To critique is essential in order to be in a critique.

DSC_5274 photo by Pacilia Tan

I posted the excerpt below in the facebook group ‘design thesis studio unit 3’, and wish to explain further about what I wrote.

I wasn’t born a critique. I decided to study architecture and found that a lot of things are lost around me. I just could not grasp what people were saying. In UTM at the ages of 18-21, I just did what others did. The tutors did not demand explanation. Such was the nature of learning architecture in the early 1980s. Then I went overseas. I thought I got it sussed out, what to do and how to get a good grade. I was competitive and still am. That helps to want to learn more.

But I did not score an A. I was wondering why? The I started to study people’s work and paid more attention to what the tutors had to say. I was fascinated with old buildings and was interested in history of architecture class. Music is fed through my ears and made me concentrate. I started reading. I started engaging. After Part 1, I worked near the AA in London. I went to the evening lectures at the AA. There were Zaha Hadid, Peter Cook, Herman Hertzberger, Thom Mayne, etc. Though I did not understand half of what is being said, I kept going.

When I came back from the UK, I still tried to learn from others. The AA graduates were so good in concepts and ideas and the way they taught, Faizah, Huat Lim, Jee Seng…they were so good. What is missing? I self-learned.

That is why I want my students to be able to critique. When someone starts talking, I want them not to hide and run. I want them to engage. Be strong and keep on learning. Be an architect.


To critique is essential in order to be in a critique.
You can justify anything if you know how to argue. Knowing how to argue is what ‘critique’ is about. Why must we know how to critique? Why cannot we just design a scheme that solves a problem and then complete the task. Why do we have to defend our scheme with our peers, who some we disagree their opinion and where they come from anyway. Why should we go through all that trouble since our design is a satisfactory solution. In fact there are so many buildings which you know is the result of not much thought anyway. Not every building should be a masterpiece!
There is a difference between architecture education and architectural practice. Architecture practice in many cases does not allow experimentation and even if it does, only the director and associate get to explore. And experimentation may not work and need careful consultation with the engineers to get it built and there are legal implications as well. But in architecture education, there are no limitations in terms of legalities and students should be able to explore and in pedagogy terms design something that you may not be able to do in practice. Not all curriculum is for the employment aspects or legal aspects of the profession.
Starting the design process create a lot of things, like dialogue. The dialogue is essential to keep the design process evolving and maturing and before you start a dialogue (with your tutors) you need to research properly to get the right start. Time is sufficient to dwell upon the research and not merely, copy and paste and regurgitating what others have said, but you need to form your own opinion hence you will wish to engage with a dialogue when you are ready. Doing more research before you meet your tutors you would be ready to defend your design. Therefore when you meet your tutors you have a good dialogue rather than allowing the lecturers to dictate what you should do.
The student needs a lot of advice at the beginning. Shared dialogue and discussions in a group are very helpful to facilitate the learning process as well as having critique sessions with architects and designers. Regardless, students may struggle, and there could be a million reasons why and it is all part of the learning process and the individual student’s experience. Tutors and supervisors must be ready to cope with the struggling students and be that sounding board and advisor on ways and means to get back on track.
(excerpt from the draft manuscript for the Design Process Guide by Naziaty Yaacob)


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