Thursday, October 29, 2009

64. What is important in STARchitecture school (part 2)

From: Anonymous
To: architect.journal[at]
Sent: Wed, October 28, 2009 6:42:33 AM
Subject: [NOTES ON BECOMING A FAMOUS ARCHITECT] New comment on 63. What is important in STARchitecture school.

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "63. What is important in STARchitecture school":

I think that it should be made clear that most Bartlett students can do all the rudimentary tasks that you speak of "architects" doing. They are not difficult. Rather than writing an intelligent comparison or analysis, you seem to have only written an article illustrating, perhaps, the mild inferiority you feel. I have not even studied at the Bartlett, and I can clearly see that. Perhaps you should just accept that architecture schools do things differently. Some are creative, others not. Why is the creativity of the Bartlett such a problem for you, you dont have to go and study there. What I find interesting however is that you never find Bartlett or other "creative" students attacking the more plain and normal design schools. I'd be suprised if you even allow this to be shown on your blog, as i know you have to approve this.

Publish this comment.

Reject this comment.

Posted by Anonymous to NOTES ON BECOMING A FAMOUS ARCHITECT at October 28, 2009 6:42 AM

Dear Anonymous-defender-of-the-Bartlett-who-have-never-ever-even-attended-there-ever-really,

First of all, take a breather and put a nice little smile on your face.
Have you done that?
I am smiling too.

Let me just explain one thing which I think you might have misinterpreted. The article was not directed at the Bartlett School per-say. I threw a banana cream pie at Starchitecture schools in general and the Bartlett was the closest one in the cross hairs. I have friends who have attended the Bartlett (how do you think I know all this stuff) and I am just poking fun at them and the rest of the Bartlett as well.

Okay, lets get down to business, so where should we start? How about where we agree?

"I think that it should be made clear that most Bartlett students can do all the rudimentary tasks that you speak of "architects" doing. They are not difficult."

I know, I know, there are lots of Bartlett people who go out and do the "rudamentary" tasks of an architect and more. But between you and I though, did you really have to let the whole freeking world know how easy an architect's job is? There are non-architects reading this blog too you know. Gaad damn you!... I mean, have you ever heard of a magician telling the whole world how easy it is to pull a rabbit out of a hat? That really ticks me off. If I am ever in a dark alley and see an Anonymous-defender-of-the-Bartlett-who-have-never-ever-even-attended-there-ever-really, I am going to take out my pocket knife and cut its little tale off.

"I'd be suprised if you even allow this to be shown on your blog, as i know you have to approve this."

I am surprised too. I thought these Jedi reverse-psychology mind tricks thingies only worked on weak minded people. I really am surprised at how weak minded I am. I am setting up a meditation session with Yoda next week. Use the force Conrad...use the force...

Anyway, where were we....yes!, I am glad we could agree on those two points.
I do however, have some serious disagreements with you though:

Where I disagree with you most is that you somehow think that the inferiority that I feel is mild. Let me tell you, it is vast and it runs deep. Heavens man! I wrote a whole article about this. You don't do this unless you have some serious issues.

You also made the assumption that alternative to writing this article I could have written "an intelligent comparison or analysis". This stipulates that I am capable of writing something intelligent in the first place. ......How little do you know....

You were saying something about the creativity of the Bartlett teaching?...
Fist off, I don't think creativity is something you can teach. Most people are born with it; either you have it or you don't. Some schools nurture this, some schools don't. I think the Bartlett is one that does not....Calm the hell down, let me explain....
First see the definition below:

CREATIVITY: the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.;

The operative word here being meaningful. Creativity thrives within constraints; its about finding novel and thoughtful solutions especially when you have to work around complexities. MacGyver is creative, the team of Apollo 13 was creative (have you seen the movie? check it out it's a nice one), and yes architects working under real world constraints like gravity for instance, contracts, limited budgets, being responsible to society, construction methods etc. A creative person can look at all these constraints and pressures as a challenge and come up with a thoughtful rigorous solution that transcend traditional rules, patterns, etc.

Starchitecture schools by and large removes the constraints of the real world; if your project is too expensive, just imagine that you have unlimited budget, if it cant withstand gravity, just pretend there was less of it, if the forms you come up with doesn't work for human beings just say its a space for cyborgs.
What the Bartlett faculty nurtures is fantasy & imagination. The Random House dictionary defines imagination as follows:

IMAGINATION: the faculty of imagining, or of forming mental images or concepts of what is not actually present to the senses.
the faculty of producing ideal creations consistent with reality, as in literature,
the product of imagining; a conception or mental creation, often a baseless or fanciful one.

I don't have a problem with a school nurturing imagination we need more of it. Remember it was Einstein who said "Imagination is more important than knowledge", but it is not a substitute for creativity. Just wanted to clarify that, if we are going to be clear on things, lets be clear.

"Why is the creativity of the Bartlett such a problem for you, you dont have to go and study there. What I find interesting however is that you never find Bartlett or other "creative" students attacking the more plain and normal design schools."

Frank Murray who commented before you [see his comment above yours] pointed out an interesting little article written by a Bartlett graduate and made a comment at the bottom. I paste it here, perhaps it might answer some of your questions:

I do think schools like the Bartlett which I think was labeled by Conrad Newel on NOBAFA as Starchitecture schools offer interesting perspectives on architecture and other fields as well. I do however think they have a confused agenda. They seem to want to be an architecture school and a school of alternate visual media culture at the same time. More often than not these agendas work against each other. The discipline of architecture is vast and there is much to learn, so is the research in visual culture. They should make a choice and be clear about it. Are you training students to be architects or something else that has to do with architecture? What should a student expect to learn when they finish school? What are you being prepared for. If bartlett graduates go on to become film-makers, and video game designers, and such, maybe its a good idea to say it is not an architecture school and say it is a school of visual media. Then you will attract students with that goal in mind. It has a lot to do with openness. I believe what frustrates professors such as Patrick Lynch is that he holds his profession very dear and when someone comes along and do something very different and calls it the same thing then it devalues what he does.

Consider, if a school opens up and starts teaching alternative medicine (acupuncture, aromatherapy, Atkins diet, chiropractic medicine, herbalism, breathing meditation, yoga,etc), gives its graduates medical degrees and sent them off to hospitals and emergency rooms to perform surgery, a lot of people would have a problem with that. This is, in effect, what the architectural profession is doing when it allows schools like the Bartlett to give architecture degrees. The medical profession will not allow it but the architectural profession does.

I couldn't have said it better myself. When you do something else and call it architecture, not only do you devalue the profession, you are making a direct attack on its integrity. So when you say that you find it interesting that you never find the Bartlett " attacking the more plain and normal design schools." I say what the hell are you talking about! If they called it the Bartlett School of Alternate Visual Media no one would have a problem.

Get one thing clear, I don't defend mediocrity or the status-quo in architecture. Saying no to blown up post-industrial apocalyptic fantasies is not saying yes to mediocrity. There is a vast world between the two. This is a common fallacy that comes up when Bartlett professors defend their antics. "Oh the only alternative to what we do is plain, normal, boring stuff". Boy they must have some hell of an ego!

From: Anonymous
Sent: Wed, October 28, 2009 7:39:07 PM
Subject: [NOTES ON BECOMING A FAMOUS ARCHITECT] New comment on 63. What is important in STARchitecture school.

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "63. What is important in STARchitecture school":

You know, not everyone from the Bartlett can be so easily categorized. It really just comes across as a little bigoted. There really are some who know how to design great buildings, which are not only attractive but also truly function, because they know how to do the typical Bartlett beautiful shit but combine it with intelligent design, merging all the things you claim only "architects" can do. I think its those guys that your mediocrity should be afraid of.

Posted by Anonymous to NOTES ON BECOMING A FAMOUS ARCHITECT at October 28, 2009 6:25 AM

Dear Other-Anonymous-defender-of-the-Bartlett

Here we go again with the its-either-Bartlett-or-it's-mediocrity argument. If I had any hair left on my head I would be pulling it out right now!
Pleeeease..... stop it! The arrogance is killing me.
If you continue with this I would be inclined to think that when you said "intelligent design" you really meant it.
Take a look at the last paragraph of my reply above.

If you think I try to categorize Bartlett students or students from any Starchitecture school, read my article again and you will come to the same conclusion as I did; it is a figment of your highly developed imagination. I do not categorize students. I think architecture students, whether they are from the Bartlett or not, come in all different colors, shapes, and sizes.; some smart, some dull, some rich, some poor, some talented some not so talented. Starchitecture School faculty however ...are categorically predictable. They come in one color; BLACK! Black shirts, black pants, black frame glasses, black souls; and I am not talking about shoe parts (which are also black by the way).

The students of these schools are the victims. Get it straight! I draw a line when I throw banana cream pies. I have come to admire architecture students very much. They are the hardest working, most resilient beings I know. Cockroaches have nothing on them in a competition of resiliency.

Consider this, a typical student at any starchitecture school will have to put up with a lot of stupid and demeaning shit from faculty members while they are in school. I described this in the article. They come with earnest minds and accounts burdened with student loans. They come to learn architecture, and instead they are demeaned by their starchitecture professors, insulted, stepped on, slighted, compared to monkeys by others etc. (some think this is a right-of-passage, I think it is right-out-bullshit) Students are used as guinea-pigs to test and push their professor's agendas. I have even heard that Batrlett students and units are encouraged to compete against each other because they believe "competition is healthy". The result? you have students getting caught between ego wars among professors, you get an ethical and social malaise were students are pitted against each other. The only thing that thrives in this environment is the graphics and presentation in your projects, because this is how the apparent winner is determined. My dear Other-Anonymous-defender-of-the-Bartlett, the measure of an education is not by how pretty your presentation and graphics are. When you do that your project, the process and the research around it (the substance of your education) is held hostage to the tyranny of the graphical presentation. I will say this, a little competition is healthy in academia, but the level of competition that goes on there is destructive and it is ultimately your education that suffers. In reality Architecture is a team sport equivalent to football, not a bloody kill or be killed sport like dog or cock fighting (if you want to call that a sport).

Students are pushed out into the world with very little skills to practice architecture beyond a great imagination and some computer graphics skills. This is why a lot of them don't even bother to persue a career in architecture after they graduate; they go into the video game industry, they become film makers, animators, etc. That makes sense that they would do that, doesn't it? When you find a graduate from a starciteture school like the Bartlett combining his/her two-dimensional education with the rigor of the architectural world to make great architecture, know this; The didn't learn the bulk of what they are using in starchitecture school. They are thrown out into the world and left to fend for them selves and they still do it. That inspires respect not belittlement. I belittle the professors not the students. Note the difference.

The few that do become the chosen one; the starchitect's prodigy who takes on and defend the position of their dark overlords and mentors, I can empathize with. They are like young Anakin Skywalker slowly being swallowed up by the dark side of the force. They are waiting to become the next Peter Eisenman or Norman Foster. But fair warning, if they use themselves to protect and shield my target, I will not be responsible for any banana cream pie that they may find themselves licking off their faces.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

63. What is important in STARchitecture school (part 1)

Star⋅chi⋅tec⋅ture School stär'kĭ-těk'chər skool


  1. Architecture schools that build their attractiveness, competitiveness or status on the accomplishments & reputation of their starcitecture faculty.

  2. architecture schools that grooms students to become "starchitects"

  3. architecture schools that mimics the teaching practices of starchitecture schools.
When I found myself subtracting or adding columns because it made my rendering look better, then I knew I was in a starchitecture school.

Below are samplings of diploma projects selected from two different schools. As you look at them consider the following questions:

Which ones would you rather live or work in?
Which ones would you choose as the location for an exciting movie or video game?



SAMPLE SET A is from Diploma Unit 20 run by Professors Shaun Murray and Marjan Colletti at The Bartlett School in London. One can safely describe this studio if not the entire Bartlett as an architecture school that mimics the teaching practices of starchitecture schools.

SAMPLE SET B is from a Thesis Course run by Professor Lance J. Brown at The City College of New York. Opposed to The Bartlett, The City Collage does not seem to fit the profile of a starchitecture school.

The projects in both sets lack to varying degrees some credibility as a project that is possible to realize. Obviously one much more than the other.

The is because most architecture schools are not set up to teach you how to design a building.
In fact, The point of architecture school is NOT to teach you how to design a building.
Let me say that again.

The point of architecture school is NOT to teach you how to design a building.

Take a moment and meditate on that.

If you want to learn how to design a building you should go and apprentice for an architect or a builder under no false pretense.

Then what's the point of architecture school you ask?

The short answer is that it has many points depending on the school that you go to.

For example most schools share some of these objectives:

  • How to challenge the boundaries of conventional practice

  • How to communicate ideas through drawing, model making, writing and speaking

  • To be socially and ethically engaged in society (a few will do this)

  • To expose students to the creative and technical aspects of architecture

  • To equip you with the knowledge required for making architecture

  • How to be critical of current practice

  • To bring you abreast with the prevailing issues in current practice

  • To give you the scholarship to define architecture on your own terms

  • To give you a rough understanding of building construction and design

and if you are lucky, you might also learn

  • How to understand & appreciate good craftsmanship in building

  • or something about building construction methods

You will find some of these same objectives in starchitecture schools but what makes them stand apart from other architecture schools is that they prioritize one objective over all others:

  • How to create projects that have high entertainment value.
That is, projects that are entertaining to look at (as the images from Bartlett studio above) or entertaining to discuss (because of the ideas that they investigate), or a mixture of the two. These projects aim to stimulate us in a certain way, to make us curious, or interested, because it is new or we have never seen something like that before.


Because of this emphasis, there is little time left to actually learn about designing a building. Creating entertaining images takes enormous amounts of time and energy, time taken away from seriously engaging in an investigation of your building's craftsmanship, construction methods, or its social or economic viability. God forbid any talk about end-user satisfaction, even plain old common sense is sent to the side lines. These are not so important in the big picture as far as starchitecture schools are concerned. Projects in such schools only need to demonstrate the remote possibility of being credible in the real world that you and I live in. The possibility that just maybe it can withstand the force of gravity, that maybe there is some kind of material on this planet that can do the things you show it doing in your project or perhaps it might be able to keep us relatively dry and warm in tumultuous weather. The term "suspension of disbelief" comes to mind.

I have seen many students walk through the doors of starchitecture school with earnest minds wanting to learn how to design a building. Their attempts at rigor by questioning the viability of their high entertainment value projects in the real world are met with explanations that are lacking in reason, smoothly buttered in archispeak and delicately glazed in the finest snake oil possible.

The ones who quickly realizes that it is not about learning to design buildings and that it is about creating an entertaining project wins the cake. And when I say they win the cake, I mean they win the cake with a capital C. You will get extended one-on-one desk crits with the starchitect or star-minded professor(s) who will design your project with or for you. They will have you make your project based on their own pre-formulated theory and convince you that it really came from you. They will tell you which projects to "reference" and which magazines to find them in. They will help you pick out a sky for your rendering and show you how to tweak the elements in the foreground and background to create depth in your image. They will even advise you on which font to use on your poster. When your project is done, you will get the VIP spot on the wall to hang their/your work and a hearty pat on the back for a job well done. The ones who don't get it are sent packing like a fired Donald Trump apprentice.

Starchitecture teaching methodology focuses on having students create projects based on said professors latest theories that he/she is very excited about. If it seam rolls your education in the process, well so be it. If you demonstrate independent thinking or fail to fall in line behind such theories, prepare to be ignored, disowned or snubbed. Remember your job is to provide fantastic images in the form of a project that celebrates your professors latest theories. How well your project flies is directly connected to starchitect-professor's ego and self worth. It can be extremely stressful, not to mention embarrassing for him/her to invite his colleagues over for a jury to show off his latest ideas....ahem... I mean your project, and have you make a mockery of it.

A major point of STARchitecture school is
to make your professor look good when he/she
brings their coleagues over to see their/your work.

If you are a very successful starchitecture student, not only will you have learned to fall in line, you will have learned to research all your professors projects before-hand. You will not only know what kind of rendering style he likes, you will know how to mimic them as well. When your starchitecture professor brings over his black cloaked star-minded friends for a crit, he will proudly point to your project on the wall and say "Isn't it amazing?" and they will say "yeaaas that's very interesteeeeng" and then another will say "its rear to see a work with such originality and passion". They also love to say stuff like "oh, you have captured the essence of ....bla, bla, bla." At this point try to remain humble. Your clueless classmates are probably scratching their heads and foaming at the mouth at how they managed to look past the gaping holes in your projects plausibility (especially when they were grilled on every undotted "i" and uncrossed "t" in their crits). Don't get me wrong, these guys are capable of criticizing the project of the starchitect's prodigy. They might say "Oh just one minor thing though, I would have liked to see some more orange from the sunset peaking out from behind the building in that image." "yeaaas, yeaaas, that would have nailed it" the others might confirm.

By the time you finish starchitecture school, you should have a portfolio of very interesting and entertaining looking projects thats kind of credible. Don't worry about credibility, a good starchitecture firm will overlook this "hey this is a school project you don't have to worry so much about reality, it is about communicating your vision"

When you bring this to a starchitectre firm, it will remind him of himself as a young man. He will say "wow this kid has passion, he has got imagination, he can render, he has a good eye, he works with photoshop well, he knows about graphic design, he can put a compelling image together. You are hired!"

So why did he hire you when he knows very well that you don't know how to design a building?

Because you are not hired to design buildings stupid! you are hired to provide fantastic images that celebrates your employer's projects, to make good images for the media. You are the office's latest graphics plug-in.

Inside the starchitecture firm you will meet some architects who think about issues like rain, and light, and circulation, and fire safety, and how the components of the building fit together, and such. No it gets even crazier... are you ready for this? They love this stuff. They find it very exciting. They can talk for hours on end about building joints and details. They don't care about poster fonts, or archispeak or what kind of sky, or foreground or background is used in an image. They understand architecture through the notations of plans, sections & elevations. They can imagine how a building looks without the aid of a rendering. Thats right! no renderings. Imagine that. They have no other agenda but to design a functioning building that is well made and pleasant to be in. You will find a few of them in Starchitecture firms.

Say hello to these dullards, they are the people who will teach you how to design a building and make an architect out of you. If they are like any other architects I know in this position (resigned to teaching architecture 101 while trying to deliver a project), they are grumpy as all hell. They will snap at you for not knowing what V.I.F. means on a construction document or for not knowing something that they deem "basic-shit-that-every-dumb-ass-should-know" (what ever that is for them that morning). But never mind, just suck it up, what does he know? He is just an architect. He is no star. He respects plumbing diagrams and toilet bowl specifications, not magazine covers. He will never be famous for anything. Who ever gets famous for designing a building that is just good to live or work in. Ever heard of a reporter asking to publish your building because it performed well under fire. He will never even raise his head from the murky depth of obscurity, not even for 15 minutes. You've got your priorities straight and you are on your way to becoming a Star.

Conrad Newel

Liberating Minds Since August 2007

64. What is important in STARchitecture school (part 2)