The current generation of graduates are extolling the virtues of a user led approach. They realise that the value of their work, comes not from the accolades of their peers but from a sense of social purpose or ‘doing good’. As guidance they have seminal projects by Herman Hertzberger and Lucien Kroll, these architects believe in the promotion of inhabitants and users over the dictatorial consequences of form driven work. Graduates are fully aware of the challenges that we face in society from depressed economic markets, depleting energy supplies, expanding and ageing populations and unpredictable weather patterns.
Architectural practices and academic institutions share unprecedented financial challenges. Reduced fees from clients and the impact of higher fees for students, combined with an ever-increasing culture of regulatory compliance, leaves little room for lateral thinking and creative impact.
Interviewing prospective students for the March Part 2 course, I’m reassured by their insights, progressive attitudes and whole-hearted belief in the value of architecture. This optimistic attitude is central to dealing with the continuing dilemma that these students will face. We need to embrace this positivity and, as Jeremy Till suggests, ‘develop students who are able to react critically and creatively to the radically contingent world of practice’. Rem Koolhaas also offers some insights on this stating ‘ I think of optimism as a fundamental position, in the sense that it is almost an implicit obligation of the architect’.
We need to move beyond the polarized debate that divides the academy from the practice of architecture. Each offering its own rhetoric and defending its vested interests as a way to criticize the failings of architectural practice or the graduates who wish to participate. A quick glance through any of the architectural magazines will highlight these tensions.
At Sheffield, along with practices like Hawkins\Brown, we are developing new relationships between Practice, Academia and Industry. Finding new opportunities through shared knowledge, evidence based research and joint action. There are long standing connections between the School of Architecture and Hawkins\Brown. Roger Hawkins was a student at the school and many alumni have worked with the practice. I would suggest that there are shared values in our approach and ethos that graduates have developed from their studies and on into their work at Hawkins\Brown.
Tom Hudson’s Thesis ‘Recollections of Berlin’ integrated a social brief through developing a community memory and resource, based in a site threatened by development. The social process of design, consultation and presentation were not separate activities. ‘Sheffield’s unique studio culture encourages a social attitude to architectural education based on an open design process involving real clients and projects, along side an open forum in which to develop individual, and increasingly alternative means of practice’, says Hudson. Rebecca Hinkley develops this conversation where she reflects on the Live Projects in the School. ‘These offered the opportunity to listen to people, helping both the users and us to understand what was really required or wished for’, says Hinkley. This is echoed by the practice who cite ‘the ability to listen and empathize as fundamental part of their approach’. There are obvious links between the methodology adopted in Rebecca’s Thesis ‘ A Theatre School in Anfield Liverpool’ and her current work with Building Exploratory where she is developing workshops to engage children with their surroundings. These aim to empower the children to take more active roles in the development of their environments.
These current graduates have the ability to be astute, flexible, responsive and socially enterprising. This will help them begin to face the challenges of our time and influence what 'Future Practice' might be. A way of working that can listen, negotiate and advocate users needs from the outset whilst at the same time produce architecture of value.
Such skills, allied with the aims and support of practices like Hawkins\Brown, can only lead to an optimistic future. One where the schoolchildren perhaps can go onto become architects of a mutually inclusive society and are part of a generation that see the production of architecture as a meaningful collaboration with social value as its primary objective.
...graduates have the ability to be astute, flexible, responsive and socially enterprising.