Sponsored by 2A Architecture and Art and Islamic Azad University in Dubai, the Conference on Architectural Education was held at the Crown Plaza, Dubai, on October 21, 2007. It was well attended by faculty and students of various architectural programs in the UAE. Seven architectural educators and scholars (five based in the UAE, and two in Rome and the USA), and the chief editor of 2A Architecture and Art magazine reflected on the present
challenges facing architectural education. Those presenting were:
Ahmad Zohadi (Chief Editor of 2A Architecture and Art)
John Alexander Smith (American University of Dubai)
Nader Ardalan (Harvard University)
George katodrytis (American University of Sharjah)
khaled Nasser (Sharjah University)
Michael Schwartz (Ajman University of Science and Technology)
vahid Ghobadian (Azad University)
The speakers addressed topics ranging from questions of social participation and environmental challenges to the impact of cutting-edge digital technologies; they offered insights towards restructuring architectural curricula and revising design methodologies. Michael Schwartz, John Alexander Smith and Nader Ardalan expressed their concern for the increasing “commercialism” of current architectural production, and the absence of
ecological awareness in most decision-making. More specifically, Michael Schwartz called for engaging architectural education in relevant socio-political
contexts, and showed to that effect students’ projects conceived within the framework of “the Jerusalem competition.” After describing the UAE architectural history leading to the present situation, John Alexander Smith advocated the necessity to create a professional
architectural association, and to group all fields related to the built environment in cross-disciplinary curricula.
This last point was also taken up by Nader Ardalan, who expressed the urgent need to integrate issues of sustainability in architectural education and to ground the ecological dimension in the UAE’s cultural context, the very challenge of his ongoing Gulf research project.
Interested in curricular structures as a reflection of a precise historical context, Arash Ahmedi and Vahid Ghorbadian brought their respective perspectives on the subject. From his “Rome experience,” Arash Ahmedi acknowledged the involvement of Italian architectural education in the environmental, historical and social contexts it has operated in since World War II. He also introduced a contemporary pilot institution, Italia Design Center in Terni, which aims to remedy the gap between education and industries. By creating a curriculum that splits lessons between theory classes and experimental labs taught by qualified industry professionals, this academy has woven tangible making back into architecture education after a severance of more than five centuries, according to our speaker. Vahid Ghorbadian dated the lack of the tangible making in Iran back to 1940, when the Western model of education was introduced in the country to replace practical training that was passed on from one generation to the next.
The paper indirectly raised the interesting question of contextualization of a Western model of architectural education in a non-Western region. More focused on studio teaching methodologies and recent challenges posed by new technical and digital tools, George Katodrytis and Khaled Nasser made their case through specific student projects. With different premises, both educators questioned traditional design paradigms and showed the potentialities of new digital tools and related design processes. The projects presented by George Katodrytis derived from non-traditional design processes using current digital tools and generating an open-ended formal language, whereas Khaled Nasser showed how automation can become a tool that enhances decision-making in relation to a project’s development.
As a counterpoint to the educators’ discourses, Ahmad Zobedi, for whom architecture is the seventh world art, simply challenged the very idea of architectural education and the problematic teaching of its creative component. The conference speakers mapped challenges presently facing architectural education in the region. These are interpreted and summarized here as needs for: I. “contextualizing” architectural models of education with the proper knowledge of regional history and relevant critical tools II. “connecting” between educational fields concerned with the built environment to allow crossdisciplinary reflections on issues of sustainability and social relevance III. “linking” education to industries and the emerging
material culture including cutting-edge digital tools.
Revising curricula to integrate the above needs will allow students to critically reconceptualize the design of the built environment in relation to emerging material and social culture of the region. Education will thus better prepare students to fulfill their roles as pro-active social and environmental players who can successfully bridge social and commercial concerns while respecting the historical and environmental contexts they operate in.
A continuous reflection on the themes generated in the 2A architectural conference will help expand offered views and insights benefiting educators, students and professionals of the extended Gulf region.