Small Talks - With the Four Fresh Deans Of Architecture

SMALL TALKS - with the FOUR FRESH DEANS OF ARCHITECTURE

 

            When Albert Einstein visited Israel in February of 1923, to participate in the founding ceremony of the Hebrew University, he said that in order to realize our national objectives we will have to place education at the top of our list of priorities. On another occasion, he stated that 'science is just a more refined form of ordinary thought, an attempt to include the chaotic aspects of human experience within the context of a system of logical thinking. Truth needs to be the object of research, let tailors and shoemakers worry about beauty'. The truth is, that is exactly what has happened. Today, we have an education system that mirrors the dismal, daily reality of architecture, but has neither the 'tailors' nor the 'shoemakers'.

 

            Recently, the Deans of four architecture schools in Israel have been replaced - a fine opportunity to speak with each of them.

 

Professor Edna Shaviv, Dean of Architecture and Town Planning Faculty, Technion, Haifa:

 

            You inherit a faculty that functioned for many years as a monopoly. Today, despite the fact that competition for the student community is great, being a member of the faculty and being the standard bearers of the climate conscious approach to architectural design offers no relative advantage. Do you have any intention of recasting the image of your faculty in that regard?

 

            As long as we were the only faculty in the country, we had to spread ourselves out over the entire architectural sphere. Today, every faculty can decide which area it is interested in specializing and leading. I believe that not every architecture faculty needs to be similar, and I definitely expect that every faculty define its own areas of strength - and advance them. With all that, architectural education needs to be holistic and not neglect any area. We are very strong on the subjects of climate and energy, even by any world standard, and it seems natural to me that we will reinforce those areas. However, beside the subject of climate, there are also other areas that we will want to focus on. And here, our relative advantage is the fact that we are the only ones that offer a research option within the context of a Masters Degree and a Ph.D. in architecture.

 

            The attempt to obscure the technological label of the faculty of architecture at the Technion by broadening the areas of theoretical study led to the opposite situation, where many students were not well enough schooled in building technology. Characteristic of all the schools of architecture in Israel, it seems rather strange since the Technion has always been considered 'too technological'.

 

            It seems to me that our students know more about building technology than graduates of the other architecture schools. However, I think that the attempts to blur the technological identity were mistaken, particularly since there have been many innovations, predominantly in the field of technology throughout the world - and keeping ourselves informed of them is worthwhile. I intend to make an effort to recruit the best architects in the area to our faculty.

 

            What significance do you think there is to a student’s general education?

 

            I attribute a great deal of importance to it. I do not believe that a person of narrow vision can plan buildings with a broad range of functions. So long as the background of the architect is broader, the foundation for planning is richer. In my opinion, despite the shortage of work, it is immoral for an architect to plan something he does not believe in.

 

            You have probably come across the opinion that 'today, it is possible to solve most climate problems by artificial means'. As a Dean who needs to be attentive to opposing opinions, how will you deal with such 'immoral' thinking?

 

            I think that nowadays there are practically no architects who believe that problems of climate should only be solved by air conditioning, despite the fact that currently many practicing architects do not integrate climate conscious solutions into their planning. Unfortunately, it is precisely the establishment (particularly the Haifa municipality) that does not encourage climate thinking, because it is primarily guided by economic considerations, whereby entrepreneurs dictate the agenda. One of the reasons that I offered myself as a candidate for the position of Dean was that I would thereby be able to promote a more environmentally friendly line of thinking. Part of our architectural pride needs to express itself in terms of 'quality of life'. In that regard, every lecturer that can contribute in his own way is praiseworthy.

 

            Until now the interviews that I conducted with your predecessors always arrived at an impasse that was explained away by the problem with 'the tenure of lecturers who were outdated or lost motivation.' Is there anything that can be done about that?

 

            That problem exists particularly with those that do not manage to advance to the rank of 'tenured' professor. However, there are two sides to that problem. On the one hand, tenure in academia protects the lecturer’s academic freedom, a basic condition in an academic institution. On the other hand, there is a need to motivate lecturers and to make clear to them that self reinvigoration and renewal are conditions for advancement. Here, the Dean of the faculty has an important function with regards to the Technion’s administration. That is one of the challenges that I will have to take on - to make the Technion’s administration understand that in order to revitalize the faculty a full complement of staff is necessary. There is a great deal of importance to being attentive to the voice of the faculty and its involvement in what is taking place in this country and it is absurd that the Technion with its own hands is destroying its most cultured faculty.

 

            As one of the four schools that grant architectural degrees, you and your team have an important duty in determining the future face of architecture in this country. Closely familiar with the situation, I am very disappointed with the standard of work of the students and particularly with their final projects, which are generally divorced from reality due to the superficial quality of prior research of the subject in question.

 

            Perhaps things are that way because today there is a certain lack of clarity with respect to architecture in general. Are unusual buildings good architecture? When one learns the history of architecture through magazines, one is exposed to unique buildings, but not necessarily to good architecture. The result is that there is practically no incentive to produce good buildings of the type that blend into the urban fabric rather than contrast crudely with it. Very few prestigious prizes are awarded to unpretentious buildings. The superficiality of student research results in some cases from the superficial research of the lecturers. When a school is primarily centered on practicing architects, they do not always have much time to delve into research.

 

            We often come across cheap pedagogy, particularly by frustrated guest lecturers, that view 'presentations' as a way of voicing their opinions even though they have nothing enlightening to offer.

 

            I believe that your distinction is correct. At the same time it is important to be exposed to outside criticism. We have, more than once, been attacked in an aggressive manner. It is important to separate the wheat from the chaff. Teaching planning in the studio is work that requires a high level of ability, spiritual investment plus a great deal of sensitivity.

 

            What are your expectations from an architecture department lecturer?

 

            Above all, he should be a person that creates enthusiasm without dictating or suppressing the students creativity. He should elicit the maximum from the students abilities and talents. Work with students is individual, requiring sensitivity, effort and investment on the part of the teacher, unlike teaching in any other area. The personal guidance required of the teacher, necessitates complete mastery in the subject area, sensitivity, improvisational capability, and the ability to navigate through a process whose end is unknown, and therefore not every good practicing architect is competent to teach. Educating is a profession, exactly like planning buildings is a profession. In that regard, I see an important advantage in the fact that our faculty, unlike others, has an academic-research aspect not just a professional one.

 

Professor Moshe Margalit, Dean of School of Architecture, Tel Aviv University:

 

            Although Tel Aviv University is considered one of the best in the world, it is hard to say it  produces the best architects. Is there something wrong with the system?

 

            It is hard and also unfair to determine the level of graduates immediately. A tree does not bear fruit during its first years of life. What we do know is that our graduates are hired well. But, not to avoid your question, in my opinion the problem is actually the low level of expectations of professionals from the school system who try to turn the school into specialization schools whilst the university is only supposed to provide a wide range of knowledge in order to prepare graduates for a good beginning of their careers. To raise the level of graduates there should be tests that are administered after a certain period of specialization when young architects have gained some work experience, as done in some countries.

 

            The almost random collection of topics studied in the school of architecture does not contribute to making the student a technically skilled producer with a holistic approach. This is precisely the essence of the profession. Could the problem be in the definition of the aspiring architects?

 

            It could very well be. We try to open students to a wide range of subjects related to architecture. We also intend to shorten the length of introductory courses and to increase the time each student will spend on subjects he is good at.

 

            Wouldnt it be more appropriate to first develop a clear and well defined discipline?

 

            If you are referring to a kind of specialization I am aspiring to achieve, I intend to cover the ability of the student to deal with the basic design process while not neglecting creativity.

 

            It is no secret that every lecturer must deal with the conflict of developing pluralistic thought, while he himself is trapped in a certain way of thinking. The problem is even worse with active architects who might destruct the development of independent thought amongst students. As you too still run your personal practice, how do you intend to deal with that?

 

            I have always believed that real architecture is practiced while teaching. When you work in an office with clients the architectural discourse remains at a low level. In education there is an openness and a constant testing of accepted concepts. In my opinion a good teacher encourages individual thought in students merely guiding them to their own understanding of the designing process. Although I try to pass on as much of my own experience I am always surprised at how much I learn from the students.

 

            The great expectations of any school is to discover their own little 'Frank Gehry'. Is that to do with the fact that good architecture should seemingly stem from the architectural magazine culture...

 

            It is the role of every school to promote innovation. The problem is how to prevent the magnification of global Gods? In a time when the media embraces the whole world, architecture also tends to disregard the local context. If we would concentrate on our special culture and apply it to the type of architecture we produce like other Eastern countries do, we just might be on to something.

 

            The expertise some students display in their computer technology is sometimes deceptive and often with no academic framework...

 

            It would be difficult to disagree with you. Even with all the advantages of computers virtual architecture is often shallow not only when used by students but with mature architects alike, as they tend to ignore important subjects such as location, materials and other details. And here there is actually the opportunity to take advantage of the computer to apply it to a broad academic approach because through computers so much information is readily available.                   

 

 

Continued.

            In a speech you gave in your application for the position of Dean, you said architecture is both a reflection of and a prophet for society. We both know the reflection of society is nothing to write home about. What is its prophecy?

 

            Our architecture represents the society in which we live; she is not polite and we swallow it down like an overstuffed pita bread while leaning on the falafel bar. The prophecy: if we should succeed in being critical and not wasteful, we would return the land as a resource in an improved condition. We would preserve the value of the view, foster the rights of many and inhibit that of individuals, then there could be a chance for a better life.

 

Professor Saadia Mandl, Head of the Department of Architecture of Judea and Samaria College, Ariel:

 

            The fact that the four different architecture schools in Israel are all part of separate academic frameworks hints they could and should each specialize in their own field. In reality, they all try to teach everything. A multitude of disciplines is not necessarily disciplinary. What is the agenda of the department of architecture in Ariel?

 

            We do not try to imitate the Technion or Bezalel. We want to be Us. The name of the game is unlimited interaction between lecturers and students. Our policy is to involve a large number of lecturers in the topics we are concerned with. Today, for instance we are contemplating the computer as a design tool in contrast to the skills of the students hand. We have no doubt that despite the conquering of the media by the computer we must make sure that each student is skilled in using his own hands to express his ideas. The ongoing dialogue between the students and lecturers creates a common language.

 

            What does this language say?

 

            That the material and spiritual needs are the core of architectural creativity, and that the function of Architectural Services is an important one.

 

            When is a building considered a work of art? In the past you have taught at other schools - you even ran the department of architecture at Bezalel Academy of Art. If we develop your idea would your emphasis be on art rather than service?

 

            It is not a matter of one aspect of architecture versus another. Rather the sequence of reference points. I have no doubt that architecture is an art, but it can only be so in retrospect. There are projects that are expected to be monumental but that can only be a small part of practicing architecture. The goal is to educate students (as well as ourselves) to do the right thing and not only the interesting and the unique. To remember that we produce only one link in a whole chain of the building process, to respect what was produced before us, in the hope that those who follow will respect our creations. Time  will determine whether a building is an architectural artwork or not.

 

            In order to attract students to a school in the West Bank one must provide some sort of bonus. What would that be?

 

            There are no bonuses and I am happy to realize there is no need for any.

 

            I recently interviewed a female student who will be graduating from the department of architecture this year in Ariel. In order to shorten the filtering process, I gave her a rather complex task. To my surprise she returned two days later with a complete and impressive paper which is uncommon for students of other faculties. Was I simply lucky?

 

            That is without a doubt flattering for our school, but you probably need a little luck too.

 

            Why do students always ask to deal with grandiose issues in their final project when most of them can barely design a simple building?

 

            Our projects are usually not so pretentious, but they are concerned with a broad scope of knowledge. As most schools do, we focus the first semester on learning about the social and urban context, and the second semester is devoted to developing one structure that the student wishes to concentrate on.

 

            Four architecture schools are wading in the same puddle. Do you believe in cooperation or should each follow their own random route?

 

            There is room for cooperation either in coordinating positions or deductive debates.

 

Zvi Efrat, Head of the Department of Architecture, Bezalel:

 

            When you presented yourself for the position of Head of the department you attacked the image of the architect as the 'ingenious artist, a Fountainhead who produces cities and structures on paper'. Vitruvius (and myself) are convinced that an architect must be a person who has a broad view. What kind of architect will you try to produce in Bezalel?

 

            The goal is to produce architects who are professional and skilled in design of structures, knowledgeable in the history of architecture, up to date on architectural theories, involved in the many faces of Israeli culture and devoted to all strata of societies and also lovers of architecture.

 

            With so many features how can one avoid developing an enlarged ego?

 

            I do not see a conflict. Restraint is a function of expertise, self-confidence and an understanding of the architects mission.

 

            You also said 'theory is not a license to philosophize'. Yet you are sometimes 'blamed' for your over-philosophizing...

 

            If you are asking about my approach to teaching architectural theory, the answer is: I intend to strengthen the relation between theory and practice. It is very important that theory not be perceived as an esoteric task disconnected from the reality of everyday life. Yet I also fear that we tend to neglect architectural education proper for the sake of the interdisciplinary approach.

 

            A problem common to all academic subjects, especially in the field of architecture, is that lecturers suffer from lack of practical experience. What should the image of a lecturer in the faculty of architecture be?

 

            As in other fields here there is a discrepancy between what exists and what is desired. I will try to attract lecturers that have more practical experience.

 

            What do you hope to practice during your period of office? Will you, for instance, curb your politicization of architecture?

            I hope that the joy of architectural thought and creativity will be the residue that is left long after my tenure. A joy which might result of an intellectual enlightenment combined with technical expertise and self restraint. With regards to the politicization of architecture – so long as it deals with space, society and the culture - it is political by definition. There is no civil life outside of politics and so there is no such plan and no such building. Do we still need to say, in the twenty first century, that architecture is not only formalism and not only technical but rather the organization and presentation of the physical living space? The bridging between public and private interests negotiating between economic, legal, technological and ideological factors of the city? Must we still be reminded that architecture is a civil contract based on the rights and freedom of man?

 

            How do you intend to deal with the fact that the school is located in Jerusalem, at the core of the local conflict?

 

            I think it is a great responsibility to run a school in such a city. Today we are located in the citys center and learn intensively about the city and its structure especially in the studio. In the future we intend to increase our commitment to the city by developing two main issues: primarily to establish a framework for investigation of the field. Second to cultivate a working relationship with other research institutions in the city that actually practice architecture or with other institutions that represent the different sectors of the city. In addition we wish to enrich public academic discourse by hosting international conferences, guest lecturers, and founding joint projects.

 

            Are you not getting carried away?

 

            I wish we finally would get a little carried away.

 





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