How COVID-19 Will Shape Architectural Education

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The sudden onset of the Coronavirus pandemic has managed to bring about massive changes to the world, which none of us expected.

Although many sectors are now opening up after being under lockdown for months, uncertainty still looms around the education system. Institutes are apprehensive of restarting offline classes by bringing in students under one roof. And the situation isn’t different for architectural education.

Architectural schools and colleges have also turned to online platforms for conducting classes. But will this be the ideal method of teaching and learning in the long-run? Here’s where you’ll find out.

Our guide focuses on the current scenario and the impact of COVID-19 on architectural \education. We’ve shared the opinions and ideologies of famous architects, directors, and deans of top architectural colleges and universities. This will help you understand how COVID-19 will shape architectural education in the near future.

So, without further ado, let’s dive right in, shall we?

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How COVID-19 Will Shape Architectural Education

The Current Scenario Of Architectural Education

Before diving into the depth of this topic, let’s highlight the current scenario in the architectural world from the academic side. Well, thanks to coronavirus, not just architectural institutes but universities all around the world are closed. They’ve turned to online platforms to conduct classes over video conference calls.

This is obviously a once in a century event for most reputed universities and colleges since the education system hasn’t seen significant disruptions for the past 50 to 100 years. Even in these situations, continuous money flows were able to sustain the rigidity through proper planning and operation.

But with uncertainty lurking around the pandemic, achieving sustainability at this point seems almost next to impossible. The future of architectural education will be determined by their flexibility to do business. What do we mean? Well, to explain this in detail, we need to first get to know more about online education in the present time.

Online Architectural Education

Hosting and attending architectural training sessions from the comfort of home may sound fascinating, but it’s not that convenient. It’s rather tricky since most design courses require some form of physical space to connect with people. Only then will this close-knit community be able to flourish.

The disconnect from resources dedicated to materials and fabrication also serves as one of the biggest challenges, hindering the progress of academic pursuit. This is because not all faculties, departments, and staff members are equipped to shift online, as this is something that’s never been dealt with before.

However, as per Ivan Bernal, Director of Architecture and Urban Design Programs, Kent State University, many tools, and techniques are being incorporated for teaching and learning. There are plans in place to make the essential resources accessible during these challenging times.

But that doesn’t really end our concerns. Universities have already allocated their budget to build administrative support, residential dorms, parking services, and a ton of physical infrastructure that require continuous cash flow to sustain. These components together form a reputable estate that attracts students to invest in their course offerings.

So, what will be the outcome for such universities? You obviously won’t be requiring the services of a residential dorm or a parking lot in case of online education. Well then, this is something most institutes need to consider; instead of investing in physical infrastructure, they need to think about ways to expand their online education structure.

Is Online Architectural Education Here To Stay?

COVID-19 won’t be leaving us anytime soon, at least not in the coming year. So, expensive investments in building physical infrastructure won’t serve as a feasible choice. It will probably equate to a severe economic loss for universities primarily relying on international students.

The transition to virtual educational offerings seems straightforward, but architectural requirements for course validations pose a problem. They need specific hours of face-to-face design consultations and teachings, differing from other courses. This is why students are choosing to enroll in local universities closer to home so that they don’t have to travel much.

So, it’s not possible to host online training sessions in this field for the long-haul. This can be a temporary solution to the problem we are currently facing, but it won’t be enough to tackle the aftermath of COVID-19. Instead, universities and architectural institutes will have to be more flexible and adaptable, increasing the mobility of resources across faculties and departments.

There has to be significant changes in the syllabus to include relevant topics like “urban health” and “liveability.” Why, because the post-COVID-19 scenario will be all about sustaining the economic resilience of universities and the diverse industries.

Even the housing and property market is bound to change (already is) with individuals looking for homes away from cities. On the contrary, public spaces will have to be designed, keeping social-distancing norms in place. And let’s face it; all these changes can’t be introduced to students virtually; an alternative teaching method has to be introduced.

That’s why research funding is being directed to finding both short and long-term solutions to addressing the concerns of both students and teachers in the architectural world.

Shaping Architectural Education – Potential Long-Term Impacts

Most architects and deans of architectural colleges and universities are coming forth with measures and ways to shape architectural education. Will they strike a chord and benefit students? It’s too soon to tell. But with the correct plan of action, this negative situation can be directed to a positive outcome.

The Coronavirus pandemic has managed to bring the world to a standstill, severely disrupting the education system. However, it also creates an opportunity to address the much-needed changes at different levels.

What does the future hold? We don’t have a definite answer yet. But yes, the crisis will definitely impact architectural education in a number of ways. That said, we’ll now share some of the views architecture directors have on the topic.

  1. Inaki Alday, Dean & Koch Chair, Tulane University School of Architecture

As per the dean of Tulane University School of Architecture, the pandemic has helped us realize that we’re not always in the position to choose to face the real and urgent situations of the planet. And this has helped educators step out of their comfort zones.

There’s always been a temptation to educate in the way education has always been imparted in the past. No one has tried to look for innovative teaching methods for this creative subject; that’s something COVID-19 has helped with.

To quote his words – “new delivery modes and technologies may help us to criticize the very own relation of master and pupil that we have kept nurturing for generations (…) and to suggest a more open and challenging relation.”

  1. Lesley Lokko, Dean of  Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture, CCNY

Lesley Lokko has very creatively used her words to compare the immediate aftermath of the pandemic to the turbulence in an aircraft. COVID-19, like any other crisis, produces wake turbulence, eventually settling into a forgiving slipstream. As a result, innovations that may otherwise take months or even years to coalesce, erupt out of the blue.

Now, there’s already a different sense of “social distancing” prevailing in both the US and UK. So, what do we actually mean by the words “public,” nation,” “community,” and “us?” It’s time to break these conventional boundaries and stereotypes.

In her words, “It should force us as educators, whose fields are the whole of built and unbuilt environments, to think about the interconnectedness of all forms of life on earth; to recognize that the segregation of knowledge within the academy not only mirrors the apartheid-like nature of life outside, it shapes it.

  1. Brian L. McLaren, Associate Professor and Chair, University of Washington Department of Architecture

The crisis has managed to educate the faculty and administration regarding the disparities in the availability of technology and living conditions. These inequalities were earlier hidden in a system that each student was able to access to a certain level of infrastructure.

But with the on-going pandemic, architectural educators have had to bring about teaching innovations. After all, we now have to be more conscious of how design is taught and learn about what is essential.

The challenges we’re all facing on a daily basis will help us think more carefully about what architecture should address. This might initiate a call for institutes and schools of architecture and architects to move away from empty formalism; instead, they’ll have to take on challenges that will make an impactful difference.

  1. Dan Pitera, Dean of University of Detroit Mercy School of Architecture

Dan Pitera has proposed that we may be living in the future, and he is quite right. In fact, living and working through this current pandemic is what’s preparing our students and us for the post-COVID-19 world.

Anything that leads to disruptions, be it a climatic change, discrimination, or a viral pandemic that puts the world on hold, ignore property lines, building codes, local or political boundaries. These are the issues students need to consider while learning how to adapt in the near future.

For new students and most of the general population, these problems may seem ambiguous, having little or nothing to do with architecture. On the contrary, Dean Pitera says that they have everything to do with how the dynamic of architecture will change and grow.

Quoting him – “We as educational institutions must prepare our students to be architects whose ethical responsibility is to a world that does not see boundaries between properties, neighborhoods, cities and towns, states, and nations.”

He further adds that we are currently facing an underlying resistance to online teaching and learning in the architectural departments of many institutions. But even if virtual architectural education is not a permanent solution, it serves as an alternative that’s neither better nor worse than in-person methods of learning.

If used carefully and thoughtfully, online platforms can expand techniques for educating rather than limiting or shifting them away from conventional methods.

  1. Jeff Schnabel, Director, School of Architecture at Portland State University (PSU)

According to the director at PSU, Jeff Schnabel, there is a positive aspect of this challenging situation.

While institutes are being sensitive to the current circumstances, their expectations from students for rigorous exploration, creative thinking, and expression remain the same. This serves as a crucial opportunity for them to do a lot in a restricted space with limited resources. It also teaches budding architects to not give up on the pursuit of the subject simply because a client isn’t equipped with abundant resources.

At present, architectural students don’t have access to 3D-plotters, digital routers, and laser cutters. Despite the limitation, they are being tasked with all forms of media and making, to see what kind of innovative architectural ideas they come up with.

This will help them thrive in the development and expression of architecture in the future when they are exposed to a broad spectrum of tools and resources.

  1. Heather Roberge, Department Chair, School of Arts and Architecture, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

The shared response of Heather Roberge highlights both the immediate and long-term impact of the COVID-19 crisis on higher education. Before the pandemic, we were facing an affordability crisis in the education sector. But now universities are accruing severe financial losses that will be difficult to recover, given the unprecedented demands for state and federal resources.

She goes on to say that this will grow more challenging after COVID-19. As such, universities will have no choice but to consider new formats for delivering education. This will also drive down costs and improve access.

However, the process should be directed by educators rather than politicians and venture capitalists to preserve and expand knowledge, not to further commodify it.

Heather Roberge also shares her insight in terms of architectural education in particular. She hopes that issues of building performance, climate change, and urbanism receiver larger portions of collective labor and intelligence.

While architects have an incredible capacity to envision the future, it’s important to create an awareness in society. She says, “We have to activate the public to support investment in the future of our infrastructure, our climate responses, and our living environments. This requires vision, competence, and advocacy for the future we want to enact.”

  1. Monica Ponce de Leon of The Princeton School of Architecture

Monica Ponce de Leon doesn’t really expect a dramatic change in teaching methods post-COVID-19. But she feels that there will be a long-term increased focus on architecture’s capacity to propose alternatives to the status quo.

That’s not all; there might be an increased interest in the relationship between design, technology, and history or theory. This is because the pandemic has exposed the unseen forces that shape our built environment and their consequences to an unimaginable extent.

  1. David Mohney, Dean of Michael Graves College, Kean University and Wenzhou-Kean University

It’s a known fact that major economic disruptions in the past have led to the loss of a significant number of firms. At the same time, the diminished markets for employment have affected the number of students enrolling for professional programs around the world.

The dean of Michael Graves College, David Mohney, raises a question relevant to the topic of this article itself. To what extent will the Coronavirus pandemic curtain the architectural profession and education?

We are already in the times of economic recession, pay-cuts, and lay-offs, which, in turn, is paving the path to an unprecedented near-future. That’s why he has come up with a major infrastructure program, WPA 2.0. This will help professionals find meaningful work in a manner where architectural schools are integral resources in the rebuilding effort.

  1. Rahul Mehrotra, Dean Designate of Harvard Graduate School of Design

As per Rahul Mehrotra, the dean designate at Harvard, architecture, urban design, landscape architecture, and urban planning are disciplines that will become aware of the “new normal” – social distancing. These disciplines will also have a heightened sense of intrinsic relationships with broader ecologies.

He further adds that it’s imperative to train a new generation of architects and designers to be more encompassing of anticipated conditions and larger spheres of concern, like this pandemic, for instance.

Architectural educators should not only make students aware of these unavoidable and unforeseen situations but also train and equip them to act on these issues and concerns. Mr. Mehrotra also highlights the need for the transformation of education formats in addition to these pedagogical shifts.

And in relation to online architectural education, he goes on to say, “The virtual that we are currently employing as an emergency mode is bound to at least leave a trace, if not shift the foundations of pedagogy.”

  1. Stephen Philips, Director, Cal Poly LA Metro and San Luis Obispo

Online platforms like Zoom and Canvas have been around for years, but they are now quickly improving as people are interfacing with them intensively due to the pandemic. Therefore, it’s evident that we all are getting better at working online while adapting to the latest software trends.

In the architectural field, software like ConceptBoard and Miro have significant long-term use as well since they support architects to work together for studio or professional projects. And Stephen Philips finds it important to introduce the use of these platforms in architectural education, especially if there’s a trend towards small-scale long-distance professional creative design in the future.

The faculty has been reticent to embrace online and distance education models in recent years. But this has to be overcome, like the fears carried by factory workers for robots or the similar fear we had for digital tools.

Online education won’t be universally employed in the architectural field as it is now, but he feels that a few courses may never return to in-person teaching. This is probably because it provides the opportunity for us to teach, work, and lecture students at greater distances from where we live.

Even though some of us may feel that most art and design studios are better suited for in-person education, interestingly, lectures, seminars, and professional events on architecture do equally well, if not better, online. This freedom of crafting educational scenarios for simultaneous on and off-campus learning experiences provide universities with new opportunities that may impact building and campus design.

However, we obviously can’t ignore the importance of in-person engagement and social interactions. After all, it helps in making connections, finding leads, and eventually converting them into clients. So, campus life and events matter for sure.

He concludes by saying that once there’s a vaccine and we are able to safely return to gathering in small, medium, and larger groups, we’ll be happy to learn, teach, and work together again. It’s only a matter of time before we go back to the way things were before, with, of course, significant innovations.

  1. Heather Woofter, Director of College of Architecture and Graduate School Architecture and Urban Design, Sam Fox School of Visual Arts, Washington University, Saint Louis

The design community is resilient owing to the nature of its work. And the pandemic will further help teach us how to solve problems and adapt to new, challenging situations.

Architects understand that the world is interconnected, and our success relies on the well-being and work of the public. That being said, we are being forced to ask ourselves tough questions related to society’s collective value systems. And it’s equally important to identify the core issues that will linger beyond the current scenario.

  1. Ivan Bernal, Director of Architecture and Urban Design Programs, Kent State University

Ivan Bernal highlights the importance of physical space and its design for architectural education. After all, we need a common ground to bring people and communities together.

The director of the architecture and urban design programs also believes that the current pandemic will push architecture education in different ways. Schools will have to rethink curriculum, sizes of cohorts, formats, and flexibility in dealing with unexpected, challenging situations.

In fact, architectural schools are already leading the way in many universities to help address the current scenario. And they will continue helping to prepare for other possible situations.

Key Takeaways

Architectural essay writers are trying to emphasize the importance of collaborative practice and think back approach in their research papers to counter the adverse effects of COVID-19 on the education system. Distance learning through various online platforms is one of the major transformations architectural education had to undergo.

If we go by the ideologies shared by the eminent personalities of the architectural world, online education serves as a temporary solution that will leave some form of trace. But the limited resources and restricted space shouldn’t compromise the thinking capability and creativity of aspiring architects.

Not only students but institutes and architectural educators should also break free from the traditional stereotypes and look for better alternatives to teaching. With proper teamwork and innovative tools and techniques for educating and learning, we can expect COVID-19 to shape architectural education in a positive way.

It’s only a matter of time; architectural schools and teachers will soon adapt to the new curriculum and teaching approaches to both the physical and online environment. However, they need to keep communication lines open, accordingly, for an interactive session and meet accepted quality standards to improve accessibility.

Final Words

The Coronavirus pandemic has indeed brought about disruption not only in the architectural world but in various other fields. However, it has also gifted us the opportunity to address the much-needed changes at the educational and societal levels.

It’s time to expand the architectural curriculum, merging across a variety of disciplines to truly work towards building a future that’s safe, resilient, inclusive, and sustainable. For this, a review of the architectural syllabus is needed so that equal emphasis can be provided on the studio and not just its dimensions.

Educators in the field have to keep up with the current uncertainties; only then will the education system be directed towards a practical and rebranded future that will benefit us all.

On that note, we’ll conclude our informative guide to the impact of COVID-19 on architectural education. If you wish to add anything significant to the topic, feel free to comment down below.

Till then, stay safe and be creative!

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