Many of us who sit on the other side of the table to select young teachers in Architecture, have an exasperating experience. Most applicants when asked to name the subject they would like to teach, come with the answer without batting an eye lid, ‘architectural design’! If this is generally so, then it raises a number of questions. Is Design teaching considered easier than other subjects say. Specification or Construction? Being generally a part of a group of Design Teachers does he/she feel that individual responsibility is reduced? Is the image of a Design Teacher more ‘prestigious’? These and many such questions may come to our mind. Don’t we know the answers? Atlesat, when many of us were such candidates, we did know the answer. Only now some of us feel that the answers were not correct.

Initiation into Design Teaching

Design is the core subject accounting for 40% or more of the teaching time. It is the main stream of architectural studies into which other subject streams are said to converge. In terms of the weightage of marks too it is the heaviest. Even the philosophy of a School is seen through its attitude to design teaching. In spite of all this it is the most ‘casually taken’ subject though, it may have the honour of being the most widely discussed. Its syllabus is also written in a way that it makes good and impressive reading but gives the least direction to a new teacher on how to teach it. In fact, the impression in some top schools is that design can not be taught. By the large, design problems are set in an ‘off-the-cuff’ manner. The visiting teacher has a problem from his office on his mind while the full-timer hunts for older problems that might do! The student never knows why he is doing a primary school now or an office building later. The problem is written in the staff room and introduced by reading it or handing out cyclostyled copies to students with duration and dates for submission shown. Many teachers feel that the best way to start is by asking the students to go to the library and hunt for references. Others feel that student participation is determining the title and scope is necessary. Any way, the teacher waits for the students to pin-up the butter paper and draw the first line which he can diligently correct by going from board. The problem thus turns into a design ultimately duly assessed and returned.

The teacher believes he has successfully taught how to design primary schools, and sets forth to introduce the next problem say, on Block of Flats! The student believes that he can now design all sorts of school!! If a few of us can now say that this is not how we teach design, it only shows how true it was.

Developing a Design Process

It would serve our purpose well if we began by shedding some of the traditional inhibitions. Architectural Design is a process by which we train ourselves to bring out those hazy and vague mental pictures onto drawing sheets so that others can read and react. To this extent it is not very much different from Mechanical Design, Structural Design, Electrical design and so forth. All these deal with an effort to bring out an idea, a concept, a hypothesis or a premise in such a manner that its usefulness, necessity or practicability can be discussed with others by doing better than talking or simply gesticulating. Architectural design or Visual design is different to the extent that it is a product of a creative mind brought out through skill and dexterity to suit the purpose. If this is a reasonably acceptable statement, then what have we done to set-up systems, methods or processes by using which even an average student can be successful if not remarkable? The assessors, the jury or the teacher himself has created an aura of mystique around good design, without much explaining what is good design. While on the other hand, our counterparts in engineering design of any sort, have laid down a process or stages in decision making, a route that leads them to reasonably good design, may be mediocre, that can be taken by the average, while we expect our students to be geniuses, philosophers and what not.

Moulding a Teaching Method

The problem generally with any method or system is that it stems the very creativity that it was expected to develop. Soon it becomes a rut. We try to get out of it and make more ruts. If the purpose of design education is to liberate the mind from set patterns (cliche’s) then we need methods that allow adventure and exploration of paths not treaded. The method should eliminate drudgery, repetition and ‘donkey work’. These must be stimulating, off-beat, enjoyable and simple. Above all, it must give the designer an insight into the problem, a sense of adventure and finally, the experience of beauty. It must stimulate the mind to an extent that the designer is surprised by his own creativity.

It was with this end in view that a process was developed at Nagpur by using “Lateral Thinking”*. The experience of over two decades is both interesting and possible for emulation. Lateral Thinking is concerned with the generation of new ideas. It is also concerned with breaking out of ‘concept prisons’ of old ideas. Lateral Thinking is quite distinct from Vertical Thinking which is the traditional type of thinking. Vertical Thinking (usually associated with engineering design processes) moves only if there is a direction in which to move. Lateral Thinking moves in order to generate a direction. Lateral Thinking generates more alternatives, any of which is capable of culminating into a design. It is more provocative than analytical. It is concerned with changing patterns by trying to restructure set patterns, by putting things together in a different way. Most of us try to do the same without realizing it however.

This method, which is based on the following beliefs, has shown encouraging studio results.

  1. Design stream, which flows through the total duration of architecture course, becomes progressively complex. Every successive step (design problem) is a little more complex than the previous one.
  2. It is the process that is more important and lasting than the solution; although the ends result need not be unduly under-emphasized.
  3. A student has to be taken from what is known to unknown by his teacher-guide, carefully unfolding the mysteries of design and by restraining himself from using words, idioms, expressions or paraphrases that have not been fully understood.
  4. A standard design problem shall not be set unless the technique of solving it is also introduced. Exercises that stimulate the required level of creativity shall be introduction, the experience of which is related to the problem itself. (more like the Theorem being taught before Riders can be given).
  5. Basic Design can not be taught and finished in the First year only. Every Architectural design problem has its own basic design relevant to it. Only the design fundamentals and principles can be introduced at the early stage, with its grammar developing concurrently.
  6. Every teacher involved with architectural design is fully aware of the total effort and remains within the framework. He is aware of the preceding stage as well as the following one.

The efficacy of this method can be evaluated after its widespread acceptance and use by design teachers. It is well-known that any innovation in teaching methods has to be gradual, slow and requires to be monitored systematically. But more than anything else, it requires a group of teachers who are open minded, sincere, ready-to-learn and dedicated. The author wishes to acknowledge the participation of such colleagues at Nagpur in the experimental and evaluation stages.