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Coronavirus: it’s time for students and educators to step up to the challenge

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The campuses might be in lockdown, but this an opportunity for architecture students and educators to learn and develop, says course leader Lee Ivett

What a week.

In many ways the decision made by the University of Central Lancashire last week to lock down the campus and move to an online delivery of teaching came as a relief. It was a decision that provided some certainty within what had been a rapidly changing and confusing situation.

Prior to that decision we had been asked to cease teaching to groups greater than 30, but different members of staff and students, each with unique circumstances were beginning to take different positions on whether they felt comfortable with face-to-face teaching or not.

We decided to continue with our timetable, in terms of day to day teaching and annual submission, exactly as it stood. As academics we want to prove to our students that we can adapt to these circumstances and give them the confidence and the belief to adapt with us and successfully complete the year.

Not only does this require a rapid reconfiguration of the way in which we communicate, deliver teaching and produce work, it also means reconsidering our own identity as a school of architecture. We are a relatively new school of architecture in a small northern city with a maximum of 45 students in any given year. This usually allows us to maintain 24-hour access to studio spaces, give every student their own desk and drawing board for every year of study, provide access to workshop facilities and deliver two studio tutorial days a week.

Those things that we held dear have now been taken away but the new skills, software and networks that we are having to engage with as a result will, I believe, make us even stronger in the long run.

Over the past week we have been utilising Microsoft Teams to set up online classes and resources and on Friday morning I had the best attendance for a Year 3 studio session since the first week of teaching. I am also heartened by how the wider architectural community is coming together to support one another and I see some amazing opportunities to engage our students with some of the best practitioners and thinkers in the UK and beyond.

The first example of this is the Virtual Studio being established by Laura Mark and on Wednesday I will join Laura, Piers Taylor, Max Dewdney and others in offering tutorials to students of architecture from across the UK who feel they would benefit from additional support in the current situation. In fact, the possibilities for guest tutors, lecturers and critics to engage with our own course seems more exciting, accessible and feasible than ever before.

At the Grenfell-Baines Institute of Architecture we believe that the situation that is now upon us might be unwanted and unanticipated, but is also an amazing opportunity to learn and develop. It is without doubt time for all us, educators and students alike, to step up.

Let’s not dwell too much on what could and would have been but how we use our innate creativity, intuition and design intelligence to rapidly apply new scenarios and outcomes. I have emphasised to our students that in my own experience and in architecture, art and design generally, the greatest creativity and innovation often emerges from the most extreme situations of restraint and adversity. The hardest questions generate the best answers.

Our students are exceptionally talented and committed individuals and we owe it to them and ourselves to use the surreal and difficult situation that we now find ourselves in to bring out the very best in us rather than defeat us.

Lee Ivett is director of Baxendale Studio and BSc Hons Archiecture course leader at the Grenfell-Baines Institute of Architecture, University of Central Lancashire

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Readers' comments (5)

  • What an astonishing waste of perfectly good plywood.

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  • Im not sure we'd want advice from an academic who advocates working at all hours of the day and night judging the virtual signalling about his now closed departments facilities

    Reads like a desperate student recruitment drive to us

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  • Some of it looks like chipboard, but it is still very wasteful. Is he making a wigwam?

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  • Or, it could be OSB; Formerly known as vertical mulch.

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  • As a currently masters student myself I do agree that this is a challenge which we must learn to adapt too, it does however impose a few issues, those being that some do not have access to their own personal computers, access to specialist software or specialist modelling facilities. Video tutorials are also limiting as it makes it tricky to discuss design alterations/ considerations in real time. Our lecturers are endeavoring to to provide us with access to some of these items, but there is so much they can do.

    Maybe these times will lead us to produce more 'experimental' models and teach us to curate and represent our ideas in better form

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