University Teaching Fellowship, 1998-99
Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of undergraduate teaching lies in the ability to encourage students’ intellectual curiosity and the inquiry which such curiosity begets. It has been my experience that introducing students to new and challenging methods of examining that which they have come to understand as familiar prompts them to question their own implicit assumptions about the world. Reviewing my students’ work at the end of a term, I try to evaluate how effectively my teaching has helped to establish and to refine the vital skills of analysis and interpretation and has motivated students to think critically and creatively about their work and the role of architecture in contemporary society.
As both a studio and classroom teacher I find myself striking a balance between imparting objective information and nurturing the skills essential to a process of analytic, interpretive, and creative thought. The design studio and its curriculum are at the heart of architectural education and pedagogy. Both a physical place and a teaching method, the “studio” is a curious combination of classroom and workshop, providing students individual desk space as well as the facilities to construct the drawings and models necessary to explore a design project.
Students are drawn to architecture because of its visual and spatial qualities. Undergraduate curriculums respond by focusing on the development of graphic fluency, grounded against the more objective constraints of technology and architectural history. Visual literacy is a crucial component of design education providing students with the means to investigate and represent their design intentions. Yet graphic skills alone are insufficient to critically interpret the complex issues of context embedded in any architectural design project. Equally important are the essential intellectual abilities and analytic skills necessary for critical and interpretive thought.
My research investigates the design of American urbanism and in particular how hierarchies of race and class influence the historic and contemporary form of American cities. From this inquiry I bring to the curriculum and the classroom questions which examine the cultural implications of architectural and urban design. Through my teaching I try to integrate the issues posed by my research, proposing critical methodologies which interpret the overlapping physical, historical, and cultural contexts forming the sites on which we build. Ultimately the ability to think critically about issues of context is a prerequisite for any type of creative endeavor, and the requisite interpretive skills must be broad enough to be “portable” so that they may be carried across disciplinary boundaries.
The longer I teach the more I am convinced that the most significant aspect of my role as a teacher and architect is to help my students develop the formal tools necessary to succeed as architects, along with the interest and skills to question critically and thoughtfully the fundamental human issue of difference as it is seen in the built environment.