 Volumes, 1785-1792
[iii] Joachim Friedrich Campe, ibid.
[iv] Johann Gottlieb Fichte: Addresses to the German Nation (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought) (p. 35). Cambridge University Press.
[v] Wilhelm von Humboldt, Koenigsberger Schulplan, Werke, Band IV, p.170
[vi] Johann Gottlieb Fichte: Addresses to the German Nation (1807), Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought, Cambridge University Press, p.35
[vii] John Dewey, Experience And Education (Kappa Delta Pi Lecture), Free Press, pp. 19-20