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Worrisome trends in architecture education

August 9, 2013

This is going to be a difficult post to write on several levels. I’m about to lay heavy blame on a number of people and organisations who are part of my loyal customer base. I am also going to incriminate the industry I work for, which includes my direct employer and —of course— myself.

At the same time I have to marshal my arguments very carefully so as not to belittle a specific individual whose work I am about to dissect and critique in a harsh tone. I firmly believe —although he probably doesn’t agree with me— he is the victim of the twin evils of underinformed educators and overeager, heedless software companies. I wish neither to patronise nor scapegoat him and I know that cushioning language is not my strong suit. Please remember this while reading the text below. This is not about ridicule, but rather about a pervasive and alarming world-wide trend in academic architecture.

I’d like to thank ███████████ for sending me his work and having the courage to allow me to publicly critique it, knowing I’d focus only on the bad and not the good.

Also my sincere thanks goes out to K. who —unlike me— did receive proper academic training during her time at University (Turku University, Department of English) and was able to comment comprehensively on the scholarly and academic aspects of this critique.

…..

A few days ago ██████ sent me a PDF containing his submission to a design course at his university. I do not know which university, nor which semester this exercise belongs to. What I do know is that it is very similar in style and approach to a lot of student work. I am not accusing anyone of plagiarism here, I’m merely pointing out that there are parallels between this particular project and many other ones I have seen over the past decade or so, starting from my time at TUDelft throughout my subsequent career. Hence, while my criticisms will be focused on this particular publication, they should be interpreted within a much wider context.

The driving motivation of this wider context is a certain institutionalised yearning for recognition (let’s call it Akzeptanzsucht as there is a rich history for awarding German terms to psychological dysfunctions). Architecture as a whole is often associated with scientific and technological faculties such as mathematics, material science, engineering, physics and electro/computer science. However within that group there is an undeniable disdain towards architecture. Architects —it is felt— are exhibitionist bullshit artists who rationalise their work with vacuous language. Even though that is certainly sometimes true, it is also the case that we architects have our own vocabulary which may sound as ridiculous and vacuous to a physicist as a discussion about the Higgs field may sound to us.

But I think it cannot be denied that there exists a trend within academic architecture to incorporate scientific elements into the design methodology. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this, indeed many an important scientific insight has been the result of cross fertilisation between two fields of study, but the prerequisite is that one is proficient in both fields. Applying the teachings of graph theory to infrastructure will only result in worthwhile outcomes if one understands both graph theory and infrastructure. However in our desperation to be taken more serious as a scientific discipline, we have become too eager to appropriate the terminology and modus operandi of fields we do not understand. Physics, mathematics and biology especially have their jargon pilfered at an alarming rate.

There is another problem which cannot be blamed on the rise of computational design. If you want to publish papers with a scientific inclination, you have to know what constitutes proper writing. Cite your sources, define your terms (ideally always but especially if you award them unconventional meaning), number your pages and include a table of contents, number or otherwise identify your illustrations, proper use of introductions and conclusions, proper use of language and on and on. I was never taught this at TUDelft and it was —in my opinion— a criminal omission from the curriculum.

…..

I’ve reproduced a subset of the pages of the original publication. I have omitted some of the graphics, but none of the text. Each picture will be followed by a set of questions and remarks pertaining to that page. If you are an architecture student or teacher I recommend looking at the images first and only reading my comments second. Click on each image to see a larger version.

Cover Page; Associative Networks

Front Page

Front Page

The first page in the publication is a reasonably typical cover. It contains the name of the author (though not the university affiliation, semester, course code or date), the title, an image presumably pertaining to the project and a logo. The image is not credited so I’ll assume it is the authors own work. It does not re-appear anywhere else in the document, nor is there any description or explanation for what it means. Is it an example of “Associative Networks”? It seems to be only a single network made up of the edges of a Voronoi diagram, so probably not. However we can skip over it as it is just the title image and I’ve seen much worse cover designs in my time.

Page 1; Introduction

Page 1

Introduction

This page contains the introductory text for this document. It outlines the character of the location and what the design is supposed to accomplish. The choice of font is awkward. If we are meant to read this, why not present it in an easy-to-read typeface? I’ve reproduced the text here in case you prefer the use of your eyes later on:

Grand Rapids[1] Michigan

Associative Network[2] is an urban design eperiment[3] for the city of Grand Rapids[4] Michigan. The inetent[5] of Aossociative[6] Network is to create an hoilistic[7] urban environment that is ethinicly[8],[9]economically, and socially diverse. Proximity to resources i.e. freah[10] food, education, and health services are all provided within the three multi-used[11] towers. The Tower[12] consist of program space for residential housing[13] high-low income residents, retail, institutions, and health care services.

The towers allow nature to begin to regain its place within the city by using the the[14] existing unutilized[15] infrustructre[16] as a substrate for growth. The use of an automobie[17] while[18] becom[19] extinct due to the proximity of resources from within the towers.[20] Allowing Grand Rapids to develope[21] into a true pedestrian friendly city.

  1. Punctuation error: missing comma between city and state.
  2. Network” is used as a singular in the text, but it was plural on the cover page.
  3. Spelling error: experiment
  4. Punctuation error: missing comma between city and state.
  5. Spelling error: intent
  6. Spelling error: Associative
  7. Spelling error: holistic
  8. Spelling error: ethnically
  9. Punctuation error: missing space
  10. Spelling error: fresh
  11. What does this mean? Was it supposed to be “multi-usage“, “mixed-use“?
  12. Spelling error: towers
  13. Punctuation error: missing comma
  14. Typographical error: “the” appears twice
  15. Awkward choice of words, “unused” would have been better
  16. Spelling error: infrastructure
  17. Spelling error: automobile
  18. Typographical error: “while” should have been “will
  19. Spelling error: become
  20. Punctuation error: period should have been a comma.
  21. Spelling error: develop

The bulk of these errors could have been avoided by using a spell checker. There is no excuse —none whatsoever— for not using a spell checker. I shall refrain from commenting on the content of the text at this point in time. A number of fairly grand statements and promises are made but I’ll return to that later.

The images on this page lack credits. Were the photographs taken by the author? If so, they were probably not taken on the same day given the varying weather. Where did the aerial photograph come from? Google Maps? What is the scale of this overview? How up-to-date is this data?

However sources and citations and credits are superficial absences. There is a more fundamental problem with this introduction. An architectural design differs in a number of ways from a typical research paper but there are certain requirements that both need to fulfil in order to qualify as an academically acceptable publication.

  • Firstly, every publication should have one or more research questions; what is it you’re going to investigate? Each question needs a justification that will convince the reader that the problem is indeed real and relevant. If the assignment awards you a research question you can ask your teachers to supply this justification.
  • Secondly, you need to outline your approach. How are you going to answer your questions? What data is needed and how will you go about processing this data?
  • Thirdly, you should be aware of all the things that could go wrong and transmit that awareness in your publication. What assumptions are you making that could invalidate your conclusions? Is there a way to test whether this happened? If you do find answers, how generic will they be? Under what circumstances can your conclusions be applied to other problems?
  • Lastly, what new knowledge or methodology will you contribute to the field? Remember that this is not an exercise or test, it’s a design/research project. Will you test the efficacy of a new methodology you’ve (co)developed? Will you test the efficacy of an existing methodology in a new setting?

The above are the non-negotiable baseline requirements for anyone who wants to play ball in academia. Your institution should have a style sheet that lists all the requirements and guidelines for a publication. If there is none, talk to your dean or faculty committee. If they’re not interested, try to enrol in a university where they take an academic approach to architecture seriously.

Page 2; Demographics

Page 2

Demographics & Statistics

Like before, there are no page-numbers. Here we are confronted with some statistics regarding the population demographics of Grand Rapids. There is no source listed for these statistics. We are told that from 2000 to 2011 the population shrank by 9,000 people. This is interesting information, after all cities tend to get bigger over time, not smaller. Despite the obviousness of this fact there should still be a reason for stating it. What do these numbers mean within the context of this project? There are a number of follow-up questions that immediately spring to mind, such as:

  • Did the population start shrinking in 2000, or was the peak sometime before or after?
  • Is the decrease consistent, or is there a wavy component?
  • What was the growth rate before the numbers started falling?
  • How does this change compare to other cities in the area and other cities around the country?
  • What was the influx of people during the same time? 9,000 people leaving and zero people moving in is not at all the same as 39,000 people leaving and 30,000 people moving in.
  • Where did people move to? Or is the difference attributable to deaths?
  • What reasons were there for moving?
  • Were the people who moved out a representative group for the population at large, or were they significantly younger/older, richer/poorer then those who stayed? In other words, how did the exodus affect the demographics?
  • How has the cost of living changed during the same period?
  • What about unemployment?
  • What about government investment in this area?

Unfortunately none of these are asked, let alone answered. Statistics are important, but they are not an end in themselves. They only serve as a means towards a greater understanding.

The graphics accompanying these two numbers are peculiar. They are almost identical, except that there are slightly more blue spheres. Why does the lower number have more spheres? Are these 3D-plots? If so, where are the axis labels? Are they supposed to be visual accompaniment for the numbers? If so, is the fact that they look so strikingly alike supposed to convey that the change in population is not significant? Then why mention it at all?

The three images underneath are about housing with respect to income. But again, the images lack an explanation. If they are plots, where is the data? Where are the sources? Why is “low income Housing” so very different from the other two? If this page is about the current state of Grand Rapids, am I to conclude that low-income housing is an infinitesimal part of this city? That doesn’t mesh with what I know about cities in the Michigan area.

The six images in the upper right presumably represent racial factions in the city. But are these from 2000, 2011 or some other data set? Is the area of each wavy surface representative of the number of individuals affiliated with a specific racial category? If so, why not also provide the numbers rather than make me guess the differences in area? What do the waves mean? What do the colours mean?

Lastly, the three images along the bottom have something to do with development related to income groups. On the left we find the “High-Moderate Low” (which seems to cover all groups mentioned in this publication) and in the middle the “Moderate-low” group. There are waves on these rectangles and shapes on the waves, but no explanation as to what either of those mean. The project region did not appear particularly rectangular on the previous page, so this is either an abstract representation of development or it’s a partial representation which can be tiled to fill a larger area. If it’s abstract, what meaning do we derive from the “Composite map“? Is this showing us how high and low income development will be intertwined in the design? Probably not as the other images on this page are all about the current situation, rather than the design proposal.

Page 3; Homicide & Institutions

Page 3

Institutions & Homicides

The second important piece of analysis concerns the murder rates in Grand Rapids, again measured over the 2000~2011 period. The top half of the page does not seem to be related to this though as it seems to be a map with “institutions” on it. I do not know which institutions these are (law-enforcement, health-care, government, education?) but all of them are connected into a single graph. However not every possible connection is made, or indeed even every nearest connection. Some institutions have a valence of only one, the most heavily connected institution has a valence of four. What do the connections mean? What is the blue box and why is it different from the red dots? Why are we shown the same image twice, once in plan view and once in perspective? When “proximity” is mentioned, what sort of proximity? The graph seems to indicate a Euclidean distance measure. Why not measure the distance in terms of actual travel distance? Or travel time?

The murder rate statistics (again no sources!) are described as “intriguing” (or at least as generating an “intriguing geometric form” when graphed). What is intriguing about it? Is it different from murders committed elsewhere in the country? If so, how? Are there more or fewer murders than expected, or are the numbers more variable than expected? Were these murders committed everywhere in the area or did the location of the institutions affect the local rate?

What significance can be assigned to the geometric form of the graph of these numbers? A 2D graph is supplied, presumably with the time along the x-axis and homicide count along the y-axis. But again no axis labels or scales. Then another graph is drawn called the “3D Mapping of Homicides”. It is not in fact 3D, it’s merely the two-dimensional graph extruded in the third dimension. This operation does not add any new information. I think the mathematical term “mapping” is also used erroneously here. Why is the same graph drawn twice in the right-most image?

Page 4; Artist’s impression

Page 4

Bridging

A very colourful interlude representing the “bridging [of] low, mid [and] high income residents”. I can’t really work out what I’m looking at. Is this an abstract or a physical model? If it’s physical, how does one bridge residents? Not much I can say about this image except that I’ve seen many like it and not just in academia, but also in professional architecture. Extreme perspectives, transparency, reflectivity and an unfamiliar colour palette are combinations that would make any image hard to read and yet many architects seem partial to this style.

Page 5; Income disparities

Page 5

Income Disparities

I’ll reproduce the text again, this time with ~25 spelling and typographical errors fixed up front:

Low to moderate income housing is greatly needed within the city center of Grand Rapids, Michigan, especially within the Heart-side district. The median income is $21,000 a year for a family of three. However to the north the Arena district median income for a single person is $50,000. Because Division Ave. is the main promenade between these two distinctive districts, an interesting phenomenon occurs as the two districts overlap creating a blur of interstitial space between them. This inflection point also happens at the city’s origin.

At the city’s origin is where diversity among socio-economic levels occurs. At the intersection of Fulton St. and Division Ave. is where you will see lawyers, doctors and professors, all walking to grab a bite for lunch. You will also see panhandlers, the homeless and those that have fallen on bad times. There is an organic energy that is transmitted from the city center, which makes this place special to all.

Images and text like these are very familiar to me from my time at TUDelft. Indeed I have myself made very similar presentations in a dark and murky past. Although I have some issues with this page, they do not stem from the Akzeptanzsucht. Instead I’d like to take this opportunity to talk about academic substance.

When one presents a design or research finding it is always intended for an audience. This audience grants you a limited amount of time and attention for you to make your case. In effect, the audience is doing you a favour. It is therefore bad form to present your case in an inefficient manner. Either by not sticking to the topic, or by providing vague content, or by providing difficult to access content, or by providing redundant content. We’ve already touched upon type-face selection and the reason you should pick an easy-to-read font is simply an act of politeness towards your audience. Correct spelling is another aspect of this, as is clear language. The meaning of terms such as interstitial space, inflection point, city’s origin and organic energy is not immediately obvious. One should either avoid these expressions in favour of more common ones or a proper explanation has to be forthcoming. Colloquialism and low register language should also be avoided in academic texts.

The images on this page are also very difficult to access. The text —especially the yellow kind— is difficult to read. It’s not particularly clear why these words and numbers have been inserted into the pictures. It is also not clear to me why the images have been overlaid with strong colours and cut-out people. Is the insertion of beggars there to emphasise the poverty of the area? If so, why pick Charles Ramsey who is from Cleveland and not destitute? Or Harvey Specter for that matter, who is from New York and fictional. Why not use actual photos of actual locals and include some conversations/interviews to see if they all share the notion that the intersection of Division Ave. and Fulton St. is “special to all”? I can’t help but feel that this —all too common— portrayal of local communities as a set of photoshopped people and coarse statistics is doing us a severe disservice. We reduce actual problems to caricature ones, opening the door to solutions that are little more than platitudes.

Page 6; Pink

Page 6

Green Space

This is where it gets weird. The mathematics of geometry is a broad field and a lot of the stuff in it is complicated. Programming is difficult and it takes a long time to get something up and running. Back when you had to write your own algorithms from scratch there was an incentive to not be frivolous about it. You don’t want to spend a week writing a piece of code that wasn’t going to pay off. Now however it’s easier and easier to call high-level functions and make a geometrically involved algorithm in just a few minutes. This is typically known as “progress”, but there’s a dark side too.

The image above represents what the author calls “Green Space Substrate within Network”. I know what all those words mean but the only two I can put together are “green” and “space”. A green space in an urban plan is presumably where we find an above average amount of plants and trees. Perhaps just a tree-lined avenue, maybe even a park. Different sciences use different definitions for the term “substrate”, but in general it tends to refer to the bottom layer of a system. The word substrate has been used before on page 1 where the existing infrastructure was designated as a substrate for green growth. I can sort of see the sense in that, but the image on this page doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the existing infrastructure of Grand Rapids. I can probably venture a couple of guesses of how the pink shape translates into an architectural design but that really is the responsibility of the author.

“Substrate” is exactly the sort of word that lends itself for absorption into a vocabulary designed to impress and obscure. Substrate today is pretty much where Voronoi diagrams were ten years ago. They were new, hard to come by and sounded decidedly mathematical. But over time the Voronoi diagram became more and more common and today it is a by-word for cliché and triteness.

The page provides three views of the same shape. Two of these are pointless as they neither provide a good overview nor greater detail. It appears that what we are looking at is a surface which has been affected by three point-attractors. This surface was subsequently triangulated using a refinement algorithm and ultimately the triangles were offset to create a collection of triangular holes. What does this shape mean? Your guess is as good as mine. The geometry and topology of the shape are complicated, but this complexity exists in a vacuum. It didn’t come from the design parameters or the city data and since it doesn’t represent an actual designed shape to be constructed it will not feed back into the design either.

Finally, if this represents green space, why is it pink?

Page 7; Putting it all together

Page 7

Design Proposal

At this point individual properties seem to be behind us and we’re presented with an image of both buildings and green space as they appear together in this project. There are three locations where towers will be constructed and four areas are designated as “Green Spaces”. Never mind that the distribution of green dots is completely different from the pink bulges on the previous page. The locations of both purple and green dots are not justified, or —if they are— those justifications have been omitted. They seem to intersect the existing built environment in awkward ways. There is no scale, no north direction, no explanation of what the blue dots are or indeed what the network of (presumably) wide thoroughfares is supposed to accomplish.

As far as I’m concerned the entire publication should have been a build-up to this image, but all the tangent narratives about population, income disparity, racial distribution, homicides, institutions, interstitial spaces and substrates are nowhere to be found. How do three giant towers improve this environment? How do they worsen it? What will it cost to build and maintain? What will it generate in terms of housing, income and growth?

The rest is silence.

…..

Before I wrap this up, I’d like to re-iterate that the above critique was not meant as an attack on an individual piece of work. ██████’s presentation served merely as proxy to a lot of presentations I have seen over the past 10 years. As mentioned, I’m not aware of the context of this work; what the brief was, how much time was allotted, which semester it represents. In a way it doesn’t matter. Students of architecture will get inspiration from the world they are immersed in. If teachers will not teach them, they have to look at other student work. But trying to extract a working methodology from other presentations leads inevitably to cargo cult architecture where abstract graphics and physical geometry are treated interchangeably, where unclear vocabulary serves as a stand-in for logic, and where complexity masquerades as information. Blame lies with the likes of me who provide the short-cuts and buzzwords that poison the scene, and blame lies with teachers who should have taught students what it means to be an architect rather than an artist.

Finally, I’d like to restate my criticisms in general terms. If we are serious about moving architecture and urbanism away from purely artistic considerations and into a more rational arena, there has never been a better time than now. All of us have access to immense computational power which can be applied to problems that have been —until quite recently— intractable. But of course the garbage-in-garbage-out adage holds true; computation can be used to generate large amounts of complexity, but complexity does not equal worth. The only time when it makes sense to invoke computation in the design process is when there is some relevant data that needs to be computed.

On two occasions I have been asked, “Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?” … I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.

Charles Babbage, 1864

Students ought to get instruction about algorithm design and computational geometry, but equally important is that they are taught about the ethics of computational design. What sort of problems warrant computation? How should this be presented to an audience? How reliable are the computed results? What simplifying assumptions were part of the algorithm? What will it require to get a better answer? If these questions aren’t asked in your curriculum, someone isn’t doing their job.

In the end, designers have to be able to justify every single line of code and every single sentence and every single image and every single statistical data-point. If there is no justification, then nobody can be expected to take the results seriously.

42 Responses to “Worrisome trends in architecture education”


  1. This is total bullshit.

    You lambast some poor student for a lack of scholarship and yet your post is almost entirely devoid of any academic rigour. You have no references, a lot of anecdote, and a single case study. There is an underlying assumption that this student’s project is somehow representative of a larger cohort of students. You provide no evidence to support this assumption. As with all case studies, context matters. To understand whether this case study is representative or anomalous, we need to know how it relates to other student projects. To judge the project’s sophistication we need to know how much time they had, what the brief was, and whether this is the student’s first architecture project or whether this is their final year project. To assess language we need to know whether english is the student’s first language (I suspect not). To discuss the communicative qualities of the images we need to know whether these are supposed to stand alone or have an accompanying oral presentation. For us to be worried about the future of the architecture profession we need know whether this project passed or failed, whether it was celebrated or berated in the review.

    And since when did a single point of data become a trend. Do you think this is the first student project to have a spelling mistake or to leave page numbers off? There have been sloppy students projects before you made Grasshopper, before Sutherland made Sketchpad, before Frank Lloyd Wright founded Taliesin. One example simply isn’t enough to infer a trend. This student stands as a straw-man, you beat them over and over to distract the readers from the fact that your hypothesis isn’t falsifiable (if this student’s work was good, would you have changed your opinion?)

    I roll my eyes whenever I am in a crit and some professor turns the model over and says it looks better that way, or pulls a drawing off the wall, or tells an ESOL student they need to speak up and speak better english. The power-trip-cum-pissing-match. Don’t be that guy. No one cares that you can take apart the work of a first year student. If you want to critique something, critique the best final year projects you can find or critique the most avant-garde architecture practices, don’t publicly belittle some kid who presumably admired you enough to send you their work.

    This post is nothing more than a humiliating public hazing under the guise of intellectual discussion.

    • David Rutten Says:

      Hi Daniel,

      glad to see you utterly missed the point. This is not an academic publication, it is a personal blog. I’m not getting paid or graded for this work. I have a full-time job and don’t have the time to go off and research a multitude of work in order to present a study which will pass peer-review.

      You can either agree with me that the work displayed here is typical in terms of academic quality or you cannot. If you do not you have lived a much sheltered live in my opinion, good for you.

      As I mentioned at the start of this post, this work is treated as a proxy, precisely because I feel it represents so many other presentations I’ve seen. Because of this, it doesn’t matter what the exact context is. Even if everything can be excused (which it can’t), then my points still stand.

      “Do you think this is the first student project to have a spelling mistake or to leave page numbers off?”

      THAT IS EXACTLY MY POINT.

      “if this student’s work was good, would you have changed your opinion?”

      Not my opinion of architectural academia at large. I have seen excellent works being presented and I have seen unacceptable works being presented (and pass with reasonable grades).

      “Don’t be that guy. No one cares that you can take apart the work of a first year student.”

      Why do you assume this is a first-year student? And why do you assume he is not a native speaker? ███████ is a graduate of one university and currently working on his Masters at another. He’s a native American English speaker.

      “If you want to critique something, critique the best final year projects you can find”

      What would be the point of that? If I go to a doctor I don’t want to hear what bits of me are healthy, I want to know what bits of me are not. This kind of denialism is dangerous and poisonous.

      I was sent this work with the specific request for a critique. When I asked whether he was still interested if the critique turned out to be harsh he responded positively. In my opinion, ███████ has exactly the right mentality to become great at what he does. He went through the extra trouble to get more feedback and didn’t shy away when it turned out rough.


      • David, I am just saying that it is a little bit rich for you to lambaste a student’s lack of academic rigor through a blog post that is itself not entirely rigorous. Lacking time is, I suspect, the very excuse deployed by those you critique. I am not saying this has to be a peer-reviewed publication, but it would be intellectually fair (and not at all time consuming) to state your limitations. A major limitation of what you have presented is that it doesn’t identify a trend as much as it lists common problems you see in student work. A better title for this post might be ‘Common and easily avoidable problems’ rather than ‘Worrisome trends in architecture education’.

        I don’t at all disagree with the substance of your critique. I have taught at a number of universities throughout the world and I too have seen many students make these mistakes. While I would discuss these issues with the student in person and in front of the class, I would never take a student’s project and publicly critique it on my blog. Even with their permission, I would feel uneasy about the asymmetry of power.

        Discussing these issues generally or discussing them with reference to established architects is something I would encourage you to consider. Many student’s admire the writing of Lars Spuybroek, Greg Lynn, and Patrik Schumacher. They mimic projects they see come out of the AA, the Bartlett, or BIG’s office. I think it would be positive for students to see someone of your stature enter into the discourse and model the type of critical thinking that is often not present and that students need.

        • David Rutten Says:

          “Lacking time is, I suspect, the very excuse deployed by those you critique.”

          There is a big difference though; I don’t pretend to be an academic institution. It would be silly of me to try and argue that what I wrote is anything more than an opinion-piece.

          “A major limitation of what you have presented is that it doesn’t identify a trend as much as it lists common problems you see in student work.”

          I fail to see the difference between “a list of common problems” and “a trend”. Isn’t that just two different ways of saying the same thing?

          I actually think that the problem listed above are not “easily avoidable” at all. Adhering to academic rigour is _hard_ work. At least I imagine it is hard work, it was never demanded of me while at TUDelft. From what I see around me though, doing research that holds up to scrutiny is bloody difficult.

          “I think it would be positive for students to see someone of your stature enter into the discourse and model the type of critical thinking that is often not present and that students need.”

          I think that’s an excellent idea. I’m probably not the guy you’re after though, after all I’m not in fact an Architect. I’m not involved in practise, nor in academia. There must be thousands of people better suited for this job than me.

          • Joseph Says:

            While I am still an Architecture Student in my Undergrad, I have seen work for final project critiques that have been presented in a similar fashion. All eye candy, the presenter gives a small practiced speech about his/her project (not really talking about the solution they are providing) and then when the guest critiques begin to analyze the data/visuals on the wall/board the student is at a loss for words.

            Some students for lack of a better phrase, get destroyed in critiques. It’s not because of bad/asshole professors either. The students in the weeks leading up to the final presentation get up to 30 minute desk crits where the student can present what they have and figure out what should stay and what should go. I personally think that Arch students need to learn how to present data and have a basic understanding of graphic design. While it is easy to just throw up a bunch of cool visuals, it’s better to use visuals to elevate ones work so that even if someone wasn’t there to hear you speak about your project they could understand the work that is being presented.

        • Andreas Hopf Says:

          “David, I am just saying that it is a little bit rich for you to lambaste a student’s lack of academic rigor through a blog post that is itself not entirely rigorous.”

          Alas, a classic case of tu quoque (ad hominem variant), the logical fallacy in argumentation that afflicts vast swathes of internet commenting today…

          By such logic, any kind of argumentation, whether positive or negative, would only be considered valid when conducted between peers and done so by equal means. Was Richard Feynman allowed to casually criticise Paul Dirac’s preliminary work on the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics? I would think so.

  2. wendytangz Says:

    I’m commenting on this having occupied both key roles in this discussion, I have been a student of architecture and urbanism and being on the faculty (researcher and teacher) of the same university the blog author has graduated from. FYI. I am now an academic and critic at other universities.

    1) Sadly, this is not an exception to the rule. The quality of work exhibited here is very common. However, it is student work…and therefore much can be excused. It is up to the faculty to instil the right skills and values.

    2) Academic skills are highly underrated and even discriminated against in certain courses, despite them being taught at academic levels. At a certain point, aesthetics was thought to equal good design, and academic rigour and logical thinking were non-essential. This is not a fad. As someone who had to edit publications full of ‘articles’ from faculty and students, I have wanted to dig my eyeballs out from the circular argumentation and usage of words that made no sense to anyone but the author.

    However, the blame should be spread around. It’s the type of rubbish that certain professionals produce that made this acceptable. This is a tacit-tacit knowledge transfer type of field. The teachers who are not vigilant or are themselves guilty of these trespasses are also to blame. I can regal you with stories of fellow ‘academics’ who plagiarise colleagues and student works with great relish. The student should share the least blame, they are after all still learning, and here I take issue with the post. Even though I can see the amount of control demonstrated here to qualify the critique and withhold personal information.

    Also, I would like to point out to the first comment @nzarchitecture;

    1) This is not bullshit, this is the author’s opinion. Hence, A BLOG. If you’re expecting academic reference, I think you need to reconsider your academic skills.

    2) Students in our fields should be toughened up for critique. This is the whole review system our profession is based on. If you cannot take critique. Do not start on this path. Granted personal attacks at crits are common and to be abhorred. These reflect badly on the people giving them more than anything else. I agree…don’t be that guy…but this is not a personal attack. Do please improve your reading skills. However, I sincerely hope he informed said student of how he wished to use his images, asked for consent and provided constructive criticism to the student as the most minimal form of compensation.

    3) At university level, the entrance requirements for English are well-established. Even if you’re not a native speaker, there are certain acceptable standards. I have taught classes of international students who would make that extra effort to correct their texts with a simple spell check in some word processing program instead of blindly typing into their illustrator or powerpoint text boxes. This is sloppy. Also detrimental to communication, which is a core skill an architect should have.

    4) As far as I understood, the author is well acquainted with our field (read the first few lines). Therefore, this might just be a representative case typifying the atrocities he has encountered for him to draw parallels from. If you want to have a rigorous discussion on this, I propose a selection of student works from several university, across several years. The selection being from the top, middle and bottom strata according to scores given and usage of obscure theories from other fields. Then you can create a set of variables. Next, evaluate (you can blind this process with multiple evaluators) them according to the criteria stated here, i.e. logic, aesthetics, relevance, communication etc…
    Now, given the current academic climate, who the hell would want to fund this kind of research?

    • David Rutten Says:

      Hi Wendy,

      good points. I did get consent up-front to post his work and identity, though that was given before he read my text so I’ve withheld his name until I get final consent. It’s a shame you think nobody will be interested in funding a more systematic exploration, it would be one of the most important studies in meta-architecture in my opinion.

      I do disagree with one statement. Just because it is student work, that doesn’t mean much can be excused. Quite the opposite. It’s not the students fault, but that is not the same thing. Students should be taught how to turn in research which does not require to be excused. In the first semester of year one that may be too much to ask for, but surely by the end of the Bachelor track this should no longer be an issue? Yet I’ve seen Masters projects and even graduation projects in this vein.

      • wendytangz Says:

        Hi David,
        Btw…good on you that you took extra time/effort to give critique. Obviously his own tutors failed to do so. Not sure how long you’ve been away from the universities, but the climate is now extremely sober and funding is only reserved for certain political pursuits or things that can lead to valorisation immediately. They have become machines…churning out students to meet quotas. I have also been told not to be ‘too harsh’ to students when I insist they make the min. academic standards. As a business model, failing students means extra time and costs for the department.

        • Nick Says:

          “As a business model, failing students means extra time and costs for the department.”

          This is going to come back and bite us in the …

          When did we as a society decide it was better for everyone to “believe” they are qualified at whatever they are doing?


  3. I agree with some general assumptions said here. Perhaps I think students learn what we teach..they need critics to improve their works. But we could remember that teachers have a fundamental role. The teacher is also responsible for this piece of work, because is not satisfatory, or incomplete. Students should learn, but thay need a path, a mentor.. This is what we call education..

    PS. I also think that there is too much computation, and too less architecture/engineering in academia..also another form of lack in education.

  4. John Harding Says:

    Blimey, this is quite a public grilling the student is getting here… I probably wouldn’t release his/her name regardless of whether if he/she gives permission!

    Aside from the rights and wrongs of using only a single individual’s work on this post, this is definitely an important issue that deserves attention. Having taught Masters students myself recently, I can say that this is the type of work we do come across once in a while… however, as you say and do, it is the duty of the teacher to question the student as to _why_ a particular algorithm has been implemented (such as, the much abused Voronoi diagram), just as it would be for any architectural intervention not involving computation.

    So why does it happen? Students tend to become attracted to the compiled tool because this is the _easiest_ thing to turn to when faced with the complex task of design – quickly producing visually complicated geometry, and hence giving the illusion of some sort of achievement (pink or otherwise!). If we look at the enabling tools, some components in Grasshopper tend to be more ‘black box’ than others in this regard, even though they appear the same visually as other components. For example, the code behind the ‘Construct Point’ component does not really need explanation, whereas let’s say, the ‘Substrate’ component probably does. I sometimes wondered whether you worry about the latter type of component and its implications, but its obvious now that you do.

    For this reason (apologies to Daniel), I’ve never been a massive fan of Woodbury’s publicly available ‘design patterns’, for although they are very useful for solving known problems, design (particularly at the early stage) is rarely like that and hence these patterns tend to get applied before the problem is really known. Now do we blame to tool, or the user here? Probably both to be honest.

    Finally, I do take issue with one comment you made: “The only time when it makes sense to invoke computation in the design process is when there is some relevant data that needs to be computed.”

    The ‘computational design’ work of for example Paul Coates and John Frazer in the 1990s is an example of the machine engaged in a complex process with simple rules but intractable behaviour in-between that could not (and still cannot) be explained because it could not be reduced. Some processes (such as emergent ones) can remain intractable and still be ‘good’ approaches to design.

    Likewise, Dawkin’s Biomorphs did not compute quantitative data in order to evolve and generate designs that use computing to enhance the creative process. Here the machine worked in conversation with the human who selects design progression based on qualitative aspects or tacit knowledge (not a fitness function) that _does not_ have to be explained to others, sometimes because it is impossible to put into langauage or any other form of representation. Therefore, in my opinion at least we do not always have to explain every line of a computational process top-down for sound design exploration (although I suppose at a meta-level you have to say it is your intention not to do so!). Design is not science!

    Anyway, interesting post. Will certainly get a good deal of response :)

    • David Rutten Says:

      “I sometimes wondered whether you worry about the latter type of component and its implications, but its obvious now that you do.”

      I suppose most of the time it’s easier to cower behind the notion that “I’m just doing my job, it’s not my fault when people use these tools in bad ways”. But I do worry about it and I’d love to hear about ways in which I can improve GH to promote responsible use. (Have you tried inserting a bunch of Voronoi components lately?)

      “Design is not science!”

      I can certainly agree with that, however my complaint wasn’t so much about a lack of scientific rigour, but rather a lack of academic rigour. The former is a subset of the latter, and although one can argue whether or not architecture education ought to be scientific, I don’t think you can seriously make the case that it oughtn’t be academic.

      • John Harding Says:

        Thanks for the reply David.

        “I don’t think you can seriously make the case that it oughtn’t be academic.”

        Yes I agree. I guess in order to adopt a less than rigourous approach to the design process (or presentation of information), you should probably be able to justify why you are doing so rigourously!

        “I’d love to hear about ways in which I can improve GH to promote responsible use”

        I guess it’s a bit like asking the pen manufacturer how they can design it to make its use more responsible (although you’d have to impose your own view on what ‘responsible use’ really is). Having thought about it some more, as long as its just geometry I’m guessing its probably best to leave it up to the user to decide on which tools to use and for the teachers to criticise their misuse. There are of course lots of people that benefit from having such processes wrapped up into neat components, myself included! If we look at the Substrate component again, the fact you give a link to where it came from is important so the less lazy student can understand it properly and use it responsibly.

        Of course Voronoi diagrams are one thing, imposing architectural logic on geometric processes (Alexander’s Pattern Language or Mitchell’s Logic of Architecture, etc…) is quite another. Grasshopper doesn’t do this of course thankfully.

        It’s certainly interesting to consider what power you have as the developer of Grasshopper though $:)

        John.

      • anonim Says:

        You could encourage rigor, research and understanding by creating and maintaining a contemporary help and information system (aka Help, to use the older concept). Mathematica’s is an OK one. Cycling 74’s implementation in MAX also has good ideas. Houdini has sophisticated examples for each node. Such a system could provide core information, references to sources, examples of usage, explanations of limitations, etc. At the moment, all apart from the experts who choose computation as a professional specialization have to wing it and this encourages bad habits.

        I realize that this is an expensive enterprise. But it is also the main limitation of GH in my experience.

        • David Rutten Says:

          We are going to focus intensely on proper documentation for GH 2.0 and it is a lovely idea to extend it further than just dry information. Definitely something we need to put into the brief to see if it’s feasible.

  5. Lost in Says:

    I have spent nearly a year and a half to master the computer programs that were compulsary needed to pass the subjects at University. This is by far the most time consuming issue within schools. teachers are eager of visual results thus students spend most of their time in a representative research ocean which is an absolute disaster in the end.
    I have studied in Madrid and BCN and the most valuable content I’ve got were technical subjetcs. “How to” solve particular problems in particular situations. Architecture is not “only” art.

    • David Rutten Says:

      I was quite taken aback when I heard that TUDelft now has compulsory classes in GH. On the hand hand that is good for (my) business, but on an ideological level I’m pretty queasy about it.
      One thing we often hear from Arch. firms we visit in the capacity as RMA employees is that they don’t _want_ students who know their way around program X. They want students who understand the mathematics and theories behind geometry and computation. Unfortunately universities seem to prefer to teach the former.

  6. Lost in Says:

    I totally agree with you. However I think that to Master mathematics and geometry is better to study mathematics or even physics. The way I see it, Is that professors use schools as a big laboratory and this is to misunderstand completely universities’ goals. Students are there to gain knowledge in a particular field.
    Is easy to guess that architecture students want to learn architecture and the fact of building buildings (build things). However they bump into issues that are commonly studied in other degrees such as geography. Architecture is not the degree of the gods. Believe it or not, we are just the executive arm. What to build is others’ business ( geographers, politicians, planners, statisticians). Ours is how to.
    Perhaps is time to split up the degree into different studies.
    The exercise you have presented in your blog is directly related with the trend claiming that the architecture’s lenguage is not enough to solve problems in the XXI century. As a result, arch. lenguage has became an invader of another disciplines in a very childish frivolous way.

  7. Lost in Says:

    Ops, I forgot to follow the thread…

  8. MargheritaV Says:

    forms are fashionable.
    math isn’t.
    people watch, don’t see.

  9. Karen Costello Says:

    David,

    I enjoyed your comments and they were a reminder to me because I am working on my Master’s. When you work on a subject which you get to to know intimately, it is easy to forget that readers need to know how and why the statistics are relevant.

    Regarding your example, it reminds me of a lot of presentations I have seen where I suspected there is not a great understanding of the maths or algorithms used to generate the diagrams. Sometimes there is an idea of the end goal and the diagrams are used to make the result look as though it was well researched, when in reality it is often intuition that locked on the end result. Unfortunately, professors, not understanding the information and programs themselves reward the student with high marks “for thinking outside the box”. thanks Karen

  10. abhaykadam Says:

    ya i too agree that math is very much important ,mathematics is not an alien science,it has evolved and developed through ages ,first problem then solution,so while ascertaining solution mathematicians had clear idea of constraints.also old mathematicians were good at art and had greater understanding of nature ,this higher abstract understanding of nature is attributed to math and analogy they find with natural system,so nature is not just a beauty masterpiece but it is also a form generated with highly evolved optimized algorithms .
    so if we want to study this we need math and to draw parallelism we need analytical thinking,
    now a days problems with architects using grasshopper is,they work on lower level of abstraction ,they know if we add this we get this ,so their thought processes starts from experimentation,and end up with geometric equivalence of noise ,which is further marketed as abstract form ,but we need to compute form first in our mind and use computation just a tool,this computation in mind is possible if one understand what math is ,and has good understanding of math,
    although i seem to be talking in favor of a mathematician,but i m a prospective march candidate who has just completed bs in civil engineering .

    “After a certain high level of technical skill is achieved, science and art tend to coalesce in esthetics, plasticity, and form. The greatest scientists are always artists as well.”
    —Albert Einstein

  11. firstdonoharm Says:

    Having just finished an M.Arch in a school that definitely favors the use of GH, I have to agree with your post entirely. This sort of presentation is definitely something I have seen over and over again in grad school. I’ve seen students use very complicated definitions, and present very “scientific” looking graphs and analyses that are marginally related (at best) to the architectural and urban problems their projects present. It’s emply fluff. It has become a tool to obfuscate the fact that there is no real depth to the project, and certainly no time left to try ot figure it out either. I have been asked (by faculty) over and over again to use GH for things that GH is not the most efficient tool for.

    Site analysis, for instance. You can spend half a semester learning to figure out how to use GH to generate graphics that become the center of the project. The problem is that this is such a rigid way to work, because what happens if you realize you’re asking the wrong question, or that you should pursue a different line of thinking… what do you do? You’re so committed to your GH graphics that you’ve lost the perspective of what it was for to begin with. Was it really a tool for analysis, or was it just a tool to give you something to put on your boards? So students persevere with bad ideas because they have spent all of their time playing with GH, with little time to actually think about their project, or, god forbid, architecture. I think everyone needs to take a huge step back and think why they do what they do.

    These graphs are questionable research, questionable because there is no rigour when entering data… actually, many times I’ve seen data manipulated based on how cool the resulting graph looks, or how close it is to what the student initially wanted it to look like. If a scientist did this, it would be considered fraud.

    • Andreas Hopf Says:

      Hugh Aldersey-Williams in his critical essay in “Design and the elastic mind” (MoMa exhibition catalogue) named the beast that needs to be slain: “scientification” – a popular strategy to decorate any kind of human endeavour with pseudoscientific support to the blunt end of marketing purposes.

  12. ayg011 Says:

    I fully support David’s stance. I too have experienced precisely the problem expressed and I went to one of the (‘so called’) leading schools of architecture. There are some effective terms I have devised in the past to accurately and fairly describe exactly the observations David has made:

    ‘Identikit Architecture': One place to start is the Grasshopper image library: twisty tower count? Voronoi-[add geometry of choice] count? Tons of cringe worthy, samey, pointless, architectural diarrhoea;

    and then there is:
    ‘Architectural Autism': Here, only the ‘designer’ himself understands his project and imagery (…but actually, he probably doesn’t). It’s self serving, lacks rationale, and inhibits the ability for critical appraisal as any critic is reduced to the equivalent level of retardation inherent in the work as only two utterly pointless conclusions can ever be made: either 1) Accept it, or 2) Reject it. An example can be seen in the nonsensical imagery critiqued by David above. (Also found in the vast majority of schools of architecture).

    The reaction so far since the blogs publication, plus the defence on the grasshopper forum where the same discussion has been posted where one counter-argument is for “intuitive” design and a “pure artistic” approach to architectural design, proves just how deep the rot is in the system of education: the institutions and the professional bodies are all in denial, so unsurprisingly, so are the students. Most tutors and the ubiquitous ‘guest critics’ don’t even have any qualifications to teach. Worse still, almost all of them haven’t even built anything. If architecture really is a profession, the education must be vocational, and of worthy academic merit.

    A knock-on impact of this issue arises in practice where the disconnect between what is taught at university and what the reality in office is like becomes apparent. So many students get lulled into a false sense of security at schools of architecture. When it comes to being serious in a professional environment they either do not have what it takes to do the job, or are perplexed when faced with the fundamentals of building design. Students should demand that what is taught at schools of architecture is relevant to their chosen field of work – it’s a massive con and a serious disservice to anyone undertaking the course.

    Then there is the huge gulf in quality between one architect to the next; what ever happened to consistency and professional rigour? It would appear that the professional bodies, whose role it is to create prestige that in-turn improves the quality of the profession, have become complacent. Even some prominent names in the industry – individuals who have strategic roles in government advisory groups for the built environment – do not have any qualifications in architecture. It makes a mockery of the whole profession as well as the long commitment to its study.

    Ultimately, architecture is unique in that is it the only one of the professions that is suffering from a profound intellectual retardation. All of the other technical-based professions are constantly looking for ways to progress, ways to utilise the latest technology, ways to re-invent the wheel and look outside the box (engineering etc). Yet, the cutting edge of architecture can only conjure up whimsical manifestos who the vast majority of poorly educated students indoctrinated at institutions buy into: ‘Parametricism’ for example. So with all the advancements in technology, construction and the digital industries, the best architects can come up with is a pseudo-intellectual movement which has no relevance to any of the challenges we face today, and one which is obsessed purely with style. It’s all so primitive, backwards and embarrassing. Hopefully the abysmal pay scales after 5-7 years worth of study should now become self explanatory and self justifying.

    This can only change if architectural education is totally overhauled and refocused back on architecture for architectures sake, rather than this lazy, narrow-minded, cerebrally-stunted obsession with art and creating pretty, or incomprehensible imagery that can only withstand by assigning a polemic guff.

    Irrelevant, confused and complacent. Sadly, the whole industry is now yesterday’s game.

  13. ayg011 Says:

    *above post is a copy of my post on the GH forum

  14. ayg011 Says:

    Comments asked on the GH forum in response to the above, to elaborate on my views:

    Link: http://www.grasshopper3d.com/forum/topics/blog-post-worrisome-trends-in-architecture-education?commentId=2985220%3AComment%3A902364

    “I think I strongly agree with you (although I think by saying “refocused back” you may be imagining a past when architects didn’t obsess over fashionable and ultimately distracting ideas about architecture)”

    No, I mean to simply focus on architecture as a professional discourse – make it a vocation.

    “architecture for architecture’s sake”.

    Rather than trying to establish if architecture is art, or science, or technology, or sculpture, or design, or maths, or algorithms etc, what I am pointing to is to accept and qualify architecture as a separate discipline in its own right, and to treat it as such. Hence: architecture for architectures sake.

    “so I am wary of the perspective that suggests pied-piper whimsical manifestos are anything new.”

    I didn’t make any claim to suggest irrelevant manifestos are anything new. The point with that particular example was to highlight that architecture is in desperate need of intellectual enlightenment. This will never happen while the existing/next generation of architects (i.e. architecture students) remain disillusioned, weak-willed and formulaic in approach to such an extent that they buy into such notions without ever thinking to question the validity or relevance. I’m sure many would even regard such standpoints as the avant garde.The entire set-up breeds complacency.


  15. David,

    An excellent post that I will be sure to forward onto as many people as I can. Having been in and out architectural education for longer than I care to count, I would say many of the observations here are absolutely spot on and are symptoms of a much larger elephant in the room that many architectural programmes fail to address.

    What you’ve highlighted is the architectural equivalent of the broken window effect; where a lack of understanding of the source material cannot be disguised with graphics or a wall of text. Everything you noted from spelling errors to the lack of citations as indicators of a larger problem is something that I impress on my own students (when I have them). This has nothing to do with getting a power trip from critting other students, it has everything to do with a. nipping bad habits before they develop and b. really try to get the students to understand the material they are dealing with; as it is far easier to make simple projects complicated, but the opposite when trying to understand and communicate complex material in an accessible manner.

    I think this partly stems from an archaic form of evaluating one’s work; which of course is the crit itself – whilst invaluable with regard to increasing confidence with public speaking and (if done well) emphasising brevity and accessibility of complex ideas, generally the discussion is a one sided affair where a tired-beyond-measure student attempts to justify their work to a bunch of critics who in many cases often disagree with one another.

    More worrying is this prevalent pre-occupation with re-appropriating language from other fields to somehow justify a simple idea and give it the perceived complexity it apparently needs to stand up to peer/professional scrutiny.

    Better to have tutors get students to concentrate on a single strong strategy based on a rigorous diagnosis of the challenge. In the spirit of science in which we currently pilfer the wrong aspects of; I challenge all students of architecture to actually use the research to prove or disprove a hypothesis and see where that leads, or better yet, allow the design of the final response (note: not necessarily a ‘building’ or ‘master plan’) emerge from a rigorous study that actually explains why your project exists in the first place.

    I am guilty of every single one of David’s observations throughout the course of my academic career and if we take our craft seriously, then we will continue to view ourselves as students for the rest of our lives. Students rejoice! Use architectural education for what its for: building key skills that you should pro-actively identify and learn for yourself if it is not explicitly taught (as Joshua Prince Ranus notes, ‘go to other people’s lectures’), and more importantly, to test ideas out in an environment with little or no real world consequence or restraints. The whole point of data collection and analysis is to intentionally build in restraints so your projects are far richer than they otherwise would be. Revel in the fact our default starting point on any topic is, ‘we are not experts and we know nothing’ because it allows us to ask obvious questions that are otherwise assumed as general knowledge (in most cases those assumptions are WRONG).

    I was once told to ‘become the master of every topic you research’. In order to do this you must be able to tell your grandmother in everyday language what a topic is about. When you can do this, you have a comprehensive understanding of a topic. Don’t let your interesting research languish in a portfolio, do something with it.

    I could go on and on and on. Instead, I’d like to leave everyone with a small reading list:

    So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport

    Good Strategy Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt

    REWORK by 37 Signals

    Down Detour Road by Eric Cesal

    and finally

    Dark Matter & Trojan Horses by Dan HIll

    http://www.strelka.com/press_en/dark-matter-and-trojan-horses-dan-hill/?lang=en

    These books taken together provide a good thinking and operating framework in order to help students of architecture put forward a proposal with a clear reason for why it exists, appropriate use and communication of data and presented in an accessible fashion. Only one of these books is about architecture.

    Lastly, huge kudos to the student whose work was allowed to be reviewed in such a manner online. This is the sign of a very strong student who can absorb – and learn from – the observations made by David. I urge you to read the books above and see what you can do to understand and communicate your project in a new light.

    – J

  16. Goncalo Henriques Says:

    David proved real vision developing a visual programming interface known worldwide, Grasshopper (GH). Architects, professors and researchers are in great debt to him.

    Now he shows us his vision again alerting to some dangers in GH use. Better math, geometry and computational classes are more necessary than GH per si. Saying this shows his intellectual honesty.
    His comments are fair and he states his position in a clear and transparent manner.
    Personally I had the pleasure to have a course with David in BCN when explicit history was becoming GH in 2008. Since then I use GH.

    Thank you David, please continue to surprise us in the future with your VISION. Everyone: David Rutten deserves true respect.

  17. Steve Scott Says:

    This was the biggest difference between architecture school and planning school. Planning schools go out of their way to teach you how to use data, filter it, and accurately represent it. Architecture school was about pretty pictures, even if the data was unintelligible or mis-represented. I feel bad for architects picking up bad habits, because as the world becomes more digitally literate, this bullshit won’t fly in the future.

  18. Steve Scott Says:

    Also, don’t blame code. Visualization experts use scripting all the time to create intelligible, interactive graphics in D3 and Processing. Scripting, algorithms, and grasshopper isn’t the problem. It is a lack of methodological rigor.

  19. Peter Magyar Says:

    In the Movie “Amadeus”, Holly Roman Emperor Joseph II says about one piece of music of the young Mozart : ‘too many notes’…

  20. Andreas Hopf Says:

    Mr. Rutten – game, set and match. What you are posting here is much welcomed, not only in the field of architecture, but also industrial and graphic design.

    ps: the issue at stake very much reminds me of Ostwald, Michael J.(2010) “Ethics and the auto-generative design process”, Building Research & Information, 38: 4, 390 – 400

  21. ndujar Says:

    Hello David,

    Thanks a lot for your reflexion and effort in sharing. I normally don’t bother people replying posts, but this one really was inspiring. The points you make have been bugging me for years!

    When I first entered in contact with Generative Design was year 2003. After six years of systematic humiliation in order to obtain a degree in Architecture, the discovery of Computational Design back then thrilled me absolutely (and still does) as a powerful tool that would emancipate people from the need of architects.
    Nowadays this still has the potential to completely democratize design. It is meant to allow individuals to achieve whatever design they feel more confident about, and to assist them in their technical flaws, so their creativities can meet their needs.

    However, and unlike the rest of artistic disciplines, the budget of production for a piece of architecture ranges between the hundreds of thousands of euros-dollars to the millions. That kind of power is only at reach of a few: politicians, speculators, financers,…Ergo, the work of the architect is only available to serve that elite, and that elite is backfed by the academia. It is like this now, and it has ALWAYS been like this. Society is ruled today by visual impacts and systematic repetition of empty slogans, and that is what we get.

    In Spain -the place where I studied and developed much of my career- architects and engineers, including myself, celebrated for some time the speculative devastation not only of our natural environment, but of our whole economy. The tools to control it were there, but no one felt like using them. Being so irresponsible -and unsustainable- as we were yielded today’s situation. We dug our own graves.

    Fortunately there is place for hope, as more and more young architects are realizing the importance of the social role they play. And they are playing it in their communities. Academia can ask whatever it wants. Reality is always above theories and society is finding its own alternatives. It seems to me like schools of architectura are also digging…time will tell.

  22. Michael Reed Says:

    Hi David – A related commentary is provided in Marius Watz’s “Algorithm Critique”. Here’s the scribd link, you’ll have to flip through to the second section: http://bit.ly/KQJBcD

  23. ivanpajares Says:

    Hi David,

    Are you having an “Oppenheimer”? ;-) once opened, Pandora’s box can’t be closed again…
    I strongly agree with the idea that university is NOT the place to teach specific software packages. University, by definition, should be universal. That means that concepts and critical thinking and work methodology should be the focus, not individual tools.
    Architecture is not engineering. Many times the design problems we tackle are – as some scholars have said – not properly formulated and the problem to solve emerges during the design process along the “solution”.
    I feel, teaching drawing and creative skills to 1st year arch students in Madrid, that the insane focus on the finished product and the rushing towards it that we find in many schools is killing the design process which should be our main issue. Critical thinking cannot be properly trained if pressed to produce funky graphics for the shake of it.
    Before opening the box of winds that GH is, one should be able to tackle creatively, critically and productively a design problem with pen and paper. That should be our aim. BTW, let me clarify that I consider myself quite proficient in both the analog and the digital realm so that I don’t sound like an old fart chanting the virtues of charcoal vs photoshop…

    Regards

  24. oaq62mvziq Says:

    In the entirety of this blog post there was but one good point made: “Architects … are exhibitionist bullshit artists who rationalise their work with vacuous language.”

    • David Rutten Says:

      How insightful your comment is. And how brave to post it anonymously. I truly stand in awe of your intellectual prowess and cannot wait to hear what other opinions you may bestow upon us. No wait … the other way around.

  25. Yevgeny Says:

    Dear David,

    Thank you very much for your critique. You have put into words things that I thought about since architecture school. Although my program was one of the few holdouts that didn’t teach computers programs or grasshopper, it was guilty of many of the flaws you pointed out: tenuous correlation between what is said and what is shown, mental gymnastics, and little rigor in the accuracy of data. Students would start out with a concept that was so convoluted, they wouldn’t be able to progress, build, and refine the concept and create true complexity in their projects. I often found myself envying the engineers, whose courses were difficult but free of all of this fluff.

    However, I do wish I was exposed to grasshopper in school. For most people the university is one of the few places where you have the time and opportunity to explore. I am lucky that I have a job that allows me to do this, but most people don’t. Grasshopper has opened a whole world of geometry and coding for me. Firefly, physics simulation with kangaroo, Python, Galapagos (which brought me to this blog). My perennial thought is “if only I know then what I know now…”

    I wouldn’t worry the ubiquitous use of the Voronoi diagram, it like the pictures kindergartners make when they first start drawings: the stick figure people and the sun in the corner of the page… You’ve got to start somewhere. Maybe it could be the “Hello World” of grasshopper 


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