Susan Schaefer Kliman, PhD, FAIA
Leader. Educator. Innovator.
My career – in the classroom and in practice – has been grounded on the principle of ensuring the sustainability of the profession by educating and mentoring the next generation. I believe that the best path to this result is a blend of theory and practice within the context of a rapidly changing world. It is critical that architecture program graduates are prepared to tackle the challenges of the 21st century. There is no profession better situated to address the challenges of resiliency - not simply environmental, but social and economic as well. Graduates of architecture programs must have not just discipline-specific skills, but the broad education to be leaders – regardless of their career path. We in higher education are currently training students for careers and technology that we cannot envision. The foundational skills that are at the core of an architectural education, such as curiosity, critical thinking, and professional communication, are what will prepare these students to be the leaders of tomorrow.
I consider the most important part of my job as an educator to be that which occurs in the classroom and design studio and in the one on one sessions for supplemental instruction, advising and mentoring. There is something magical about the ‘aha’ moment when a student grasps a key concept and demonstrates the ability to apply new knowledge. It is those moments that confirm that I am having a positive impact on my students and helping to facilitate their future success.
A desire for knowledge and critical thinking and are among the most important skills for an architect. I have a deep-seeded conviction in the power of being a lifelong learner. As a professor, I believe that it is my responsibility to spark and foster a sense of inquisitiveness and love of learning that will help my students to be successful both in the classroom and in their chosen career. The acquisition of knowledge is only the first step, though. What one does with this knowledge is equally important. The ability to evaluate information, applying multiple perspectives and prior experience, are essential in determining the actions that follow. Finally, much knowledge and evaluation are meaningless if the information is not disseminated in a coherent way to the intended audience. In an academic environment, flexibility is critical to this entire process. Every student comes into the classroom with a different life experience and level of preparation. The job of the instructor is to deliver the course content and ensure student learning outcomes within this framework of meeting students where they are, and keeping students engaged with a variety of instructional delivery methods and tools. Heutagogy, students teaching others based on their own knowledge and experience, is an important aspect of this process. Finally, the appropriate measure of student learning outcomes through a variety of assessment tools.
An architectural education provides an excellent foundation for a myriad careers; however, I believe that it is imperative that educators not lose sight of the fact that a primary component of an architectural curriculum is training the next generation of architects. The importance of allowing the freedom to explore and implement design theory in an academic setting cannot be overstated. This freedom, however, cannot come at the expense of the realities of the industry. An architectural education must occur in a setting which merges both theory and practice. The realities of construction should not begin after graduation, but rather, should be a part of the curriculum. In fact, students need the background of the history and theory to put design into context. They need the reality of case studies and experiential learning to tie together what they are learning and be able to apply their skills in a broader context. I have had the pleasure of teaching a number of classes that address both of these components.
For several years, I have taught the sequence of the research methods course and thesis studios (ARCP-507; ARCP-502; ARCP-550). This sequence provides students with a strong foundation in the components and process of research – both in design and in science. Different models and theories are explored, and students are exposed to the nuances of varying disciplines. During this first course, students develop their own research project and practice communication skills and methods as the present oral and graphic versions of their projects of choice. The varied backgrounds of the students lead to dynamic discussions and stronger projects, thus confirming the value of a heutagogical model. As the sequence progresses, students are provided with the necessary guidance as they work through the process of programming, designing, and documenting their thesis projects.
In my design studios, I have emphasized a combination of design and technical skills. I have used my background in practice as a basis for having students in the 2nd year construction documents studio (ARCP-201) design increasingly complex projects and create basic construction documents for their buildings. In completing their projects, students have learned to apply key portions of the building code, combine building components and assemblies, and lay out basic documents for use in construction.
At the graduate level, my studio (ARCP-501) has been taught as one half to two-course co-requisite integrated design studio and building systems curriculum. Lectures and readings are supplemented with students completing a series of short exercises that focus on cultures, design theory, and community. This work forms the basis for a lengthier, complex project that is completed through the work in both classes. Students demonstrate the ability to research and evaluate multiple aspects of the project, working both individually and in groups to produce their assignments. Learning outcomes are measured at multiple points in the process through presentations, completion of worksheets, semester course binders containing process work, and the final presentation. It is common for a significant percentage of the students in my studios to have work experience either in the office of an architect or engineer or on a construction site. This level of practical experience among these students adds a rich dimension to the studios, where they are able to impart as much knowledge as I am. I strongly encourage this dialog, as it enhances the overall learning experience.
I have used a similar approach to theory and practice for other courses I have taught. This blend has been particularly appropriate in Ethics and Practice (ARCP-414 and ARCP-514). My years of practice have allowed me to present a number of case studies for students to review, and these examples have fostered rich classroom conversations. Individual research and ‘teacher for a day’ assignments have been enhanced by robust online discussion boards. In cases where students are or have worked in offices, they have been able to introduce their own experiences into the overall conversation.
The most successful projects are those in which the architect assumes a leadership role to guide the project team. In today’s world those teams are increasingly interdisciplinary and global. Effective leadership requires the ability to listen, to problem solve and to team build—hallmarks of an architectural education. A mixture of individual and team projects fosters these skills. In addition, the availability and diversity of software provides a lot of educational opportunities. These applications are powerful tools in the educational process, allowing for a greater understanding of environmental systems and building design, and the ability to apply this knowledge. In addition, these applications allow for collaborative efforts. I am committed to harnessing all of the technology available to assist in my research and teaching efforts. I also believe that multi-disciplinary efforts can yield great benefits, and continually seek opportunities within the larger University to provide opportunities for the students.