I had a few mentors in my career.
After doing my Diploma Senibina at UTM, Jalan Semarak in the mid-80s, I worked with Mas Othman Associates. I remembered being interviewed by Mas and he looked at my CV and then he looked at me, “You are a Gemini…(thoughtful look)…I am a Gemini and my best architect is a Gemini…(bla bla bla)…” I had forgotten the rest of what he said, but for the next 8 months before I worked for JKR (due to my scholarship requirements), I worked with Fred, a Filipino expatriate and the other Geminian, who was brilliant. I learned so much about how to work quickly, how to look at design and he really took care of us (the assistants). I suppose I really needed a mentor then to spark off ideas as it was quite a difficult time in my life (22 years old is always a difficult age…).
After that, in England where I did my first and second degree, with two years work experience, in the middle and the end… I met Steve Lightbody, a South African expatriate in the UK, who had an Accountancy Degree. I worked with him at two different firms after RIBA Part 1 & 2. Steve was an associate, and made sure that I threw away my straight-jacketed thinking, and drew my ideas straight from the heart. I became a “designer” working with him. Coming from UTM which was a very technical school, this was a revelation to me. It was also strategic that I worked at Rock Townsend in London after Part 1, where after work, I would attend AA’s evening lectures. The practical mundane activity in the day merged with the esoteric expansive idealism of the evening…
I had many friends who studied at the AA. I could not get into the AA with my scholarship, but I made sure that I followed the latest architectural discussions. There were ideas by Morphosis, Peter Cook, Zaha Hadid, John Fraser and all these well-known theorists and architects were making an impact with the London / UK architectural community. The AA was the centre of architectural thought and activity. You can see Zaha’s ideas being built now, but then she was regarded as an eccentric, to say the least.
Fast forward to where I am now currently involved in the curriculum review of our school, I know that the best school to be modeled after is the AA . In this blog, I would be candid enough to admit what I truly feel about architectural education. You need MASTERS with capitals. Individuals who will make impact on your development by taking his/her journey with you. You do not have to agree with the Master, but you will nevertheless learn from the Master. The Master preside over his/her Atelier and must provide a true apprenticeship system of learning with his/her students.
However, at UM, we are using not the Atelier method but the Group Teaching method. In all honesty, it may have less impact than the total apprenticeship system, or in another words, a watered-down version of the apprenticeship system. It relies on a lot of coordination to get to point A to B. I don’t really know whether it will really work to be honest. But we have to devise our system somehow to make it work.
The power point describes some of what I had discussed here. The job is not completed. I need to somehow help the school create a “semi-atelier concept” for the Group Teaching Method. Who knows ‘Malaysia Boleh’!