PATRICE CHANG / Alhambra, California

The I-Ching teaches us that: “The beginning is the time of few mistakes. At that time, one is still in harmony with primal innocence. Not yet influenced by obscuring interests and desires, one sees things intuitively as they are.” While most educational systems may insist on providing instructions, requiring students to follow the discipline, bottom line, there is still value in allowing students to proceed on their paths at the initial stage while they still retain their unobscured views. How do we learn from this 3,000 years old advice? From the perspective of this student who had just graduated from Sci-Arc’s 2016 class, I’d say we’d ought to value this teaching!

The five years spent at Sci-Arc left me with a mixed bag. The first semester at Sci-arc was an amazing experience. As the first year class, all the students were encouraged to explore their intuition while working towards completing the final installation. The first year students began with learning about shapes through an exploratory project that required us to deconstruct clothing and manage to reconstruct it into a new form that we were required to wear on ourselves, enhancing our understanding about form from a visceral level. We were told not touch computers. With the exception of the few students who already could operate the software. That was the only semester where we got to work with our hands within the renowned Sci-arc tradition. With only gentle nudges, the professors helped us come into direct contact with our choices of form and expression. After these individual explorations, we then partnered up, worked in groups, and finally collaborated as a class to build the installation. This memorable experience had all of us looking forward to the next 5 years that we would spend together. Unfortunately, the future that awaited us was not the one that we had anticipated. The next four years that should have been did not get to be. Little did I know, I would become one of the witnesses of the unraveling of the Sci-arc tradition. Things went downhill after the last and final installation Sci-arc would ever create. By the time we entered 2A, three faculty members had been replaced by instructors who had never taught second year before. So the faculty themselves were confused and debated how to structure the studio. Unfortunately, this debate lasted for 4 years, and as we speak, it still continues.

From this experience, I think that I formed some definite opinion about architectural education. YES, these opinions are personal, therefore subjective, but I’m hoping it is still worthy of contemplation. The first observation I would like to make stems from my better memories of Sci-arc, in which the teachers were leaders who were knowledgeable yet humble and patient. They wielded a powerful sword of wisdom and experience, yet point to the light gently. They truly created the harmony which allowed for innocence and intuition to guide the path. I thought this was a worthy tradition which my school would have been able to maintain, notwithstanding the change in personnel. Somehow, and sadly, the foundation on which the school was built was not strong enough to weather the blow. Which leads to my second point. That is to say, I also learned what I do not appreciate. The trend of overreliance on technology in the architectural world and in the educational system has created an irrevocable dilemma.  It forces us to see through a lens of pre-programmed algorithm. Students are stripped of the right to view projects through sheer authenticity and are forced to respond to provocation; Projects do not inspire thought but are just productions of provoked responses to an audience who are presented with empty representation. Instead of producing design, the students are expected to produce objects. The removal of subjectivity leaves these empty artifacts at best cute, and at worst, incomprehensible.

Ever since I was five years old, I found out through playing violin that the most effective methods have the least amount of steps. Over complication may present a fancy façade yet is a waste of energy and an outright lie. If students can receive an architectural education through a straightforward approach, and an honest attitude, then both the pupils and mentors can benefit from the process. Technology is not unnecessary; on the other hand, its role should be rightly placed in the position of an instrument. Creation comes from the creator; not from the apparatus. My hope for my FSA participation is to restore my faith in the architectural experience. This school sounds like a promising forum for someone like me who believes in the Socratic method and build meaningful dialogues among sincere designers.

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