The Thesis Question

The Thesis Question
2:00 pm - 6:30 pm
Room 419, 4/F, Knowles Building, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong
The Thesis Question

The Thesis Question

The design thesis continues to retain an acknowledged if ambiguous position within the discipline of architecture today. Shifting relations between processes of research and design, and ongoing debate within academia over design as a particular mode of scholarly inquiry, have prompted many architectural schools to replace independent design thesis with faculty-led research studios, among other alternatives. Other challenges to the standard thesis format include today’s expanded disciplinary sphere, which can make it difficult to define the appropriate parameters of a design thesis. In these and other respects, one could argue that the uncertain state of the design thesis captures contradictions evident within architectural education at large.

The Thesis Question is a one-day symposium organized to examine and debate the position of the design thesis in architectural education today. Do transformative changes in the nature of architectural practice, methods of architectural discourse, and technologies of architectural production necessitate a reconsideration of alternative methods of advanced design teaching and study, particularly in relationship to the design thesis?

Event Schedule

Welcome and Introduction, 2 – 2:15 pmPanel 1
Thesis and the Institution, 2:20 – 3:20 pm“Between Closing and Opening.”
Deane Simpson, Royal Danish AcademyThis contribution will touch upon contrasting approaches to the architectural design thesis, from experiences in different institutional settings, from Columbia to the ETH, and from the AA to the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. These contexts frame different cultures and agendas between, for example, the thesis as a simulation of practice to the thesis as an independent academic research; or between the thesis marking the closure of a student’s education, to the thesis as an opening for a career. What does this range of approaches place at stake for student, teacher, institution and discipline in this key moment of architectural education?“Cooper Union – The Thesis Studio Then and Now”
Guido Zuliani, Cooper UnionFor the first thirty-five years of the history of the institution, the production of the School of Architecture of the Cooper Union and in particular, the work that has emerged from the Thesis Studio, has been inextricably connected to the transformation of the vision and philosophy of its Dean John Hejduk.

With his successors, the legacy of that tradition, which centers on the individual experimental nature of the thesis project, has entered into a new phase, namely, around a dialogue with the new questions that contemporary society is urgently raising.

The two-part presentation intends to illustrate both the significant changes in the ethos of the Thesis Studio under the tenure of John Hejduk and the adaptation and transformation that that legacy has undergone since the new millennium under the leadership of Anthony Vidler and more recently of Nader Tehrani.

Panel 2 – 3:20 – 4:20 pm
Thesis and the Profession

“Architecting Agency”
Olaf Grawert, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich)

With the rise of global capital we have come to acknowledge new agents in the making of our built and unbuilt environments. Economization changed the meaning of space—land became a good, housing became real estate— making architecture the most valuable and powerful asset for global capital. This commodification proves architecture’s political dimension, a dimension that can no longer be addressed through static media. It is more than an object to be described, drawn, and modeled, but should instead be communicated through popular media. Starting from this point, the question becomes: how can we decenter the view from the object, in order to introduce architecture as an argument in political discussions — how can we architect agency?

“Creating Knowledge Loops: Research in Architectural Education and Practice.”
Andrea Johnson, University of Minnesota

Inherent in questioning design thesis is the questioning of the role and relevance of research. This talk introduces and examines the model of the post-professional Master of Science in Architecture–Research Practices (MS–RP) program at the University of Minnesota, in which students learn about, conduct, and promote research within architectural education and the profession. The program was launched in 2014 in tandem with a consortium of AEC firms called the Consortium for Research Practices. Together, the program and consortium form a framework for conducting design research that is at once relevant to students, faculty, and practitioners. By creating more robust knowledge loops between schools and firms through research, the program and consortium further the propositions that architectural research can be utilized before, during, or after design, that it has value beyond the confines of the studio or the project, and that it is a skill that can and should be developed in education.

Coffee and Tea Break, 4:20 – 4:40 pm

Panel 3 – 4:40 – 5:40 pm
Thesis and Its Alternatives

“Alternative to Thesis”
Scott Colman, Rice University

If only we had the answer to thesis, … we’d have the font of architectural knowledge. The debate around design thesis just is epistemological discourse in the architectural academy. Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that there are as many perspectives on “the thesis question” as there are on architecture, and that when architectural knowledge is in flux – its structure, significance, even existence called into question – disenchantment with, alternatives to, and the defense of prevailing modes of intellectual inquiry proliferate. The ends, means, structure, focus, limits, …, in short, the form of thesis is always up for grabs. But any alternative to thesis per se – which is to say: the decoupling of architectural research from design – is no alternative at all.

“Terminal Projects: A Five-Part Answer to the Thesis Question”
Todd Gannon, The Ohio State University

This presentation will provide a brief overview of the strengths and weaknesses of various terminal projects in US architecture schools and will provide a five-part proposal for how and why such programs should be undertaken.

Expansion (modified from Wikipedia’s entry for terminal illness):

A Terminal illness project is an incurable illness intractable design exercise that cannot be adequately treated taught and that, regardless of the project’s quality, always results in the death termination of the patient author’s status as a student. This term is more commonly used for progressivediseases pedagogical exercises such as cancer thesis or advanced heart disease degree projects than for trauma design studio. In popular use, it indicates a disease project that will progress until death with absolute certainty, regardless of treatment teaching. A patient student who has such an illness project may be referred to as a terminal patient thesis student, terminally ill, or simply terminal. Life expectancy for terminal patients projects is a rough estimate given by the physician determined by rigid schedules set by academic institutions and does not always reflect true longevity, although it is generally months or less.[1] An illness project which is lifelong but not fatal is a chronic condition career.

Round-table Discussion, 5:40 – 6:30 pm

Participants’ Biographies

Scott Colman is an Assistant Professor at the Rice University School of Architecture in Houston, Texas, where he teaches history, theory, and design, and directs the M.Arch. Design Thesis program. Specializing in modern and contemporary architecture and urbanism, Colman’s research focuses on changing interrelationships between creative, theoretical, and historical production.Todd Gannon is Robert S. Livesey Professor and Head of the Architecture Section at The Ohio State University’s Knowlton School. His most recent book is Reyner Banham and the Paradoxes of High Tech. His other books include The Light Construction Reader (2002), Et in Suburbia Ego: José Oubrerie’s Miller House (2013) and monographs on the work of Peter Eisenman, Zaha Hadid, Steven Holl, Morphosis, Eric Owen Moss, Oyler Wu Collaborative, Mack Scogin/Merrill Elam, Bernard Tschumi, and UN Studio. His essays have appeared in periodicals including Log, The Architect’s Newspaper, and Offramp. In collaboration with Ewan Branda and Andrew Zago, he curated the 2013 exhibition A Confederacy of Heretics. His work has been recognized and supported by the Getty Foundation, the Graham Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Institute of Architects, the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, The Ohio State University, and UCLA.

Olaf Grawert is a senior assistant and researcher at the Department of Architecture at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and leads the teaching program at station+ / Studio Brandlhuber. He taught and lectured at several universities including the Accademia di Architettura Mendrisio, the TU Vienna, and the Joint Master of Architecture Suisse. Grawert is also an architect and writer. He writes on the questions of legislation, property and agency in the field of architecture. Since 2015 he is working with Arno Brandlhuber in Berlin, focusing on the influences of external forces in the field of architecture and urban planning.

Andrea J. Johnson, AIA, LEED, NOMA, is an architect and educator, whose work focuses on relationships of text and the arts with spatial practices. Johnson has worked at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Fiedler Marciano in New York on significant cultural, infrastructure, mixed-use and tower projects with an expertise in façade design, and now runs a multi-disciplinary studio with projects such as a mobile sauna for creative placemaking funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. Johnson earned her M.Arch from Columbia University and B.A. Phi Beta Kappa from Stanford University in Urban Studies and Poetry, and was a General Scholar fellow at Tongji University School of Architecture in Shanghai.

Johnson has taught in the undergraduate and graduate architecture programs at the University of Minnesota and is currently Associate Director of the Master of Science in Architecture – Research Practices (MS-RP) program. In addition to coordinating and advising joint academic/industry research projects, she mentors students toward gaining professional licensure and leads workshops on inclusive leadership development.

Deane Simpson is an architect and professor at KADK (Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture) where he is co-leader of the masters program Urbanism and Societal Change. He is author/editor of publications such as Young-Old (2015), The City Between Freedom and Security (2017), and Atlas of the Copenhagens (2018).

Guido Zuliani is an architect and an educator. In 1980 he graduated ‘summa cum laude‘ at the Istituto Universitario di Architettura di Venezia, today Università IUAV di Venezia. After graduation Mr. Zuliani began his academic activity as researcher at the Dipartimento di Progettazione Edilizia (Dept. of Building Design) of the of the same institution where currently he is Affiliated Facuty at the School of Doctoral Studies. In 1985 he moved to the United States. Since then he has been teaching at the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture of the Cooper Union In New York where currently he is Professor in Architecture and where he has taught design studio, history of architecture and advanced concepts seminars. He is member of the school’s Curriculum Committee.