“Architecture School”

Having now seen the first episode of Architecture School at Hulu:

The overarching idea is that a class of architecture school students at Tulane will each make a design proposal for a house in the Central City neighborhood of New Orleans, post-Katrina. Once the winning design is selected, the class builds it.

* The name of the professor is Byron Mouton. He’s teaching these students all the things that are wrong with architecture today — no respect for the client, and a focus on “the big idea” or “concept” instead of just getting the job done artfully. “A really bold gesture.” He’s consistently pushing ideas that make more sense in an abstract field like literary criticism, or philosophy, than in something so tangible as architecture. The theory has to be right — very French, per Adam Gopnik.

* Contrast this to Emilie Taylor, the project manager. What does she do, right off the bat? Go check the site, talk to the neighbors, talk to prospective tenants, find out what they want. Much more humane, much more modest in the best sense, much more likely to get real-world results.

* The top moment for sheer unintentional irony: When Amarit, one of the students, talks about how he thinks rebuilding something as it was 100 or 50 years ago is a “bastardization.” Bad news, Amarit: Modern Architecture is just about 50 to a 100 years old. It’s proven to be remarkably stagnant over that time. So it’s not like you’re building something genuinely new when you go Modern — you’re just building a “bastardization” that’s exactly 50 to a 100 years old… Only of European Modernist masters, rather than to local taste. (UPDATE, 2014-04-02: According to his LinkedIn page, Amarit has since gone into the restaurant business. Yeah, there’s a surprise.)

* Favorite conflict: One student, Carter Scott, talks about how he was born with a hammer in his hand. How he’s always been building things. He talks about his idea: Going to three stories, rather than two. Mouton keeps trying to beat the idea out of him, saying that no one will look past the words “three stories” even if somehow he manages to get the design in for budget. Carter holds his ground, saying “we’ll see.” Mouton is promoting the idea of theory and abstraction ├╝ber alles; Carter wants to see how it plays out in the real world.

* Saddest thing: The repeated statements by the Tulane folks about what a rare opportunity it is to actually build something while still in architecture school. It should be required. I’m reminded of how Christopher Alexander once pointed out that when he goes to conferences, and he asks the audience how many licensed contractors are in the room, his is the only hand that goes up.