Fee-free, studio-free architecture school to open

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The Free School of Architecture, to open in 2017, will foster individualism and free critical thinking in architecture.

The Free School of Architecture, to open in 2017, will foster individualism and free critical thinking in architecture. Image: Creative Commons

Australian-American architect Peter Zellner will establish a tuition-free, salary-free “post-studio” architecture school that could radically shake up current models of architectural teaching.

Zellner is a graduate of RMIT University and Harvard University. He is now based in Los Angeles and teaches at the University of Southern California’s School of Architecture. He will launch his Free School of Architecture with a postgraduate summer program in 2017.

The impetus for the Free School of Architecture was born from an article Zellner wrote for The Architect’s Newspaper, in which he opined, “Many schools of architecture […] now find themselves mired in various forms of academic cult worship: digital traditionalisms, faux-art fetishisms, silly mannerist dead-ends, philosopher-shaman worship, and other neoconservative returns.”

“Several generations of students were robbed of their voices and their right to grow potent individual practices,” Zellner continued. He lamented the loss of radical and experimental methods of teaching that occurred in architecture schools of the 1960s and 1970s.

Zellner argued that a post-studio model of architectural teaching, one which is founded on open conversation, student autonomy and critique, “now seems imperative and necessary” to unshackle students and teachers alike from the master–disciple model of teaching.

“Without placing more radical expectations on our current models of architectural education, our schools will forfeit their ability to fulfill their cultural and academic missions. Without freeing up a zone for architectural education to explore the space between vocations and ideas, the profession and the discipline will wither. Without a return to the value of an architecture of ideas and not an architecture of marketing concepts then the purpose and need for the very school of architecture may be on the table.”

The Free School of Architecture program will focus on architectural history and theory, philosophy, design and aesthetic theory as well as studies covering the practical and vocational aspects of architecture.

While the details of the program are still being conceptualized, Zellner said the school will not be credited or provide course credit, nor will it offer any professional degrees or salaries to teachers. It will not have a permanent home.

Instead, Zellner said the Free School of Architecture will be based around five central tenants:

  1. To promote free and critical thinking in architecture
  2. To encourage a diverse community of students and teachers to explore the edges of the profession and the discipline
  3. To create a free and safe zone for debate and new ideas to emerge
  4. To question the need to ratify or sanctify official architectural positions and doctrines
  5. To create an academic milieu in which young, diverse and independent architectural voices can emerge organically.

The Free School of Architecture is part of global trend of alternative structures for architectural education. In 2015, a private architecture school, the London School of Architecture (LSA), opened its doors to students. The LSA has no fixed campus and its program is supported by a network of practices that offer paid placements, creating a “cost-neutral” course. A number of Australian institutions, such as RMIT University and UNSW, have also started offering free online-based courses in built environment subjects.

For more on the current state and possible trajectories of architectural education, read Michael Keniger’s essay from Architecture Australia, July/August 2016.

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