Accountability is the Future


By Shea Gilligan & Sarah Rafson

On March 23, 2014, Archinect reported the “worrisome” findings of a survey conducted by the graduate student union (GALDSU) at the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design at the University of Toronto. The survey is, as we see it, a rare and welcome move to catalog and visualize what has become standard expected behavior for aspiring architects. The University of Toronto students’ collective experience, documented by GALDSU, seemed to document a fairly universal culture among architecture schools - where success is sought at the cost of eating, sleeping, socializing, exercise and other facets of healthy life (excerpts from page 8 & 9 of the GALDSU survey shown above). Click here  to see the entire survey.

Architecture is a creative profession, a “calling” for many, but even so, should not require sustained exposure to mental, physical and emotional abuse to simply learn the tools of the trade. While creativity is a tricky term to define, measure, outline or document, it is possible to quantify unhealthy habits endemic to the creative laborers of our discipline. And, as fascinating as trying to define exactly what characterizes the creative process can be, we turn instead to what, thus far, has been able to be measured.

Architects, rely heavily on measurements throughout the design process, so it seems rational to look to what scientific research has been able to measure, in this case, brain activity related to creative states.  In the article "Fostering Creativity. A model for developing a culture of collective creativity in science," Carl J. Neumann illuminates:

Measurement of brain activity showed that creativity correlates with two brain states: a quiescent, relaxed state corresponding to the inspiration stage, and a much more active state corresponding to the elaboration stage (Martindale & Hasenfus, 1978). The quiescent state has a lot in common with some stages of sleep and dreaming, indicating that concentration on its own is not enough to generate creative breakthroughs, but must be combined with periods of low activity (Claxton, 1998). Highly creative individuals seem able to switch back and forth between active and quiescent brain states. This explains the observation that periods of ‘incubation' or rest can enhance creativity (Ward & Saunders, 2003).  To read this article click here

We cite Neumann here to not negate the ambition of architecture schools in encouraging rigor in their students and drive to succeed, but to emphasize that as architects, experts of the built environment, we deserve to be better informed about how to support our own creative process, so that we can design accordingly. As the results of the GALDSU survey chronicles, we have neglected the context of our own spatial and mental learning environments.  Staying in studio around the clock, skipping meals, not exercising, and living in an academic isolation bubble are not the ingredients in a recipes that ensure innovation.  Doesn't it make sense to start with ourselves as our own clients and create the most optimal conditions for our own learning? Practicing architects, who have become accustomed to the low wages we are allotted as a profession, should begin advocating for change where these skills are learned, in school.

We applaud the fact that the University of Toronto has collected this information and is leading the dialogue around improving and encouraging better conditions for architecture students. We hope their work is replicated, and the survey results widely circulated so that we make it clear that these practices are strongly condoned in the profession, not encouraged.  The sub_teXXt of these results is that we are training students to “endure” such conditions in firms.  As architects, who do have civic responsibility & influence, we need to start within our own ranks and teach that building a strong foundation is the only way to ensure durability and long-term strength.

GALDSU has generously agreed to write for sub_teXXt, to tell us more about their work  and what lies ahead, but while we eagerly await their response, we couldn’t help ourselves in imagining a future where:

1. Students and professors sign studio contracts forbidding all-nighters, such as this, an actual contract professor Lori Brown had her students sign at Syracuse University:

studio contract

2. The studio doors are closed and locked at midnight to discourage all-night and late-night work habits.

3. The academic environment does not promote and deem academic isolation as essential for academic thriving.

4. Academic workload is reduced to a manageable level and balanced with extra-curricular, interest-driven courses and physical activity.

5. Students come away from reviews feeling nurtured and supported, and are treated by faculty -above all- with respect as partners in their own learning.

6. Practicing architects play a more active role in changing the conditions that they know exist (and most likely personally endured) in schools and the profession.


BlogLori Brown