Sunday, October 31, 2010

Studio Must Die! (and other ruminations on design pedagogy)

This week we bring a discussion that took place between the garrulous DRDLM and our lovable H. Willis Montcrief while they were milling around at the Rally to Restore Sanity.  The below occurred following a fascinating argument on the respective merits of the Ford Granada and bikram yoga and is a transcript of their discussion on design pedagogy.

HWM:  I really think we oughta reexamine the way studio is working right now.  Thar’s all this effort to expand design agency and a general trend away from design as an artistic discipline and towards scientific intervention.  Which is fine I reckon- design’s big enough to grab both of ‘em. 

DRDLM:  Ya en este tiempo se había levantado Sancho Panza, algo maltratado de los mozos de los frailes, y había estado atento a la batalla de su señor don Quijote, y rogaba a Dios en su corazón fuese servido de darle vitoria, y que en ella ganase alguna insula de donde le hiciese gobernador, como se lo habia prometido. 
[this is the kind of thing on H. Willis' mind, when he's not thinking about landscape]

HWM:  If that’s the case, but design pedagogy remains studio based, it tends to relegate any investigation to pseudo-science.  Folks might say that the other school classes are for gettin’ all that info, but any semester with studio is immediately ren’ tasunder with the workload.  Sure, you can read a few essays er put together a powerpoint for a class er two, but to try an’ take on any real fieldwork or lab work or serious fabrication effort, well, you can pretty much forget that.  Which is too bad. 

DRDLM:  Viendo, pues, ya acabada la pendencia, y que su amo volvia a subir sobre Rocinante, llegó a tenerle el estribo y antes que subiese, se hincó de rodillas delante dél y, asiéndole de la man, se la besó y le dijo…

HWM:  Well, it just seems like studio’s a pretty good thing- allows you to learn a lot, put a lot of thangs t’gether in yur mind, practice investigatin’, iteratin’, producin’, and presentin’.  But a lot of folks think that studio is design, and I’m afraid that’s just not the case. 

DRDLM:  Sea vuestra merced servido, señor don Quijote mio, de darme el gobierno de la insula que en esta rigurosa pendencia se ha Ganado; que, por grande que sea, yo me siento con fuerzas de saberla gobernar, tal y tan bien como otro que haya gobernado ínsulas en el mundo.

HWM:  Well, if you look at what that fella did out in Portland recently, that’s pretty tough to pull off in a studio class.  Maybe you could set up some kind’a independent studio or somethin’ like that, but it sure ain’t encouraged. 

DRDLM:  Sea vuestra merced servido, señor don Quijote mio, de darme el gobierno de la insula que en esta rigurosa pendencia se ha Ganado; que, por grande que sea, yo me siento con fuerzas de saberla gobernar, tal y tan bien como otro que haya gobernado ínsulas en el mundo.

HWM:  Studio’s still about the big speculative project, and that teaches us to go work places doin’ that stuff.  But we could really use folks figurin’ out new ways to practice; I mean the studio dates back to the architecture atelier of the 18th century or somethin’ like that, when folks were workin’ for rich states, rich industrialists, and newly expandin’ corporations.  Well we still got all that stuff, but thangs ain’t exactly the same.  That historian Kazys Varnelis made a great point about the inability of architecture/landscape to question its deepest assumptions- this is one of them assumptions.

DRDLM:  Advertid, hermano Sancho, que esta Aventura y las a ésta semejantes no son aventuras de ínsulas, sino de encrudijadas; en las cuales no se gana otra cosa que sacar rota la cabeza, o una oreja menos.  Tened paciencia; que aventuras se ofrecerán donde no solamente os pueda hacer gobernador, sino más adelante.

HWM:  It ain’t that it's pedagogically wrong, but it absolutely is limiting and so it ain’t always appropriate.  It gets us thinkin’ how to do big projects for the elites, which is fine, but it’s a little borin’ if that’s the only way we’re practicin’ landscape architecture.  And it squeezes out everything else, which is too bad.
[one of the faces of non-studio landscape practice; image from free association design; see their recent posts for the great documentation of "ruminant urbanism"]

DRDLM:  Calla, Y dónde has visto tú, o leído jamás, que caballero andante haya sido puesto ante la justicia, por más homicidios que hubiese cometido?

HWM:  Well, that’s anuther thang.  This point about workin’ for elites- political, economic, social, whatever- seems like it’s also a part of the pedagogy, startin’ from just how hard it is ta get n’ta architecture school.  Now, I’m not sayin’ it should be all opened up or whatever.  I ain’t real sure about that.  But it does seem like schools should be much bigger, an’ maybe there should be lighter versions of design programs- field schools, management schools, certifications, consortiums, extensions, stuff like that.  And you don’t have ta be a card-carryin’ member to get in there and get to work.

DRDLM:  Yo no se nada de omecillos, ni en mi vida le caté a ninguno; solo sé que la Santa Hermandad tiene que ver con los que pelean en el campo, y en esotro no me entremeto.  Pues no tengas pena, amigo, que yo te sacaré de las manos de los caldeos, cuanot más de las de la Hemandad.  Pero dime por tu vida:  has visto más valeroso caballero que yo en todo lo descubierto de la tierra?

HWM:  See, we got this idea that design is really a way of seein’.  Well, that’s a beautiful idea, an’ I really think thars somethin’ to that.  The ability ta innately read th’environment around us in terms of processes goin’ on, materials it’s made of, and have ideas about how to intervene in it is powerful, creative, empowerin’.  Why don’t we put ‘n emphasis on gettin’ that to more folks, at least to some degree?  I mean, mobilizin’ folks, empowerin’ ‘em- it’s a huge untapped potential for the thangs we’re all talkin’ about, but we seem to have all this invested interest in keepin’ the right to the city contained in our little technophilic circle. 

DRDLM:  Todo eso fuera bien excusado si a me se acordara de hacer una redoma del balsam de Fierabrás; que con sola una gota se ahorraran tiempo y medicinas.
[this is not DRDLM and H. Willis Montcrief debating the various merits of expanding pedagogical practices and design schools, but it's nearly as serious]

HWM:  I just think it’d be way more effective an’ interestin’ if we talked about what we’re really dealin’ with- we don’t need Anu Marthur to do some more esoteric brilliance, or WRT to project another technological monster- we already got them folks and they’re good at it.  Seems to me we need to get more folks understandin’ and carin’ about the environment- whatever that means in today’s world- and wantin’ to do somethin’ with it themselves instead of assumin’ some mysterious professional’s gonna take care of thangs.

DRDLM:  Has hablado y apuntado muy bien y así, anula el juramento en cuanto lo que toca a tomar dél nueva venganza; pero hágole y confírmole de nueveo de hacer la vida que he dicho, hasta tanto que quite por fuerza otra celada tal y tan Buena como ésta a algún caballero.


  1. Great post,
    re: "But it does seem like schools should be much bigger, an’ maybe there should be lighter versions of design programs- field schools, management schools, certifications, consortiums, extensions, stuff like that."

    I couldn't agree more. Or I should say I wish that this was the case, if only cause it would allow me to get some sort of credentials in the field without having to go to school for a whole nother degree and all the affiliated costs.

    Also, a point of order. I finally ran one of these post through Goggle translate so i could read DRDLM's entries. I am correct in getting that those are citations from Don Quixote?

  2. hi Nam-
    let me just say first of all that I'm tickled and honored that you took the time to run DRDLM's comments through a translator just to see what was up. And yes, that bit was from Quixote, which DRDLM is a big fan of. That's not always the case, but it is usually from some literature which I think might provide commentary on the larger post, in addition to breaking up the monotony of a monologue in an unintelligible (and therefore fun and frustrating) way.

    I am completely sympathetic to your on your anecdotal evidence. you would be a great case in point- someone smart and interested who lacks agency because of not having a degree. And because the work of landscape is so closely tethered to the profession (which is narrowly defined, though expanding) we as professionals and everyone at large loses.

    this ties in to a couple of recent posts for me ("agency of writing" and "complications of complexity"). A lot of the early folks doing great work (olmsted is the obvious case) were not trained at all in landscape (as it wasn't a codified profession) or architecture. Now there's a reason to create a profession- it lends legitimacy- but the great thing about landscape is that it is both completely basic and wildly complex. Anybody can intervene in it intelligently (or unintelligently). But we've contributed heavily to the sealing off of agency in the landscape, resulting in a commoditization of it.

    i don't mean to be too pessimistic- there's always been great folks doing really interesting things from within and without. But we need more, and we should have ways of enabling more people to act with interest and intelligence.

    does it seem like there is any way you could wrangle something where you are? sometimes taking classes at a university or botanical garden is possible, or joining up with an initiative doing things in vacant lots and so on are ways in...

  3. Actually there is a local CSA that has started an urban garden near downtown. I have been volunteering with them for a bit. Plus, i have joined a couple of local advisory boards re: redevelopment, urban planning etc, in the last 1-2 years.

    And there is a university so i could go back to school for a degree.

    But i wish there was something more formalized, yet not as extensive as a whole other degree that i could do. Like a certifcate program or soemthing. I know they have those sorts of things for historic preservations for example.