On the DUAL condition of certain architectural PRACTICES
Pablo Oriol, Fernando Rodriguez, Juan Elvira, Fernando Pino
Other professional practices, other teaching practices
For some time, an entire generation of architect-teachers have been asking themselves about the real links between the speculative proposals of the design studios and the architectural practice of those who teach those studios. There are many voices and experiences fighting to take contemporary proposals to the classroom in order to encourage speculation around architecture and urban models to then put into practice in their offices, in commissions, competitions, writings, and diverse actions.
When this situation becomes explicit in such a way that it allows the establishment of a coherent discourse between the office and the classroom, and this discourse presents a certain will of building a cultural practice, then we can say we find ourselves facing a ‘dual practice’.
There is no single definition of ‘dual practice’, yet we can point out the common features of all of them, which we believe describe the academic and professional profile that most interests us.
A ‘dual practice’ is not simply that belonging to an architect who teaches. If this were the only criterion, we would find an extremely wide array of cases with, at one end of the spectrum, a hyper-professionalism that would exclude any vision that does not comply with the harshest contingencies of the trade, and on the other end, a purely speculative and solipsistic approach that would overlook the potential implementation of the most elemental of reality’s variables.
A ‘dual practice’ demands that what is produced in both contexts is relevant, transferable, and able to reinforce the links with other areas of knowledge —particularly with those involved in constructing the built environment—, incorporating new aesthetic paradigms, and finally, with the political and financial management of the project as a future construction tool, a typological, constructive, and material innovation, or the reconversion of programmes, needs, and contexts.
A ‘dual practice’ feeds on both theory and history, critique, regulations, technique, sociology, economics, and many other disciplines. It develops its own discourse, connected to all its activities, which makes it recognisable, relevant, and necessary.
A ‘dual practice’ is positioned in opposition to the polarisation between speculation and practice, between the intellectual formulation of a plan and the pragmatism of the result. However, in response to those convinced that there is indeed a fracture between universities —“academia”— and the profession —“the real world”— we must critically explore the limits between both environments with the aim of finding the qualities that dissolve this division.
The Need for a Plan
The dual condition of a contemporary practice is therefore perceived simultaneously in both contexts. One of them has to do with professional production and the strategies followed within an office; the other has to do with the studio’s intellectual framework, the brief that describes it. For the condition that interests us to take place, both contexts must share a plan, an agenda that traces a line of work and research that goes beyond the immediate resolution of specific problems.
Those of us who defend ‘dual practice’ as being truly relevant must bet on ideologically-driven briefs, i.e. those that propose a plan, framed within ambitious research aims, connected to present and real social interests, and that transcend the semester-bound space of the studio. In this sense, it is fair to point out that the university academic setting does not guarantee the relevance of the architectural proposal, and therefore, a critical look at our environment must find those teaching approaches that truly build a dual practice. The existence of an agenda can provide the space for this approximation to the project without the typical limitations of a simplified reality —which we should not forget is also often created by architects.
However, the absence of professionalism and conventionality does not necessarily mean the programme has a pedagogical proposal. The construction of a discourse allows the work to develop with a natural connection with the reality we are interested in, as well as allowing that connection to be speculative, i.e. belonging to the realm of thought and not only to practice. This way we can offer, as teachers, open work environments where it is possible to be an architect in many different ways, and we can and must show our own practice as a coherent product of that space of thought, but not the only possible one.
The Design Studio
The design studio characteristic of these practices becomes a space of collective reflection where the particular interests of each student can be gathered and walked through contemporary debates along with a long-term investigation, of unexpected consequence. Along the journey architectural constants will necessarily appear —what we could call design syntax— although they will be approached as logics and systems that must go beyond the classic action-reaction dynamic that stems from the analysis of a context and a programme.
So, directing the design energy towards the identification of trends, systems, and plans offers a wide perspective that allows many students to go beyond the resolution of a certain project in the short term, so common when dealing with types (or the objects, artefacts or installations), reinforcing the skills and capacities that allow tackling reality in all its complexity.
It would seem that all kinds of simplifications, reductions, and amputations to the design processes are allowed in the name of reality, yet not only is this contact with reality not something exclusive to the “outside” of university, but rather it is consubstantial with the academic approach typical of a dual practice. The world of architectural practice is as real as the management of the particular or generational interests of those who train in order to practice it.
So, the whole condition of the architect-teacher that interests us has to do with the capacity to produce innovation in both worlds, simultaneously and coherently. All this requires the use of a series of vertical skills that, from the teacher to the student and vice versa, must be understood as basic project attitudes: the identification of areas of opportunity beyond the crossroads between thought and professional practice, the contemporary use of history, the use of technique as a beauty-generating tool, the search for systems that transcend the resolution of particular problems… These are all ways of coming into the architectural debate, and ultimately, of tightening the relationships between apparently sector-based issues, yet which are part of a holistic and complex understanding of reality.
Designing is Researching
This is reflected with the active integration of academic research, which comes with the standard requirements for teachers and that, in its most positive sense, enrich the production of the architect-teacher. As a result of this, their activity develops in both fields with a shared intensity. The transversal nature of their production (be it of any kind), on a back and forth journey, poses a strong challenge to academic programmes, subject to continual change since the Bologna Declaration.
The transfer of information from one field to the other modifies the references, the contour conditions, the points of implementation, yet this is how it simply demonstrates the objectivity of the system applied and its operational capacity. Action plans on diverse realities, whatever field they come from, but with the effectiveness of the conceptual backdrop that dominates the developed architectural act.
The concept of knowledge transfer referred to in the Bologna Declaration and developed in the actual regulations of the European Higher Education Area describes precisely how these links between the academic and professional spheres should happen in order to guarantee that research benefits wider society. These transfer mechanisms are clear in most disciplines, yet in the realm of architectural design it is often thought that they are on one hand ineffective and, on the other, that research and design are two activities de facto independent, that only come into contact incidentally, in exceptional circumstances.
Naturally, we challenge this assumption. As we mentioned before, fortunately the idea that ‘to design is to research’ has already permeated conferences, articles, and academic accreditation agencies, opening the door to a critical practice, or a research practice that does not necessarily separate design from reflection. In this context, ‘dual practice’ is a spearhead that brings together as many activities as possible under one intellectual and materially relevant umbrella, therefore assuming that the notion of transfer must be part of its raison d’être and not just an excuse to connect disparate elements through ad hoc constructs. The difference between both intellectual bodies disappears in order to construct a common ground for thought with different areas and applications, with adjustments and adaptations that bring that application closer to each specific situation, beyond classifications that position it in one or another field.
Professionalisation vs. Speculation
All professions interact with academia with feedback loops. The formula is no mystery, and architecture schools already took note of this quite a while ago. Although, as we stated at the beginning, this raises the question of where the boundaries are in this hybrid learning model in which we find ourselves immersed. On one hand, some schools have gone towards a professionalisation of their curriculum, giving the student the illusion of contact with a market that —ultimately, being the market it is— is bound to changing rules which the professionalised architect is unable to transform. On the other hand, there are schools whose approach is seen as ‘too speculative’, fostering an often incomprehensible conceptualisation of design that, in the worst cases, demonises any step towards the real management of it.
Both models are equally limited by their own simplicity when facing problems that can only be addressed with the development of procedures able to manage reality and its needs in a flexible and creative way. Thus, the transfer of knowledge —in both directions— can only happen effectively in a context that acknowledges and deals with reality’s variables with the aim of updating academic proposals. ‘Dual practices’, both the more speculative and the more pragmatic, are positioned in this debate in an unstable balance between both worlds, and are clearly grounded in the constant nature of these transfers between the office and the classroom and vice versa. These transfers do not have to be clear or evident, but definitely real. It is not enough to state them for them to occur; it is not enough to explicit similarities between the work in the classroom and the work in the office for there to be a transfer of thought and the creation of relevant knowledge between both spheres.
Learning models or teaching methodologies are, without a doubt, important transfer mechanisms when evaluating the dual condition of an academic and professional practice. These learning models make it possible to generate hybrid situations in which the classroom behaves in a similar way to a professional office and vice versa, the office becomes an experimental lab where the collaborators take on the propositional role of university students.
The collaborative work in the classroom initially lends itself to diluting personal features or to adopting those proposed by the studio leader in order to be able to concentrate the efficiency of the research, working with the variable elements of the system and fixing the others in order to focus. This allows working in a more scientific way, using systematisation and repetitive testing so as to limit the action and reactions of the elements at play. This emulation, albeit not a guarantee of good results, does allow for a controlled approximation and the following evaluation of the results. Now, this represents a vision where the personality of the studio leader seems to exemplify and tow towards a way of doing that is almost gestural, calligraphic —something to be avoided. A relationship that reminds us of —perhaps even updates— the model of the workshop with apprentices and the master at the central apex of the structure.
This model, traditionally linked to the learning of a trade and so highly connected to the repetition and copying of ways of doing, may not initially seem like the most appropriate one to guarantee an effective transfer between teaching and practice; it almost seems like a nostalgic way of proceeding, not exactly with the kind of result that interests us here. In this respect, we refer back to what we pointed out earlier regarding the reproduction of conceptual conditions that generate an open playing field able to generate diverse approaches to complex problems, thus avoiding the emergence of results that can be identified by their appearance, type, or language.
In the same way as a design studio, a ‘dual practice’ must construct its own work environment in the office, favouring the development of recognisable design strategies more than a brand product. Adopting a language, a wide colour palette, and an array of volumetric manipulation gestures can guarantee the continuity of results, but it is far from the construction of a vision and ethos and their links to contemporary architectural debates, characteristic of the approach we defend.
Therefore, it is important to clearly establish this agenda, this prolonged —although not immutable— interest in a certain way of understanding and doing, and for this interest to be codified and transmitted. To this end, in contrast to personality-centred ways of doing things that advance the idea of the architect-artist, it is crucial to work with systems, protocols, codes, and references that, when shared, offer tools so that those who listen can join the ongoing design investigation as an integral part of a thinking ecosystem that constructively absorbs the qualities that each member of the team brings to the table.
The effect this transfer can have on students is enormous, in as much as they incorporate it into an ongoing debate and develop an instrumental autonomy that allows them to move in-between speculation and practice without renouncing either one of them. Yet no more than the effect this transfer between teaching and practice should have, if successful, on the architect-teachers, who delve deep into a long-term professional project in which they incorporate successive experiences in a process that becomes increasingly rich and ever-changing on both sides of the looking glass, understanding both academic and professional production simultaneously as part of a single whole.
The exercise of a ‘dual practice’ can be diverse and apparently contradictory. It is not clearly identified or defined. We can point out indicators that appear to be consensually necessary for a sufficiently intertwined professional and teaching activity. Some sort of classification of the transfer mechanisms may help better understand the limits of this approach and its instrumental possibilities, without losing sight of the fact that the coincidence of formal results should not be the only indicator taken into account when validating a ‘dual practice’.
Coming back to the six proposals put forward by the guests of the Dual Practices conference series, we can compile a catalogue of transfer mechanisms that will doubtless clarify the scope of this model as a design tool inside and outside the classroom: methodologies, imaginaries and models, scope of the investigation, course themes, scales of work, drawing as a tool, and autonomy and authorship.
Depending on the rules of the design process, and what control there is over the process and the production of a result, dual practices appear either as Open Absorbent [OA] or Restrictive Conditioning [RC]. This brings us a step closer to their diversity within a framework for the development of work in the class. On one hand, the approaches that tend towards restricting and framing the view of the proposed exercise and its conceptual context, with very clear internal rules and marked limits in terms of the formats, models of representation, communication, and tools used. On the other hand, those that restrict the themes, references, and aims, freeing the final product.
Piet Eckert [RC], Umberto Napolitano [RC], Luis Callejas [OA/RC], Markus Bader [OA], Franco Tagliabue [OA], François Charbonnet [RC].
Imaginaries and Models
The use of models is an interesting variable when looking at the relevance of a dual practice. Generally used as exemplary practices with a moral and ideological dimension outside of which it is not recommendable to operate in order to achieve satisfactory results, the disproportionate respect they aroused is beginning to fade and they are now used as work tools. In this sense, some dual practices stand out because of their provision of a Catalogue of Models, thanks to which the studio outcome becomes to some extent something pre-made by the actual studio leader, unfolding a project —in this case a pedagogical one— where not only is the objective fixed in advance but where strict rules of play are set out so this objective is achieved within the established parameters. The coherence of the result is thus guaranteed and offers results that can be compared as the predefined format provides a clear common reference framework for all the students. At the other end there are other dual practices that could be classified as Non Referential, which free the final product of imaginaries.
Piet Eckert [CM], Umberto Napolitano [CM], Luis Callejas [NR], Markus Bader [NR], Franco Tagliabue [NR], François Charbonnet [CM].
Scope of the Research
Another interesting variable is that which connects the pedagogical proposals with research programmes over time. In this case, all dual practices share a broad research-based character, yet certain nuances shed light on the differences. Some programmes are explicitly part of wider cycles and appear as Research Projects, while others address the natural basis of dual practices from Partial Perspectives.
Piet Eckert [PP], Umberto Napolitano [PP], Luis Callejas [RP], Markus Bader [PP], Franco Tagliabue [PP], François Charbonnet [RP].
The balance between the theoretical body and the defence of its timelessness in most cases, on one hand, and the most recent debates on the other, also helps reveal two ends of the spectrum of approaches in these practices. So, there are those who without a doubt rely on today’s Burning Issues, and others who in a less hurried way build links to more Theoretically Invariant approaches.
Piet Eckert [TI], Umberto Napolitano [BI], Luis Callejas [TI], Markus Bader [BI], Franco Tagliabue [BI], François Charbonnet [TI].
Scales of Work
The work on the scales of a project is equally important. In some way, any dual practice takes on quite naturally as part of its mission the task of working with all the scales of the project and the agents involved in each one of them. However, it is clear how teaching programmes are more or less explicitly committed to the territory, an urban order, or the systems of the project. This commitment leads to diverse implications, from those who seek a Territorial understanding of the project, to those who place the trust of the results in the building of Devices.
Piet Eckert [D], Umberto Napolitano [T/D], Luis Callejas [T], Markus Bader [D], Franco Tagliabue [D], François Charbonnet [T/D].
Drawing as a Tool
Drawing is a tool with meaning in itself. Beyond its instrumentality, it is able to create a graphic ‘reality’ in its own right. In this sense, it is possible to describe the different dual practices on the basis of the weight of their Graphic Identity, very powerful in the case of those who use drawing as a research tool with the capacity of mobilising the intellect, as opposed to those who give drawing a merely Descriptive capacity and, therefore, less relevant in the transmission of the subject matter.
Piet Eckert [GI], Umberto Napolitano [D], Luis Callejas [GI], Markus Bader [D], Franco Tagliabue [D], François Charbonnet [GI].
Autonomy and Authorship
How does the methodological framework benefit the personal character and concerns of each student, or to what extent does it contribute to the creation of a collective mega-document? In some cases, the formatting of the final documents contributes to the creation of a Collective Work whose authorship is blurred in favour of a project of higher order, perhaps closer to the intellectual production of the teacher than to that of the actual students. In other cases, the final object is a recognisable construct, with full name, a strong imprint, and Authorship.
Piet Eckert [CW], Umberto Napolitano [A], Luis Callejas [A], Markus Bader [CW], Franco Tagliabue [A], François Charbonnet [CW].
For a Truly Relevant Practice
In full spate of definitions of what an architect should be, of often sterile debates on the models for the future city where it seems that architecture will be a minor issue, and of discussions around the best way of approaching a reality that we pompously describe as multifaceted, liquid, or multidisciplinary, it is essential to look back at similar, not-so-distant moments of confusion and call for a return to practice as a way of making our theoretical stances truly relevant.
In the same way as what happened over the last quarter of the twentieth century in certain academic and intellectual contexts, it seems that we often forget the huge capacity architectural practice has as an area of research, speculation, and construction of reality itself, beyond often forced theoretical debates that attempt to define, from the outside, a particular way of doing.
So, let’s design and build, let’s do it well and think that the built environment is the gravitational axis of our training —professional, of course— but more importantly all that which has progressively helped us build a cultural imaginary that makes it possible for our work to transcend, through its service to the city and the architecture student.
This is a dual practice.
On the dual condition of certain architectural practices
Ed: Ediciones Asimétricas - Madrid 2020
Pablo Oriol, Fernando Rodriguez
with Juan Elvira, Fernando Pino