Inserting Computational Technologies in Architectural Curricula

Inserting Computational Technologies in Architectural Curricula

José P. Duarte (Techical University of Lisbon, Portugal), Gabriela Celani (University of Campinas (Unicamp), Brazil) and Regiane Pupo (University of Campinas (Unicamp), Brazil)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-180-1.ch022
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This chapter describes two case studies concerning the introduction of computational design methods and technologies in new undergraduate architectural curricula, one in Portugal and the other in Brazil. In both cases, the immediate goal was to introduce state-of-the-art technologies in the curriculum to promote creative design thinking. The ultimate goals were to fulfill the criteria of intellectual satisfaction, acquisition of specialized professional skills, and contribution for the economic development of society that should underlie university education. The chapter describes the theoretical framework, the various courses and labs that were devised and implemented, as well as the strategies used to implement them. Then it presents the final results and concludes with a discussion of the pros and cons of each strategy. The main lesson drawn from both efforts was that cultural and organizational aspects are at least as important as technical aspects for the successful integration of computer media in architectural education.
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The insertion of “new technologies” in architectural teaching and practice has been everything but smooth. The meaning of the term itself is ambiguous and tends to be reduced in a very simplistic manner to the use of the computer or, even more simplistically, to the use of CAD software. Not surprisingly, the issue divides educators and professionals alike and prompts them to take extreme positions. On one side, one finds those who tend to assign a central role to the computer; on the other, one encounters those who refuse to admit that it can have any role at all. Reality, nevertheless, demonstrates that the role of the computer can facilitate the resolution of certain design problems but may jeopardize the solution of others. Time and experience permit to categorize problems and so the contact of architectural students with new technologies in the early stages of their learning and training process is important. This chapter describes two cases concerned with the integration of computational design methods and technologies in undergraduate curricula in new programs in architecture, one at the Technical University of Lisbon School of Engineering (Instituto Superior Técnico – IST, TU Lisbon) in Portugal, and another at the School of Civil Engineering, Architecture and Urban Design of the University of Campinas (Faculdade de Engenharia Civil, Arquitetura e Urbanismo da Universidade Estadual de Campinas – FEC, Unicamp) in Brazil.

In their paper “The Ideal Computer Curriculum” Mark, Martens & Oxman (2005) discussed how devising an architectural curriculum in the digital age is a matter of finding a balance between the need for integrating state of art technology and the demand of keeping traditional subjects to meet the requirements of professional accreditation. They identified a list of computer courses that could be included in the architectural curriculum organized into three levels: Basic, intermediate and advanced. Then they identified two different strategies to integrate computer courses in the architectural curriculum, one that was set within the framework of the typical curriculum structure and another that displaced a great number of traditional courses. Finally they gave examples of possible curricula for each of the two cases. In the first curriculum, most of the digital design topics were integrated in existing courses, except for two mandatory courses in geometric modeling and structural analysis. By contrast, in the second curriculum, most of the computer topics were offered in seven separate mandatory courses. In both curricula, students could take additional, elective courses on computer-related subjects. They concluded that the first strategy was better because the latter “would not likely prepare students well for a career in architecture as the profession is likely to demand.”

The IST case described in this chapter is closer to the first curricula described by Mark, Martens & Oxman (2005) in the sense that it includes fewer computer courses and the CAD content is better intertwined with architectural content, although not by including computer topics in traditional courses but the reverse. The IST curriculum includes only three mandatory courses, two in the first years and one in the last year, and no elective courses on computer topics. Although the title of the first two subjects make reference to CAD, computer topics are taught by addressing architectural problems, such as how to model and describe a building (CAD I) or how to write a program to generate a certain type of architectural forms (CAD II). And in the last subject, (CAAD) the goal is the development of architectural design projects with the use of computer technologies. This means that all the courses have a creative component.

At UNICAMP the curriculum includes four mandatory and five elective CAD courses, but although their objective is to allow students to incorporate computer technologies in their design process, their focus is still mainly instrumental. In fact, in none of these subjects the development of a design project with the use of different technologies in an integrated way is carried on, like in the IST case. Each CAD subject at UNICAMP concentrates on a specific computer topic (e.g. rapid prototyping, animation, generative systems, etc.) and small projects are carried on in each subject more with the objective of fixing specific concepts than with the objective of showing the use of technologies in an integrated way. In other words, students are left with the responsibility of putting the parts together. Thus, this curriculum is closer to the second case described by Mark, Martens & Oxman (2005), because it includes more CAD courses but CAD topics are less intertwined into design content as a whole.

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