Studio-based education is one of the few generalist modes of teaching and learning, a mode in which the questions posed are often more meaningful than the answers proposed, one where students and faculty collaboratively project a better world. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in my 12+ years of teaching—whether as a studio critic or a theory lecturer—is that effective teaching is first and foremost rooted in mutual trust, trust not only in the relationship between teacher and student but also in one’s ability to take risks and self-critique. Through my years as a teacher, I’ve learned to see potential in my students ideas, even when they struggle to articulate them. I’ve learned never to teach the project, but to use the project to teach the student.
At Marywood University, I have had an opportunity to develop 10 courses, including 2 studios, 3 history/theory courses, 1 graduate research methods course, and 4 elective seminars. Of these, I have taught 7 over the past 4 years. Student commentary on these courses indicate that they value not only what I teach, but also how I teach it.
As a studio critic, I seek multi-scalar relationships between architecture and the city. My Integrative Design Studios take on an expanded definition of integration in architectural education, one that enriches the N.A.A.B. defined Integrative Building Studio with what I call the Integrative Urban Studio that brings urbanity—with many of its associated cultural, geopolitical, and environmental complexities—into the studio experience. I embrace process: my objective is to help students establish a multi-disciplinary and self-driven research agenda around broad and complex, yet clearly-defined issues.
As a lecturer, I make history and theory contemporary and practical. To do this, I teach the material thematically rather than chronologically in order to draw synchronic and diachronic relationships to studio coursework. In my Histories and Theories of Architecture classes, for example, I challenge students to situate their studio projects—conceptually, programmatically, technologically, formally, etc.—in a historical and/or theoretical movement. Students learn that topics and themes that seem “old” are quite relevant and those that seem “new” or “original” (i.e. their own ideas) are rooted in broader historical and theoretical discourses. The results are seen in design studio reviews where students not only articulate their work intelligently and elegantly, but also use precedent as part of their design process.
Rooting ideas in broader discourses is also central to my Graduate Research Methods course, the aim of which is to help students establish a research strategy that accounts for intellectual positions, disciplinary questions, systems of inquiry, analytical methods, and research/design tactics as they begin their Master’s Thesis. My approach to teaching this course is to balance lectures on architectural research methods with seminars on contemporary cultural, architectural, and urban discourse. Students have left this course understanding that while all design involves research, not all design is research; in order for design to be considered research, one must be conscious and explicit about the methods used.
As a teacher, I am demanding yet encouraging, critical yet optimistic, historically conscious yet grounded in contemporary culture. I work hard to build trust with my students in order to help them engage a socially and culturally complex world with clarity and conviction.