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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Interview with Bernard Tschumi: On Designing an Architectural Education by Nader Vossoughian for


architect/artist: Bernard Tschumi
interview title: Interview with Bernard Tschumi: On Designing an Architectural Education
interviews compilation no: T-36
interview format: Text
date: May 21, 2003
appeared in:
interviewer: Nader Vossoughian
photo by:


Interview Details:

Interview with Bernard Tschumi: On Designing an Architectural Education

Q. Dean Tschumi, in the introduction to INDEX Architecture (2003), you point out that the plurality of views represented at Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation has been one of its greatest strengths. Can you comment on that?

A. I have never been terribly sympathetic to homogeneous ideologies -- or to ideologies at all for that matter. Architecture and architectural education are filled with dogmas and canons, and I am quite opposed to them. I am more interested in debate, conflicts of ideas, and independence; in particular, the independence of individual faculty members. Rather than having a curriculum imposed from above, I prefer a curriculum standing stemming from faculty members; a research, an impulse, an investigation coming from teachers whom you come to trust as a dean.

Q. So what is the place of the avant-garde vis-à-vis a school of architecture. Has it been important for you to feel part of an intellectual or design avant-garde?

A. You know, the notion of the avant-garde has never entered my mind. It has never been a category of education for me. I would argue that architecture is not knowledge of specific forms – in which case could claim something that might be recognized as “avant-garde” – but a form of knowledge. And one’s obligation is to encourage anything that seems to extend that form of knowledge, that furthers learning.

I would add that architecture is made of constants and variables. The constants include questions concerning space, movement in space, activities in space, and so forth. These constants have not changed for hundreds of years. But then there are the variables, and the variables differ in emphasis. Some emphasize technique, other emphasize ideas. I have my own personal views, but I do not discount any other’s per se. What I do not appreciate is if someone insists upon a canonic right and a canonic wrong. Dogmatism excludes debate and stifles invention. I think that a university context is a place where you can think about the current or future state of one’s area of study, but this reflection on the present and on the future has nothing to do with the notion of the avant-garde or with any intellectual dogma.

Q. Do you have thoughts about the relationship between education and commerce? Are there, in your view, boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed?

A. Pragmatically speaking, three years in any school of architecture is a short time, and it’s difficult to produce anything during that time that is commercially viable. At the same time, in the Historic Preservation program, in the 1980s, we did try an experimental venture whereby we would act as consultants on building conservation projects. It did not get very far, since it caused recent graduates to complain that we were taking jobs from them.

On a theoretical level, I believe that the role of a school of architecture is not to produce commercial goods in order to make money. We are within a university, and we have extraordinary opportunities to think about what architecture is all about. Rather than having students blindly imitate that they believe is happing in the practical realm, I am more interested in helping students produce ideas. We import and export thoughts, not material goods.

Q. How do you understand the relationship between politics and the university? To what extent should real-world events affect what students ought to be learning?

A. You are always in the world, you are never in some sort of “Paradise Island” kind of place. And that, I believe, is a good thing. I am in architecture because it deals with human activities. Inevitably, the question of social space emerges in one’s work, and it ought to be embraced.

If you’re asking specifically about how this school ought to respond to the conflict in Iraq, however, I would say that it’s not the school issue, it’s the instructor’s issue. The instructor is absolutely free to follow his conscience as long as it does not interfere with his pedagogical obligations.

Q. As architecture becomes increasingly digitalized, and as we come to depend more and more on various software applications, the pressures to become technically facile in an ever-growing array of computer applications seems to grow. Do feel that students of architecture should have to specialize sooner in their studies to cope whose changes?

A. Architecture has many facets – it deals with the environment, ideas, techniques, etc. – and one of the great skills that anyone can develop as an aspiring architect is to be able to deal with philosophical and political issues, as well as to be ready to know what to do so that the roof doesn’t leak. So I would be totally reluctant to sacrifice breadth from the beginning of one’s study. Perhaps later, but in the first three years of study, I would aim at becoming generalist, not a specialist.

Q. Any further thoughts you might want to add?

A. For me, being a dean has been a project, a project that took fifteen years. In many ways, it was no different from anything I’ve sought to do as an architect. I have tried to design conditions that allow education to take place and foster energy and excitement.

Bernard Tschumi is principal of Bernard Tschumi Architects.
Posted by agglutinations at May 21, 2003 06:17 AM in


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