Architectural education in the context of social sciences

Peter Mazalán, Jana Vinárčiková, Michal C. Hronský

SUMMARY

Interdisciplinary thinking is an unavoidable part of the design process for a creative architect. At a time of increased socio-ecological requirements, we cannot simply consider permanent spaces and architectural objects to be the result of a creative process, but rather to be the products binding together a myriad of contextual relationships and responding to socio-psychological, ecological, economic and other challenges. The user becomes the subject in the forefront of permanent architecture and eventually defines and rates the “user friendliness” and the “value” of a building, thus becoming its primary critic. The future of architectural and design-led education therefore lies in the interdisciplinarity of education. Complementary subjects, particularly social sciences, are often missing from the curriculum. Linking academic research to social sciences is a lesser part of the research practice. Social sciences in the context of architectural research thoroughly analyse the needs and preferences of users. It is envisaged that architecture students working in conjunction with a practitioner in the field of social sciences and using sociological research methods will be capable of creating proposals which optimally respond to an assignment blending with the architectural and sociological research. New approaches towards studio work are focused on methods and tools guiding the evolution and evaluation of design from the point of view of material innovation, longevity and analysis of expenditure. The participatory approach to the methodology of teaching studio work is an important method aimed at the process of integrated design in architecture. It offers students a cultural background on user needs and more realistic limitations which contribute to a more complex proposal. There are several means of running co-creation training opportunities in education. If circumstances allow it, real-life participation – investor’s representatives, users, local authorities, social institutions, local community groups, etc all participate in the process. The initial stage consists of a site visit and different presentations and assessments; the following steps are selective and usually consist of defining user priorities and establishing design strategies. Lectures by invited experts in other scientific disciplines, briefing and workshops could be complementary components of the process. Prototypes developed by students are then subject to peer review, transparent discussions with the represented parties, in a single or two-phase approach.  An example of the effort to establish a complex approach to architecture is the use of participatory design based on the cooperation of several parties, usually investors, designers and users. The term first appeared in the 1960s and its understanding has gradually evolved ever since. Whether architects, designers or engineers are designing a new space or revitalising an existing one, current and future users will be ideally involved in the process. Past users are best placed to interpret priority needs, social interactions and routines due to a greater level of familiarity and can therefore be instrumental in establishing the elements that are likely to improve the quality of future usage. While case studies of co-creation methods used in an architectural context are increasing, the use of these methods lies primarily in the front-end of the design process. Participatory co-creation methods are being utilized by architectural schools to understand students’ views on space configuration and possibilities for design. Applying various co-creation methods is accompanied by a number of related occurrences drifting into the field of sociology, psychology and other scientific disciplines. The participatory approach is closely related to the understanding of the mutual relationships between professional design proposals and real user requirements. The process therefore underlines “assertiveness in designing”, enables the ability to communicate assertively and the tolerance to different opinions or differences in general. According to the study “A theory for integrating knowledge in architectural design education”, it is crucial to initiate and inspire educational institutions and future designers towards a more complex approach to the design process. Considering the proposal as a purely functional and aesthetic spatial object or a product of one’s own creative ambition is not sufficient. An outlook on the creation process, reduced to this way of thinking, leads to a diminished quality of the final product as well as the quality of education, which loses touch with a broad range of relevant requirements. The participatory design team becomes a community of people who communicate and share common and diverse opinions, thus creating a form of social interaction, the experiencing of which is crucial for the development of healthy individuals and well-rounded experts. The lack of sufficient social interaction often results in the inability to accept the most natural difference of opinion, a lowered threshold or outright refusal to accept diversity in all shapes and forms. This can be observed in the creative process through the absence of user-focused and need-focused proposals in the first instance.

Keywords: design process, education, engagement, social sciences