Viewpoint: Medical Buildings and Schools of Architecture

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M J Long – Medical Buildings and Schools of Architecture

This is a brief note responding to what I understand to be a suggestion that architecture schools should “teach” medical buildings, and that they are at present ignoring them. [AfH Event 30 November 2006]

I assume that to teach a building type, it would be necessary to give students a good deal of technical information about the contents of the building type, and a set of operating rules about hierarchies of importance, functional connectivities, space standards, etc. To do so, however, would simply be to burden students with information whose long (and even short) term obsolescence is guaranteed.

Architectural education is rather in the business of helping students to understand the design process, and to begin to work out for themselves a method of taking a set of complex requirements, including a site, and to see them as an opportunity for formal invention. The constraints and requirements are not to be learned, but to be used as a basis for design hypotheses.

This is a difficult and partly mysterious process that requires many years of practice before the designer can embark with confidence and sophistication on the road starting with a client briefing and ending with a building.

Most design problems in architecture school must be resolved in something like six weeks, and must therefore be based upon a brief whose level of complexity is appropriate for that time scale.

The hope of any architecture school is to help its students understand both the need and the pleasures of designing buildings which resolve the functional requirements stated in the brief, understand what constitutes a truly integrated building in which all systems support that resolution, and have a sense of the importance of detailing the building in support of that set of ideas.

The school should actively discourage students from trying to pick up a specific way of responding to a particular building type. Such an ability will quickly become obsolete when any of the requirements change. Any good architect should, with time to do some basic research, and a competent set of parallel consultants, be able to do a good job on any building type, and will actually do it better for having fewer preconceptions.

If my recent exposure to LIFT projects is anything to go on, there is a crying need for well trained architects not only to design fully integrated buildings, but to carry their design intentions through to the details of the building, and make it a complete visual and tactile experience.

M J Long
November 2006

Long & Kentish Architects

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