Meetup 08: Framing Design Education: A Study of A Non-hierarchical Architectural Design Studio

Jeremy Till had often proclaimed that ‘architecture education is deeply conservative!’

Distance Design Education Meetup 8 sought to expand Till’s claim by questioning the appropriateness of the one-to-one, Master and Apprentice model of desk crits. Numerous design education researchers (Goldschmidt, Webster, and maybe even yourself!) have recognised the shortcomings of such siloed reviews.

Yet, little has been expounded on how alternative mechanisms and pedagogical frameworks can be utilised in our formative design studios. Ping presented a concise history of architectural education from the medieval job sites, the Beaux-Arts on to the Bauhaus and ultimately to the Unit Systems of UK’s Architectural Association in questioning the relevancies of such siloed teaching practices predicated on authoritative Master and Apprentice pedagogy. He also shared some of the mechanisms and the outcomes of an alternative non-hierarchical studio pedagogy framework used in Singapore Polytechnic, that oscillates between the baggage of traditions and the precarious jobscapes of the future. 

Catch the recording below and If you might have some thoughts, Zhengping Liow can be contacted on Twitter – and his works can be found on

Published by Derek Jones

Derek Jones is a Senior Lecturer in Design at The Open University (UK), part of the OU Design Group, and the Convenor of the DRS Pedagogy SIG. His main research interests are: the pedagogy of design and creativity, embodied cognition in physical and virtual environments, and theories of design knowledge.

2 thoughts on “Meetup 08: Framing Design Education: A Study of A Non-hierarchical Architectural Design Studio

  1. Thank you for a really interesting presentation on Framing Design Education, the look back to the way pedagogy has been embedded was fascinating. I’m really interested in your current thinking about the collaborative – co-operative model, more student centred and co-created approach to pedagogy. I teach on an integrated Foundation Year in Art and Design and have students from 8 different art and design disciplines. A perfect opportunity for cross pollination and cross disciplinary peer support. We are trying something new in semester 2, and I will be using your work to inform some of those pedagogical decisions. We too experience a very reserved student cohort, who are looking for the ‘right’ way to do things, it’s a big transition for our students, especially if they have come from A Levels where assessment criteria dictates what is created and how marks are awarded. I’ve been thinking, that particularly with our cohort, who often have a feeling of being rejected or passed over, that confidence building should be our main priority. The next step, when students have started to feel more confident creatively, is to develop trust with staff, so that when we tell them ‘do it your way’ they believe they can. And when we ask them to critique each others work, or actively encourage co-operative conversation about individual work they don’t feel quite so exposed. in the second part of semester 2, students will be working with a member of specialist staff from their chosen degree route, but part of the pedagogical approach to this is that they will come back together as cross disciplinary peer groups to discuss each others work and help develop the next steps. This will be coordinated under one main theme with seperate disciplines writing their own brief. This idea seems aligned with some of Zhengping Liow’s approaches and suggestions of how to combat a hierarchical approach to pedagogy and has provided a confidence boost, to feel I’m moving in the right direction around pedagogical decision making. Fascinating presentation, I’m sorry I couldn’t attend the live presentation for the discussion afterwards.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello Marie,

    Thanks so much for your kind words! And apologies for the late reply. Sigh. Life happens…

    It became pretty interesting for me when I realised that design pedagogy had not changed despite the amazing boards we see at the end-of-year shows. I reckon that there is a stark difference in Collaborative and Cooperative projects even though we use these two terms interchangeably. There are some literature out there arguing for that differentiation to be made clearer. In studio, our group/team projects, although designed to ‘function’ otherwise, had always been reduced to a ‘divide-and-conquer’ method as strategised by our students, for obvious pragmatic reasons. I think it’s our own paradigm on ow we perceive collaboration to be. I had a mentor, whom I deeply respect, mentioned something like this – ‘collaboration is a dirty word’. This stuck with me for years as I tried to understand why. Even in professional practice, collaboration is (always seen/practices) in a slightly tokenistic manner, which is to probably integrate the discipline’s respective outcomes and mash them as a coherent outcome. Very much like the ‘divide-and-conquer’ approach. That lead me asking, so, is that really, collaboration?

    I’m so encouraged that someone (like yourself) on the other side of the world I’m living in is also trying to design frameworks for cross pollinative design review conversations to happen. I’ve always advocated in my work that the best time to inculcate ‘cultures’ is during their Foundation/first year of study. The model you are working on is super radical! 8 different art and design disciplines?! That’s amazing!

    Our diploma’s foundation year would go through a radical shift in which the architecture, interior design and landscape would move together as a herd, sharing common modules and studios. So, I’ll love to hear your experiences!

    Check out Jeremy Till’s writing (I’m pretty sure you’ve already had). To quote him loosely, Education is about empowerment and to support students’ agencies in their future. What you’ve described to me, is remarkable. The important aspect in which you’ve surfaced is – Confidence building. The urgent question is, how. It’s the tacit skills or more commonly known, as the hidden curriculum. Of course, naturally we’ll refer to The Design Studio Hidden Curriculum by Thomas Dutton. Educators have not really started to think on how our conversation aspect of the studio can capitalise on that. One man’s meat is another’s poison, my studies is really seeking to understand this phenomenon. It is something bugging me for years and hopefully would be able to shed some light on this one. Hopefully.

    Thanks a lot for your encouraging words. I’m always constantly learning from my colleagues about their own experiences trying out this method of studio pedagogy. Maybe the future meetups, we can just gather online and discuss/float ideas around this topic. *winks to Derek*

    Thank you so much for your time in sharing your thoughts and I do apologise again for the delayed reply.


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