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We Get Letters...from San Francisco
by Katy Purviance on 10/07/10 @ 10:35:28 pm
Categories: Grad School | 752 words | 1173 views

I’m Jay. I just graduated from Virginia Tech’s architecture school and now live in San Francisco.

I agree with you about the state of architectural education (at least, that it is not as valuable as it once was). “Learning by doing” is an important tenet upheld by many architecture schools that emphasize craft over…well… being educated. It’s better to learn how to be a student than to, let’s say, teach how to be a teacher.

That being said (though I’m not quite sure I understand it myself), I have been getting rather tired of admonitions to “educate the public!", especially concerning matters of developing a sustainable culture.

So–hang on!–I’m trying to get to the question. I’m seeing a problem with the concept of an educational institution in a world where knowledge can freely be exchanged through the internet. Such institutions exist because they provide a sense of value. And this value exists because of a scarcity. So what happens when knowledge is made freely available? Like with Wikipedia or the free online coursework of MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, etc.

So my real question: if a school existed in order to give a free education to anybody willing to learn, what do you think it would look like?

If it’s a school about lectures, this is already being done (like the TED Talks). If learning is by rote memorization, Wikipedia works perfectly. As for a design environment, the old apprenticeship model seems to be the best approach–as long is it includes a broad (perhaps “liberal") approach towards learning. Why should we even have schools of architecture? What value do they add?

I ask this partly because I’m pathetically unemployable, and partly because I spent many years designing buildings while in Middle School and High School, completely on my own. Getting into college, I realized that I had taught myself more in those years than most students were learning over the course of their college years.

So…that was a long question. Any thoughts?


Hi Jay!

First: thank you for writing!

Second: I like to publish select emails to my blog. May I publish yours?

Third: You have an excellent question. My team and I are still searching deep into our souls to figure out what VERB will look like, who it will serve, how it will work, and how it can be useful to the people who most need what it will have to offer.

I want to clarify my idea that the school be free. Cooper Union is free. If you can get in. So is VERB something wonderful and free for just a few people? Maybe. Maybe not.

Or do I open it up and make what some of VERB has to offer online so that anyone from NY to Timbuktu can learn a few things?

Right now I’m looking more at the middle ground. I believe that students will gain the greatest benefit if they are on-site. Not in a classroom, not the web site, but on the physical dirt site. And maybe some of the preliminary “education” can be web-based. So we’ll probably do a combination of the two. We also want this to be an option for recent grads who need a faster way to get their IDP credits. On the average, it takes people 12-15 years to get their 3 years of IDP credits. Which is totally unacceptable! And of course, I’d also like to get accredited for people who’d like to come for their M.Arch, so that will play a part in shaping what VERB looks like.

Fourth: I too spent a lot of years designing buildings in Junior High and High School. The biggest difference between designing on my own and designing at Harvard? Well, the experience was infinitely more joyful when I did it on my own, and fraught with misery when done for the academics.

Fifth: I welcome your input on what you think VERB should be. Have you taken my survey? If you haven’t please do. I take this kind of feedback seriously. It will shape VERB in a very real way.

Sixth: I want to stay in touch with people who share my frustrations with the current architectural education. Please become a fan of Architecture Addiction on facebook - I update that with news more frequently with a blog.

All the best

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places where you could probably learn more about designing and building in just a few days than I did after a year of grad school

Know of some others I can add here? Let me know. Have you already visited some of these places...or planning on it? Let me know and I will feature your story and your photos here!

I am starting a new kind of architecture school. Unlike most architecture schools, you wouldn't have to submit GRE scores or good grades or letters of recommendation. You wouldn't have to put the rest of your life on hold for 3 to 5 years. You wouldn't have to accrue tens of thousands of dollars in debt. At my architecture school, anyone could come for a few weeks and learn how to build a house with their own two hands. My teachers would take skills and concepts from some of these other workshops I've listed above... except classes would be held year-round to make it easy to fit into your schedule. I would have a number of different campuses around the country that would teach building designs appropriate to the local climate. And I need your help. Can you donate land for a campus? Can you dotate books for a library? Can you teach a workshop? Can you provide start-up capital? Let me know.

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