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On Teaching (1.0)

vanity-thy-name-is

Now architecture—if you think of it in terms of school—…began with a man under a tree who didn’t know he was a teacher, talking to a few who didn’t know they were pupils.   —Louis I. Kahn, lecture delivered at International Design Conference, Aspen, Colorado (1962)

Somewhere between quotation and paraphrase [I’m writing this from memory], Kahn’s observation is damned close to my own views on education. It seems very likely that the majority of our education happens someplace other than the classroom; possibly even other than the studio-laboratory; very likely outside the building itself. Which is not to deny the value of our transactions in those settings; I simply hope to put them in perspective.

In fact, everything I know about architecture could be put on one side of a three-by-five index card, because the essence of architecture, like the meaning of life, is much less complicated than we expect. Number seventeen among the “25 Random Things About Me” in FaceBook is one of those simple ideas: A really great question is worth 10,000 facile replies pretending to be answers.

A problem with efforts to become educated, to be less ignorant, to be informed, is our fetish for answers. And there are plenty of people out there more than willing to give you access to their repertoire of answers. For six easy payments of $29.95, but if you call in the next thirty minutes, we’ll knock off one of those payments. Donald Trump has a mother lode of answers for us; we just have to wait until November 9th to find out what they are. But in the meantime, trust him, because they’re great answers; some of the best answers really; just answers like you’ve never encountered before. And therein lies the problem of our age: the search for answers is far less significant than phrasing the question itself.

I have a meeting this afternoon—with someone whose judgment I implicitly trust—because, in one of my very long-term research projects, I’ve misplaced the original question. In the mass of information accumulated during this last thirty years—four file drawers crammed with photocopies and correspondence; at least ten thick ring binders with 3,000-4,000 postcard images—I’ve lost my way. Now I need help recovering the question that set it all in motion.

The remainder of that three-by-five card would be filled with three frameworks for thinking about architecture; certainly talking about it; possibly even the actual making of architecture:

  • HISTORY + THEORY + CRITICISM + IMPLEMENTATION
  • OBJECT + WINDOW + MIRROR + LENS
  • SCALE + ORIENTATION + MEDIUM + DISTANCE

I’ll say more about each of these in the next few entries. In the meantime, I’ll close with some even simpler advice on the Meaning of Life:

Well, that’s the End of the Film, now here’s the Meaning of Life. [An envelope is handed to the Lady Presenter. She opens it in a business-like way.] Thank you Brigitte. [She reads.]… Well, it’s nothing special. Try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations. And finally, here are some completely gratuitous pictures of penises to annoy the censors and to hopefully spark some sort of controversy which it seems is the only way these days to get the jaded video-sated public off their fucking arses and back in the sodding cinema. Family entertainment bollocks! What they want is filth, people doing things to each other with chainsaws during tupperware parties, babysitters being stabbed with knitting needles by gay presidential candidates, vigilante groups strangling chickens, armed bands of theatre critics exterminating mutant goats – where’s the fun in pictures? Oh well, there we are – here’s the theme music. Goodnight.

india-wells


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