22 March 2012
From The Engineer's Blog
For a mental challenge, swap practice for academia. Two weeks ago I started a new role as a part-time tutor at Oxford Brookes School of Architecture. This entails offering advice on the engineering content of project work in particular and on the direction of their work in general to year two and three students.
The hours are slightly less than a day a week, which isn’t much in terms of a commitment in time, but the day is mentally tough.
It’s good fun, though. A normal working day in consultancy involves juggling many different tasks, only some of which are directed towards technical problem-solving or designing “things”, whereas a day at Oxford Brookes requires the continuous mental challenge of reviewing projects and answering the questions of the students and communicating by sketching ideas. The adventurous conceptual approach of the university adds to the challenge.
This, however, does highlight a dilemma that I’ve encountered when critiquing at other schools. When a design deviates so far from the “real world” that it would be impractical to build without a huge financial or physical effort disproportionate to its significance, should the supposed expert step in and rein back the ambition?
In one sense this could be an example of the rationalisation that the student may have to live with in later working life. On other hand, unless the building is physically impossible to build at any cost or to inhabit, why stop someone exploring the fields of possibility?
As an idealist and believer that we need to explore the outer boundaries of what’s possible in order to develop as a society I tend to encourage and support the student rather than pass on a dose of realism.
This, however, might be storing up problems for the future. The book Exploding the Myths of Modern Architecture by Malcolm Millais tackles this subject and tries to expound a more grounded approach to design. It is, however, an extremely mean-spirited and small-minded work.