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Drawing by Jackie McDowell.

I am posting the first of a series of samples of student work from the exhibit  History of Architecture: Analysis and Synthesis Through Visual Notes. Moving chronologically, today we start with the Beginnings of Architecture.  This body work was completed for the Graduate History of Architecture sequence, comprising of three courses, which i taught during the 2011-2012 school year.

I will also post some photos from the Exhibit.

These visual notes are by Jackie McDowell.

Drawing by Jackie McDowell.

Drawing by Jackie McDowell.

And here is the  paper abstract summarizing the project objectives and research purpose.  The full paper will be presented and published next Spring. 

History of Architecture: Analysis and Synthesis Through Visual Notes

Miti Aiello, Full-Time Faculty

NewSchool of Architecture and Design, San Diego, California

The need to update and make relevant the study of History of Architecture in an evolving profession and academic environment has never been more urgent: our discipline demands not only an expanded scope (mandatory inclusion of global or ‘non-western’ traditions and architecture of the vernacular), but new methods of delivery and course projects that are interdisciplinary, that bridge the divide between studio courses and history and that educate the young practitioner in reading history utilizing the same
methods learned in design practice.

Spiro Kostof, the legendary UC Berkeley architectural historian, advocated giving students “something tangible to carry away to the drafting table”.

It is possible to adopt an educational methodology that questions monumental architecture of the past and the traditional, vernacular “architecture without architects” in the same way as students approach a design problem in studio. Hans Morgenthaler’s “Chronology versus System: Unleashing the Creative Potential of Architectural History” – which served as this paper’s catalyst- denounced the inadequacy of relying on the chronological organization of history and suggested designing the History course as a series of design problems or buildings/events, illustrated through architectural drawings (the language of our profession) and not photos. History of Architecture instructors are encouraged to “occupy themselves simultaneously with the study of the past, with critique, and with invention”.

The argument for learning history through drawing, in this case in the form of student-generated visual notes based on textbook reading is related to the ‘invention’ mentioned above and supported by Morgenthaler: “This approach derives from the understanding that a drawing is capable of communicating information about buildings impossible through other means. In addition, as a subjective record, drawings could become part of the history of ideas, as opposed to photographs, which are only evidence. Moreover, drawings express the “belief in architectural precedent and typology which gave relevance to history.” Rachael McCann in her “Exploding the History Survey” also introduced ‘graphic summary pages’ as active inquiry in her course at Mississippi State University, breaking down her large lecture course in smaller sections which would investigate a question brought forth by a particular building, through visual analysis. It is clear that History of Architecture lecturers are seeking novel, more critical models to articulate the course, and better narrate “a story of architecture”.

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Bjarke Ingels came to speak to our school Friday night.

The venue was the Museum of Natural History in scenic Balboa Park.

I am still blown away by the lecture and, more importantly, the message.

It was truly (r)evolutionary.  The fact that BIG’s insanely brilliant concepts not only get built but a) give back to the community in terms of urban interaction b) are socially and ecologically responsible and c) are giving him fame and making him a household name is galvanizing.

Expanding the collective idea of what is possible through architecture: this is the optimism we need after years of gloom, in face of all the naysayers and ‘pie-in-the-sky’ disablers.  Something is blooming in the state of Denmark.

What an event. My friend Alan Rosenblum told me it would be as if  ‘Lady Gaga came to San Diego’.

And. It. Was.  The students loved it. Three days later, and we are all still giddy.

I could not agree more.  Thank you Mr. Ingels.
You intensified the dialogue between students and educators, and showed us how the ‘crazy’ ideas that are developed in studio and propose new typologies for the city are not only possible but timely and welcome. This creates a better learning environment, where pragmatism actually means being part of the solution, not propagating the problem.

I had the same dilemma when working in traditional, corporate offices and found refuge in academia. BIG showed us that there is a third way, the ‘Bigamy’ way. You can have it all. You can be good and successful. You can be extremely famous
and not be arrogant. He spoke of pragmatic idealism, and hedonistic sustainability. He demonstrated how to create building that are fun to experience as inhabitants and city neighbors and yet are sustainable. He showed us the intellectual approach and use of hybridization of traditional typologies to achieve new functions and forms. To wit: the Garbage to Energy plant in the middle of Copenhagen, which will be the city’s tallest structure and will house a ski slope (!) and blow smoke rings each time one ton of CO2 is burned. These are usually ‘crazy’ projects that we see coming from the upper studio division, when we ask the students to ‘dream big’ (pun intended) and question the drab, anti-interactive reality of center cities such as San Diego. The students, deep inside, try to dream but are conditioned to think that projects such as the one we saw in the lecture could never be built due to various factors such as financial interests or politics of control, or even lack of relevance of our role as architects.

We have been liberated from all of this because we can now point to BIG’s projects. Here it was demonstrated that the only limits we have as architects and human beings are those self-imposed, or those we feel ‘reality’ has burdened us with. I know that as faculty we felt validated by BIG’s successes ( does it make sense?). The music and videos, the whole presentation and BIG’s  infectious enthusiasm, warmth and positive energy were, in the words of a student ‘AWESOME’. Another student told me he learned a lot about diagrams from the lecture.
The lecture also was a model for engaging presentations. I have been toying with the idea, but now I am committed to use music and pop references in my History of Architecture classes; I ran the idea with few students and they were all for it. 🙂 I will quote Ingels when he says that we need to ‘cease to consider the building as objects but focus on what they do for the city’ : this informs and generates a new approach to ‘sacred architectural monsters’ and teaching history of architecture (or as I like to think, architectural stories).

A big thank you to Allen Ghaida, the AIAS and all my colleagues at the NewSchool Arts Foundation for making this dream of an event a reality.

I sketched feverishly- and took down all the provocative quotes. Here are my hybrid/computer-augmented notes.

I will add all of the proper building names and location as soon as possible.

click to enlarge

…..and this was my present 🙂

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