Design+Make: Pushing Back on the Beaux-Arts Education Model // Jake Baker
If the student of architecture could master the mathematical and scientific branches taught in modern polytechnic schools, make himself proficient in drawing, attend and academy of architecture, and then become in succession a good carpenter, mason, stone-cutter, painter, and decorator- no doubt such a student would be eminently well prepared for professional life, and produce marvels of architecture art; but as human life is too short to enable one man to master practically so many arts, the question to be answered is reduced to this: shall the pupil of architecture be educated in some mechanical workshop, in an art studio, or in a polytechnic school.
Tracing American architectural pedagogy to its roots provides valuable insight to the development of the profession. Over the past three decades, a variety of educational paradigms have played their role in shaping the contemporary education system. Earliest traces reveal aspiring architects would attain a position as an architectural craftsman, such as a carpenter or brick layer, providing the opportunity to acquire practical knowledge of architecture through the physical task of constructing. Such a position could be developed into an apprenticeship with the a master craftsman for an agreed upon period of years (typically seven), during which they were introduced to the “arts and mysteries” of the trade. Afterwards, they became journey men who could charge for their services and open a practice.
Eventually, small evening architectural drawing schools emerged, allowing craftsman to develop their drawing skills, while becoming acquainted with the art and culture of the profession. Caught in the middle ground between artisans and architects, they viewed their occupation as the production of drawings and estimates required for buildings and the supervision of construction.
With the rise of industrialism and public education in the nineteenth century, and the coalescence of architecture into a more defined professional institution, the architectural apprenticeship shifted from the workforce, into the office. However, the emergence of the German Polytechnical School and the French École des Beaux-Arts pushed the American educational system to formalize into the university system we are familiar with today. This educational paradigm shifted the focus away from craft and closer to arts and aesthetics. Hand drawing skills and philosophy became the primary teaching tools rather than physical construction experience.
The history of architectural education shows the role of the architect has been interpreted as craftsman, technician, and creative artist. Debate about the relevance (or importance) of each of these skills within the education system has been an ongoing discussion. Which brings us to design+make’s place within the greater pedagogic timeline. The gap between design and construction has widened for too long, and the time has come to reintroduce the act of making into studio culture. By reaching back to our architectural roots, longing to learn the practical knowledge of architecture through craft, our materials and constraints become our teachers. Wood is no longer an autocad hatch pattern, or texture image for renderings. It is a three dimensional substance with limitations, properties, and imperfections. Something to be experimented with, something to discover its structural and aesthetic potential. While few architects choose to practice as craftsman, insight to the making process translates directly into construction documentation and detail drawing. The strength of an overall design lies in the ability to beautifully detail its parts. Pairing the understanding of craft with schematic design theory provides the skills necessary to cultivate a generation of considerate architects with skill relevant to the profession. We at design+make are excited to play our role in this advancement (or reversion) of the education system. The time has come to develop aspiring architects as both artisan and artists.
Written by Jake Baker