architecture juries

The basic process for eons for educating architects has relied heavily on the jury system.  About once every six weeks or so, every student is asked to pin up their work in a semi-public place and a panel of jurors, usually other instructors and architects, are each given time to comment on the work after the student’s brief description of the project.  Sometimes this can be very public and as a student you might look up to see 6 or so very dour jurors staring at you along with dozens or more of your fellow students.  To say that it can be intimidating is a gross understatement.

jury at Yale, in 'the pit'

However, as someone who was very shy and frequently terrified by this kind of public speaking and criticism, I do believe that is one of the very best ways to educate an architect.  Through this often-fraught crucible, every student has to become sure of their ideas and committed to their projects.  It is a very real and early reminder that architecture is not a pursuit practiced only in isolation, but a public art, with all that that entails.

In undergraduate and graduate school I took part in and was a victim of an awful lot of juries.  (It is not really a ‘jury’ of your peers by the way – it is experienced instructors and architects that have been down the same path and know all the tricks to reveal you and your project’s shortcomings)

I have seen crying, screaming, panic and the occasional fist-fight break out.  I have seen instructors tell students that their work is so dreadful or incomplete that they should just pack it up right now and leave, and never, ever return.

jury in 'the pit' at Yale

I  mention all of this because I have heard of disturbing trend of the diminishing use of public juries to evaluate student work.  I hope I am not being an old curmudgeon, but I really do think this is a great loss.  Each year as a student the process became a little easier to the point that I looked forward to the criticism and advice in graduate school.  Now, as a working architect, I have to present my designs to my clients.  I could simply present the projects and tell them to take it or leave it.  However, the jury system has convinced me that to make really good buildings it is best to describe the projects simply and briefly and then listen.

some juror’s comments collected on the Politically Incorrect blog:

http://politicallyincorrect007.blogspot.com/2008/12/architecture-jury-critique.html

photos from the Yale School of Architecture website

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