'Thought into Form', Monash Art Design & Architecture's (MADA) inaugural publication was this week launched by Dean, Shane Murray. The publication showcases the work of the faculty's staff and students, giving an insight into the processes and methodology of art, design and architectural learning at an undergraduate level and providing 'the starting point for discourse about how the multidisciplinary will help shape and inform our future.' Urban Melbourne was invited to the launch at ACCA, an evening which included keynote speakers such as John Warwicker, Professor of Design MADA & editor of Thought Into Form; a jetlagged but highly entertaining Juliana Engberg, Artistic Director, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art; Roger Wood, Wood Marsh Architecture; Tara McDowell, Director of Cultural Practice at MADA. All of whom discussed the possibilities and future of collaborative creative practice.
MADA located within Building F at Monash's Caulfield Campus, which it shares with the MUMA gallery (which this author was lucky enough to work on), providing a studio based curriculum which promotes multidisciplinary learning and the cross-pollination of ideas throughout the various schools which make up the faculty - a step away from the typical model of art, design and architectural schools which have generally confined themselves to the walls which house them.
The three schools, while sharing a common brand in the form of MADA have also been given their own identity by a team led by Professor John Warwicker and are likely to evolve and adapt over time at the hands of John's communications students. A more comprehensive write up on the branding and ideology can be found here.
Initially, I wasn't quite sure what direction to take with this article but eventually decided to provide a bit of a commentary on architectural pedagogy in Melbourne, based on my own architectural education.
I studied architecture at RMIT's city campus between 2005-2009, where we shared levels 11 & 12 of Building 8 with landscape architecture students and held joint exhibitions but otherwise had little to no involvement with them. The focus was on research, investigations in form and materiality and the implications of these on the architecture that you developed with the ultimate aim of having students position themselves amongst the school's "pillars of architecture". The vast majority of work produced was speculative with no real world outcomes, which meant plenty of models and drawings either thrown away or locked away never to see the light of day despite the hours spent slaving away to produce them.
The learning was largely driven by the idea of the individual and despite working in groups, you were ultimately assessed as an individual. This isn't limited to RMIT - it has more-or-less been considered 'the norm' in architectural education the world over.
“Built environment is a product of teamwork, the educational setting still places emphasis on individualistic work.”
“We are trained and we train architects as individualistic creative people to develop their senses and design ability to create a better world. However, as any practicing architect would argue the act of architecture in the real world is all about teamwork, starting with a client, and working with other professionals, including officials, colleagues and builders.” – Hana Alamuddin, architect, extract from Architectural Education Today, Cross Cultural Perspectives.
How you were trained as an architect at university wasn't a true representation of the 'real world' of an architect. You are not trained to work with others from different disciplines despite the fact that as an architect you will need to work with teams of consultants made up of structural, civil & services engineers, landscape architects, builders etc. There was no scope for developing the skills to be able to competently collaborate with other disciplines, nor was there really ever the platform to allow for this to occur.
RMIT's award winning,brand-spanking new, Sean Godsell-designed and aptly named Design Hub is a step in the right direction - providing a place for cross-disciplinary collaboration in research, at a post graduate level and a public interface for displaying the outcomes.
So how is MADA's architecture school, launched in 2008, different? This is best summed up by the following description, taken from MADA's website:
Art, design and architecture students have designed products to help people with disabilities, created installations that comment on social issues. and developed emergency relief structures. The applications are limitless.
This is evident in projects such as the Stawell Steps project - a collaboration between Japanese artist Hiroshi Nakao and Monash architecture students under the supervision of NMBW Principal, Nigel Bertram. Part spillway, part brick ruin and part playground it successfully and carefully marries architecture, art and landscape to provide a multi-faceted installation that can be sat, walked or climbed on. The 'Steps' were developed over the course of a semester, with a prototype being built in MUMA's Ian Potter Sculpture Courtyard before a more permanent installation being built in Stawell.
The Stawell Steps were shortlisted in the Regional Category at the AIA Victorian Chapters architecture awards - an award won by Marysville Police Station (another project I was fortunate enough to work on). What does that mean? Well, like Brett Seakins, who did the write up of the steps for Architecture Australia (linked in the previous paragraph), I can't help but be envious of what the Monash students have been able to achieve - something I wasn't able to until I began working in an architectural office...